You Belong at the Table

Even though Thanksgiving isn’t officially a church holiday in my faith tradition, it’s still one of the holiest days of the year for me. There’s something sacred about gathering around a table with people and sharing an extravagant meal for no other reason than to just be with each other.

The first 18 years of my life were spent at the kids’ table in my aunt’s kitchen, surrounded by rowdy cousins and my older sister. We’d tease each other while the adults sat in the other room. In college, I relied on the kindness of college roommates, boyfriends, and even professors to get my fill of turkey and mashed potatoes. Married life meant taking turns hosting and visiting family in three different states.

Each table was incredibly different, but I felt like I belonged at every one.

Author and social work researcher Brené Brown writes:

“Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”

In the disability community, we talk a lot about awareness, inclusion and acceptance, but belonging should always be the long-term goal.  If awareness is people acknowledging your existence, inclusion is making sure you have a seat at the table and acceptance is the recognition that you should be allowed at the table.

Belonging, on the other hand, is the realization that the table isn’t complete without you at it, regardless of how you find your way to the table and what you bring to it.

Throughout our history, Mosaic has strived to build communities where everyone feels like they belong. Our historical documents point out that it was often difficult to tell who was a guest (the term our legacy organizations, Bethphage and Martin Luther Homes, used for client) and who was staff.

Today, striving for belonging means that Mosaic is willing to do what it takes to help people do more than survive – we want them to thrive. 

Sometimes that means teaching all agency staff American Sign Language, so the people we support who don’t speak can communicate with as many people as possible. Other times, it means finding helping faith-communities and leaders learn how to welcome people with disabilities into their spaces.

As you celebrate Thanksgiving this year, I hope that you find yourself at a table that you belong at, just as you are.

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