Visit Mesa is helping lead the journey to Mesa, Arizona becoming the first and only Autism Certified City in the United States.
Mesa is a thriving beacon of culture and artwork that stems from its diverse cultures. From the statues and sculptures that decorate our downtown streets to the pools that shone at the Mormon Temple prior to its current state of renovation down on Main Street, Mesa has never lacked for local flare in its appreciation of the arts. You can often find extensive murals done by local artists in many of our largely Hispanic neighborhoods, depicting the strength of the community and the importance of the history of those who have lived and continue to live here. Just east of Dobson Road on University, a majestic mural of a roaring jaguar still bares its fangs since the days of my childhood when I would pass it by. And the Mesa Arts Center serves as both the unofficial capitol and centerpiece of this aspect of our city.
If nothing else, the style of Mesa speaks to one thing above all else: endurance. Despite all the changes to our parks, our centers of commerce and culture, and even the light rail system that now speeds like a steel dragon through our city, the one thing that has persisted is the steady drum beat that we change and adapt to. From the backgrounds of the people who have made it their home, the levels of ability within our community, and those who even now still wish to make this city their home, Mesa is nothing if not a mosaic in motion and culture that continues to change with each passing year.
As a man with autism who grew up walking these streets, working out at the gyms in this city as a teenager, and showing off my sword skills in the parks, I got to see this place from a perspective that many didn't. I walked the streets as a home-grown foreigner who learned the rules of engagement and interaction cold. I saw my city evolve and change. Styles came and went. Blue and teal accents were replaced on school buildings, fading from the bright and cooling tones of the nineties to the post-modern and industrial colors of tan and steel of today's vogue. Many programs were incorporated into these very schools by studying children with autism to give them a more dedicated experience within our public schools. As a subject of such a study among others in my youth, our schools are what I emphasize most when it comes to the importance of the positive changes affected over time in Mesa. Many of our educators in the district have been an invaluable asset in making these changes possible, as a good teacher helps to lay the foundation for a productive and dynamic society. They can make or break a student, and we have produced many impassioned educational professionals in this city of light, such as lauded Teacher of the Year and my own junior English teacher at Westwood High School, Cherilyn Guy. Among other distinguished educators, retired publications and yearbook teacher, Yvonne Johnson, was another champion of students of all backgrounds. It was in her classroom that I found my own passion for journalism and developed my true voice further in ink and paper, bypassing my limits with a pen wielded as effectively as any sword.
Along with the schools, many parks and public places have been extensively modified for the accessibility of peoples with disabilities, not just autism. Pioneer Park at the eastern edges of Downtown Mesa has been remodeled in the two years since I returned from college to include a sky walk and ramp system to allow physically disabled and wheelchair-dependent individuals to access nearly all levels of the playground and equipment. The concept is an evolution of what existed before and taken to a grander scale. No child or parent should be made to feel barred by such limitations. Having grown up here, I'm proud to see my city having grown at a similar pace. The world seems so much bigger when you're a child. It's reassuring to know that you don't have to outgrow everything.
This is a city of the Sun and its people all burn with their own light. If this sounds like a city you'd like to visit, then come to Mesa, Arizona and cast your own light.
To find out more about Mesa's road to becoming the first Autism Certified destination, click here.
All Photos Courtesy of Joe Dampt