I love special needs activist extraordinaire Richard Prangley.

I was already familiar with his tough-life story about being wrongly institutionalized as a child. I was honored to finally meet this unselfish, engaging and remarkable man in person this past year. That meeting remains a highlight of my 2010.

Not only is Richard Prangley a ground-breaking advocate for those with intellectual disabilities, but he’s one of the finest people you’ll ever meet.

Perhaps you already know his story, as I did. It’s well worth revisiting.


Richard Prangley became a willing and vocal activist trying to right severe injustices he experienced and witnessed in his own life. Prangley was wrongly institutionalized as a child by his own parents. He was labeled a ‘low-level imbecile’ and ‘unable to learn’ by professionals entrusted with his care, and his future. In the end, more than one person failed Richard Prangley, yet he holds no grudges and has forgiven all, the power of his deep faith.

What a holiday lesson for us all.

What Richard experienced after being committed by his family at age six to the former Coldwater State Home in Michigan is horrific and inexcusable. But what this special needs champion has done since being freed from that surreal setting at age 21, including becoming a passionate lobbyist for the developmentally disabled at high levels of Michigan government, is nothing short of remarkable. I believe that everyone who cares about the rights of those with disabilities, and human justice, needs to hear his powerful story, including President Obama, to whom Prangley hopes to tell his story in person one day.

Richard Prangley’s life story and passionate activism is a tribute to the power of the human spirit to triumph over the toughest life circumstances, and teaches volumes about forgiveness.

His story was first skillfully and honestly captured in 1998 by popular Lansing State Journal (LSJ) columnist, John Schneider, in the book ‘Waiting for Home: the Richard Prangley Story.’ The two men have remained close friends since the day they first met in the LSJ newsroom more than thirty years ago. They’ve learned much from each other during their weekly outings.

You can view the two-part feature of Richard’s remarkable live story on YouTube, here. Thanks to Elizabeth Kelly of the PBS program, ‘A Wider World,’ for doing an outstanding job translating a fascinating and complex life story for television.

I’m blessed and honored to call Richard Prangley, John Schneider and Elizabeth Kelly my friends. I’m thrilled to have been part of the effort to bring this inspiring story to the PBS program ‘A Wider World,’ and happy to share it all with you on this blog.

Please share Richard Prangley’s story with everyone you know, and refer back to it when you most need a boost in your own life, especially if challenged to the brink by the daily realities of special needs. It may help you put your own life challenges into perspective.

It has for me.

Photo: Richard Prangley, Judy Winter and Elizabeth Kelly at RicStar’s Camp 2010, where Richard received the first ever ‘RicStar’ Award for Outstanding Special Needs Advocacy.