L Natasha Littletree, 1952-2004

L. Natasha Littletree, a longtime and beloved disability rights advocate passed away October 5th after a brief illness, at the Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital in Santa Rosa.

Littletree, at the time of her passing, served as the chair of the Area Board IV on Developmental Disabilities. Peter Mendoza, chair of the State Council on Developmental Disabilities, which oversees the 13 Area Boards called L Natasha Littletree “… a valued Area Board IV Chair, a statewide advocate, and gifted writer” and praised her efforts as an advocate.

Littletree, who had physical and developmental disabilities, is survived by an adult daughter, Jamaica, and her longtime partner of and friend of over 15 years, Mark Foxwell.

Littletree, who went to college and graduated – and was known also for her writings, much of which she posted on her website [see link]. Mark Foxwell said earlier how much Natasha Littletree took pride in her writings and was an avid user and writer of emails to friends and advocates everywhere.

But Littletree was best known across the state for her appearances at countless legislative and budget hearings, testifying for the rights of people with disabilities and seniors. Littletree was known for her passionate advocacy in pushing California to fully comply with the 1999 US Supreme Court Olmstead Decision that required the states to take measures to prevent “unnecessary institutionalization” under the federal Americans With Disabilities Act. She, along with thousands of others, converged on the State Capitol on December 10th last year to testify against the Governor’s initial budget proposals that called for the suspension of the Lanterman Developmental Disabilities Services Act, and other major cuts impacting people with disabilities and seniors. She most recently testifed at a informational hearing by the Assembly Select Committee on Olmstead, chaired by Assemblymember Lynn Daucher (R-Brea) late last month.

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Area 4 Board (August 2002-present; Chair January 2004-present)
Olmstead Advisory Group (Appointed July 2003; current status unclear!)
Liason from ARC-Sonoma to Coalition to Preserve Lanterman.
Sonoma County In-Home Supportive Services Advisory Comm. (September2000-July 2001)

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“In Her own Words……”

I was born in Los Angeles a long time ago. I grew up in Hawthorne, Manhattan Beach, and Hermosa Beach, with my birth name of Lisa Irene Schweitzer. (Read on to see the story of my other name!) I’ve always felt like somebody’s advocate. And I began writing in the school paper when I was 14. After that time I wrote poetry, newspaper articles, short stories, and helped my father with his political campaign. And it failed!

When I was 10 1/2, I was diagnosed with Friedreich’s Ataxia, a rare neuromuscular disorder. According to my doctors this would kill me before I reached age 20. I had better things to do! And you know, the farther along I come the more I have yet to do! Writing was not enough for me. I had to play around with a debate team, but because of my disability I could not handle a semester of flute. In the ’60’s, disabled people were not “mainstreamed” as they were later in the ’70’s. Back then they had special schools, home teaching, and later came mainstreaming. I was always a little bit older than most of my classmates. I had a tendency to take people under my wing.

Junior college was a blast! I had had no formal eductation since I was sixteen and at 19, I started over again. I was dismayed by the fact that testing for junior college entrance did not allow for the fact that I was disabled. Now I fight for those rights for others much the way I have had to do for myself.

Some thirty-odd years ago I was in love with poetry and art. Before I went to El Camino College I felt that I wore a Scarlet Letter, a “C” for “Cripple!” But I don’t remember anyone having a problem with my disability at the college. As long as I did not go to Disability Resources; there I had problems, then and later at other colleges. At El Camino in those days the first priority was for disabled Vietnam veterans and then for blind students and I always found there was no time, resources, or advocacy left for me, so I learned to solve my problems without them. My art classes were like empty canvases. I brought my colors to them. I could not pass a simple English entrance exam. But I did all right in speed-reading and my poetry flourished.

I am not going to begin to tell you how many junior colleges I have been to! I did a lot of things as a young woman–I worked in the South Bay Free Clinic as a phone receptionist (my voice is weak today but it was strong then!) I was a crisis counselor on the Lawndale Hotline. I freelanced for the Hawthorne Press as an artist and also as journalist–I interviewed rock bands at the Troubadour. Most of this work was strictly volunteer work. For many months in 1973 I had no income since the invention of SSI came with some terrible snags, and those of us who needed disability income were told to go to live with our parents or to hospitals. My family would not allow me to live in any of their homes, and convalescent hospitals are designed as places to go and die in, so I survived by doing what work I was able and with the help of my friends, the way it was back then among the post-hippie crowd at the Colony co-op. Eventually they fixed the SSI system and my checks found me, and I paid them all back, and could rent my own place again–rent was much lower in places like Hollywood or Hermosa Beach back then.

And then there is Jamaica Littletree, my daughter. Having a child made me feel human, but there were a lot of problems I had not counted on. Early in the pregnancy a genetic specialist saw me and thought I was a “bright and courageous” woman, and that I could deal with a child disabled like me. My daughter grew up in my home until I could not get the amount of in-home care I was supposed to in the county my family had moved to; this led to my own collapse into a coma and I lost custody of Jamaica when she was eight.

As for me I woke up in a convalescent hospital, the worst time in my life. I lived there for seven months. learning to do what I had forgotten. With the help of a lawyer friend from Protection & Advocacy I forced the county and hospital to admit I should live on my own and struggled back into independent living. I found my way to the best community college I have ever known, Pasadena City College, where I found friends and peers among the faculty and staff. I went to school in part to study law since I was still struggling to get my daugher back home, but I learned that you don’t learn about just one thing at a good school; it opens the door to all kinds of learning. It was there I first took a screenwriting course and began to think I could write fiction. So many people have asked me to write my own story; sometimes I oblige them, but if you read my fiction you will find more of what has happened to me, though often turned around one way or another! I write to be heard and remembered!

PCC laid the groundwork for me to go North, out of my native Los Angeles smog; for a year I took classes at Humboldt State (where I made a movie out of Goodnight, Moon) but it was at Sonoma State University that I finished the editing! Here I followed a special major to enhance my skills as a scriptwriter, and I earned my BA in 1998. But no sooner did I perform my first graduation walk since kindergarten than I went right back in, because I love SSU as much as PCC and I had been accepted into the English Master’s program.

As an MA I did a lot of the things most people do as undergrads, because I was determined to reach out. The president of the student body was in my screenwriting class and when he appealed to his classmates to get involved in the Associated Students I rolled forward! I was not sure I would be accepted into the MA program but I ran as the first person ever to seek the office of Graduate Representative in the student election. I stressed that as an older undergrad who lived far from the campus I understood the needs of grad students, and this was correct! The two years of my MA were also packed with my campus activism, because the more I knew my campus the more I loved it!

One of my proudest achievements was creating my web page which was intended as a way to reach and be reached.

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From Tony Anderson:

L Natasha Littletree, an important ally and friend has passed away today. Natasha was a dedicated and effective advocate who knew how to fight for the rights of people with disabilities and perhaps more importantly knew how to bring people together. Natasha was a member of The Arc family (The Arc of Sonoma County), the Lanterman Coalition, the original Olmstead Advisory Group, COCO, and the chair of the Area 4 Board in Napa, Solano, and Sonoma Counties. Besides being a respected colleague in the disability field, she was also a dear friend. I will miss her tremendously and I know many others will as well.

Tony Anderson, MA Executive Director, The Arc of California, 1225 8th Street, Suite 210, Sacramento, CA 95814