Disability rights activist and writer Nick Dupree would have turned 35 years old today had he not passed away in New York City on Feb. 18. A vent user with an unknown rare metabolic disorder, Dupree became an activist at the age of 19 while living with his family in Mobile, Alabama. In an attempt to keep receiving personal care services in his home after he turned 21, he started “Nick’s Crusade.”
Dupree’s crusade made local, state and national news, and in 2003 Alabama decided to serve a small amount of vent users turning 21 in their homes. By 2008 Dupree had decided to leave Alabama for the more-generous New York City, and for love. He moved in with his partner, Alejandra Ospina, and their apartment became an epicenter for writers, artists and activists with disabilities.
When Hurricane Sandy ravaged New York in 2012, Dupree and Ospina elected to shelter in place, as given the complexities of Dupree’s care, Dupree thought this would be safer. Growing up in Mobile, Dupree understood the risks, but also understood the risks of going into a hospital where medical staff would not know how to meet his needs.
This was almost a deadly decision when the Con Edison Manhattan power station exploded, disrupting their power for days. They had prepared as well as they could, stocking up on food, water and supplies and having a personal care assistant who was also a friend staying with them. But with no power and no water, their situation was dire.
As told in Superstorm Stories: Where was the Plan? Ospina was able to post a Facebook status requesting assistance and activists across the nation networked with each other. Money was raised, supplies like marine batteries were purchased, and eventually two friends drove to their apartment from out of state to deliver the purchases.
Despite being at the center of a supportive circle of friends and despite the love he shared with his partner, Ospina, the level of care required by Dupree was overwhelming for the couple, especially when personal assistants would fail to show, and they separated last spring. Dupree moved into a nursing home, which he had been able to avoid doing for almost 15 years, and to a series of hospitals, eventually acquiring sepsis.
In 2008, the year he had moved to New York City and was temporarily residing in an institution, he wrote this stanza that captured his experience of moving from a place of pain and isolation to the possibility of love:
I’ll work it out
love is not the enemy.
The sun is cresting over metallic dunes again
and I pray, one day
the scales will level out.
Dupree lived as fully and as well as our systems of care allowed, and the way he lived his life has helped others. He is survived by his partner Alejandra Ospina, his mother Ruth Belasco, and his younger brother, Jamie Dupree.