Celebrating Black History Month: Honoring African American Disability Advocates

Celebrating Black History Month: Honoring African American Disability Advocates
Every February, we celebrate Black History Month to honor African American achievements, and recognize the pivotal contributions African Americans have made throughout the history of the United States. The 2020 theme for Black History Month is “African Americans and the Vote,” in honor of the centennial anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment, which granted women’s suffrage, and the 150th anniversary of the Fifteen Amendment, which gave Black men the right to vote.

African Americans and Disability Advocacy

It’s important to keep the conversation going about the opportunities, realities and challenges that impact the lives of African Americans with disabilities. In 1990, the National Black Disability Coalition (NBDC) was created in response to the need for advocacy and to create unity, equity, and opportunity for all Black Americans with disabilities. As of 2017, there are more than 5.6 million African Americans living with a disability, and the need for advocacy and awareness surrounding disabilities for people of color is higher than ever.  Only 28.7% of working-age African Americans with disabilities are employed in the U.S., compared to 72% of working-age Black Americans without disabilities. Overall, 65% of students with disabilities graduate high school compared to 84% of students without disabilities. 57% of Black students with disabilities graduate from high school (compared to 74.6% of Black students without disabilities). We need to continue to advocate and make changes so people of color with disabilities can have access to the same education and opportunities as able-bodied people. Throughout our history, there have been several disabled African Americans whose advocacy and education efforts have made significant contributions to the African American community and to the collective benefit of all people with disabilities. They blaze the trail for African Americans with disabilities, underscore the importance of advocating for awareness, education, and equality, and are an inspiration to all people with their amazing accomplishments. In honor of Black History Month, we want to highlight a few of these remarkable people.

Crystal R. Emery

Crystal R. EmeryCrystal R. Emery is a dynamic producer, author and filmmaker known for socially-conscious storytelling that celebrates the triumph of the human spirit, a cause close to her heart as a quadriplegic who works to ensure that physical limitations don’t define her potential. She is also the founder and CEO of URU The Right To Be, Inc., a non-profit content production company with a mission to foster communication and understanding among diverse people to create a more equitable and humane world. Emery is an inspiring and influential author, educator, social activist, and filmmaker with a wide-ranging platform and audience.  

Ola Ojewumi

Ola OjewumiOla Ojewumi is a disability advocate and public speaker who founded two nonprofits, the Sacred Hearts Children’s Transplant Foundation and Project ASCEND. Her advocacy topics include equal access to affordable healthcare and opposing the repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). A rare heart condition and cancer weakened her physical state and she became a wheelchair user at a young age. Ola has given speeches alongside Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senator Cory Booker, House Majority Whip Steny Hoyer, Senator Menendez, and more.  As a political commentator, she has frequently appeared on PBS and Democracy Now to fight for the rights of women, people of color, and the disabled.  

Brad Lomax

Brad LomaxIn the 1970s, Brad Lomax was a member of the Black Panther Party who had multiple sclerosis and used a wheelchair. Recognizing the need for more disability support in his own California community, Lomax helped to found the Center for Independent Living in East Oakland, and pioneered a clinic which offered peer support and counseling to African Americans with disabilities. He was a leading force behind the historic 504 sit-ins that prompted the government to implement Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which was a seminal moment in the Disability Rights movement.

Johnnie Lacy

Johnnie Lacy black history monthJohnnie Lacy (1937-2010) was a leader in the independent living movement and fought for the rights of people with disabilities, especially people of color. She led Community Resources for Independent Living, a nonprofit in Hayward providing services and advocacy for people with disabilities. Lacy spoke of being excluded from the Black community due to her disability and from the disability community due to being a person of color. As a Black woman in a wheelchair, she educated her communities about race and disability and served as a role model for many other disabled African American women.  

Claudia L. Gordon

Claudia L. GordonA Howard University graduate, Claudia Gordon is the first deaf African American female attorney in the United States. She is active in both the Black deaf community and the disability community, and is Vice President of the National Black Deaf Advocates. She is also associated with the National Coalition for Disability Rights. She currently works in the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs and previously was Associate Director in the White House Office of Public Engagement. A long-time disability advocate, she exemplifies and advocates from an intersectional perspective as a deaf woman of color.  

Montel Williams

Montel WilliamsMontel Williams is best known as the host of “The Montel Williams Show”. In 1999 he was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis after the symptoms he had been experiencing for decades worsened. He started a research foundation for MS and advocates for healthy living. Williams is also a national spokesman of the Partnership for Prescription Assistance (PPA), a patient assistance program that helps low-income patients apply for free or reduced-price prescription medications. He is also a fierce advocate for traumatic brain injury (TBI).  

Desmond Jackson

Desmond Jackson black history monthDesmond Jackson was born with a congenital birth defect and had his left leg amputated when he was 9 months old. Jackson knew he couldn’t run as fast as other children, but he accepted his limitations. He began competing alongside able-bodied athletes at the age of eight. As a freshman at Hillside New Tech High School in Durham, N.C., he became the first amputee to run track on the high school level in North Carolina. His dream was to become one of the youngest athletes to compete in track/field at the 2016 Paralympics, and at the U.S. Paralympic trials in Durham, N.C., Jackson finished second and qualified for the U.S. Paralympic team.

Join the Thrive Community

The Thrive Community Facebook Group is a private space for any person with a disability, as well as caregivers and healthcare providers that touch their lives. Our purpose is to provide a safe, educational space for group members to ask every question, connect with their peers, and empower each other through communication and connection. Our conversations are led by incredible individuals who themselves are living and thriving. For more enlightening resources, information, and discussion, join the Enemeez® Thrive Community today!  


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