February is Black History Month, a time to celebrate the history and contributions of African Americans. The Council wants to honor the work of black people with disabilities this month through sharing a little about them our social media. As we celebrate Black History Month this year, it is important to note that many of the iconic Black leaders that came out of history did so not despite their disabilities but because of them. This was not an easy feat as they often had to overcome ableism and social stigma in order to share their story with others.
Our focus will not only be on iconic Black leaders, but also regular civilian advocates working hard to make a change in the world.
[black man smiling, wearing glasses, mustache, and goatee, white button down shirt, black tie and black vest. Devin R. Williams]
Devin R. Williams
Devin R. Williams is a proud person with a disability and proud African American. Devin is a self-advocate who took advantage of leadership training programs that helped him be an advocate for himself. These programs were the Oklahoma Youth Leadership Forum & Partners in Policymaking. He has been appointed by the Governor of Oklahoma to serve on the Developmental Disabilities Council of Oklahoma.
Devin has lived in Lawton, Oklahoma and works for Lawton Public Schools as a Personal Care Assistant for a student with a disability.
"I love to help people with a disability and people who don't have a disability in the school I work at, because I love to show kids and adults what having a disability is and being proud of who you are."
[black man smiling, with shoulder length braided hair, wearing a gray t-shirt. LeDerick Horne.]
Despite being classified as “neurologically impaired” in the third grade and placed in segregated classrooms, LeDerick Horne has become a successful spoken word poet, playwright, motivational speaker, entrepreneur, advocate, author and activist. Using his gift for spoken word poetry as a teaching tool, LeDerick has been recognized across the country as a motivational speaker and advocate for people with disabilities.
His poem Until Every Barrier Falls is a beautiful tribute to recognize Dyslexia Awareness Month, Disability Employment Awareness Month; and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
It's difficult to pick just one favorite poem by LeDerick, so be sure to check out LeDerick's YouTube channel to hear more.
[black man smiling wearing a tuxedo. Harry Belafonte.]
Belafonte, who’s known for hits like Jump In The Line and Banana Boat (Day-O), also struggled with dyslexia. So much so he dropped out of high school. As an adult, he learned his trouble with reading was due to dyslexia, but during his time at school the disorder was widely misunderstood and made him feel like a misfit. That didn’t stop him from sharing his beautiful music with the world. His album “Calypso” was the first LP in history to sell one million copies. He has since been a champion for dyslexia awareness and other learning or attention impairments.
Photo: Charley Gallay/Getty Images for NAACP Image Awards
[black woman with hair pulled back, smiling, jacket and gold medals. Simone Biles.]
Simone Biles is known widely as the Olympic champion who dominated the sport of gymnastics during the 2016 Rio Olympics. Biles has won 4 consecutive all around titles and is the first female to do so since the 1970’s. She has competed and won 14 world championship medals.
At a young age, Biles was diagnosed with Attention Deficient Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD). Since being vocal regarding her ADHD, many have classified her as a hero, especially those who have endured stigma from the disability. She has taken to Twitter vocalizing her disability and what she has been doing to treat her ADHD.
Photo Credit: Marihan Murat Alliance/Getty Images
The Olmstead Supreme Court Decision and Lois Curtis
In 1999, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that people with disabilities have the right to live independently in their communities, rather than in institutions. This was a major win for people with disabilities and their families.
The case started when 2 women with mental health disabilities in Georgia asked to be placed in community treatment programs instead of confined to psychiatric hospitals. They had been repeatedly hospitalized over the years and were going back and forth between state hospitals.
Despite their doctors’ recommendations, state officials kept them in mental health hospitals – even after they were told they could receive services outside the hospital. In a lawsuit filed in 1995 by Atlanta Legal Aid Society attorney Susan Jamieson, the plaintiffs argued the state’s failure to place them in community treatment programs violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.
In the years after the case, Lois went on to become a professional artist and advocate, traveling to the White House to visit President Obama and donating a portrait she created of him to the White House. She also served as an ambassador for the Association of People with Disabilities and toured the United Nations to highlight the needs of people with disabilities.
The disability community will never forget Lois Curtis’s legacy. She continues to inspire and impact the disability rights movement in the 21st century.