#BlackAndCapable Celebrating Black History Month
As we celebrate Black History Month, which takes place every February, we’d like to both call attention to and celebrate the important presence of Black Americans in the United States. At the same time, we would like to reflect on the realities (and challenges) that continue to shape the lives of Black Americans with disabilities.
About three decades ago, Eddie Glenn called attention to the disparate treatment of African American women with disabilities, suggesting that a “triple jeopardy syndrome” put them at a further disadvantage as they were victims of race, gender and disability bias in our society. Glenn’s research explored what it meant to be an African American and live with a disability.
Unfortunately, people of color and people with disabilities still face barriers to education and employment that limit their earning potential today.
A report titled “FINANCIAL INEQUALITY: Disability, Race and Poverty in America'' released by the National Disability Institute, identifies disparities that require immediate and urgent attention. These disparities “rob individuals and families of dignity and self respect, deny their participation in the workforce and economic mainstream and diminish their quality of life.”
In 2015, one in nine working-age adults (18-65) had a disability that may have put them at risk of exclusion from the economic mainstream. Today, more than 130 million working-age Americans live with a chronic illness or disability. We’re talking about nearly half of the U.S. population here.
This rate varies dramatically by race and ethnicity. African Americans are the most likely to have a disability (14 percent) followed by Non-Hispanic Whites (11 percent), Latinos (8 percent) and Asians (5 percent).
Today, celebrities and business leaders alike are stepping up and using their voice to share their stories and educating the general public about both visible and invisible disabilities.
These role models have remained highly successful with their disabilities, showing us that people with disabilities and chronic illnesses of all backgrounds can be amongst the highest achievers in the world.
We’d like to celebrate the following Black Americans who have helped shape society’s views of disability and chronic illness. The United States economy is strongest when it is inclusive of the value that diverse talent brings to the workplace.
Harriet Tubman (1822–1913)
Known as one of the most influential leaders of our nation, Harriet Tubman was a former slave turned abolitionist who bravely risked her life to free both slaves and her own family members through the underground railroad. When Tubman was a teenager, she acquired a traumatic brain injury when a slave owner struck her in the head, resulting in her developing epileptic seizures and hypersomnia.
Tom Wiggins (1849-1908)
Thomas ‘Blind Tom’ Wiggins was born in Columbus, Georgia, in 1848 on a slave plantation. Current historians believe that Wiggins was an autistic savant. Nonetheless, Wiggins was one of the most popular pianists of his age.
Fannie Lou Hamer (1917–1977)
Fannie Lou Hamer was a civil rights activist who helped African-Americans register to vote and co-founded the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. Hamer had polio as a child. After protesting in a Mississippi jailhouse, she was badly beaten, causing kidney damage and a limp. She is famously known for saying, “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired!”
Maya Angelou (1928–2014)
Maya Angelou is known for her incredible writing, such as I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. A little known fact about Maya Angelou is that she had selective mutism, an anxiety disorder that causes a child to not speak due to physical and psychological trauma they endured.
Johnnie Lacy (1928–2014)
Johnnie Lacy fought for the rights of people with disabilities, especially people of color. She led a nonprofit in Hayward called Community Resources for Independent Living which provided services and advocacy. As a Black woman in a wheelchair, she educated her communities about race and disability and served as a role model for many other Black disabled women.
Wilma Rudolph (1940–1994)
Wilma Rudolph was an American sprinter who became a world-record-holding Olympic champion and international sports icon in track and field following her successes in the 1956 and 1960 Olympic Games. Rudolph's legacy lies in her efforts to overcome obstacles including polio and scarlet fever and a physical disability to become the fastest woman runner in the world in the year 1960.
Harry Belafonte (Born 1927)
Harry Belafonte knows the power of hard work, winning a Tony, four Grammys, and an Emmy. Throughout his life, Belafonte has struggled with dyslexia but hasn’t let it stop him from using language both in song and protest to express himself and the beliefs he held.
Venus Williams (Born 1980)
Venus Williams is regarded as one of the all-time greatest women tennis players in the world. Williams was former world #1 in singles and doubles. Starting in 2004, she experienced various symptoms for seven years before receiving a diagnosis of Sjogren’s syndrome—an autoimmune disease that's identified by two of its most common symptoms: dry eye and dry mouth.
Lil Wayne (Born 1982)
Throughout his twenty year career, Lil Wayne has released 20 studio albums, been featured in 4 movies, and has appeared on 13 television shows. He has won numerous awards, including Grammy Awards for Best Rap Album, Best Rap Solo Performance, Best Rap Song and Best Rap Performance by a Duo or a Group. Lil Wayne's struggle with epilepsy has been well- documented over the years. Despite several hospitalizations, he continues to make music, tour, and collaborate with other musicians.
Morgan Freeman (Born 1937)
American actor Morgan Freeman has various accolades, including an Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award and a Screen Actors Guild Award. In 2013, Freeman went public with his diagnosis of fibromyalgia following a car accident in 2009.
Wondering how you can further support Black Americans living with chronic illnesses and disabilities? Reach out to us today at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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As we celebrate Black History Month, which takes place every February, we’d like to both call attention to and celebrate the important presence of Black Americans in the United States.
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