Archive: Mar 2017

  1. #BlackDisabledGirlMagic Series: Keah Brown, Entertainment Journalist Using Her Words to Empower

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    Photo of Keah Brown, a brown skinned young Black woman. Keah is looking directly into the camera and smiling. She has her hair straighten and parted to the side, and wearing a white, red, and denim colored sweater.

    One of the reasons I wanted to do this series was to capture the diverse lives of Black disabled women. Very few spaces have given us the opportunity to discuss what it is like to be a triple minority, much less by someone who possess those same identities. Providing an environment where people can be candid about the obstacles they face while navigating the world and embracing who they are is an important part of my advocacy work.

    Keah Brown is a 25-years old entertainment journalist, writer, and essayist from Western New York. She recently created the #disabledandcute hashtag that went viral in February. This hashtag allowed disabled people to proclaim and display the diverse beauty that exists in our community. Keah is a dynamic writer and friend, and her presence in the community cannot be ignored.

    Here is Keah in her own words about learning to accept herself and using her work to empower other Black disabled women:

    VT:  Tell us about yourself.  

    KB:  I grew up a very loved and nurtured child. I have a very close knit family. I am a 25-year-old journalist with a focus in entertainment and I’m a writer. I grew up loving to read and make up stories about my stuffed animals when my twin sister, older brother and I weren’t playing outside. I wanted to feel whole in my body but I never did. As a person with cerebral palsy, and as the only one I knew, that aspect of myself was a tough thing to deal with.

     

    VT:  Why does writing about disability matter to you in your work?

    KB:  I am a black woman grew up longing to see herself properly represented in mainstream media. I never got that representation, but I want to be that representation for young black disabled girls now. Right now, black disabled women are invisible in almost every aspect of society. By writing about myself and championing other black disabled women, I feel like I am helping to make us visible which is something that I have always wanted.

     

    VT:  How does your perspective as a Black disabled woman shape your writing?

    KB:  Well, most of my essay work is about how I navigate the world as a black disabled woman, so I would say that it is the bones of my work. I am more than my disability and blackness, but as they stand, they shape my writing both fiction and nonfiction in that I write about people who look like me, I tell their stories and my own.

     

    VT:  What are the obstacles Black disabled women face in society?  In our disabled community?  

    KB:  There are so many. As I stated earlier, we are invisible in mainstream media. We simply don’t exist yet; I hope to change that. In the disability community, we are stepped on, unsupported, and in my case, called a few racial slurs the moment that we bring up race and intersectionality within the community. The biggest obstacles we face in society and the community are the same. We need to be seen, heard, and respected. We need to be afforded the same opportunities. It really is as simple as that.

     

    VT:  How can our community support/uplift Black disabled women?  What does that look like for you?

    KB:  For me, it looks like championing and sharing our work. Uplifting us by giving us opportunities to grow,

     

    VT:  How did you come into your Black disabled womanness?  What struggles have you experienced, and are still conquering?

    KB:  It took me so long to get here. I hadn’t really known another black disabled woman well until I met a few online in 2014. Before meeting them, I hated myself and my disability. I thought I was too ugly, too broken, too wrong to ever matter to anyone. I thought that I didn’t deserve anything but misery. So, I came into it in 2014, but I didn’t love or like myself. That would come at the end of 2016. I have a lot of self-esteem issues that I have to work through, old habits to break and depressive holes not to get back sucked in to.

     

    VT:  What does it mean to be a Black disabled woman in America?

    KB:  It means that you are at once invisible and expected to shoulder the burden no matter what it is or who is carrying it. We are at once tossed aside and asked to participate in movements and in the revolution without credit. I know these words are harsh but it really is hard being a disabled black woman in America. In order to cope, I lean on the people I know care.

     

    VT:  If you could tell your younger self anything, what would it be?

    KB:  I would tell a younger Keah that she is beautiful, funny, and smart. I would tell her how little high school and crushes on silly high school boys matters in the grand scheme of life. I would tell her that we are going to do great things later in life and that we are going to be happy and smile at the reflection in the mirror one day. I would say to my younger self that even though we are not in a romantic relationship yet, the love of friends and family is a beautiful thing and that it will get us through some really tough times. Keep on keeping on, you’re doing great.

     

    VT:  For the Black disabled women who may read this, what words of wisdom/love would you want to share?

    KB:  Please know that I am working so hard to give us the representation we deserve, I am working to tell our stories, all of them. I know it is hard out here for us but we are magic and we are worthy. Even if no one else has your back know that I do and I am rooting for you. We are enough on our good and bad days. Keep creating. The world is better for having you in it.

     

    VT:  What’s a little known fact about you?

    KB:  I like to eat pepperonis out of the bag and I love watching HGTV.

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    Final Thoughts

    As you have read, you can gather why I appreciate Keah’s voice being so unapologetically Black and her sister’s keeper to Black disabled women. To learn more about Keah and her awesome work, you can find her on Twitter: @Keah_Maria, and on her website, keahbrown.weebly.com.

    The response to this series has been amazing – I am very appreciative of the level of support for a project like this. These women represent five different lived experiences and their voices are undeniably influential in the work that each of them are passionate about. In each of their stories, I see myself, and I hope that other Black disabled women came away with similar sentiments from reading these captivating journeys.

    Black disabled women matter. Black disabled women’s struggles and successes are important to understand. Uplifting Black disabled women is a priority; not an afterthought. Protecting, validating, and loving Black disabled women cannot be optional; it is a requirement in order for us to be seen and treated holistically and equally. Black disabled women are here and we will continue to fight against the “-isms” that seek to harm and belittle us. To paraphrase the late Maya Angelou, who was disabled herself, still, we rise. Black disabled women will steadfastly rise and shatter misperceptions about what we can achieve. Black disabled women, we are more than the stereotypes they try to box us in, and from the stories you read this month, we possess the ability to redefine the rules and proclaim the facts regarding our existence.

    No one has us but us, and I hope that you realize you are unconditionally loved and worthy.

  2. #BlackDisabledGirlMagic Series: Kerima Cevik, Disabled Writer, Activist, & Redefining the Rules

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    Photo of Kerima Cevik, a brown-skinned Black woman. Kerima is facing away from the camera, with her beautiful gray hair covering her face. She is leaning against window blinds, with the light from the window softly hitting her face.

    It is so important for Black disabled women to have a village – a group of individuals who understand her fully. A group of uplifters, motivators, and truth sayers who will give you gems of knowledge and love when times go dark. These women will understand your frustrations in ways that many do not and cannot You will never have to “prove” why something hurts because they will automatically know why – they have been through it too. Becoming an advocate has allowed me to build a dynamic village of disabled women, particularly Black disabled women, who hold me down and will empower me when my spirit is running on E.

    One of those women is Kerima Cevik, a disabled mother, writer and blogger that resides in Washington, D.C.  Kerima was one of the first Black women I found who has written about historical Black disabled people.  She has inspired me to do the same, as seen when I feature disabled Black people whose stories are left out of the history books.  Kerima’s interview is a powerful read, so much so that my heart was overwhelmed at the truth gems she dropped for this series.

    Without further ado, here is Kerima, in all her unapologetic and fierceness being:

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  3. #BlackDisabledGirlMagic Series: Heather Watkins, Disabled Writer, Mom, & Community Leader

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    Image of Heather Watkins, light-skinned Black woman who is standing in front of a off-white colored door. Heather is smiling directly to the camera, and is wearing a black-and-white multi-striped top with black pants. Heather has her hands placed on her hips, which are in a relaxed pose.

    As we continue with the #BlackDisabledGirlMagic series, we have seen the various perspectives about the lives Black disabled women live and our worth shared in our own words. If you have noticed, I have asked each woman the same questions; this was purposeful. Though we all share the same identities of being Black, disabled, and women, we exist and interact in this world from different lens. Those differences are influenced by our upbringings, disabilities, ages, geographical location, educational and professional backgrounds, and so forth. Black disabled women are not a monolith, and that is what I wanted to highlight during Women’s History Month. We may encounter similar battles, but our views on life, our bodies, and survival are greatly individualized, as it is for everyone else.

    Heather Watkins is a blogger, disabled mother, community leader, and dear friend that reside in Boston, Massachusetts. Heather has become an older sister to me and was one of the first Black disabled advocates I befriended. Heather’s voice in the community is important because of her life experiences and ability to see people beyond the surface.

    I am honored to share Heather’s words and life outlooks with you all:

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  4. #BlackDisabledGirlMagic Series: Kathy D. Woods, Fashion Designer for Little Women

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    Image of Kathy D. Woods, a Black little woman. Kathy is outside and standing in front of a white building. Kathy is wearing a red-orange snakeskin-printed dress with black dress shoes. Kathy is smiling directly into the camera.

    Fashion and feeling good in the clothes you wear are important, and for some disabled women, it can be a challenge to find apparel that fits your body type and shape.  Luckily, clothing lines are recognizing that disabled women (and disabled people in general) are an overlooked consumer market, and are designing clothes that makes us feel comfortable and confident.

    Kathy D. Woods has taken this one step further by becoming a designer that targets little women like herself by establishing her self-titled Collection brand:  Kathy D. Woods.  Kathy resides in Santa Clarita, California, and has received national attention for her brand and the work she is doing to allow disabled women to feel fierce and dynamic as they conquer the world.

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  5. #BlackDisabledGirlMagic Series: Keri Gray, Millennial Who Is Passionate about Intersectionality

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    Photo of Keri Gray, light-skinned Black women with a small afro who is smiling into the camera and throwing up the peace sign. Keri is dressed in business attire and is standing near a black podium. The podium has a white sign on the front of it that reads: “national youth transitions center.”

    For Women’s History Month, I want to spotlight the phenomenal Black women I know who are trailblazers and deserve to have their voices and stories well-known.  These women are individuals I respect, admire, and am proud to know on a personal basis.  In our community, we do not celebrate #BlackDisabledGirlMagic enough or give praise to the ways we have made our own paths and are doing incredible work.  These women are the present, and their advocacy will impact future generations and empower budding advocates, especially Black disabled girls.

    The first woman featured for this series is Keri Gray.  Keri is 26 years old, and resides in Maryland.  I met Keri a year ago at the White House event for Black Disability History, and we instantly connected based on our passions to uplift Black women.  Her advocacy work spans many spaces and organizations; she is the Rising Leaders Initiatives Program Manager at the USBLN, the Education Committee Chair for BYP100 DC, and one of the Co-Founders for the Harriet Tubman Collective.  Keri is definitely one of the women I call my “disabled Sistagirls,” and I am blessed to know, support, and love her voice and friendship.  

    Without further ado, this is Keri Gray, a prime example of #BlackDisabledGirlMagic:   

    VT:  Tell us about yourself.  

    KG:  I was born in Salisbury, MD and raised on the south side of Longview, TX. I grew up in an environment where I had to literally cross the railroad tracks in order to do anything besides kick it at a friend’s house. My life has often looked like an Ice Cube “Friday” movie, lol. It has come with a lot of laughs, good friends and family, and some unfortunate situations. I believe it is my faith and hard work that has allowed me to blossom into who I am today.  

     

    VT:  What is it that you do?

    KG:  In my work, I identify as an Intersectionality and Youth Programming Artist. I enjoy designing programs that empower Black women, young people with disabilities, and communities of color. The issues that I address in my work are hard. How do you fight against long standing and systemic issues such as racism, sexism, and ableism? How do you re-imagine and then design a world filled with opportunities and access? These are hard questions, but I feel it is a part of my purpose to address these issues.

     

    VT:  Why is it important to you to uplift the experiences of Black disabled young women in your work?

    KG:  One of my biggest fears is to turn into a “hidden figure.” A person who did a lot, but was never recognized for their work. Some people would say that I should not aim for recognition. But to be honest, I am tired of Black women, and particularly young Black disabled women, not getting the recognition and respect that they deserve. It is important for me to uplift the experiences and narratives of young Black disabled women because we deserve it. I’m drawn to young Black disabled women because I am one. The intersections of my identities create an unique narrative that is impossible for others to fully understand unless they are also young, Black, disabled, and a woman. Young people are the center of any revolution, and often the creators or inspiration for innovative designs. Young people are powerful. In my daily life, I hope that I can encourage and create connections for those who are like me.  

     

    VT:  What are the obstacles Black disabled women face in society?  In our disabled community?  

    KG:  There is really no place for Black disabled women. Black disabled women deal with racism and sexism in the mainstream white society, and then we deal with ableism and sexism in the Black community. Black women are often the main audience and backbone of the Black church, and yet, their voices are silenced and their participation is limited. The obstacles to being a Black disabled women can feel endless.  When I think of these obstacles I quote a piece of Lucille Clifton’s poem: “Come celebrate with me that everyday something has tried to kill me and has failed.”

     

    VT:  How can our community support/uplift Black disabled women?  What does that look like for you?

    KG:  It would be helpful for our community take a step back and allow for Black disabled women to have more opportunities to step up. I would also like to see allies financially invest in opportunities for Black disabled women to get together. As Black disabled women, we need time and space together. We need to see each other, we need to love and uplift each other, and we need to learn from each other. It is my belief, that when Black disabled women are able to build a strong community together then they will ultimately invest back into other communities, organizations, and businesses.

     

    VT:  How did you come into your Black disabled womanness?  What struggles have you experienced, and are still conquering?  

    KG:  To me, being a Black disabled woman is about embodying confidence and practicing consistent self-love. I have struggled with both concepts over the years. Due to my lack of confidence, I often hid my disabilities growing up. Due to my lack of self-love, I would harm myself and allow other people to harm me. I am not proud to say that I have settled in relationships and I have settled in job placements However, I am happy to say that my level of confidence has grown a lot over the years. Being a Black disabled woman means loving the unique qualities about myself. I have scars all along my body, and I think they are a beautiful testament to my survival. I have this prosthetic limb that allows me to walk anywhere I want, and I think its shiny metal is an unique characteristic that not many can show off. I definitely have a Black woman’s attitude (lol), and I think that’s sexy. It allows me to push past bullshit, and create authentic projects that relate to real narratives.

     

    VT:  If you could tell your younger self anything, what would it be?  

    KG:  I would tell my younger self that “you are going to be okay.” At the age of 26 years old, I have already experienced heartbreak three times. Each time, I felt like I was dying and that life would always be a bit gloomy. Although I am still hurting and healing from my past situations, I now have a better understanding of love and moving forward. I would want to tell my younger self, that you can heal from heartbreak and it is possible to experience love all over again. That’s truly a blessing.

     

    VT:  For the Black disabled women who may read this, what words of wisdom/love would you want to share?  What does it mean to be a Black disabled woman in America?

    KG:  I have found that Black women will find ways to self-medicate to escape from the hard burdens of life. We will attempt to escape through drugs, sex, materialistic items, or anything to distract us from feeling alone and unworthy. There have been times in my life where I have turned into a different person completely. I urge Black disabled women to find healthy ways to deal with the hardships of life. It’s critical to find sisterhood, to practice self-care, and to practice grounding techniques. Don’t give up and don’t lose yourself during hard times.

     

    VT:  What’s a little known fact about you?

    KG:  I am a huuuge hip hop fan! Music, and specifically hip hop, often inspires in my work. Rappers are some of the most raw, vulnerable, and creative hustlers that you can learn about. I actively try to bring that level authenticity and unpolished realness to my work. Shout out to Queen Bey, Nicki Minaj, J. Cole, Solange, and Chance the Rapper.

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    Final Thoughts

    The reason I wanted to do this series is because of the lack of visibility of Black disabled women and the impact felt when our experiences are not included in the movement or in society.  When I started RYV! four years ago, I did not know a single Black disabled woman doing advocacy work.  Four years later, I am privileged to know many, and have them become a part of my disabled village.  I want this series to showcase the talents and excellence that exists, and allow budding Black disabled women advocates to know that they are not alone – we are here.  

    If you want to learn more about Keri and her work, you can follow her on Twitter:  @keri_gray.  Next week, you will meet a woman who has a stylish and fierce clothing line that allows disabled women to feel comfortable in what they wear.  Can you guess who she is?