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#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?  

About Vilissa Thompson, LMSW

Vilissa is the Founder & CEO of Ramp Your Voice!, an organization she created to establish herself as a Disability Rights Consultant & Advocate. Ramp Your Voice! is a prime example of how macro-minded Vilissa truly is, and her determination to leave a giant "tire track mark" on the world.

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