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:
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:
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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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?
Image of two disabled men strolling and rolling down an outdoor pathway. Man on the left is Donald Galloway, tall Black man with an afro with a guide dog by his side. Man on the right is Ed Roberts, white man who is in a wheelchair. Both men are facing the direction of the camera while in mid-stroll/roll. Photo credit: Ken Okuno.
For my last feature for Black History Month, I will spotlight the life of Donald Galloway, a man who was not hesitant to take on authorities when it came to the inclusion of disabled people. Donald’s story resonated with me because he was a social worker like myself, and in reading his advocacy legacy, fighting for justice and inclusion is the call we answer as helping professionals. As with many of the Black disabled social workers I know, our involvement in this movement is a unique mixture of ramping our voices while fulfilling the ethical duty we have as professionals. Donald was no exception to this, and I felt that as we are nearing the end of Black History Month and about to begin Social Work Month (which is in March), telling his story will bridge the two worlds I am proud to be a part of.
Image of 2 Black men outside wearing suits. Brad is on the left in his wheelchair and Greg is on the right crouching down. Both men are smiling for the camera.
One Black disabled advocate from the past I have enjoyed writing about is Brad Lomax, who was a member of the Black Panther Party (BPP). One of the reasons Brad’s story and involvement resonates with me is because of him confirming his unapologetic Blackness and disability. He was a proud member of BPP and used his participation to urge the Party to become a part of a major time in disability rights history – demanding the passage of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act in 1973.
I want to take a different angle in discussing Brad by focusing on the impact of the activism that led to the enactment of Section 504, and why Brad’s advocacy matters.
Image of Johnnie shown smiling directly into the camera. She is sitting in her wheelchair wearing a buttoned shirt, with an office desk to her left.
In continuing with my Black History Month focus on Black disabled leaders, I am proudly sharing the story of Johnnie Lacy, a woman who directed the Community Resources for Independent Living (CRIL) in Hayward, California for over a decade. The photograph of Johnnie is from the collection of Kenneth Stein, an advocate with a passion for history and highlighting those forgotten trailblazers that rivals my own.
Image of Joyce shown smiling, walking down the wide sidewalk in an Oct 20 t-shirt, with a large crowd of people with balloons and signs behind her. She is holding up the right side of a big banner that says “FULL RIGHTS FOR DISABLED PEOPLE — IMPLEMENT 504.”
For Black History Month 2017, I will feature the names, faces, and voices of Black disabled people who were a part of the influential advocacy efforts made during the heart of the Disability Rights Movement. As I have stated on the blog, the erasure of Black disabled people from disability history is profound, and the same offenses are committed when we discuss Black history. Taking action to correct these wrongs is a steadfast passion of my advocacy; these stories must be told so that Black disabled people will have disabled historical figures to look up to and be proud of.
On Thursday, October 13th, I will be hosting my first Twitter chat as a #MacroSW partner. I was invited to be a partner for MacroSW (Macro Social Work) over the summer. Macro social work focuses on “big systems” – advocacy, community building, politics, policy, etc., and how those systems affect how we engage with our communities and how we interact with those systems. Though I love micro social work, which is direct practice (working with individuals, families, and groups), it is macro social work where I shine and thrive. Since I am not in a traditional social work role within my advocacy work and now with my new position at WID (World Institute on Disability), it is nice to be among like-minded social workers who love to look at the big picture of the world, and work on solutions to fix the problems that exists.
This year has afforded me the chance to reflect on what being an advocate means to me, especially with the incredible connections and friendships I have been able to forge.
Being an advocate has also allowed me to fully embrace the two “secondary” disability identities I possess: being of shorter stature and learning about little people culture, and being hard of hearing (HoH) and learning about d/Deaf & HoH culture.
I was having a conversation with a fellow advocate/disabled Sistagirl about a response they received from a member of our community who did not understand why they would embrace their disabled identity. This person shared that they had “moved beyond” their disability; that mentality struck a nerve with Sistagirl, and the wheels started turning in my head.
I thought about what my response would be to that person or anyone who came to me with similar sentiments, and the following piece was birthed.
Important Disability-Related Videos You Should Watch
Here's the Out of Step's TOOST Radio interview I participated in as a panelist on Nov. 6th, 2013. During the interview, I discussed my personal & professional viewpoints about the choice of discussing disability status while seeking employment opportunities. The part that I'm featured begins 15:29 minutes into the interview.
In this video, Beyoncé helps Kid President with World Humanitarian Day 2013. The Kid President has OI like I do. I think that his messages are ones that all walks of life & ages can learn from. I'm so jealous that he met one of my idols & favorite music performers, Beyoncé! I wanted to share with you all the interview the Kid President did with Beyoncé for World Humanitarian Day, which was August 19th, 2013.