I would like to start by asking you a question: how many people with disabilities do you know? How many of them are Black Americans who identify as having a disability? What do you know about their stories; what do you know about their struggles?
In many communities, disability is a taboo subject. It’s stigmatized like that uncle or cousin who “lives in that room” or who just acts “strange.” Growing up as a Black American girl living with a physical disability, no one could help but see it; and I never saw or heard stories on TV and later the early stages of social media that reflected me or my life. I didn’t know facts like, my shero, Harriet Tubman was a disabled woman. I didn’t know Black enslaved disabled people were the last people to know they were free, similar to the enslaved Black Americans in Texas, which started Juneteenth.
Now that I’m an adult activist and filmmaker it is important for me to tell underrepresented people’s stories and advocate for the rights of people with disabilities. To me, it goes hand in hand. According to the National Center of Disability and Journalism, approximately 6 million Black Americans in the U.S. live with a disability of some kind. In fact, Black Americans have the highest rate of disability of all segments of the population at a little over 20 percent. Yet, they get little attention from reporters or the public. When it comes to Black Americans with disabilities, like hidden gems, our stories remain unearthed and unknown in mainstream media and even some disabled spaces.
That needs to change.
One of my goals is to bring the stories and lives of Black Americans with disabilities to the forefront. One way to dismantle oppression is to tell stories so people no longer feel alone and begin to heal; there’s power in our stories. And starting on Thursday, June 26th at 6pm, I will be moderating a 5-part series called “Being Black and Disabled”. I will interview 5 incredible Black Americans living with mental illness, autism, deaf, learning disability, and sickle cell anemia. They will be sharing their highs and lows, joys and challenges living with their respective conditions.
Living with a disability is not an anomaly, 1 in 4 Americans are disabled. It is my hope those 1 in 4 people and those like you who probably at least know one, no longer have to live in the shadows. To watch “Being Black and Disabled” go to Michigan Disability Rights Coalition’s Facebook page.
Tameka Citchen-Spruce is a Detroit based activist and filmmaker. She is the LEAD Black Initiatives Coordinator at Michigan Disability Rights Coalition (MDRC). MDRC is a 501 © 3 non-profit organization that cultivates disability pride and strengthens the disability movement by recognizing disability as a natural and beautiful part of human diversity while collaborating to dismantle all forms of oppression.