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Celebrating Black History Month - 2024

Celebrating Black History Month

February 1, 2024: Join NCCDD as we celebrate Black History Month, a time to recognize the significant contributions that members of the Black Community have made, including those who also have an intellectual or other developmental disability (I/DD). Each week during February we will highlight a Black individual with I/DD who has made a positive impact in Black history and provide other information and resources.

Shining the Spotlight

Week 1: Lois Curtis, Disability Advocate and Artist

Lois Curtis (July 14, 1967 – November 3, 2022) was an American artist and the lead plaintiff in the United States Supreme Court case that became known as the Olmstead Decision in which the court held that the unjustified segregation of people with disabilities was discriminatory, and a breach of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Curtis grew up in Georgia with cognitive and developmental disabilities. At the age of 11, she began living in institutions for nearly 20 years. In the 1990s, she, along with Elaine Wilson, was the lead plaintiff in the Olmstead v. L.C. case. On June 22, 1999, the court held made its landmark decision that changed the futures and opened the gates to community integration.

Soon after the decision, Curtis began living in the community and continued to advocate for the rights of people with disabilities. She also worked as an artist using pastels and acrylic portraits. With the assistance of a professional aide and others who supported her choices and goals, she led a full life until her death in 2022.

Week 2: Brad Lomax, Disability Rights Activist

Brad Lomax (September 13, 1950 – August 28, 1984) was a civil rights and disability rights activist who helped lead the 504 Sit-in in San Francisco. He was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis while attending college and shortly after began using a wheelchair. His experiences with the inability to enter public buildings due to the lack of ramps inspired his advocacy efforts for better accessibility for all people with disabilities.

The 504 Sit-in was a protest in response to the failure of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare to implement Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. In 1977, he participated in the 504 Sit-in at the San Francisco Federal Building and encouraged the Black Panthers, of which he was a founding member of the San Francisco chapter, to provide meals and other supplies to the protestors. In California, he also established a Center for Independent Living branch in East Oakland.

Learn more about Lomax’s legacy: Exploring the Intersection of Black History and Disability Inclusion (Blog article from the U.S. Department of Labor)

Week 3: Andraéa LaVant, Cultural Changemaker

Photo of Andraea LaVantAndraéa LaVant, a Black woman who also has a disability, is an active trailblazer determined to cultivate a “culture for all.” For over 15 years, she’s been a notable voice in key conversations related to disability rights and justice and to other social justice movements, including her work as the Impact Producer of the Oscar-nominated, feature-length documentary, Crip Camp.

LaVant advocates on fostering communities of belonging where everyone feels welcome and who are empowered to become the fullest version of themselves.

“With her lived and professional experiences shaped by her identities at the intersections of race, gender, and disability, Andraéa LaVant expertly navigates and negotiates all corners of culture —from the fashion trends of the season to the latest federal policy mandates. She leads the hard conversations that should be happening today — and delivers “diplomatic shade” while she’s at it. With no apologies.” (Excerpt from the website https://andraealavant.com/.)

LaVant is also the founder and president of LaVant Consulting Inc., a social impact communications firm that specializes in empowering brands to “speak disability with confidence.” LaVant’s team has led campaigns for Fortune 500 companies, including Google, Verizon, Microsoft, Adobe, and Netflix. 

Photo credit: https://andraealavant.com/

Week 4: Honoring the Impact of Black Americans with Disabilties Year-Round

As we wrap up Black History Month and our spotlights on Black individuals who also have a disability, we’d like to share an article written in 2022 by Jennifer Thomas, policy advisor in the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Disability Employment Policy.

“Like many Black Americans, I feel pride each February when our nation’s schools and communities place a special emphasis on Black history and leaders,” wrote Thomas. “Of course, Black history is American history and thus should be honored every month, and while I believe progress has been made on that front in recent years, there is still a ways to go.”

Thomas said that throughout her career as an educator, she became more engaged in the disability community and recognizing the amazing contributions. She said that having grown up in Alabama, she learned about and was drawn to the stories of southern Blacks with disabilities, “especially those whose trailblazing was even more noteworthy because they were women.”

Read more from Thomas’ article here: Honoring the Contributions of Black Leaders with Disabilities

During this month, we spotlighted Lois Curtis, Andraéa LaVant, and Brad Lomax. But there are many others to recognize and highlight including the following, just to name a few. Please take some time to learn about the important contributions of these individuals not only during Black History Month, but also throughout the year.

Data and Statistics 

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) through its Office of Minority Health (OMH) recognizes and sets the theme for Black History Month. Overall, OMH is committed to Advancing Better Health Through Better Understanding for Black and African American individuals and communities by ensuring connections to culturally appropriate healthcare services, information, and resources. OMH is guided by its belief that when individuals are provided with culturally and linguistically appropriate information, they are better able to create healthier outcomes for themselves and their communities. 

According to OMH, the self-reported health status of Black and African Americans continues to improve each year; however, nearly 19% of adults still report being in fair or poor health, compared to 10% of Asian Americans; 13.6% of Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders; 13.6% of white Americans; and 16% of Hispanic/Latinos.

In 2022, the U.S. Department of Labor analyzed data that gave them greater insight into Black workers with disabilities. Their findings included:

  • Nearly 2.5 million working age Black adults in the United States have a disability. 
  • 874,000 Black adults with disabilities are currently working or want to work.
  • Black adults with disabilities work in a range of industries, with the largest numbers in either educational and healthcare services or professional and business services.

When looking at North Carolina, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports in 2021 that nearly 32% of Black North Carolinians have a disability. Of those, 16% having a mobility disability; 14% having a cognitive disability; 8.5% having an independent living disability; and the remainder having a hearing, vision or self-care disability. Overall, the CDC found that approximately 1 out of 4 Black adults in American have a disability



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North Carolina Council on Developmental Disabilities

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This project was supported, in part by grant number 2001NCSCDD-02, from the U.S. Administration for Community Living, Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C. 20201. Grantees undertaking projects with government sponsorship are encouraged to express freely their findings and conclusions. Points of view or opinions do not, therefore, necessarily represent official ACL policy.

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