I’ve come to realize that the topic of Black people with disabilities leads to very uncomfortable conversations.
And that discomfort means that it’s a conversation that we rarely have.
When you think about people with disabilities, you put them in their own group. Maybe you think about disability rights related to that group. You can think about those who have spinal cord injuries, which is a subgroup within the disabled community.
It’s interesting, though, because within the disabled community, nobody really acknowledges the subgroups based on ethnicity. But they’re there.
I’m here to tell you that there are many Black people with disabilities. And they often deal with more trauma than the actual injury.
I grew up around poverty. I wasn’t able to seek opportunity because there was no leadership. There wasn’t representation of what could be. So I was left to seek a life in the streets.
But when I was shot, my mindset went back to my old lifestyle. I had no hope. There was no positive representation of a Black disabled man to inspire me to become who I have become today. It’s crazy to reflect on this and how I managed to get to this point.
When I started my organization, I became a positive representation within the disabled community. But I noticed that when I went to bodybuilding competitions or other outreach events, I was often the only Black person there. There were no Black people, even at the booths or as company representatives. If there were any Black people with disabilities, they were overwhelmed, trying to understand all of the resources that they’d never had access to before.
For a long time, when I competed, whether it was CrossFit or whatever, Black people made up less than 10 percent of the participants.
This lack of representation is a serious issue. The vulnerables’ lack of awareness about community resources is dangerous. We must take action.
I’ve begun working with kids with disabilities from my community—the Black community. It blew my mind to learn how many Black kids have disabilities. The sad thing is that their parents lack the awareness of critical resources that could improve their kids’ lives. So these kids have to deal with the lifestyles in their community as well as grow up Black. And on top of all that, they face seemingly insurmountable challenges from their disability.
The layers of these issues are deeply concerning.
I go back to when I first got injured. There were basically no resources provided to me. I returned home from the hospital feeling completely defeated. I had to move into my mom’s house and relied on her completely. I even had to get carried to the bathroom. I didn’t know there were companies who could fix accessibility in a bathroom. Talk about a year of inconvenience.
I also vividly remember being told that I couldn’t drive. My vehicle sat outside, reminding me every day that I couldn’t drive. I relied on other people to take me to all of my appointments, or for any freedom to move out of the house. God, I used to hate waiting. Especially when I knew that that car—my car—was just outside.
It took three years before I found out that I could put hand controls in a vehicle that I already owned. That was life changing. Finally, I had freedom! And I didn’t have to invest in a large van, which carries its own stigma about the disabled community.
I think about the resources that were available just across the way to the white communities. I think about going to bodybuilding competitions and finding out that they have travel funds to support minority participants. I was able to travel for two years because of that. But that wasn’t something readily known.
The things that I know now can help me connect with the isolated subgroups within the disabled community. I can provide representation and guidance to empower them as they work to diversify their own efforts and resources.
The time is now to make sure that all Black people’s rights are put first and foremost.
As a Black man, I will always be seen as a Black man. Even before being seen as disabled. But I’m also an entrepreneur. I face the business world that’s filled with not only systemic issues, but also stigmas about being a person with a disability. Sometimes I’m going into meetings that lack accessibility. That means that I’m outside looking hopeless in two different ways—as a Black man and as a disabled person. I’ve lived this experience.
The same challenges also apply to a fifteen-year-old Black kid with a prosthetic leg who lives in a community that lacks representation. Does he lack confidence? Does he cover up his leg because in his community, he’s not accepted or wanted? When he starts driving, will he be able to say he has a disability?
He’ll always be Black first. Then disabled.
I truly believe that systems need to change for everyone. Individuals with disabilities deserve a more independent life. And access to resources should be provided to ALL subgroups within the disabled community.
But this requires representation.
Everyone should have the ability to feel free. I was able to seek my freedom. It’s crazy that I have to say that. But the things that I found on my own have enabled me to be free mentally, and to be free physically, all in spite of my limitations.
I truly believe that representation and stories of hope can help all people. But these beacons of light should be more readily available to those with disabilities.
How can we break barriers set by those limitations and help those with disabilities to excel? How can we break them free from the mental chains imposed by community and systemic issues, and from their disability, to being truly free?
Those of us in the disabled community shouldn’t have to be symbolized as a person with a disability. Nor should we be looked down upon because of the way that our disability is caused. I know to some people, it might seem like our fate given our circumstances. But that’s not right.
I see my organization shifting toward a new direction that I hadn’t anticipated. I feel for kids with disabilities. I hurt for them. I see my reality, and I see the same things happening to them. But no more. We’re being called to action.
It’s time to make a difference. To bring this conversation to the table.
If you need someone that can tell you information from a direct point of view, please reach out to me at any time.
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Edited by: Writing Help KC