The face of the ADA, like the face of the disability community and the disability rights movement is White. Of course, those who authored the ADA, as well as the politicians who pushed it forward, along with the disability rights leaders and the one who signed it into law were all White. Fine. I have nothing but the deepest respect for you all. Still, the way the story is told, you'd think Black folks just sat on our duffs and sucked up the benefits of the ADA while White folks and a few Latinos did all the work.
I'm going to tell my version of the narrative, which is every bit as true as the mainstream version. Black folks helped get the ADA passed, too. We didn't write the law, but we put our bodies and lives on the line to get it passed. Even before the first word of the legislation was written, before the first hearing, before anything, Black folks were out there fighting for accessible public transportation and accessible public spaces. Black folks fought for the ADA just as hard as White folks. We chained and handcuffed ourselves to buses. We helped shut down buildings and stayed overnight in freezing cold weather. We climbed those 83 steps of the Capitol. We were arrested in the Capitol Rotunda, too, but no one seems to know or remember that. Even today, Black folks continue to put our bodies and lives on the line, but 99% of what you hear and see are White folks.
Am I angry? Jealous? Jaded? You bet! I see all these White folks being lauded and praised, but only a couple of token Blacks appear anywhere. Young White folks who weren't even born when we Black folks were being dragged from our wheelchairs or beat up by cops are being seen as the face of the movement, while Black folks aren't really spoken of unless you're considered respectable. To date, I've only seen three Black folks put forward as leaders in the disability rights movement and one of them has passed away.
Why is it that the face of the ADA, the disability community and the disability rights movement is White? Is it racism? Is it the system of White supremacy? Is it because White is the default condition or experience? I maintain that it's all of the above.
What can Black folks do, besides be respectable, work for respectable organizations and be educated, to be seen as real leaders in the disability community? To be honest, I'm not sure. There are Black folks who stand out, but, aren't really taken seriously.
So, now, I'm going to speak the names of Black folks who fought for the ADA. Some have passed away. Some have gone on another path in their lives, or can't be as active due to health issues. Some are still around.
Rev. Willie Smith. Jerry Eubanks. Gwen Jackson. Charles Baker. Charlie Baker. Irene Norwood. Emmanuel Taylor. Paulette Patterson. Bernard Baker. Bobby Coward. Marva Ways. E. T. Gwen, from Syracuse. Edith, from Connecticut.
I know there's more. I see their faces in my mind...
Now, I'll name some folks who've been in the trenches for years, even decades. Some have indeed, passed on or went on a different path in life.
Leonard Roscoe. Karen Burrison. Latonya Reeves. Lee Jackson. Shayla Jackson. Gary Isaac. Sam Burnett. Marilyn, from Georgia. Margo Waters. Zachary Lewis. Barbara Techmeyer. Sheila Dean. Elizabeth "Candy" Kinney. Ken, from Georgia. Debbie Russell. Keith Lofton. Martina Robinson. Marshall, from Philly. Marsha, from Philly. Mark Jacobs. Terrie Lincoln. Will, from Maryland. Tameka, from Philly. Takiea Harvey. Carla Lawson, from Philly. Miss Dorothy, from Philly, who passed away.
There are so many more...
So, when you tell the story of the ADA, or of the disability rights movement, don't forget about us Black folks who put it all on the line, too. Don't leave us out of the histories. Say our names. Remember our names. Don't forget us.