Black Influences

Overcoming disability can be a life-long journey, but when you are black in addition to being disabled, it can be twice as difficult. February is Black History Month, and Disability Network/Lakeshore would like to recognize some of the many people of color who have contributed to making the world a better place for all of us.

According to the office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion*, these are a few of the individuals who have been instrumental in touching the lives of millions while also being disabled. Their courage and commitment to improving the lives of others, and doing so while living with a disability, should be an example to us all.

The singer/actor Harry Belafonte is one of my favorites. He had the first million-selling LP’s by a single artist with the Calypso music he was famous for. His honesty and integrity were evident in every movie he made and every song he sang. Mr. Belafonte dropped out of high school because he had dyslexia, which made reading extremely difficult for him. When he was young, dyslexia was not well understood, but it did not stop him from making delightful music or from becoming a champion for dyslexia awareness.

Maya Angelou is known for her books and her poetry, but she also was a singer and a civil rights activist. At age 8, she was sexually assaulted by her mother’s boyfriend and did not speak for the next five years. Fortunately for all of us, she found her voice again and became a champion for the rights of black people and women, and an author that has thrilled readers all over the world.

When I was young, Muhammad Ali was the most famous boxer in the world. He delighted us with his fancy footwork, his sense of humor, and his goodwill. He not only fought in the boxing ring, but he advocated for racial and social justice as well. As a youth, he was diagnosed with dyslexia, and at mid-life, he developed Parkinson’s disease and became a role model for people with disabilities.

It is difficult in our society to overcome the stigma of being disabled, but to be a person of color with a disability, and to touch the lives of so many others, is worthy of recognition. We are honored to know these individuals and to have our lives enriched by them.

*University of Pittsburg. (Office for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion), disABLED Black History.