Melwood Celebrates Black History Month
February 1, 2021
Melwood celebrates people with disabilities who have transformed their lives, overcome challenges, and contributed to the greater good through outstanding leadership, artistry, education, and innovation. During Black History Month, we recognize the many contributions that African Americans with disabilities have made to our collective history and culture.
Lois Curtis, an artist with intellectual and developmental disabilities, helped pave the way for people with developmental and intellectual disabilities to get out of institutional settings and live within communities. Curtis was one of the plaintiffs in the famous 1999 Olmstead Supreme Court decision ruling that unjustified segregation of persons with disabilities constituted discrimination in violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and that public entities must provide community-based services to persons with disabilities. Today, Curtis receives community-based support and enjoys life outside the confines of institutional living. She has exhibited her work in Atlanta and has had several gallery exhibitions. She has been invited to speak about her life and work nationally. In 2011, she was invited to present her artwork to President Barack Obama.
Dr. Lamar Hardwick, a pastor, author, and autism advocate, was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (Aspergers Syndrome) when he was 36 years old. He provides workshops, seminars, and consults churches, faith-based organizations, and schools on creating environments for people with autism. He also provides mentoring services for teens and young adults on the autism spectrum and wrote the book, I am Strong: The Life and Journey of an Autistic Pastor.
The list of disabled African American heroes is long and includes remarkable people like Harriett Tubman, abolitionist and political activist; Stevie Wonder, singer and songwriter; Barbara Jordan, lawyer, educator, politician, and civil rights activist; and Daymond John, entrepreneur, New York Times best-selling author, star of the television show Shark Tank, and motivational speaker. All of whom have accomplished or are accomplishing amazing feats while living with a disability.
Maya Angelou, an award-winning author, poet, civil rights activist, and college professor, had selective mutism, an anxiety disorder that caused her to not speak as a child due to the physical and psychological trauma she endured. In the five-year span that she experienced this, her listening, observing, and memorizing skills improved, and her love of books expanded. This helped her to have a prolific and successful career, writing poems such as Phenomenal Woman, books such as I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, and films such as Georgia, Georgia. She also directed, produced, and starred in various films and TV shows. She received several awards throughout her life, including a Pulitzer Prize, two NAACP Image Awards, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Angelou passed away in 2014, but her legacy lives on through her work that continues to inspire people all over the world.
According to the CDC, one in four African Americans has a disability. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that African Americans with disabilities had a higher unemployment rate in 2019 (11.8 percent) than other demographic groups. This underscores the additional challenge of being disabled and black in America.
At Melwood, we work each day to create a future where everyone is fully included in society and can share their unique abilities with the world. We embrace all differences and respect all backgrounds, talents, capabilities. Melwood is committed to diversity and inclusion and salutes these heroes who inspire us every day to pursue our mission to advocate for and empower people with disabilities to transform their own lives through unique opportunities to work and play in the community.
Disability rights would not be where it is today without the contributions of Black disabled advocates. Please join us in celebrating these remarkable heroes, not just during #BlackHistoryMonth, but throughout the year.
Melwood is one of the largest employers of people with disabilities in the country, employing more than 1,600 workers – nearly 1,000 of whom are people with disabilities. Melwood offers job placement, job training, life skills for independence, and support services to more than 2,500 people each year in DC, Maryland, and Virginia. Melwood also has an inclusive summer camp program for children and provides employment and support services to veterans and active duty military members who have experienced service-related trauma or injury. For more information, visit www.Melwood.org.
Vice President of Government Relations