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Celebrating Black History Month

As we celebrate Black History Month, which takes place every February, Disability Network of Mid-Michigan recognizes the contributions made and the important presence of African Americans in the United States. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), 1 in every 4 Black Americans has a disability. Let's take a moment to learn about a few whose achievements and gifts add so much to our lives.

The Past: Black Americans With Disabilities Who Reshaped History

Harriet Tubman was born in Maryland in 1820. A former slave known for her bravery and leadership as an abolitionist and conductor on the Underground Railroad, Tubman made 13 perilous trips to free 70 enslaved individuals and earned the nickname “Moses.” Harriet Tubman’s epilepsy was a major part of her personal story.

Sojourner Truth was a former slave who became a powerful voice in the abolition movement, known for her speech “Ain’t I a Woman?” which was a demand for action and equality. According to historical accounts, she had a hand injury which was necessary for her to hide because disability was perceived as a moral failing and something that needed to be fixed to have value.

Malcolm X was a leader in the Civil Rights Movement and Black Nationalism who gained national prominence through his charismatic speeches and sermons, but what many don’t know is that he had dyslexia, making it difficult for him to read and write. Nevertheless, he taught himself to read and write while in prison and went on to pen a bestselling book, “The Autobiography of Malcolm X.”

The Present: 3 Black Americans With Disabilities Reshaping The Future

Simone Biles is a 2016 Olympic gymnastics champion and the first female gymnast to win four consecutive all-around world titles since the 1970s. She has won an eye-popping 14 world championship medals. At the age of six, Simone was diagnosed with ADHD and today serves as a powerful voice for those with both invisible and visible disabilities.

Missy Elliott, is a 51-year-old businesswoman, rapper, and Grammy Award winner. At the peak of her career in 2008, Elliott experienced a startling and alarming weight loss, sparking criticism from both fans and the media. She was diagnosed with Graves’ disease, an incurable autoimmune disorder that causes a range of symptoms, including hair loss, tremors, muscle weakness, and bulging eyes. She had to take a step back from her career to focus on her recovery. Through nutrition, exercise, and ongoing treatments, she has learned to live with and manage her disease and returned to the music scene in 2011.

Draymond John is an investor and television personality who founded The Shark Group and serves as one of the five investors on ABC’s Shark Tank. John launched his successful clothing line FUBU in the 1990s, positioning him as a business guru, branding specialist, and “Godfather of Urban Fashion.”. As a child, he found it difficult to read and write. Professionals diagnosed him with a learning disability, but it wasn’t until 1999 that he received an official diagnosis of dyslexia after a friend encouraged him to seek help. He has also been diagnosed with a hearing disorder and uses assistive technology to manage his hearing loss.

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