UMSL Succeed and Missouri Historic Society focus on intersection of Black historical past and disability rights throughout digital occasion – UMSL Each day
Nya Hardaway was researching the intersection of black history and disability rights when she came across an article on “Holla if You Hear Me,” a February 2020 event on the very same topic sponsored by the University of Missouri-St. Ludwig.
After reading about the Black History Month event, Hardaway, the community outreach coordinator for the African American History Initiative at the Missouri Historical Society, knew that she wanted to work with the program on something new.
“In the African American History Initiative, we have room for quick response programs, something that isn’t necessarily on our printed calendar,” Hardaway said. “As the summer goes on, we think about the needs of the church and what we haven’t talked about this year.”
She teamed up with Rachel Goldmeier, a UMSL Succeed student support specialist, and Frances Davis, a UMSL Succeed internship student, and the three created Black History and Disability Rights: The Coalescence of Disregarded Voices for the Missouri Historical STL History Live series Society.
The Missouri Historical Society presented the virtual event in collaboration with UMSL Succeed on July 24th. The digital meeting included a discussion of the influence of black Americans on the disability rights movement, with the aim of shedding light on experiences that are often ignored.
“I think a lot of people don’t understand that there are people with identities that exist even on the fringes of marginalized communities,” Hardaway said. “During my time at the museum, all of the programs I’ve done were based on some of these even more marginalized identities. When we talk about black history the focus is on people with specific identities, so I want to change the way people can engage with our programs, especially in museums. “
Panellists Chris Worth and Monica Williams, both disability rights activists and organizers at Paraquad, explored this intersection by telling the life of Brad Lomax – a black wheelchair user and member of the Black Panther Party – and his role in occupying the fourth floor office of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare in the San Francisco Federal Building in 1977.
Later, Worth and Williams were accompanied by Sean Gold and Michkeal Cross for a question-and-answer session moderated by UMSL successful student Sydney Clark.
Worth began by stating that people with physical and developmental disabilities have always played an important role in society, and the story of Lomax is just one of many throughout history.
“We really want to emphasize that we’re focusing on Bradley – and a great person to focus on – but his story, our story, is much longer. The reason we emphasize this is because it is not talked about much. It’s not focused on that, so when we talk about Bradley, remember that story and think back. “
Originally from Philadelphia, Lomax moved to Washington, DC to study at Howard University. Williams noted that he developed multiple sclerosis as a student and was also involved in the civil rights movement in the country’s capital.
However, he became a leading figure in the disability rights movement after moving to Oakland, California, and joining the Black Panthers. He began working at the Black Panthers’ George Jackson People’s Free Clinic.
“As he worked there, collaborated with his community and dealt with his disability, he realized how difficult it was for not only a disabled person but also a black person to get help and get around town,” said Williams. “So he turned to Ed Roberts, whom we consider to be the founder of the Independent Living Movement.”
Worth interjected Williams to ask Williams about her own struggle to fight in two communities since she is a black woman with a disability. She stated that it can be frustrating when her experience is devalued, but has found that the means is to “make a lot of noise”.
Lomax came to the same conclusion.
In 1977, Lomax, Burns, and other disability advocates joined forces to call on Joseph A. Califano Jr., the new HEW secretary, to keep President Jimmy Carter’s campaign promise to enforce Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
The long-ignored section of the law states that no person with a disability can be excluded from a program or service that is federally funded. In the end, it also meant that public buildings had to be accessible.
“Even when I was younger, people with disabilities couldn’t go into places like the library,” Worth said. “It wasn’t part of our culture’s consciousness to think about how people traverse basic spaces.”
However, Califano delayed all material progress on Section 504. In response, Lomax and more than 100 others occupied the HEW offices in the San Francisco Federal Building to force action on the matter.
“They said, ‘We’re not waiting any more. You missed the deadline. Now we’re serious, ‘”said Williams.
The demonstration became known as the Sit-in 504. Lomax and the rest of the protesters stayed in the building for 25 days. Lomax won the support of his Black Panther colleagues who, in solidarity with the protesters, provided food and other supplies on a daily basis.
Making a lot of noise worked. Califano signed the new regulations and 25 protesters traveled to Washington to witness the historic moment.
Following the discussion, Gold and Cross joined Worth and Williams for the question-and-answer session, where they covered topics such as having a different skill status while being black, obstacles in the education system, and contemporary lobbying.
Goldmeier was enthusiastic about the collaboration and the opportunity to deal with such an important topic.
“I’m so happy that Nya got in touch and that we had the opportunity to make a new connection in the community,” she said. “This is very important to us in order to continue to talk about different groups and different identities and to further educate the entire community. I think it’s a really strong collaboration. I hope we can work together more in the future and focus on even more great things. “
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