ADVOCATING AT A WHITE HOUSE SUMMIT

“Everyone has to fight for their children with disabilities. Sometimes I have to fight even harder. Despite knowing my rights, there have been instances where I, like other parents of color, get that look as if those I’m speaking to are thinking, ‘You have the audacity to challenge us! Who do you think you are?’” Mauretta Copeland said. She knows she’s not alone in her thoughts; which is why she’s so passionate about her role as the Cultural Broker for the African American Community with the Center for Family Involvement.

And it’s why when her 19-year-old daughter Imanni told her she wanted to attend the White House Summit on African American Youth with Disabilities in late July, she had no problem skipping the other conference she was supposed to attend that day to go to Washington, DC to participate.

This was the first ever “AfAmEdSummit.” Nearly 50 brilliant African American students with disabilities attended to share ideas about how they and their peers can feel safe, engaged, and supported both in school and in life.

The summit featured panels, workshops, and discussions. The highlight, however, was the eight recommendations that the participants made to educators. They stressed the importance of creating a support system for Black students with disabilities that takes into account the stigma and unique challenges they face. Imanni, who has cerebral palsy, told her group, “I need teachers to believe in my intelligence.” Her suggestion was made into a formal recommendation that educators “Have high expectations for Black students with disabilities, encourage and support learning and development in all ways. Students recognize when educators doubt their intelligence and capability as it relates to their disability. They have high expectations for themselves and want the adults they encounter to share them as well.”

Imanni was thrilled she was able to attend the summit. She said, “I liked being heard and they let me be myself.”

Mauretta found the atmosphere nurturing. “The kids could be open and honest. They felt cared for and included,” she said. But she added that for the recommendations to be implemented, they would have to make their way to educators. And like so many similar events, the people who really needed to be there were not.

Lets hope the next administration makes this inaugural event an annual one that attendees can keep approving upon.

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