Black History Month
5 Black Deaf Role Models to Celebrate this Month
It’s February, and that means a time for reflection, learning, and celebration of Black Americans’ achievements and history.
The idea for Black History Month, or African American History Month, was first introduced in 1915 by historian Carter G. Woodson and minister Jesse E. Mooreland, who proposed that the second week of February be chosen to honor Black history alongside the celebration of Frederick Douglass’s and Abraham Lincoln’s birthdays. Eventually, the idea for a Black History Week expanded into Black History Month as we know it today – a practice officially recognized by President Gerald Ford in 1976, and by every US President since.
In honor of this year’s Black History Month, we’re celebrating a few Black deaf icons who’ve made big a difference in our community, and the world.
Dr. Glenn B. Anderson
Dr. Glenn B. Anderson is the first Black deaf person to earn a doctoral degree in the United States. As an undergraduate at Gallaudet (class of 1968) he studied psychology. He went on to earn a master’s degree from the University of Arizona, and officially made history in 1982, when he received his doctorate in rehabilitation counseling from New York University.
Dr. Anderson’s academic achievements and publications paved the way for deaf and hard-of-hearing scholars today, and he actively advocated for the deaf community in his work, too. He established continuing education programs for deaf adults at LaGuardia Community College and the University of Arkansas, and even served on the National Council for Disability, appointed by President George W. Bush.
Last year he returned to the Gallaudet Board of Trustees for a two-year appointment. He’d previously served from 1989-2005, including 11 years as Chair.
As a 10-time WNBA All-Star and three-time Olympic gold-medalist, Tamika Catchings has long been recognized as a basketball powerhouse. Born hard-of-hearing, Catchings has spoken frequently about deaf gain, calling her hearing loss her “sixth sense” in a game where on-court communication is mostly body language. In her 14-year career with the Indiana Fever, Catchings was Rookie of the Year, five-time league Defensive Player of the Year, and all-time league leader in steals.
Her talent was reaffirmed last year when she was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Photo from the College of Liberal & Creative Arts
Founder and Artistic Director, Urban Jazz Dance Company
2020 saw many successes for Black deaf people in the entertainment industry, including Lauren Ridloff and Natasha Ofili. Meanwhile, off-screen and onstage, Antoine Hunter continues his innovative work in the world of dance.
Hunter, self-described as “an award-winning African, Indigenous, Deaf, Disabled, Two Spirit, producer, choreographer, film/theater actor, dancer, dance instructor, model, poet, speaker, mentor and Deaf advocate,” has many of creative and advocacy projects. He’s currently the producer of the Bay Area International Deaf Dance Festival (BAIDDF), as well as the Artistic Director of Urban Jazz Dance Company, a group that features both deaf and hearing performers.
Due to the pandemic, BAIDDF and Urban Jazz went virtual this year, but we hope to see a return of deaf dancers to the stage again soon.
Dr. Carolyn McCaskill
Linguist and Author
McCaskill was a student at Alabama School for the Negro Deaf, and later a member of the first integrated class of the Alabama School for the Deaf in 1968. She went on to become the preeminent scholar in the study of Black ASL, a variant of ASL that grew out of the segregated school system McCaskill herself had experienced.
Discussions about BASL have lately had a resurgence In the community, thanks to TIkTok influencer Nakia Smith, as well as CODA Fire Chief Andrea Hall, who performed the Pledge of Allegiance at President Biden’s inauguration. But it’s all thanks to McCaskill’s foundational work that we have access to a scholarly recording an analysis of the language.
Art Director and Innovator
Storyteller and deaf advocate Storm Smith made history in her field as the first-ever deaf woman to be recruited by the advertising company BBDO Worldwide, where she currently works as a producer. As a talented filmmaker and art director, Smith has worked on campaigns for an array of international brands and projects, most recently as a consultant for the film The Sound of Metal, and Marvel’s Spiderman: Miles Morales video game.
She and Natasha Ofili also co-wrote the short film “Am I Next?”, to address the experiences of the Black deaf community, particularly in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Smith is also working on creating an innovative, more interactive way to integrate subtitles into films to provide a more dynamic experience for deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers.
When it comes to the Black Deaf community, there are so many examples of excellence to admire. Visit the National Black Deaf Advocates Spotlight page to see a host of talented Black deaf and hard of hearing leaders. Attend the CSD Learns’ webinar series “Rise Up!” to learn from Black deaf leaders in the business world as they navigate their companies through the difficult pandemic economy.
Or check out one of the month’s many virtual organized hosted by The Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum on their joint events calendar.
Who’s a Black Deaf role model you look up to? Share with us on social media!
Looking for more resources for Black History Month?
Check out 10 Online Communities for Black Deaf Folk.