Celebrating Representation, Identity and Diversity of Black Deaf Families Part 2
This blog is part 2 of 4
Since 1915, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, has been the leading institution on Black history and culture. Each year they introduce themes to bring to the public’s attention important developments that merit emphasis. This year the theme is The Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity.
Last week we shared wholesome stories from Black Deaf and CODA content creators [read more]. This week we want to turn the lens on representation of Black Deaf families.
For many in the Black Community, family is not limited to blood relatives, it is often a collection of people not always related. Family is also a chosen tribe. As such, it is common for Black media and stories to heavily revolve around this topic. However, narratives told by Black Deaf families are not as widely shared, which makes it difficult for people to understand how unique they are.
As a Black Deaf writer, I feel that it is important to elevate these narratives and share stories from a community lens. Below are a few narratives from the Black Deaf Community spotlighting the struggles, the joy and the creativity that you don’t often see represented in mainstream stories.
Black Parents Fight for Deaf Education
After the Civil War, schools to educate Black and deaf children were established. However, the education of Black Deaf children has always been and continues to be unequal. Black parents have had to fight for their children to receive a quality education with adequate resources while dealing with the challenge of segregation. One of the most famous cases took place in Washington, DC on the campus of Gallaudet College in the 1950’s.
Louise B. Miller was one of the parents that sued the D.C. Board of Education in 1952 for the right of Black Deaf children to attend the Kendall School for the Deaf – and won. Miller v. Board led to the creation of the Kendall School Division II for Negroes – a segregated school for 24 Black Deaf students and 4 teachers. However, 2 years later, Brown v Board of education would dismantle segregation across the nation and Division II would be shut down. The fate of the students and teachers after the school was desegregated is unclear.
Miller v. Board laid the foundation for educational civil rights for all Americans. Despite this rich legacy, Black Deaf students continue to face challenges to their education. 64 years later, another Black mother’s fight for her deaf son’s education made national news. The school district in Huntsville, AL would not provide Ryann Brown’s son with a sign language interpreter despite recommendations by professionals that he needed one. It was not until she threatened legal action against the district that they finally consented to provide one.
Brown’s story is not unique. The fight for quality education is multi-faceted, but it is evident that Black parents want their deaf children to have the same access and opportunities as anyone else. Without the support of his family, Andrew Foster would not have gone on to become the first Black Deaf graduate from Gallaudet University. He would not have gone on to collect several more degrees and establish schools to educate the Black Deaf children of Africa. It is thanks to those like Mrs. Miller and Foster that Black Deaf children today have distinguished Black Deaf academic role models to look up to.
To find out more about these influential figures above and the nature of Black Deaf education, please check out these resources below:
- History of Black Deaf Schools
- Louise B. Miller
- Ryann Brown
- “Seeds of Hope: The Andrew Jackson Foster Story”
- Post-Secondary Achievement of Black Deaf People in the United States
- Gallaudet University Center for Black Deaf Studies
- In 2020, Gallaudet University established the Center for Black Deaf Studies, an outreach center for teaching and learning about the Black Deaf experience. The center also serves as a resource center where you can find stories like those shared above are collected and stored. Visit the Center for Black Deaf Studies to learn more.
Recording Our Stories
As I mentioned earlier, you cannot tell the Black Deaf story without talking about their tribe. An essential aspect of representation is understanding where we come from and what motivates us. Films have long been a medium used to give “outsiders” insight into different communities and cultures. Additionally, they leave a record of the experiences and emotions of the storytellers. Although you don’t see Black Deaf stories in mainstream media, there is a thriving community of creatives that are documenting their experiences and leaving behind a rich cultural legacy.
Jade Bryan is the first award-winning Black Deaf filmmaker and the founder of Jade Film. Her work revolves around BIPOC stories and aims to “correct[ing] and address[ing] any type of misrepresentation, culture and language appropriation and misconception.” Themes include family, mental health, love, HIV/AIDs, oppression and police brutality. To find out more about her work, visit her website or YouTube channel and check out these videos of her work below:
Other Black Deaf filmmakers I admire are Storm Smith and Bim Ajadi whose work also amplifies storytelling from the Black Deaf lens. La’Rina “RiRi” Carolina is another creator that is elevating the representation of Black Deaf families. She created the RiRi Show – an online talk show where she interviews her friends and family as a way to bring the deaf and hearing community together. Her segments often feature her mom and sister who learned American Sign Language to communicate with her.
In addition to film and television, there are plays, music, art and even books created by members of the Black Deaf community as well. To find writers, performers, artists and other resources, please visit The Black Deaf Center, the National Association of Black Deaf Advocates, or check out Gallaudet University’s Center for Black Deaf Studies.