One Less Pink Elephant

The blog this week was written by Deborah Warfield, Community Broker at The Arcadia Institute. The Arcadia Institute exists to make it possible for persons with developmental disabilities to be included in every area of this community. This often involves educating individuals, families and organizations who may have been misinformed, operating from some form of stereotype or simply afraid. It is challenging enough to assist with the overcoming of these barriers for mainstream persons with developmental disabilities. Imagine how difficult it gets when you have a developmental disability and you also happen to be from the Black or Brown community.

Even though the larger percentage of our participants are from the Black community and we can proudly say that these individuals have successfully set and achieved various goals across housing, meaningful activities and employment, the Black and Brown community as a whole, struggle with overcoming the barrier of perceiving persons with developmental disabilities as someone to be ashamed of. Fears and shame make it possible for some Black and Brown families to gloss over, get frustrated about or often remain silent partners in perpetuating isolation and borderline abuses due to their inability to be comfortable naming and managing symptoms associated with persons who have a developmental disability. Often times parents and family members of young Black and Brown children deny that the problem deserves attention, assistance or guidance in the early stages of identification and called it a behavior issue.

It is challenging enough in an ever-so-no-longer-predominantly-White-but-still very-biased-privileged-White America to access lanes of acceptance and equality if a person is Black or Brown. Having a developmental disability can be perceived as just one more negative stripe, stigma or hurdle to have to work hard to overcome. Black and Brown families in general already suffer from often undiagnosed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder associated with navigating race, class, color, oppression, identity, safety and a myriad of inequities on a daily basis. Couple all of that with a developmental disability and you have several accidents waiting to happen regularly.

Intentional bridges beyond The Arcadia Institute must be put in place for all community members to respectfully continue to embrace and include persons with developmental disabilities. As a Community Broker from the Black community I have several opportunities on a daily basis to breakdown stereotypes and help to dispel myths as I go about my inclusion service providing assignments. The Arcadia Institute went beyond having just a token of one Black employee to intentionally employing another Black Community Broker in the past few months who also becomes another face of changing the way Black and Brown community members perceive persons with developmental disabilities. In other words two of our three Community Brokers are Black.

Silences for Black and Brown community members have been broken in several areas over the years in this and other communities, including the silence of violence, the silence of gender identity, the silence of individual rights and choices across the board. It becomes increasingly important to find ways to support the need for the breaking of silence around developmental disabilities and the stigmas, issues and barriers within Black and Brown communities that accompany this.

Ask yourself these questions. Is it safe for every person with a developmental disability to be among and around your average Black or Brown family? Are Black and Brown parents comfortable reaching out for support and help across their own family or beyond family into community organizations? Are organizations adequately trained and prepared to serve Black and Brown families with cultural competence? How many Black and Brown persons go unserved for years because of stigmas associated with having a developmental disability? If you as a Black or Brown parent are already struggling to navigate through your days filled with injustices and inequities, what type of toll does that place upon the entire family of a person with a developmental disability?

So how do we as a community organizations contribute to bridging these gaps?

Here is an example of how the Arcadia Institute found a way to invite, engage and include other overlapping organizations as partners in furthering an agenda with mutual benefits and broader community implications.

Connect Kalamazoo was birthed out of The Arcadia Institute to provide a medium for organizations who desire to grow in the areas of becoming more inclusive specific to their organizations and in tandem with other organizations. Organizations can get assistance through trainings and monthly network meetings where issues and celebrations are shared across the table while relationships build over time. This network has expanded and Connect Kalamazoo facilitates an Annual Forum. Connect Kalamazoo meets monthly and is a great vehicle for growth and change, but is only one of the many community tools available for individuals, families and organizations who have a desire to move beyond silence and isolation and into broadening our collective community impact around increasing the safety, support and service net for Black and Brown families and communities.

Dalanna has experienced challenges first-hand as a sibling of a person with a developmental disability she states "everyone knows the African proverb, it takes a village to raise a child. But when it comes down to raising a child with a developmental disability it seems like you would need two villages. After the epidemic of crack/cocaine there has been a break down in Black/Brown villages "communities" across the nation, therefore contributing to the lack of support for those with developmental disabilities. Not to mention, a lack of support in many other areas of our community."

In closing, it is imperative that individuals, families and organizational leaders of the Black and Brown community begin to step up and say "nothing for us without us" as opposed to remaining in the background and settling for attempts made to address these issues outside of the Black and Brown community on behalf of the Black and Brown community. Health and Wellness Fairs and Workshops include allusions to this issue but we have much more work that needs to be done in this area.

I challenge you to reexamine your own mindset as a Black or Brown person around issues associated with persons with developmental disabilities. Challenge your church and organizational leadership to reexamine their policies, procedures, language, identification, accommodating acceptance with and of developmental disabilities. We are running out of room for anymore Pink Elephants.