After a summer of protests against police violence toward Black and Brown communities and a year of a devastating pandemic that has disproportionately hurt low-income communities of color, much of Independence Now’s (IN) work aimed to highlight challenges experienced by most folks and how these challenges are increased by intersections of race and disability. We are proud to provide a space where our consumers and the broader community can have dialogues and take actions to work to eliminate some of the many barriers Black and Brown disabled folks face in living as independently as possible.
On October 24, 2021 IN staff, led by Independent Living Director Shannon Minnick, demonstrated at Veteran’s Plaza in downtown Silver Spring on behalf of Black, disabled lives. While many people understand the danger all minorities face at the hands of the police, fewer people understand the increased risk of police violence for Black and Brown folks with disabilities. For those experiencing mental health crises who are not able to hear or see an officer’s commands, this can lead to dangerous and often fatal encounters with law enforcement. Our protest served to remind people that extremely vulnerable communities deserve the same attention and protection that everybody deserves.
We were so honored to recently host Independence Now’s annual Women’s Tea, organized by Rochelle Harrod, our Independent Living Specialist for Prince George’s County. It was energizing and uplifting to hear the stories of our consumers and colleagues who are artists, former teachers, speakers, actors and so much more. As well as community, valuable networks and opportunities were created. It was important to create an environment where our consumers, many of whom are people of color, felt they could share their vulnerabilities, their goals, and the ways they continue to show up in the world for themselves and each other.
For the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has upended the world. This has been a strange, painful year. Hope has come in the form of several COVID vaccines becoming widely available. Unfortunately, as often happens, in planning how to distribute these vaccines, federal, state, and local governments did not prioritize the most vulnerable, which have been Black and Brown folks with disabilities, particularly those living in congregate care settings. Local counties have only recently started vaccinating younger disabled people. As well as the poor rollout and tight supply, many disabled people of color are, understandably, reluctant to get the vaccine. We wanted to counter misinformation and create cultural bridges to those feeling alienated or unsure. We partnered with Dr. Stephen B. Thomas, Director of the University of Maryland Center for Health Equity to talk about the importance of getting tested and combatting misinformation. Independence Now also hosted several online sessions discussing the facts of the vaccine as well as advocating directly with Montgomery County for more equitable access.
On Tuesday, March 16th, a gunman in Atlanta killed eight people, six of whom were Asian women. This tragedy underscores our responsibility to name and fight Anti-Asian rhetoric and violence, which has skyrocketed during the pandemic. There is no more important time to stand in solidarity against all racism.
As we find our way back from a year of quarantine, we still face a world of systemic barriers to disabled people of color. We are ready and eager to continue the important work of creating a more equitable and safe community for all.