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“Loving my Skin” – Celebrating African-American History Month

By Shari Cooper, Advocate from Ohio

Having a disability poses its challenges. Being a black woman with a disability is a whole different ball game.

I learned early in life by being the youngest of six “Super Coopers” children, that for me to get my wants and needs met, I was going to have to learn how to advocate and speak up for myself. This was not an easy task because the physical disability of cerebral palsy  included a speech impairment. When having a speech impairment, many don’t take the time to hear what you want or try  to say. Because of this reason, I worked hard to make my voice stronger and my articulation tactics clever in order to be heard.

Growing up, I’d never seen a black woman hold a “real” position of power. Of course, I read about black women of power, but never saw one.

As I grew up, so did my passion for advocacy. I started advocating for myself at a young age. Little things such as speaking up at doctor’s appointments, Individualized Educational Program (IEP) meetings and even ordering pizza over the phone, started my journey to become one of the sought-out advocates in Ohio.

I started joining advocacy groups, organizations, and local and statewide boards where I saw that I could make a difference by sharing my knowledge and experience. Ohio Developmental Disabilities Council, Ohio Governor’s Council, and the Disability Foundation are just a few of the organizations that have pushed me along on my journey.

From there, I went nationwide by being elected as a member of the Board of Directors for the National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities. Soon, I was elected vice-chair of the Board. I then realized the work I had endure to succeed, had paid off. No longer could I say I hadn’t seen a black woman hold a position of power because I was her.

As I celebrate Black History Month and witness the first African-American woman Vice President Kamala Harris hold the second-highest office in the United States, it makes me extremely proud and happy. For I know that even though she may have endured unfair treatment in a world that’s often color struck, yet she didn’t stop climbing until she reached the top.          

I’m so happy to see someone in a position of power who looks like me. This landmark event leaves me hopeful that in the future, the world will not judge one by the color of their skin, gender, or disability but by their knowledge to carry out a position with success.

I’ll keep hope alive because I’m hopeful that one day we’ll all live in a world that values fairness. Until then, I’ll keep loving my skin, striving for success, and speaking up for what I believe in.