The Intersection of Race and Disabilities | Conversations with Parents across the Nation.

Race and Disabilities: Black Disabled Lives Matter

During the summer of 2020, after the unfortunate incident with George Floyd and his murder, I was motivated to use my platform to try and create change.

I reached out via Facebook and had a few people respond. Those folks then reached out to contacts they had to also participate.

The end result was this: A video series with Black and Brown parents discussing their experiences with special education and the disability community. I entered this project with an “I didn’t know what I didn’t know” and thankfully they were patient with me. I’ve learned a lot, and examined a lot, and I continue on my journey to do better.

View the Listening Sessions.

Week 1: Black and Autistic

Week 2: Race Discrimination in IEP Meetings and During IEP Process

Week 3: System Racism and Diagnostics

Week 4: Black Behaviors and IEP Categories

Week 5: How the School Disciplinary System Treats Black Children with Disabilities 

Suspensions, Arrests, SROs: How the School Disciplinary System Treats Black Children with Disabilities (School to Prison pipeline)

Week 6: Disability and English Language Learners: How Parents are Left outside the Circle when it comes to their Child’s Education

Week 7: Navigating Adult Disability Services for your Black Young Adult

Week 8: Mental Health and Racism

Mental Illness and the Black Communities: How the System is Different, What Needs to Change

Meet the Panel

Here is the chat panel, in alphabetical order.

Maria Branding 71

Maria Davis-Pierre, Founder and CEO of Autism in Black Inc., located in West Palm Beach, Florida. This organization aims to bring awareness to Autism Spectrum Disorder and reduce the stigma associated with the diagnosis in the black community. As a licensed mental health therapist, Maria primarily works with parents to provide support through education and advocacy training. Her passion for working in the field stems from her personal journey with ASD when her daughter received the diagnosis at a very early age. In addition to therapy, Maria dons many other titles including coach, speaker, advocate, and author. Maria’s unique approach to coaching and counseling exemplifies her drive and motivation toward greater acceptance and overcoming the barriers and personal struggles associated with raising a child on the spectrum. 

Monique Dujue Wilson is a Black Parent of 3 Black Adult Children; my youngest is a 33-year-old Black Man with Autism. #blackmanfirst #blacklivesmatter

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Natalie Ferguson MSA, RN is currently the Assistant Director of Nursing, Community Outreach Advocate, Educator and Support Liaison in the Department of Medicine, Hematology/Oncology Cancer Care Services for the past three (3) years. Her responsibilities include education, support,training and outreach services to all members of the cancer-care community and beyond. She is involved inplanning, coordinating, implementing and managing community cancer education programs. She is a liaison between cancer staff, SUNY Downstate Cancer Institute, NYSDOH and Partners in the Community. She oversees and follows up on reports to NYSDOH. She assesses area/communities in need of cancer prevention services, which includes identifying and assessing recent data for communities and determining areas of sub-populations that have the most need. She works with SUNY Downstate Cancer Institute, Brooklyn Health Disparities Center and Arthur Ashe Institute to identify ways to educate community leaders and increase awareness of treatment options and increase access to care.

Her keen interest in Community Outreach as it relates to patient care includes developing and implementing Cancer Prevention Education and Wellness Programs in the hospital, schools and community settings.To this end, she facilitates the Cancer Support Group for patients and families.She manages the Cancer Genetic Clinic’s support staff and encourages patient care as well as the daily orientation of the physician’s, patients and support staff in the Ambulatory Suite.She establishes partnerships with community-based organizations such as the Brooklyn Borough President Outreach Initiative. She researches available resources for cancer patients and caregivers, and compiles and maintains effective resource guides.

 Miss Ferguson is a member of the National Inst. Of Nursing Research, American Society of Clinical Oncology, Eastern Nursing Research Society, Council for the Advancement of Nursing Science and Psi Tau Chapter of SIGMA Theta Tau International Nurse Honor Society.

She belongs to the Plant Based Health and Nutrition Committee and the Nursing Council for Research and EBP Committee both at SUNY Downstate Medical Center as well as the Committee on Public Policy Nurses Assoc. of the Counties of Long Island. 

 Miss Ferguson holds a degree in Master of Administration, Cum Laude from Central Michigan University and a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from SUNY Downstate College of Nursing, Cum Laude. She is admitted to the Fall semester at SUNY Downstate College of Nursing for the dual FNP/DNP program.

A Mother of three young men, Thia Jackson Baugh has a BA in Chemistry from Cornell University and is a Graduate Nurse as of May 2020. She has worked as a Chemist, REALTOR, tutor, and am just starting as a new RN. Yes, I have ADHD and love exploring my passions which include gardening, beekeeping, drumming and dancing.



Saafir Jenkins is VP and Chief Public Affairs Officer of Newark SEPAC (Special Education Parent Advisory Council), an organization that actively advocates for disabilities’ rights and equity within Newark Public Schools and across the state. Saafir is also the President and Founder of Optimum Human Capital Solutions LLC, a company that is committed to fostering meaningful culture change with people-centered solutions. He is a Devoted Father, Committed Education Advocate, Impactful Keynote Speaker, Mental Health Educator and a Dynamic Human Capital and Talent Management Executive.

Cheryl-lynn Medina is an adoptive single lesbian mom to two amazing girls who teach me every day what it is to stand up against prejudices and racism!


sharon scipio

Sharon Scipio-Tejeda is an education advocate that believes education is power. 

She is a Navy Veteran and has over 23 years of experience advocating for the educational rights of African American children. She started with the homeschooling of her first daughter and then continued with the staunch advocacy of her son. She is a registered nurse with over 14 years’ of experience in the healthcare profession. Sharon is a member of ANA, AANP, Trinity Cathedral Youth Group leader, and Board Vestry member. She has a BS in Biology from the College of St. Elizabeth, a Master’s Degree in Health Services Administration from Central Michigan University, an Associates Degree in Science from Mercer College Community College, a BS in Nursing from Chamberlain College School of Nursing and a master’s in nursing (FNP). Sharon resides in New Jersey, and is a wife and mother of 4 beautiful children. 

“Education is for improving the lives of others and for leaving your community and world better than you found it.” — Marian Wright Edelman

My name is Jessica Sierra-Silva and I go by They/Them/ Theirs pronouns. Racially, I represent the people of Indigenous South America. Originally from northeast New Jersey, my family currently resides in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I am the parent of 2 young energetic, extra-needs children, ages 4 and 10. I received my bachelor’s degree in neuroscience in 2010 but as an extra needs parent I’ve had to wear many hats: child advocate, differently-abled community activist, speech/occupational therapist, insurance claims specialist, and diversity speaker. I have a passion for the disambiguation of discrimination in the arena of education. I have spoken at Lehigh University as well at the Lehigh Valley Humanist organization on the topics of special needs discrimination, inclusion, and race.


sabra townsend

Sabra Townsend has professional experience that varies from human factors engineering at the Federal Aviation Administration to community coordinating at the Philadelphia Dept. of Public Health. She left the corporate engineering sector after her son (now 22 yrs. old) was born with a physical disability, then later diagnosed with Autism. Ms. Townsend has presented at numerous conferences on issues affecting people with special needs. Topics have included sensory regulation, special education laws, and practical approaches to living every day with autism. She served as group leader for the Commonwealth of PA Autism Task Force and works with the city, state, and private organizations to improve services for children and youth with special healthcare needs. Currently the Director of Operations for The Center for Autism and Neurodiversity at Jefferson Health in Philadelphia, Ms. Townsend is a graduate of Lehigh University with a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Engineering. 

Race and Disability Chats-Schedule

  • July 6- Black and Autistic: What’s Different for Black Autistics Compared to White Kids with the same Diagnoses?
  • July 13-Discrimination in IEP meetings/during IEP process; Retaliation for Advocacy: Tactics used by schools to retaliate against Black Parents who advocate for special education.
  • July 20- System Racism in Diagnostics: Experiences of Black Parents during evaluations and by medical professionals.
  • July 27- Behaviors and Classifications for Black Students with IEPs.
  • Aug 3- Suspensions, Arrests, SROs: How the School Disciplinary System Treats Black Children with Disabilities (School to Prison pipeline).
  • August 10-Disability and English Language Learners: How Parents are Left outside the Circle when it comes to their Child’s Education.
  • August 17-Navigating Adult Disability Services for your Black Young Adult.
  • August 24- Mental Illness and the Black Communities: How the System is Different, What Needs to Change.
  • August 31- Wrap Up: Exact details and action items TBD.

Why I asked these parents to do this.

I wanted to give a bit of history as to why I asked for volunteers and why I wanted to do this. And, share a bit of my personal journey. I’m putting it last on this page because while I think some may find value in the context/history, I want to acknowledge that this is not about me.

One thing I’ve learned recently is that white people often (knowingly or unknowingly) recenter or reframe conversations about race. We try to make it all about us and our hurt/uncomfortable feelings, or our own struggles.

I am actively and consciously trying to be aware of when I might be doing this in all conversations I have and trying not to do it. But again, some people may be asking “Why? And why now?”

I’ve been a family IEP advocate for about 10 years. I have worked for agencies, I have been on Boards and I have my own advocacy business. Over the past decade, many of my clients have been black children. I’ve witnessed racism first hand and I had a front-row seat to many kids being funneled into the school-to-prison pipeline.

Every single one of my black clients who was a teenager, except one, was already in the juvenile justice system when they became my client. I saw the injustices and wanted to help.

And, like many of my white advocate colleagues, I thought I was helping. I helped my clients get placements changed, tried to ensure fair manifestation determination hearings, and helped secure appropriate behavior plans and IEP services.

But what I’ve learned recently is that while I may have helped change an individual situation, I was doing nothing to try and change systemic racism in education. I merely used my whiteness to help the students secure services in a racist system that gives more services to white people than black. In fact, arguably, I was working against dismantling racism because I was perpetuating a racist system.

This is some of the ‘deeper dive’ type stuff that white people need to be examining right now. To create change, we have to get uncomfortable.

Why now? Sure, it’s a combination of the perfect storm–being stuck at home, watching tv, thinking about our own mortality, uncertain times, a racist president….and then the George Floyd video showing repeatedly.

I’ve had to answer that–why now? Why did I wait so long? Why didn’t I do this 10 years ago? I don’t have any good answers. My heart was in the right place, but my brain was not. The old “I didn’t know what I didn’t know.”

Now I want to know. The mission of this site and my business has always been simple “To try and make the world a better place for all children.”

If you are white, and especially if you are in a position to create change (school personnel, disability professionals, etc.) I hope that you will stick around. It’s uncomfortable. It’s difficult to learn that some of what you’ve been doing or thinking for decades was wrong, or not enough. But I am committed to the journey of listening, learning, and becoming anti-racist. Not being racist is not enough, we have to become anti-racist. I have no excuses as to why I never heard that message until recently. I’m excited to see what change we can really bring, when we all listen, learn, and work together as a disability community.

So, that’s why I wanted to create this opportunity. I wanted to actually help, not just “look” like I am helping. I thought “What do I have to offer?” and what I have to offer is a platform and a large audience of people who say that they share my mission. I truly hope that white people are open to listening. We have much to learn.