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This article was originally written in 2016 and is archived here. Click here to read the latest version from 2021.

Black Deaf Culture Through the Lens of Black Deaf History

By Benro Ogunyipe, Former NBDA President 2011-2013

A Brief Commentary on the History, Culture, and Education of Black Deaf People

Black Deaf people have one of the most unique cultures in the world. The Black Deaf Community is largely shaped by two cultures and communities: Deaf and African-American. Some Black Deaf individuals view themselves as members of both communities. Since both communities are viewed by the larger, predominately hearing and White society as comprising a minority community, Black Deaf persons often experience double prejudice against them in terms of racial discrimination and communication barriers. Black Deaf women may experience three strikes of prejudice against them due to their race, Deafness, and sexist practices that prevail in our male dominated culture.

Virginia State School for the Deaf classroom with five black students and a teacher.These discriminatory practices can be traced back to the segregation era during the 17th to mid 20th centuries. Black Deaf individuals were not accepted in either the Deaf or the African-American community. Black organizations like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and the National Urban League were focused exclusively on fighting for equality and equal rights for the African-American community. The concerns of the Black Deaf community were not the focus of national civil rights organizations such as NAACP, SCLC, and the National Urban League. The Black Deaf community had no communication access with these national civil rights organizations and their leaders.

The ideal fight for equal access would point to joining with Deaf organizations. Unfortunately, Black Deaf people were prohibited from joining Deaf organizations and clubs. The premier national advocacy organization for the rights of deaf people, the National Association of the Deaf (NAD), prohibited Black membership for 40 years until 1965, a year after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. From its founding in 1864 until 1950, Gallaudet College (now Gallaudet University), did not admit and graduate Black Deaf students. The college had its first Black graduate, Andrew J. Foster, in 1954 – the same year of the landmark Supreme Court case Brown vs. Board of Education decision.

Newspaper headline reads "School Segregation Banned".From the 1870s until the 1970s, at least 15 states, mostly in the south, maintained separate schools for Black and White deaf students. Integration of Black and White students did not occur until after the Brown vs. Board of Education decision. In 2011, former Black Deaf students of the Kentucky School for the Deaf received long overdue diplomas once denied to them 60 years earlier because of the color of their skin. Because Black deaf students were prohibited from opportunities to interact with students and teachers on the White Deaf school campuses, this separation contributed to the development of Black ASL, a dialect of American Sign Language that's distinctively different from those of white deaf students' signs.

According to Solomon (2010), "The Deaf club is essentially a Deaf person's second home, providing a place where the Deaf can come together, exchange ideas, develop friendships, participate in social events, and have the opportunity to attain a leadership position within the Deaf community. After World War II Black Deaf [people] found themselves in need of a place to meet so they began to form their own clubs, congregations, and organizations." Because of the denied acceptance and membership in Deaf organizations and clubs that were exclusively for white Deaf persons, Black Deaf organizations arose during the 1950s and 1960s in the urban cities with large numbers of Black Deaf residents such as Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC.  At the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) Convention held in Cincinnati, OH in 1980, a group of Black Deaf leaders presented a list of concerns to the convention delegates. These included issues such as the NAD's lack of attentiveness to the concerns of Black Deaf Americans as well as the lack of representation of Black Deaf individuals as convention delegates. They specifically requested NAD to take action to communicate better with the Black Deaf community, encourage the involvement of minorities within the national and state organizations, and recruit more Black Deaf children in the Junior NAD and NAD Youth Leadership Camp, all of which hindered Black Deaf people's goal of achieving their full potential.

Chenae Laldee Miss Black Deaf AmericaThe course of history for the Black Deaf community began to take on a new direction in 1981 when a local committee in Washington, DC organized the Eastern Regional Black Deaf Conference at Howard University, and in 1982 at a national conference entitled "Black Deaf Strength through Awareness" held in Cleveland, Ohio. An important outcome of the conference was the establishment of a new organization, National Black Deaf Advocates (NBDA). The establishment of NBDA has spurred the growth of local chapters in Washington, DC, Cleveland, Philadelphia, New York City, Chicago, Detroit, Memphis, Atlanta, and many other cities. Currently, the NBDA has over 30 local chapters and sponsors a variety of programs such as leadership training programs for high school and college students, a Miss Black Deaf America Pageant, leadership opportunities at the local and national levels, workshops at regional and national conferences, and a scholarship program for deserving Black Deaf college students.


  • McCaskill, Carolyn. The Hidden Treasure of Black ASL: Its History and Structure. Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet University Press, 2011
  • Solomon, Andrea, "Cultural and Sociolinguistic Features of the Black Deaf Community" (2010). Honors Theses. Paper 62.
  • Tabak, John. Significant Gestures: A History of American Sign Language. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2006.

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The Black Deaf Community: Recent Accomplishments and Recognition

Recent years have seen positive changes and progress in the NBDA and Black Deaf community. Below are some of the highlights:

Unfolding the Soul of Black Deaf Expressions

The National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID), a college of Rochester Institute of Technology, hosted the first ever exhibit celebrating and honoring more than 100 artworks by Black Deaf Artists from around the world. The exhibit, which was open to the public at the Dyers Arts Center, ran from November 15, 2015 to February 27, 2016. This exhibit promoted the outstanding work of more than 30 Black Deaf Artists showcasing their artworks, including photography, video arts, paintings, sculptures, drawings, and more. The Dyer Arts Center hosted a two-day symposium on February 26 and 27, 2016. For more information, visit

NBDA 30 Years of Advocacy

In 2012, NBDA turned 30 years old. NBDA hosted a 30th Anniversary Celebration in Baltimore, MD. The theme was, "Celebrating a Legacy: NBDA's 30 Years of Advocacy." Members and supporters from all over the country attended the event commemorating the achievement of this esteemed organization. Highlights included a keynote presentation by William Merritt, President/CEO of the Black United Fund, a sharing of memories from NBDA founders and leaders, and the presenting of the NBDA Lifetime Achievement Award to Dr. Glenn B. Anderson.

Dr. Glenn B. Anderson Scholarship

The NBDA general scholarship was renamed after the first Black Deaf person to earn a doctoral degree, now known as the Dr. Glenn B. Anderson Scholarship. This honor bestowed to Dr. Anderson in recognition for his years of extraordinary leadership, advocacy, commitment to educational excellence, and unfailing dedication to the Black Community, the Deaf Community, and National Black Deaf Advocates.

White House Appointment of Claudia Gordon, Esq.

Claudia GordonNational Black Deaf Advocates was thrilled when the White House in 2013 announced the appointment of Claudia Gordon, Esq. as the Associate Director for the Disability Community in the Office of Public Engagement. Gordon is the first Black Deaf woman in America to become an attorney. Claudia previously served as the Vice-President of the National Black Deaf Advocates from 2002-2005 and was a Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary for the Office of Federal Contracts and Compliance Programs at United States Department of Labor (DOL) and later became a senior policy advisor for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. Among her accomplishments and honors: first deaf student to graduate from the American University (AU) Washington College of Law, in Washington, DC; recipient of the Paul G. Hearne Leadership Award from the American Association of People with Disabilities; and Skadden Fellow, a fellowship for law graduates for her work at the National Association of the Deaf Law and Advocacy Center. In 2013, NBDA honored Claudia with the Linwood Smith Humanitarian Award.

NAD Apologies for Denial of Equal Rights to Deaf Women and Black Deaf Individuals

In 2012, the National Association of the Deaf recognized and formally apologized for its past denial of equal rights to Deaf Women and Black Deaf individuals on the basis of gender and race. Prior to 1965, NAD did not give female members the right to vote. Also prior to 1965, NAD did not permit Black Deaf individuals to join as members and having voting rights. At the 2013 NBDA Conference in New Orleans, LA, NAD CEO Howard Rosenblum and NAD President Chris Wagner presented the NAD's apology, in the form of a resolution, to NBDA. Benro Ogunyipe, who was President at the time, accepted the resolution on behalf of NBDA. NBDA is grateful for the long overdue apology and continues to work with the NAD and other national organizations to ensure the inclusion of Deaf people from diverse backgrounds in the programs, services, and privileges intended to benefit all Deaf people.

NBDA Globalization

NBDA has become globally known and has attracted international interest and shared its resources with Deaf people from countries such as Germany, Brazil, England and Jamaica; and the continent of Africa. NBDA was directly responsible for the formation of London Ethnic Minority Deaf Association (LEMDA) after a group of Deaf Blacks and Asians attended the NBDA Conference in Los Angeles in 1996. LEMDA folded a few years ago. However, the Black Deaf community in England continues to mobilize for equal rights. In 1993 and 1999, the NBDA Conferences were held in the US Virgin Islands and Jamaica respectively. Former NBDA President Benro Ogunyipe (2011-2013) was invited by Deaf Afro Brazilian leaders to give presentations at their annual convention entitled "IV Congresso Nacional de Inclusao Social do Negro Surdo" (IV National Congress of Black Deaf Social Inclusion) held on November 15-16, 2013 in Salvador, Bahia - Brazil. Deaf Afro Brazilians look to NBDA as an exemplary organization for leadership, opportunities, and services for people of color.

Former Kentucky Black Deaf Students Received Diplomas 60 Years Later

Sharon White, NBDA Secretary (2009-2013), and also president of the Kentucky Association of the Deaf, advocated on behalf of former Black deaf students who attended Kentucky School for the Deaf between 1930 to 1955 to receive their long overdue high school diplomas once denied to them because of the color of their skin. As a result of her advocacy efforts, Sharon was the recipient of the Leadership Award at the Kentucky Governor Ambassador Award Ceremony.

Glenn B. Anderson & Andrew J. Foster Chosen as Gallaudet Visionary Leaders

Dr. Glenn B. Anderson and Dr. Andrew J. Foster were among 15 individuals chosen as Visionary Leaders for the Gallaudet University's sesquicentennial anniversary Celebrating 150 Years of Visionary Leadership. The university honors a Visionary Leader each month from September 2013 to November 2014, the months of February 2014 and May 2014 honoring Dr. Anderson and Dr. Foster respectively. The 15 Visionary Leaders chosen were nominated by the campus community and alumni from around the world and are Gallaudet alumni who have demonstrated a significant impact on society in a major field of study or research, culture or the arts, deaf education, or advocacy.

Black Deaf with Doctorate Degrees

Dr. Shirley Allen on cover of Deaf Life magazine.Dr. David James and Dr. Glenn B. Anderson are the first Black Deaf persons to earn a doctorate in 1977 and 1982, respectively. Dr. Shirley Allen became the first Black Deaf woman to earn a doctorate in 1992. Today, there are now approximately 13 known Black Deaf scholars. Most notably the new addition to the ranks is Dr. Joseph Hill who completed his doctorate in Linguistics. He is the first and only Black Deaf linguist and a professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Prospects for the future look promising with several Black Deaf candidates currently pursuing their doctoral degrees.

Diversity on NAD Board of Directors

For the first time in National Association of the Deaf history, there is more than one person of color on the Board. They include the following Board members: Melissa S. Draganac-Hawk (Vice President), Kirsten Poston (Secretary, 2012-2014), Richard McCowin (Region II Representative), and Pamela Lloyd-Ogoke (Appointed Member). It is important to note the result of more diversity on the NAD Board in recent years was directly mandated from one of the goals of the Vision 20/20 Strategic Plan which was to implement diversity in all levels of NAD, including people of color on the board level. This vision started with a small group of Black Deaf individuals in 1980 has come full circle: honoring a desire for increased diversity in national, state, and local organizations of Deaf people.

Black Deaf People in New Leadership Positions

NBDA applauds the significant hires and appointments of Black Deaf people to new leadership positions in 2014 & 2015. Ernest E. Garrett III became the first Deaf Superintendent of Missouri School of the Deaf in the school's 163 years history. Opeoluwa Sotonwa, LL.M., was also hired as the Executive Director of Missouri Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing; Benro Ogunyipe, MPA, was appointed by President Barack Obama as Council Member of the National Council on Disability; Pamela Lloyd-Ogoke was appointed as Board Member of the National Association of the Deaf; Earnest Covington III, MPA, also became the Executive Director of the West Virginia Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing; and Patrick Robinson, M.Ed., was promoted to the position of the Executive Director of Gentry Facility at Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind. Pamela, Ernest, and Benro are former presidents of the NBDA.

Derrick Coleman, NFL Football Player

Derrick Coleman is currently an NFL football player for the Seattle Seahawks. He plays on the offense side as running back. Although Derrick does not use American Sign Language, he has the same identity as the Black Deaf community – black and deaf. Derrick introduced himself to the world by appearing in a Duracell TV commercial that shared a brief narration of his life as an individual who uses two hearing aids. Derrick is not the first deaf player in the NFL. There have been other deaf NFL players, most notably Kenny Walker, a Black Deaf individual who formerly played for the Denver Broncos.

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Rising Stars: Black and Deaf Inspirations

At the 2015 Super Bowl, millions of people around the world tuned in to watch Treshelle Edmond perform the National Anthem in American Sign Language (ASL). Treshelle is an example of one of the rising Black Deaf stars in the entertainment industry. As the #DeafTalent campaign continues to make noise in social media, we also know that talented Black Deaf individuals are just as worthy of being recognized for their achievements in the Modeling Business, Fashion, and Entertainment Industry. Just as there is a movement to recognize how Black actors and actresses go unrecognized far too often in award shows such as the Oscars, so too do talented Black Deaf people go unrecognized in the Deaf community.

Today we rectify that by using Black Deaf History Month to recognize the up-and-coming "Rising Stars", Black Deaf people who are inspirations to many young people for their goals and the great work they have done thus far. As we continue to celebrate the success of Black Deaf people in various fields, it is with a profound sense of pride that we are honoring the numerous talented Black Deaf individuals who have earned the spotlight for their respective professions and aspirations. In honor of Black Deaf History Month, we present and celebrate the profiles of 29 Black Deaf leaders and stars in Entertainment, Education, and more in February 2016:

Abubakar "Bakar" Ali, New York, Advocate

Bakar AliBakar Ali is a Masters of Public Administration student at Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University (NYU). He did his undergraduate studies at Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York, where he double majored in Urban and Community Studies and International Studies. He also minored in Political Science. Bakar is a recognized student leader. He became the first Deaf President of Wagner Student Association, the student government and council of NYU. He is a member of Global Partnership on Children with Disability Youth Council advocating for the right of children with disabilities. He attended the World Federation of the Deaf as one of the delegates for Somalia. In addition, he is a fellow of NYU Social Sector Leadership Diversity.

He was born in Somalia and helped establish the Somali Deaf Union, the first Somali organization for deaf individuals in his country. It later developed into the Somali National Association of the Deaf (SNAD), and he served as its president.

He believes "you must be the change you wish to see in the world". Bakar served in AmeriCorps working with homeless youth and refugees. His public service and outstanding leadership has been recognized with various awards including the Distinguished Public Service Award, the Newman Civic Fellow, and a New York State Senate Resolution. Bakar has a strong interest in community advocacy and access to opportunities for minority students and students with disabilities. While interning with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans, he will be focusing on increasing engagement in global education and international experiences for African American students.

Bakar plans to pursue a doctorate degree before returning back to Somalia and help improve the lives of Deaf Somalis.

John Autry, California, Model/Actor

John AutryJohn Phillip Autry, II is one of America's emerging leaders in the Fashion and Entertainment Industry. He is known for his lead role singing in the Deaf Choir on Glee. His unique ability to connect with generation Ys and the millennials has made him part of a cultural shift in the urban community.

John has always had a passion for acting and fashion. By the time he was two years old, he had already done a series of commercials. Over the years, John has appeared in several TV and cable programs, co-starred in live stage productions and has been the key-note speaker at presentations throughout the United States.

John's motto has always been "Imagine You Can." He realized early in his life that by pursuing his dreams and imagination, that settling for the societal norms was not an option. His life experiences encouraged him to expand the concept of "imagine" into creating his own brand.

IM is a brand that was designed to reach those who have the courage and confidence to make their dreams a reality. His slogan is "Imagine You Can." Furthermore, he inspires adults and children who wish to be future professionals and assists them to follow their dreams and also follow the right path. The founder's vision is "to teach them about hard work, determination, perseverance, and commitment. There are no limits. Their dreams will happen. They will be unstoppable because they will believe in themselves. When we go out in the world we go out with reality, because we are here to promote IM imagine clothing line to empower our dreams!!!!"

Martina Bell, California, Filmmaker/Graphic Designer/Actress

Martina BellMartina Bell was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. From an early age, she developed her interest in acting by watching her favorite actress, Katharine Hepburn, in her classic films.

Martina attended the Illinois School for the Deaf (ISD). At ISD, she was actively involved in various plays including Anne of Green Gables in which she played the role of Diana. She later enrolled in Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) where she earned a Bachelor of Fine Art degree in Graphic Design. Martina was involved in numerous plays, including A Raisin in the Sun, in which she played the role of Beneatha in Broadway, New York City. Martina moved to California to pursue an acting career in film and television.

Among her credits in Film/TV are extra roles in Law & Order and Freeform's Switched At Birth. She has been involved in independent films such as Titus, Dark Thinker, and Vicious Allure. She is also featured in an upcoming web-series directed by Jules Dameron. Not content with working in front of the camera, she is also very interested in working behind the scenes and has written a few scripts for film development. Her first directorial debut, also self-produced, was a thriller short film titled, "The Loved Ones," which has been selected to be screened at the Seattle Deaf Film Festival. Her second short film she directed and wrote, Bum Rush, has entered the film festival circuit and made it into The Online Film Festival and Wendy's Short Awards.

Currently, Martina is a Chief Operating Officer for ImageShade Films and a graphic designer for ImaginASL theatre. She is inspired to forge a new path of filmmaking and design through her talent, hard-working ethics, and her indomitable approach to life.

Kylei Brooks, Kansas, Education Advocate

Kylei BrooksKylei Brooks was born to hearing parents in Topeka, Kansas in 1993. The family relocated to Olathe, Kansas and she attended Kansas State School for the Deaf, through high school. While in high school, she competed in several oratorical competitions in and out of state and the opportunity to be a Gallaudet sponsored guest at the 2007 Deaf Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah. Kylei was crowned Miss Deaf Teen Kansas her freshman year of high school. She mainstreamed part-time during her junior and senior years to take advantage of intermediate and advanced psychology and child development.

Kylei is a recent graduate of Gallaudet University where she earned her BA degree majoring in Psychology. She is a member of Phi Kappa Zeta Sorority. While attending college, she was the Bison Cheerleader captain and was on Bison Song team. During summer breaks, she volunteered at the Kansas School for the Deaf as a teacher's assistant.

Kylei's senior year of college also brought about her final psychology internship with the (NAD) National Association for the Deaf. This internship introduced language deprivation issues, state board of education debates and child advocacy for education provoking her interest in Education Advocacy.

Most recently she traveled to the National Black Deaf Advocate conference in August 2015. She was invited to attend and present her final Black Deaf studies research paper "Where are the Black Deaf Teachers?" She is currently residing in Kansas and working at Kansas State School for the Deaf as a student life supervisor in "The Learning Center." Her future goals are to complete her MA degree in Teaching and Learning with an emphasis in American Sign Language - English Bilingual Education of Deaf Children.

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Kiara Chapple, Florida, Aspiring Social Worker

Kiara ChappleKiara Chapple was born in Independence, Missouri to her parents Jermaine and Reshawna Chapple. She was born deaf and she has one younger sister. Her mother is a Professor of Social Work and her father is a Financial Analyst. Currently Kiara is a student at Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York, and will be receiving her bachelor's in Psychology in May 2016. She hopes to go to a graduate school for social work.

Kiara has always been very dedicated and hardworking when trying to achieve her goals. For her future career, she decided that she wants to work with Deaf and hearing adolescents in the mental health field as a social worker with a law degree. Along with a future social work degree, she is interested in serving the combined legal and social needs of individuals, families, groups, and communities.

Kiara completed her senior research project entitled "Deaf Adult Identity and Gender with Self Esteem" and presented along with her mother at the 2015 NBDA Conference in Louisville, KY on the topic of "Transitional Planning and College Goal Setting for Deaf Students and their Parents."

Tyresha Collins, Florida, Performing Artist/Actress

Tyresha CollinsTyresha Collins is a performing artist and actress originally from Florida. She has four brothers and is the youngest and only hard of hearing sibling.

While in high school at the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind, she began learning ASL and creating her own catalog of ASL music videos. Tyresha is the niece of a celebrity rapper Flo-Rida. She appeared and interpreted the song in his music video "I Cry." A talented performer indeed, Tyresha was honored to grace the cover of Rosa Lee Timm's KissFist Magazine (Issue Twelve).

Tyresha is currently a student at Gallaudet University majoring in Theatre Arts: Productions/Performance. She made her acting debut as May in Gallaudet University Theatre's production of Visible Language (Fall 2014). She followed in the role of Lucius in the Theatre's production of Julius Caesar (Fall 2015).

Tyresha hopes to become a successful actress and plans to continue producing ASL music videos.

Treshelle Edmond, California, Actress/Performer

Treshelle EdmondTreshelle M. Edmond is an actress, model, and ASL performer who has been described as "a stand-out performer whose words seem to spill directly from the core of her body in waves of grief, anger and vulnerability." Treshelle's passion and expressiveness are unparalleled which make her a triple threat in her industry.

Treshelle was born September 10, 1990 in San Bernardino, California. She is the oldest of three children, and around 18 months of age Treshelle was diagnosed with having a severe to profound hearing loss in both ears. Her family ultimately moved out of state and she attended Epic Elementary School in Birmingham, Alabama where she learned and became fluent in American Sign Language. It was at Epic Elementary where Treshelle first took the stage and found her love for performing.

Treshelle and her family would ultimately move back to Southern California where she went on to graduate from Fairfax High School in Los Angeles, California. It was at Fairfax where the acting bug appeared. Treshelle auditioned for and landed a guest starring role on House, M.D. From there, she performed in the deaf choir on Glee. Treshelle did not have much acting experience but she had so much passion and natural ability she seemed to "wow" her audiences with every performance.

In continuing her education, Treshelle attended California State University, Northridge where she majored in Child and Adolescent Development. It was at CSUN when she decided to audition for Deaf West Theater's production of Spring Awakening. The play launched at Inner City Arts Theater, a 99-seat theater in downtown Los Angeles in September 2014. By February 1, 2015, Treshelle was on the field at Super Bowl XLIX in Phoenix, Arizona signing America the Beautiful with John Legend and the National Anthem with Idina Menzel.

Treshelle quickly learned that Spring Awakening would relaunch in May 2015 at the Wallis Center for Performing Arts in Beverly Hills, CA and she would reprise her role as Martha Bessel to a 500 seat theater crowd. Spring Awakening has since transferred and run on Broadway at the Brooks Atkinson Theater in New York City.

Habena Grima, California, Civil Rights Advocate

Habena GrimaHaben Girma advocates for the civil rights of persons with disabilities. She is the first Deafblind graduate of Harvard Law School and was honored as a White House Champion of Change. A celebrated speaker, she introduced President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden at the White House Celebration of the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Her TEDx Talk, highlighting her pioneering work, continues to inspire people to strive for a more inclusive world.

Haben works at the Berkeley-based nonprofit Disability Rights Advocates. She helped achieve a legal victory in National Federation of the Blind v. Scribd, the second case to hold that the ADA applies to e-commerce. She received her J.D. in 2013 from Harvard, and her B.A., magna cum laude, in 2010 from Lewis & Clark College.

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Ashley Griffith, California, Model

Ashley GriffithAshley Griffith was born in Sacramento, CA and attended California School for the Deaf in Freemont, CA. She is a mixed African-American and Panamanian. She has a younger sister who is also Deaf.

Known to have the fiercest runway walk ever, it's no wonder Ashley has worked with the late Michael Maddox, a top runway director, coached by supermodel Beverly Peele, and was given advice by modeling icon Beverly Johnson. She has modeled in numerous fashion shows for Banana Republic, Trina Turk, Tropical Complexions, and Deafinit Models. Ashley has been photographed by Fox 11 News, Gina Silva, Alton Arnold, Stephane Tourne, Alisha McGraw, Gary Marshall, Look Book LA and top fashion photographer Jenn Starr. Her modeling images have appeared in Chila For Fun online catalog, Life in Sight & I.D.E.A.L. magazines and Barbados Today online.

Ashley had a principal role on Freeform's Switched At Birth in season two. She was the only Deaf model in Verizon's "Rule the Air" campaign commercial in 2010.

At CSUN, Ashley was a member of the sorority, Alpha Sigma Theta (AST), and was actively involved with the Deaf Csunians. Ashley was on the CSUN track & field team as a high jumper and was selected by the USA Deaflympics Track & Field Team to represent USA at the 22nd Deaflympics in Melbourne, Australia.

Ashley studied Kinesiology for Physical Education at California State University, Northridge (CSUN) 2008-2013. Currently, she is a student at America River College in Sacramento, CA. Her passion is to become a Physical Education teacher for K-12 grades.

She currently works part time at FedEx as package handler and is raising her adorable son, JShon.

Deafinit Models & Talent

Ashlea Hayes, California, Deaf Interpreter/ASL Instructor/Ministry Leader/Mime Artist

Ashlea HayesAshlea Hayes was born and raised in Compton, CA. She graduated from El Camino College with a Certificate of Competence and an Associate of Arts degree in American Sign Language. She also obtained her Bachelor's degree in Deaf Studies with concentration in ASL/ASL Literature from California State University, Northridge.

Ashlea is passionate at empowering the Deaf Community and educating the hearing community about Deaf Culture. She has been actively involved with several community organizations. She served as a board member of the Coalition of Christian Interpreters and New Breeze Sign Language Choir. She co-founded GodSisters Ministries and served as vice president of Hear Zero, Inc., an advocacy organization geared towards serving Black Deaf and Hard of Hearing persons in the Los Angeles area.

Among her many skills, Ashlea is also an interpretive gospel mime artist ministering to Christian themed music. She has performed in the greater Los Angeles area for the past 13 years. Stemming from a love for storytelling as a child, Ashlea became an actor. She has been a regular student background actor on Freeform's Switched At Birth. She continues to study and craft her acting skills.

Ashlea has taught ASL classes at Downey Adult School and is currently employed in the ASL Lab at El Camino College. She is also an Independent Beauty Consultant with Mary Kay Cosmetics. Her future plans include pursuing a Master's in Education and American Sign Language.

Jessica Hurd, California, Counselor

Jessica Hurd

Photo Credit: Tiffany Saccente

Jessica Hurd is native of Los Angeles, California. Though a nomad intrigued by many places, her heart is always in LA. She is a Black, multiracial, Deaf woman who is complex, ever-changing, and growing. A sister, daughter, and friend before anything else. Jessica is a counselor and program coordinator by day; a dancer and an artist by night.

Shaped by the women who raised her, Jessica developed a passion at a young age for social issues and how this impacts us as people. This led her to a B.A. degree in Psychology from California State University of Northridge. Upon graduation, she was determined to further her studies with a focus on counseling. Two years later she received her M.A. degree in Mental Health Counseling from Gallaudet University. Jessica had the honor of serving the Gallaudet community as a counselor at Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) until moving to Rochester, New York where she works within the RIT/NTID community as a Program Coordinator at the Student Life Team.

Within her work, Jessica is able to combine work with passion by incorporating multiculturalism and a person-centered philosophy through her work within the Deaf, DeafBlind, Deaf Plus, Hard-of Hearing (student) community. Jessica hopes to be a part of creating a larger community where listening for understanding is a given, differences are encouraged, inclusion is the norm, and challenges are embraced.

Tanya Ingram, New York, Deaf Advocate

Tanya IngramTanya Ingram, born and raised in Harlem, NYC is a known activist in the Deaf community. Currently she is a freelance deaf interpreter, Deaf ASL instructor and long time member of her local chapter of National Black Deaf Advocates. In 1986, she was crowned Miss Black Deaf America. Her parents are hearing, she has two Deaf siblings and one hearing sibling. She is in the process of adopting a daughter named Phyllis.

In 2006, Tanya became involved with the National Action Network (NAN), a civil rights organization founded by Rev. Al Sharpton. She subsequently helped establish the House of Justice (HOJ) Deaf Club and has worked with NAN's Administration, interpreters and advocates to ensure active Deaf participation and equal opportunity for all.

As Chair of the NAN HOJ Deaf Club, Tanya motivates club members to become actively involved in their communities. Under her direction the Deaf Club has sponsored forums and workshops on education and voter registration drives; Black Deaf history and awareness events; domestic and police brutality workshops; violation of work rights and accessibility to medical care. The NON JOJ Deaf Club also sponsors an annual Deaf Humanitarian Awards banquet for the deaf by the deaf. The club willingly supports and collaborates with other Deaf and hearing organizations that promote equal opportunity and self reliance for Deaf and Hard of Hearing people. Ms. Ingram has initiated "Harlem ASL Night" at a venue in Harlem where the Deaf provide educational entertainment to a deaf and hearing audience.

Tanya has participated in demonstrations regarding Black victims who have been killed in New York as well as stopping the violence events. She makes herself available for anyone who believes their rights have been violated due to deafness and voluntarily seeks assistance to resolve their concerns.

Tanya, as well as H.O.J. Deaf Club, has received city, state and congressional proclamations and accommodations for their commitment to strengthen our NYC community through volunteer services.

Dejonae Jenkins, California, Actress/Model/Dancer/Activist

Dejonae JenkinsDejonae 'DJ' Jenkins is an actress, hip hop dancer, petite model, anti-bullying activist and 'Hard of Hearing' member of the Deaf Community.

Dejonae was forced to attend a mainstream school with hearing students. She had to face many challenges throughout elementary and high school, bullied and humiliated because of her deafness. To avoid further embarrassment, she rebuffed her deafness and withdrew from using sign language to communicate. She entered speech therapy and had no involvement with the Deaf Community for years thereafter.

She studied drama and dance in high school and at Rio Hondo Community College. It was not until she joined Deafinit Models in 2010 that DJ was able to embrace her deafness, improve her signing skills, and pursue her silent dreams of modeling, acting and dancing. As a model, Dejonae trained under the late Michael Maddox, famed runway director, and was coached by Twin of a Kind Models. She has shot numerous editorials. Her modeling images have appeared in Chila For Fun online catalog, Life in Sight & I.D.E.A.L. magazines and Barbados Today online. DJ has modeled in fashion shows for Pink Pump and Deafinit Models in Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

She regularly performs as a member of the hip hop dancing group Khaotic Dance Krew all over Los Angeles County. She landed her first principal acting role in an episode of Freeform's Switched At Birth. She was then cast in the lead role as Andrea in the short film Dark Thinker. Dejonae performed The National Anthem in American Sign Language at an NBA D-League game for the L.A. Defenders.

She made a name for herself after partnering with The Special Needs Network in 2014 and became an anti-bullying activist. Dejonae delivered an impassioned and empowering speech at the iStand4Peace Summit before 425 students and a group of clinical professionals from UCLA. Dejonae also annually participates in the Peace Over Violence Campaign in Los Angeles.

During her leisure time, she enjoys the outdoors and is passionate about living a healthy lifestyle and learning more about real world urban survival skills. She is also a new mother of a precious baby girl named Abigail.

Deafinit Models & Talent

Yvonnia Johnson, North Carolina, Model/Photographer

Yvonnia JohnsonYvonnia has been modeling for more than 14 years. After completing the model training at Barbizon School of Modeling, she started modeling photos for print ads. Her most notable booking was for Sophisticate's Black Hair Styles and Care Guide. With that she gained notoriety in her community of Triad with appearances on local North Carolina TV news and commercials.

Yvonnia's modeling photos have appeared in iDeafnews, Life in Sight, & I.D.E.A.L. magazines. She has worked with many notable photographers, designers and received model coaching from the late Michael Maddox, top runway director, and supermodels Beverly Peele and Tomiko Fraiser. Standing at 5'10" tall, Yvonnia has walked in fashion shows for Sugar Art & Fashion and Deafinit Models in Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

Yvonnia Johnson is an African American & Indian beauty who was born Deaf and raised in High Point, North Carolina. She currently lives in Greensboro, NC and is the president of North Carolina Black Deaf Advocates. She obtained an Associate of Science in Substance Abuse from Guilford Tech Community College and a Bachelor of Science in Addiction and Recovery at Liberty University. Yvonnia plans to attend Liberty University to pursue a master's degree in Professional Christian Counselor.

She is currently employed with Purple Communication, Inc. as an account manager and owns a photography business, Yvonnia Johnson Photography. She is also the mother of a beautiful little girl, Ava.

Deafinit Models & Talent

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Bridgette Jones, California, Motivational Speaker

Bridgette JonesBridgette Jones is a motivational speaker, evangelist, and entrepreneur from Riverside, California. She is a graduate of the California School for the Deaf Riverside and studied at Riverside City College, Gallaudet University, Biola University, and International School of Ministry.

Bridgette has always had aspirations to work professionally within the entertainment industry as a Deaf television host, dancer, and singer. She is one of the most inspiring Deaf speakers within the Southern California Deaf and Hearing communities. Her passion for sharing 'The Word' from her heart through ASL signs using music is rhythmic and very powerful. Despite her hearing loss, nothing has prevented Bridgette from becoming a dynamic motivational speaker. She has touched many lives and their experience has been life-changing. She received numerous awards, commendations, and certificates of appreciation for motivational speaking and evangelism ministry.

Bridgette was one of the Deaf actresses in the play For Colored Girls… produced by Deafinit Models Management, which won an NAACP Theatre Award for "Best Ensemble."

During her free time, Bridgette enjoys music, songwriting, travelling, photography, biking, walking on the beach, and spending time in prayer with her Heavenly Father.

Candace Jones, Georgia, Educator

Candace JonesCandace Jones was born in the small town of Eustis, FL and raised in Orlando, FL. Candace attended Florida School for the Deaf and went on to earn her Bachelor's degree in Social Work from Gallaudet University, followed by a Master's degree in Deaf Education from Valdosta State University in Valdosta, GA.

In 2006, Candace was one of the thirteen founding members of the student organization Sisterhood at Gallaudet University and served as its president. While a student at Gallaudet University, she was invited to perform in several ASL poetry performances.

Candace holds Special Deaf Education and ASL certificates in the state of Georgia. Candace is currently the middle school ASL teacher at Atlanta Area School for the Deaf (AASD). 2016 marks her sixth year of teaching at AASD located in Clarkston, GA. As part of her work there, Candace has opportunities to do English-to-ASL translation work professionally through the Accessible Materials Project (AMP).

Outside of AASD, Candace provides consultant support for the Research and Development Center on Literacy and Deafness (CLAD) at Georgia State University. She also serves as an adjunct-professor teaching ASL classes at a community college, Georgia State University-Perimeter College. Candace still enjoys returning to her first love, ASL poetry translations and hosting annual ASL Winter performances for students of ASL of all ages. Candace has been involved in special ASL poetry projects, most recently with the Intersectional Souls and Phenomenal Black Deaf Womxn Facebook group. Candace is a single mother of two children named Trevon and Nevaeh, and her hobbies include traveling and shopping!

Jazzy Jones, Washington, D.C., Community Manager/Communications Specialist

Jazzy JonesSpecializing in digital communication, event planning and project management, Jazzy ensure that her clients are building a strong presence in the social world, that their events go off without a hitch, and that their projects are executed with perfection.

Currently residing in Washington, DC, by way of Buffalo, NY, she earned her bachelor's degree in business and communications from the Rochester Institute of Technology in 2005. Jazzy is a Communications Specialist for the National Association of the Deaf. In addition to filling in on responding to calls and emails at the NAD Headquarters' front desk, she also manages all social media accounts for the NAD while working closely with the Director of Communications. Jazzy also serves on the Board of Deaf Women United as Events Chair.

In her spare time, Jazzy enjoys traveling, wine tastings and quality time with her nieces and nephews.

Nia Lazarus, California, Aspiring Educator

Nia LazarusNia Lazarus was born in Oakland, California where she lost her hearing at 11 months old to spinal meningitis. Determined that she would be successful despite her hearing loss, her mother immediately learned sign language for her and was a constant support throughout her education. She is currently a senior at Georgetown University where she will receive her Bachelor's degree with a major in Linguistics and a minor in Italian.

Nia has had her share of accomplishments while attending college. At the end of Nia's freshman year, she co-founded GU Signs, an ASL and Deaf Culture Awareness Club at Georgetown University. Since then, she has enjoyed exposing her peers to Deaf Culture through lessons in ASL, trips to ASL Open Mic events in Washington, D.C., and to Gallaudet University. This past July 2015, Nia was a panelist at the 25th anniversary for the Americans with Disabilities Act with the Department of Education to share about her successful educational experiences due to the ADA.

During the summer of 2014, she studied abroad in Siena, Italy at the Siena School of Liberal Arts for three weeks and conducted research on sign language acquisition in American Sign Language and Italian Sign Language. Subsequent to this opportunity to study abroad, Nia dedicated two summers working as an intern at the National Association of the Deaf and became inspired to become involved in law and education. She also interned in Dr. Ted Supalla's Sign Language Research Lab at Georgetown University and in Dr. David Corina's Cognitive Neurolinguistic Research Lab at the University of California, Davis. Working under these professors, Nia gained invaluable knowledge and skills in linguistics research.

Nia is currently applying to graduate school for Bilingual Deaf Education and hopes to become a teacher and later work for the World Federation of the Deaf in conjunction with the United Nations and the Department of Education to counsel on policies affecting Deaf Education and disability rights. Her goal of becoming an educator and advocate is driven by her childhood and academic experiences and personal knowledge that there is a great need for Black Deaf role models for our Deaf youth.

It is Nia's hope and desire that she will be able to inspire a new generation of many successful Black members of the Deaf Community.

Floyd McClain, Jr., Florida, Pioneer Deaf Model

Floyd McClainFloyd McClain, Jr. hails from Los Angeles. He is the oldest and only Deaf child of eight children in his family.

In 2005, Floyd was a Deaf pioneer in becoming one of the first known Deaf models to enter the modeling industry in the United States. Floyd became Deafinit Models Management's first Deaf client on their roster. Together they made history and it would become a defining moment in the start toward breaking down barriers that would pave the way for future Deaf models to pursue modeling and acting careers in the entertainment industry.

In 2006, Floyd was chosen as one of six finalists out of 600 men who auditioned nationally to compete in The Tyra Banks Show's Male Model Search for 2(x)ist Underwear Campaign for Bloomingdales. Floyd placed 2nd in the competition.

Floyd was a protégé of the late Michael Maddox, famed runway director and coach. He later participated in several fashion shows in New York and Los Angeles, had photo shoots with renowned photographers including Matthew Jordan, Tim Ricks, Stephane Tourne, and Alton Arnold, and his stunning images appeared in two magazines. He also booked print and Internet advertisements with Sprint Relay and Nike.

In 2010, Floyd put his modeling ambitions on hold to pursue bodybuilding. Floyd was the only Deaf bodybuilder in the Mr. Fitness competitions in California, New York, and Texas, where he finished 3rd place in all competitions. Floyd graduated from a culinary school and is now a certified chef and a CDL truck driver. Floyd is a newlywed. He currently resides in Florida with his wife Stephanie, a former deaf pageant queen from Costa Rica.

Deafinit Models & Talent

Rezenet Tsegay Moges-Riedel, California, Linguistic-Anthropologist

Image description: A sitting and grinning soft-butch woman with a gigantic afro and sides pulled back wears business black shirt, unbuttoned on top, and leans her left arm on her knee outside of the picture and her blue jean barely visible, in front of a mustard yellow background.

Image description: "A sitting and grinning soft-butch woman with a gigantic afro and sides pulled back wears business black shirt, unbuttoned on top, and leans her left arm on her knee outside of the picture and her blue jean barely visible, in front of a mustard yellow background."

Rezenet (Rez) Moges-Riedel is a first-generation American whose family emigrated from Eritrea, Africa. Growing up with a signing family, including one Deaf brother (Awet) and a hearing sister (Zaid, an interpreter), and watching her polyglot parents constantly code-switch, she learned to become a xenophile and ended up studying linguistic-anthropology. After getting degrees, a BFA in Illustration and a Masters in Anthropology at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB), Moges-Riedel went to work as Archaeological Graphics Director for a woman-owned archaeology company in Orange, California. She is continuing her independent research on sign language contact, language documentation, and language and gender studies.

She is a contributing author to three different volumes; two were published at Gallaudet University Press and the third at De Gruyter Mouton. She is currently working on a book-chapter about Deaf Queer and Intersectionality literature study for an edited book on deaf ontology (Oxford University Press). Moges-Riedel is on the board for, an online ASL literacy resource.

As an occasional artist, her printmaking and oil painting art were displayed at RIT Dyers Art Gallery for Black Deaf Artists exhibition, as well as other exhibits and charities. She holds a part-time position as an instructor, teaching Deaf Culture/ASL at a community college. When not digging at an excavation site or traveling abroad for conferences, this Deaf Eritrean anthropologist also doubles as an ASL poet and moonlights in a mid-century furniture business with her wife.

Osei Morris, California, Athlete/Model

Osei Morris

Photo Credit: "Some Like It Shot Photography"

Osei Morris was born Hard of Hearing in Los Angeles, CA. He has a twin Deaf brother, Adei. He and his brother excelled in basketball through little leagues, high school and college. They had aspirations to become professional basketball players. They both played on a college basketball team briefly at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C.

Osei won the Most Valuable Player Award in 2004, in a tournament at the National Deaf Basketball League playing alongside with his brother. Osei went on to become the first known Deaf basketball player in American Basketball Association by suiting up for Los Angeles Stars. The LA Stars provided Osei with a sign language interpreter at practices and at all games. He was twice invited to tryout for the Lakers D-League team. Osei was featured in a mini-documentary entitled Silent Dreams: The Osei Morris Story in which he narrated his once in a lifetime experience playing with hearing players on a professional basketball team. The film was produced by Deafinit models and shot by deaf female filmmaker Tiffanie Johnson.

Osei is also a Deaf model having participated in several fashion shows for Deafinit Models in California and Las Vegas. Osei attended Mt. San Antonio College and Los Angeles Trade–Technical College.

Deafinit Models & Talent

Isidore Niyongabo, California, Human Rights Advocate

Isidore NiyongaboBorn and raised in Burundi, Isidore Niyongabo has been a champion for human rights and an advocate for access to education for Deaf children and hard of hearing children in developing countries. While growing up in a rural village tending sheep and goats when not in school, he became stricken with Spinal Meningitis at ten years old, and was brought home to die. However, he survived the disease and began his journey as a Deaf person. He was fortunate to have supportive parents who did what it took to ensure that deafness would not interfere with his education and success. His educational journey into deafhood started with a 13-hour ride on a bicycle with his father to the school for the Deaf that was far away from his hometown. After beginning his education at the school for the Deaf, his father's life was tragically taken away a month later in the 1993 Burundi Genocide.

After the tragedy, Isidore started studying with other Deaf children. He persevered and attended mainstreamed high school without any interpreter or any form of accommodation. He eventually graduated with honors and moved to the U.S.A. to continue his education at Ohlone College where he earned his Associate degree in Social Sciences in 2008 before transferring to San Diego State University.

While at San Diego State University, Isidore founded the ASL Club after the university cut the once popular undergraduate track in ASL and Deaf Education. The goal was to ensure that ASL and Deaf culture continued to have a presence at the university. It was for this initiative that he became the first Deaf homecoming king in the history of SDSU in 2010. Currently, Isidore holds a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology from SDSU and a Master's Degree in Peace and Justice Studies from the University of San Diego with concentration in International Development and Human Rights Advocacy.

Isidore is a proud member of NBDA and former Peer Advisor of 2011 Youth Empowerment Summit (Y.E.S!). While balancing his full-time commitment in the Human Resources Department for Convo Communications, LLC, Isidore continues to pay it forward as the founding Executive Director of International Deaf Education, Advocacy, and Leadership (IDEAL), Inc., a San Diego based non-profit organization that empowers Deaf youth globally through provision of scholarships, leadership capacity building and human rights advocacy. In addition, he continues to inspire thousands of people through his extraordinary example of perseverance, self-reliance, enthusiastic effort, courage, and hope.

Natasha Ofili, California, Fashion Designer/Actress

Natasha Ofili Natasha Ofili is a first generation African American fashion designer turned fashion blogger & actress. She grew up with strong influences from her mother, an immigrant from Sierra Leone, West Africa. Natasha faced her own personal challenges when at the age of 18 months, she lost her hearing. However her challenges only served as a positive driving force, and with her creative talent and sheer determination she entered the fashion design field.

Natasha Ofili's work in fashion has been a great journey. She was a designer for a children's wear manufacturing company, located in the heart of downtown Los Angeles. Ofili spent six years there designing for licensors such as Hello Kitty and Disney, and for Dillard's, Kohl's, Target and Ecko Unlimited.

During her spare time, she also styled clients for photo shoots and short films, and often helped individuals build their personal wardrobes.

With Natasha's background in fashion, she has the ability to design almost anything; from high-end bridal to hip, edgy boys wear. But it is her desire to share her styling and fashion tips with the world, that has introduced her to the world of fashion blogging. She is the creator of NIOVISION, a site that offered her audience daily fashion insights. What makes Ofili different from other bloggers is Natasha's storytelling behind the clothes she posts, whether it be regarding art or life statements.

While her love of fashion will never fade, she wanted to explore other creative aspects. This exploration has led her to the unexpected art of acting. Ms. Ofili had an opportunity to perform a monologue, where she faced a sensitive subject that made her shine. She also appeared in a PSA by Wordplay, Inc. for the Greater Los Angeles Agency on Deafness (GLAAD). In addition, she had an amazing opportunity to play a lead role in a short film, "Words not Spoken," where she played a lesbian African American teenager dealing with life challenges. And in her latest appearance in September 2015, she was a performer in a music video for CM7 where she signed Home by Philip Phillips.

Recently she made a decision to become a full time actress and landed her first national commercial, to debut in January 2016.

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Nyeisha Prince, California, Fashion Blogger, Hair Stylist/Model

Nyeisha PrinceNyeisha "Nyke" Prince was born and raised in Los Angeles, CA. She began acting and modeling at age seven for bridal ads and television advertisements. Nyke has walked in runway shows for Deafinit Models & Pink Pump. She attended the Vidal Sassoon Academy and Joe Blasco Make-Up of Hollywood. In addition, she has toured around the Europe, particularly the United Kingdom, to pursue her professional growth as a fashion and make-up stylist.

Nyke began her journey in the fashion industry as an assistant and hair stylist for Helmet Salon in West Hollywood. She moved up the ranks by working for a well-known celebrity hair stylist as his personal assistant and travelled around the world to places such as London and Milan. Nyke's background entails working with celebrities in preparation for their photo shoots for magazines and press as such as E!, Men's Health Magazine, Oprah, PopSugar and many more. She was also featured in I Am Beautiful, a book by Ken Paves.

Her background in the fashion arena extends mostly to visibility and creativity as she has worked with and has been inspired by many stylists. She is extremely inspired by the experience she has acquired by being a part of Los Angeles fashion industry.

Apart from her works in the fashion industry, she has always been interested in playing drums and continues to be into music and performs at small venues. She enjoys travelling and reading poems.

Deafinit Models & Talent

Kurt Roberson, Kentucky, Aspiring Actor/Model

Kurt RobersonKurt Roberson is a proud southern gentleman and a thriving Deaf model from Louisville, KY. He was born in Long Island, NY and raised Chattanooga, TN. Kurt attended Tennessee Temple University and then Christian University, majoring in Pastoral Studies. Kurt is currently taking online courses in personal training.

Since 16 years old, Kurt has been contributing his modeling talents on the runway shows and photos for printed media. Kurt has appeared in several local commercials, ten magazine spreads, and numerous runway shows in Kentucky, California, and Las Vegas. As an outstanding model of color, Kurt continues to not only promote his modeling talents but also support other models of color as a way to promote diversity in the fashion and entertainment industry.

Kurt joined in a breast cancer walk for Breast Cancer Foundation Walk in Lexington, KY for his love and support of his 80-year-old great Aunt Evelyn Talley who has survived breast cancer for more than 25 years.

Among his many talents, he enjoys playing basketball, bike riding, and canoeing. In fact, Kurt won the Most Valuable Player on the Deafinit Models basketball team in 2013. Kurt is also a driver for Lyft and Uber companies. He makes the ride more enjoyable by bringing his little buddy Scooby the yorkie along to meet new people.

Deafinit Models & Talent/Heyman Talent

Sonibert Rodriguez-Wood, Tennessee, Actress/Model

Sonibert Rodriguez-WoodSonibert Rodriguez-Wood is an actress and model from Chattanooga, Tennessee. Her race and ethnic background is mixed Black and Taino Indian from Puerto Rico. She is a graduate of Chattanooga State College majoring in the Professional Acting Training Program in 2012.

She is an accomplished stage actress by profession and has performed in the venues in Georgia and Tennessee. She has acted in over a dozen theatrical productions with her most recent performances in The Colonel Palate (Old Woman), 2014; In the Mornin' Train (Olivia), 2013; and These Shining Lives (Pearl), 2012 in Tennessee. Soni had a principal role in a Dannon Yogurt commercial satire with Weird Al Yankovic in 2013. As a plus-size and spokesmodel, Soni co-hosted and made her modeling debut in Deafinit Models Las Vegas Show in 2013 and has done several editorial photoshoots since.

Sonibert continues to work on improving her acting skills and to pursue an acting career in television and film. She is currently employed at Amazon. She is also an aspiring stand-up comedian and enjoys performing improv. She has a Deaf husband and three CODA children.

Deafinit Models & Talent

Stephanie Smith Albert, Ohio, Motivational Speaker

Stephanie Smith AlbertStephanie was born and raised in Dayton, Ohio. She became deaf at the age of five. The culprit—spinal meningitis. Stephanie has an Associate degree in Accounting from The National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID), a Bachelor's degree in Marketing from Wright State University and a Master's degree in School Counseling and Guidance from Gallaudet University. She is currently in the Principal Licensure Program at University of Dayton.

Motivational speaking is one of Stephanie's pastimes. She has given inspiring commencement speeches at deaf schools around the country, and was a featured speaker at NTID's Deaf Presenter Series. Stephanie said her love for motivational speaking begun after she had participated and competed in the Miss Black Deaf America pageant in 1998 at the National Black Deaf Advocates Conference in Indianapolis. She was the oldest and only full-figured contestant. She said it took guts to join and compete against young and skinny beauties but wouldn't trade this experience for anything. She made some great friends and her self-confidence quadrupled!

Stephanie is currently working as Director of Student Life at Ohio School for the Deaf in Columbus, Ohio. She has worked as a school guidance and counselor for the past decade at three different deaf schools prior to advancing up the ladder to Director of Student Life.

Stephanie is a member of the National Black Deaf Advocates and the Buckeye Black Deaf Advocates (Columbus, Ohio). She is the chairperson of the 2016 Midwestern Regional Conference that will be held in Columbus, August 5-7.

As a child, Stephanie loved watching Bill Cosby's Fat Albert cartoon so much that she ended up marrying an Albert; Tim Albert. They have a mixed black lab named Lucky and reside between Columbus and Indianapolis. She joked that Lucky is their hearing dog and their ADT alarm system! Lucky barks nonstop until the subject is a certain distance from their front door.

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Jerome Starr, California, Actor/Model/Socialite

Jerome StarrJerome Starr is an actor and model from Los Angeles, CA. He is a graduate of California School for the Deaf, Riverside.

Jerome has acted in several independent short films, commercials, television shows and most recently was cast as one of the lead actors featured in a 7Up commercial. He has been a regular background student actor on Freeform's Switched At Birth since the pilot episode in 2010. He is also a Deaf model, having participated in several fashion shows for Deafinit Models in California and Las Vegas.

Jerome is a Deaf celebrity, better known as J-Starr; he's "Hollywood's Man-About-Town." He attends all of Tinseltown's Red Carpet events, awards shows, movie premieres, and VIP parties. You can see his 'selfies' with all his celebrity friends on his Instagram account.

Jerome plans to attend Stella Adler or Anthony Meindl's Acting School to continue his journey to becoming a successful actor and model. He enjoys hanging out and taking photos with celebrities in the greater Los Angeles area.

Deafinit Models & Talent

Felicia Williams, Maryland, Educator/Mentor

Felicia WilliamsFelicia Williams hails from Marlton, New Jersey and currently lives in Silver Spring, Maryland. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in American Sign Language with minors in Deaf Studies and Linguistics in 2012. In 2013, she received her Master of Arts in Sign Language Teaching (also known as Master of Arts in Sign Language Education).

After graduating from Gallaudet University in 2013, Felicia went on to work as an adjunct for almost two years for Gallaudet's Department of ASL/Deaf Studies. On January 2015, she was appointed as a full time faculty member, making her one of the few Black Deaf professors at Gallaudet. With her current role as a faculty member, she also spends time mentoring the students of color. Throughout her teaching career, she was selected to provide workshops at the American Sign Language Teachers Association (ASLTA) conference and local ASLTA about the incorporation of intersectional identities in sign language curriculum for ASL Instructors.

Felicia is currently a co-editor with Dr. Raychelle Harris for the publication of REEP (Research and Evaluation in Educational Psychology); the English text was written by Dr. Donna Mertens. Dr. Harris and Felicia both see the critical need of ASL translations in academia. The publication is available on the website with more chapters to be published soon.

With a critical need of ASL/sign language publications in academia, her long time goal is to pursue a doctorate degree in Education with a focus on increasing more intersectional identities in curriculum.

During her free time, she likes to make random foods she has never tried. She is working on developing her food blogs, hopefully to be released someday. If you love to make protein shakes, share your favorite meal with her. Her favorite protein shake is the gingerbread protein shake because she cannot resist away from the gingerbread cookies.

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New Generation of Black Deaf People in Leadership

Deaf Communities across the country recognize extraordinary achievements and contributions of Black Deaf heroes and heroines who made a difference within the Black Deaf Community and the American Deaf Community in general. Prominent and illustrious Black Deaf leaders like Dr. Andrew Foster, Charles V. Williams, Dr. Ernest Hairston, Linwood Smith, Dr. Glenn Anderson, Dr. Shirley Allen, Pamela Lloyd-Ogoke, Claudia Gordon, Esq., Duane Halliburton, Dr. Carolyn McCaskill, Dr. Nathie Marbury and countless others have been remembered during Black History Month.

As we are halfway through a decade, the future of the Black Deaf Community looks promising with the emergence of a new generation of Black Deaf leaders and rising stars. It is thus with a profound sense of pride that we are honoring talented Black Deaf individuals who deserve the #BlackDeafLeaders spotlight campaign through social media and beyond for their leadership, dedication, and accomplishments in various fields. In honor of Black History Month, we have researched and found 28 emerging Black Deaf leaders who are worthy of being celebrated in this month of February.

Michael Agyin, California, Advocate

Michael AgyinThe son of West African immigrant parents, Michael Kwame Agyin was raised in Compton, California. He didn't know there was a word for people like himself until college: deaf. He learned American Sign Language while earning his bachelor's degree in sociology from California State University, Northridge (CSUN). He was later awarded the CSUN National Center on Deafness Outstanding Humanitarian Award.

After earning his degree, Agyin was determined to break the barrier between the deaf and hearing worlds, to become a bridge builder for youth of color with disabilities. He accomplished this goal by becoming a job coach for the Marriott Foundation Bridges Program for youth with disabilities. He was also appointed Outreach Coordinator for Los Angeles council member Tony Cardenas' "Deafestival," which he still serves, a citywide event to raise awareness, promote pride, and recognize the accomplishments of the deaf community. Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson honored Agyin for his work as a Deaf Awareness Advocate, saying that "Michael is an impressive role-model, not just for the deaf community, but for everyone."

Agyin spent four years on the Youth Leadership Governing Board of the National Youth Leadership Network and continues to be an enthusiastic veteran volunteer for the Youth Leadership Forum based in Sacramento. He is a governor appointee to the State Independent Living Council, and serves as president of Hear Zero, an African American Deaf Advocacy group in the Los Angeles region.

Alesia Allen, Pennsylvania, Psychology

Alesia AllenAlesia Allen was born and raised in a small town of Warren, Ohio. At an early age, Alesia knew she wanted to make a difference and help others. She graduated with from Rochester Institute of Technology’s College of Liberal Arts in 2004 with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology - Human Growth and Development. She also holds a master’s degree in Clinical Psychology from Gallaudet University and she is steps away from completing her PhD. Alesia’s dissertation research focuses on the psychological well-being of individuals who self-identify as “hard of hearing” with special attention to self-esteem.

Alesia also has a passion for diversity and multiculturalism and believes that differences make the world interesting. She is also aware that multicultural competency can be challenging and involves being aware of her attitudes and beliefs, obtaining knowledge, and gaining skills to thrive for social justice. Alesia currently juggles many roles that include providing individual and group outpatient therapy to Deaf and hard of hearing individuals with mental health needs; providing clinical consult to agencies in the Philadelphia area that serve Deaf and hard of hearing individuals; and teaching and advocating for better services for Deaf and hard of hearing individuals. 

Kojo Amissah, Washington, D.C., Career Consultant

Kojo AmissahDr. Kojo Amissah is a change agent and hard of hearing Career Consultant and adjunct professor who creatively works with organizations, clients, and students. He works closely with clients to develop their unique brands. His area of focus includes organizational development and change, self-assessment, and confidence-building. Dr. Amissah built the Chief Diversity Officer office. He created the Keeping the Promise program that raised the retention and graduation rates of Black Deaf males to 80% at Gallaudet and led the restructuring of the Gallaudet Staff Council, which earned staff a seat on the Finance and Operations Committee on the university Board of Trustees.

His mantra is to “pay it forward,” which propels him to put his customers' needs first. He believes customer satisfaction is the hallmark of an organizational success.

Kojo has more than 20 years experience in customer service, program development, and organizational change for individuals with disabilities. He believes that key strategic program development that meets and exceeds customer needs and expectations is what enhances organizational infrastructures.

He currently resides in Washington, DC. He is a staff member at Gallaudet University and completed his PhD studies in November 2013 with the University of Phoenix Online in Organizational Leadership. He runs a DJ services company, trains DJs, composes music on his free time, and spends time with his daughter.

Jamaal Brown, New York, Sports Business Journalist

Jamaal BrownJamaal Brown was born and raised in New York City. He attended Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) and graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Communication. He is currently a graduate student at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL pursuing a master's degree in Communication. During his undergraduate years at RIT, he participated in a variety of organizations and activities such as Deaf Basketball Association, member of Ebony Club, Student Life Team as a "STEP-UP" mentor, and RIT's SportsZone as a marketing and promotion assistant. He was the recipient of the Dawan Albritton Memorial Award from the NTID's business department for his contribution to education and its community.

Jamaal has been interning as a journalist covering sporting events. He aspires to become a sports business journalist and a researcher in the media industry. He believes sports communication and journalism bring people and its community together and make the world a better place. He is an enthusiastic individual who relishes making a difference not only in his life but also in the lives of others. When he is not in school or work, he spends his time sharing inspiring stories with young people.

Corey Burton, Florida, Organizational Leadership

Corey BurtonCorey Burton is a Team Leader of Customer Relations for Z Video Relay Service in Florida. Corey was born in Munster, IN and relocated to Fort Wayne, IN in 1990. He is a graduate of Indiana School for the Deaf and obtained his associate degree in Applied Computer from the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID). Corey was one of the NTID students selected to participate in the Collegiate Black Deaf Students Leadership Institute (CBDSLI), a program of the National Black Deaf Advocates Conference, in Arizona. The rich experience he obtained at the 2009 CBDSLI helped him discover his identity as a Black Deaf Person. He used the leadership skills, when he returned to NTID, to serve various leadership roles such as President of NTID Student Congress, President of Ebony Club, and Student Life Team's Step-Up program (student mentor). Corey continued to improve his passion in leadership by enrolling and completing his bachelor's degree in Applied Arts and Science at Rochester Institute of Technology with the professional concentrations in Organizational Leadership and Change, Quality Management, and Communication. He also served as an Assistant Director for the NBDA's Youth Empowerment Summit (Y.E.S!) in 2011 before being promoted to become the current Co-Director of the summer program in 2013 and 2015.

Kari Cooke, New York, Community Engagement

Kari CookeKari Cooke specializes in community engagement through civic and organizational development. As a result of her community outreach she is involved with colleagues and coalitions in local community and governmental groups such as Brooklyn Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Senator Gillibrand Symposium on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, and was selected as a Fellow of the New Leaders Council. Her passion is for educational advocacy through political involvement, having been appointed by NY Governor Cuomo to the State Independent Living Council where she was able to advise policy agenda items that affect people with disabilities, along with her time on the New Yorkers for de Blasio Campaign, and her work with National Black Deaf Advocates as the Director of Policy and Government Affairs.

Currently a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania, she finds time to continue her outreach by combining educational advocacy and intersectionality awareness as a presenter on campuses such as LaGuardia Community College, Columbia University, Gallaudet University, Haverford College, and more. Cooke has been recognized for her work by the Center for American Progress as one of the Top 15 Inspiring Young Female Activists, and was selected as a U.S. Delegate and Plenary Speaker at the United Nations' International Young Leaders Assembly.

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Earnest Covington III, West Virginia, Administrator

Earnest CovingtonEarnest Covington III hails from Flint, Michigan and currently resides in Charleston, WV where he is the current Executive Director of the West Virginia Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.  He is a 1997 graduate of Michigan School for the Deaf. He attended Gallaudet University where he was for four years a letterman in football and transferred to Michigan State University and obtained a bachelor's degree in History. He also obtained his master's degree in Public Administration from the University of Michigan in Flint and Ann Arbor, and Post Master's Graduate Certification in Human Resources Management from Oakland University.  He previously was employed at Michigan School for the Deaf for nine years in various positions such as Substitute Teacher, Disciplinarian, Athletic Director, Staffing Director, and Head Coach of varsity boys basketball. He also worked at a nonprofit organization that provided the services for deaf people in Genesee County. 

Aminah Estrada-Savannah, Texas, Community Advocate

Aminah Estrada-SavannahAminah Estrada-Savannah is the current president of newly established organization, Austin Black Deaf Advocates, a vibrant up and coming local chapter in Austin, TX that will be affiliated to the National Black Deaf Advocates. As a native of Philadelphia, PA, she attended Pennsylvania School for the Deaf (PSD) and a graduate of Model Secondary School for the Deaf in Washington, D.C. in 2005. Growing up in Philadelphia, she was actively involved in the communities including Philadelphia Chapter of Black Deaf Advocates, Youth Empowerment Summit 1997-2000, Junior NAD at PSD 1998-1999, and African-American Union Students at MSSD 1999-2001.

While she is a busy mother with a deaf son Theo and a wonderful husband Archie, Aminah finds time to get actively involved with the deaf community in Austin, TX. She is a volunteer of the following organizations: Communication Service Vision 2013, Who Will Answer, Nathie Marbury ASL Poetry Showcase, and Beautiful Sistas Group. She plans to pursue a college degree in the field of Deaf Education with an aspiration to take a leadership role in the education of youths. She is passionate about empowering youths and educational opportunities for the minority youths who are deaf and hard of hearing.

Ernest E. Garrett III, Missouri, Educational Leadership/Social Work

Ernest GarrettOn July 1, 2014, Ernest E. Garrett III, M.S., M.S.W., became the first deaf superintendent of the Missouri School for the Deaf (MSD) since the school was established by an act of the Missouri Legislature in 1851. He is a native of St. Louis, MO. A past President of the National Black Deaf Advocates, Inc. (NBDA), Mr. Garrett is a recipient of the "Advocate of the Year Award" from NBDA (2009) and the "Lasting Impression Award" from Special School District of St. Louis County (2011). He was previously employed as the Executive Director of the Missouri Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

Mr. Garrett is a lifetime member of the Gallaudet University Alumni Association, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Alumni Association, and the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. In addition, he holds memberships with the National Association of Social Workers, the School Social Work Association of America, the Academy of Management, and the Society for the Advancement of Management. He is active in the Jefferson City business community where he is a small business owner and a member of the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce.

Dr. Joseph C. Hill, North Carolina, Linguist

Joseph HillDr. Joseph C. Hill is an assistant professor in the department of Specialized Educational Services at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. He was born and raised in Cincinnati, OH with the family of deaf and hard-of-hearing siblings and a hard-of-hearing mother. Like his brothers and sisters, he attended public school as a mainstream student. In 2001, he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Systems Analysis from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Ten years later, he earned his doctorate degree from Gallaudet University in Washington DC. Dr. Hill is one of the co-authors who have published the book on the African-American variety of ASL, The Hidden Treasure of Black ASL: Its History and Structure. He is proud to be a part of the Black ASL research team because the history and language of the African-American Deaf Community deserves a closer look from the scholarly perspective. Dr. Hill also published his book with Gallaudet University Press, Language Attitudes in the American Deaf Community, which is based on his dissertation study on the analysis of the factors of judgments and attitudes expressed by deaf and hard of hearing signers about the different types of signing that exist in the American Deaf community.

Stephanie Johnson, New York, Social Justice Activist

Stephanie JohnsonStephanie D. Johnson, known in the community as Najma, is a culturally BlackDeafDeafBlindPanQueer folk. She is a native of Buffalo, New York and graduated from St. Mary's School for the Deaf (SMSD) in Buffalo, NY in 1995. Her experiences with racial division, audism, phonocentrism and growing up in a crime infested area whether intentional or not, molded her worldview. SMSD became her saving grace because of access to language—American Sign Language. At the same time this led to access to the destructive forces of racism and sexism. In time, Najma will do whatever it takes to reverse oppressive dynamics. As part of her community sharing work, Together All in Solidarity, formerly known as Take A Stand!, was formed as an umbrella Social Justice community collaboration, and functions as a network for marginalized communities within the Deaf Community. Specific causes include: Sojourner’s Sisters, a DWOC mentoring program for high school Deaf young women of color, Dare To Utter, a sexual/domestic violence survivor empowerment theatrical presentation aimed at resisting domestic violence, rape, and sexual violence through the sharing of stories by Deaf/Hard of Hearing survivors, and LIM! (Listen, I Matter!), a theatrical presentation for Deaf/Hard of Hearing students about bullying and unhealthy relationships. 

Najma’s hope is to continue working with all communities (DDBDDHH) within the Deaf community for the purpose of creating a strong, interdependent community.

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Anquinette Kimble, Pennsylvania, Social Worker

Anquinette KimbleAnquinette Kimble was born and raised in South Philadelphia, PA. At age nine, it was discovered that she has a hearing loss due to underdeveloped auditory nerves. Anquinette grew up in the mainstream world with intense speech therapy. She eventually transferred to Lincoln High School’s mainstreamed deaf program, where she learned sign language. She participated in the school’s band as a percussionist and competed in Gallaudet’s high school academic bowl.

It was through meeting I. King Jordan that interested her in attending Gallaudet University. She enrolled in 2004 with the New Signer’s Program and decided to major in Social Work. At Gallaudet, she participated in the Black Deaf Student Union eventually becoming President in 2007, after returning from National Black Deaf Advocate’s Collegiate Black Deaf Student Leadership Institute.

After graduating in 2008, she realized that she wanted to increase her education. Anquinette enrolled in West Chester University’s Graduate of Social Work program in 2009. Through some struggle, she graduated in 2013, being the first Deaf person in the program.

Currently, Anquinette is the secretary and a representative of Philadelphia Chapter Black Deaf Advocates. She wants to continue to see the chapter grow and hopes to assist it in increasing its advocacy work around the city. Anquinette is very passionate in making a difference in the lives of others. She believes in standing up for others. Currently, still working in behavioral health, her goal is to one day become a licensed social worker providing outpatient therapy to Deaf customers.

Chenae Laldee, Maryland, Miss Black Deaf America

Chenae LaldeeChenae K. Laldee, Miss Black Deaf America (MBDA) 2013-2015, represents National Black Deaf Advocates (NBDA), a non-profit organization dedicated to the socio-economic advancement of the Black Deaf community. Chenae serves as a role model and source of inspiration for today’s youth as well as an ambassador for the Black Deaf community with focus on raising awareness of the critical issues that affect us as a community. Throughout her tenure, Chenae has fully embraced community service through appearances, presenting workshops, and volunteer activities at events such as National Association for the Deaf’s Youth Leadership Camp, Oregon Association for the Deaf, NBDA Midwest and Southern Regional Conferences, Saint Andrew’s School for Special Education in Grenada (Caribbean island), National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID) Student Congress’ Banquet and more.

Chenae actively promotes important events and raises awareness about the Deaf community through social media and video blogs.  Chenae remains humbled by the dignity of Deaf people across the country and around the world in the collective struggle for equality. “Determination is the wake-up call to the human will.” ~Anthony Robbins. Visit Chenae’s Facebook page: ( Please direct inquiries regarding future booking, appearances and/or events to

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Kenya Lowe, Michigan, Social Activist/Community Builder

Image description: Kenya Lowe, a black woman with long black hair, wearing a black knitted sweater top with short sleeves. There appears to be a lamp with brown shade in the corner of the photo. She is sitting in a brown chair.  She has a slight smile.

Image description: Kenya Lowe, a black woman with long black hair, wearing a black knitted sweater top with short sleeves. There appears to be a lamp with brown shade in the corner of the photo. She is sitting in a brown chair. She has a slight smile.

Kenya Lowe was crowned Miss Deaf Michigan, in 1999. She was the first Black-American to hold this title in the state of Michigan. She traveled extensively, giving presentations and workshops focused on youth leadership development and community building. She competed in the National Association of the Deaf, Miss Deaf America Pageant in 2000. She received an award for best platform presentation on leadership, best talent award, and placed 6th amongst 30 states. Kenya was also the co-founder of the Miss Deaf Michigan Pageant Association (2003-2007) which promoted the personal growth and leadership development of young Deaf women in Michigan. Kenya served as a board member for Deaf Community Advocacy Network, Michigan Association for the Deaf, and was Project Facilitator for Facundo Element, an organization that actively works to remove oppression and misrepresentation of Deaf people through the means of mass media and non-violent activism. She was one of the advisors on the Rules and Regulations Advisory Committee for the 2007 Michigan’s Deaf Persons’ Interpreter Law under the Division on Deaf and Hard of Hearing. She was a former member of the task force for the National Deaf Blind Equipment Distribution Program in Michigan.  Kenya is currently a Channel Manager for AT&T Relay’s Marketing Team where she is responsible for outreach and marketing in Michigan, Colorado, Pennsylvania and Virginia. She has worked for the company since 2001.

Kenya continues to be passionate about her commitment to social justice and community building which is in part influenced by her own experiences of having lost her Deaf mother to a life of drug addiction, and losing her oldest brother to gang violence, spending her teen years mainstreamed, in a small all-white town, where she was further exposed to racism, audism, and sexism. She is especially invested in Black Deaf youth in Detroit.

While Kenya has journeyed all over the United States, she considers Michigan her home and resides in Farmington Hills. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Deaf Education from Michigan State University, and has two incredible sons, Ari and Elijah with her husband, Ben. Her biracial sons are powerful reminder of the importance of being socially conscious in a world that has not actively ensured equality for all humans.

Brian Keith Lucas, North Carolina, Community Advocate

Brian Keith LucasBrian Keith Lucas is pursuing Juris Doctorate degree at Charlotte School of Law in Charlotte, North Carolina. Before the pursuit, he was an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Specialist at U.S. Department of Agriculture in the Office of Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights in Washington, D.C. In his role, he performed technical edits and researched employment cases law before drafting Final Agency Decisions (FAD) and Final Order (FO), and reviewed and organized thousands employment complaint files to ensure completeness for further processing.

Prior to his time at USDA, after graduating from Gallaudet University with Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration in May ’08, he worked primarily at United States Mint, one of the components under Department of Treasury, as an Administrative Assistant, to directly support Director of the Workforce Solutions Department and assisted leaders in maximizing the workplace culture.

Outside of work, he has used his leadership skills in various volunteer capacities such as the President of the Alumni Corporation Board of Delta Sigma Phi, National Representative on behalf of President of the National Black Deaf Advocates (NBDA), and participated as a special guest and keynote speaker at Gallaudet University, Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) in the Federal government. He dreams of becoming an international motivational speaker and an attorney for the Deaf, Disabled, and Disadvantaged.

Tia Jenice Morris, Missouri, Social Worker

Tia MorrisTia Jenice Morris, MSW, ACSW, LCSW holds a Master of Social Work from University of Missouri- St. Louis. She also earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Human/Community Service and Religious Studies-Family Ministries from Lenoir-Rhyne College (now University) in Hickory, North Carolina.

Tia has made it her life’s work to be an instrument of change in the lives of those she encounters. She has previous experience working as an employee with Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, where she assisted older adults and their families. During that time, she also worked as a Social Service Assistant at American Red Cross-St. Louis Chapter. While there, she assisted military members and their families as well as families in emergency situations, who resided in the metropolitan St. Louis area. From 2011-2013, Tia founded a private practice where she specialized working with the Deaf & hard of hearing and/or Christian community. Currently, in addition to being a Deaf and Hard of Hearing School Social Worker in St. Louis County, Tia also utilizes her skills as a psychiatric hospital Social Worker. When not working, she enjoys spending time with her friends and family, running 5ks and ½ marathons, reading and playing with her dog, Levi. 

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Antonietta "Netta" Nobles, California, Deaf Education

Antonietta NoblesAntonietta "Netta" Nobles is a native of Georgia and currently an itinerant teacher in the Deaf and Hard of Hearing program in California. For 15½ years, Ms. Nobles was a classroom teacher in the Deaf and Hard of Hearing programs in Tennessee, Maryland, Arizona, and California.

She is a 2003 graduate of Gallaudet University, with a master’s degree in Deaf Education and has received her Bachelor of Sciences degree in Community Health Education and Health Education from the University of Tennessee - Knoxville in 1993. Miss Nobles also received a teaching certificate in students with autism from California State University, Northridge in 2012.

She is a devoted member of the cheerleading community. During her college years, she was a member and a captain of the cheerleading squad and has participated in several cheerleading competitions. She continues her involvement with cheerleading as a cheerleading coach in California.

Ms. Nobles has received several awards and commendations for her cheerleading and coaching abilities; among them are the United States Cheerleader Achievement Award; All-American Cheerleading Scholar Program Award; Cheerleading Coaches Award, Outstanding Coaches Award, Coach of the Year Award, and Most Valuable Coach Award.

She received other awards, such as Above and Beyond Teacher of the year Eagle Award, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Scholastic Achievement; Extraordinary Service to School and Community Award; Speak Up for Young Americans Week Award; and a Certificate of Appreciation from the Rosell Show.

Ms. Nobles also belongs to several notable organizations including the Gamma Sigma Sigma Sorority, Pi Lambda Theta National Honor Society, and the Professional Association in Education Program Honor Society.

Her hobbies includes arts and crafts projects such as creating gift baskets and cross-stitching; and taking part in several personal fitness programs in which she practices, among other types of exercise, such as body board surfing, swimming, jogging, tae kwon do, and judo.

Brandon Ruiz-Williams, California, Human Services/Deaf Education

Brandon Williams, a light skinned man with dark brown hair, and a light denim blue shirt. The background is a black wall. Brandon has a closed smile.

Image description: Brandon Williams, a light skinned man with dark brown hair, and a light denim blue shirt. The background is a black wall. Brandon has a closed smile.

Brandon L. Ruiz-Williams was born in Dallas, Texas and also grew up in Arkansas. He was born into a working-class Deaf family where he was able to view how systems impact working-class Deaf people, particularly those who are Deaf People of Color in addition to possessing other intersectional identities.

Brandon is a recent graduate of Gallaudet University with a Bachelor's degree in Social Work. He has given numerous presentations on ‘Decolonial Love’- coined by author Junot Diaz- with his spouse, Elena Ruiz-Williams. He has also given presentations on the intersections of audism and racism and depicts how those systems have impacted five generations of his Black Deaf family. 

Brandon is also the co-director of the Youth Empowerment Summit (Y.E.S!), a program designed for Black Deaf youth. Y.E.S! operates under the National Black Deaf Advocates, Inc. (NBDA).Brandon currently lives in Sacramento, California with his spouse and their dog, Xico.

Roxann Richards, New York, Education/Management

Roxann RichardsRoxann Richards is the current director of the Miss Black Deaf America Pageant and a full time High School Math Teacher Assistant in New York. She is a native of Jamaica but was raised in the New York City metro-area since the age of 2. Roxann earned her Associate’s degree in Accounting and Bachelor’s degree in Business Management from Rochester Institute of Technology. She has been actively involved with the Black Deaf Advocates (BDA) community since 2003, becoming the first Miss Black Deaf Rochester to win the title of Miss Black Deaf America Queen in 2005. Richards previously served as the Chapter Representative of New Jersey Black Deaf Advocates. She was the 2012 & 2014 Eastern Regional Conference Registration Coordinator and served on numerous committees for the various Black Deaf Advocates chapters in the Eastern Region Black Deaf Advocates.

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Crystal Kelley Schwartz, Illinois, Motivational Speaker

Crystal Kelley SchwartzCrystal Kelley Schwartz, Motivational Speaker, travels across the nation providing workshops, training, and performances. Crystal has starred in film and stage productions including “The Deaf View,” “Ignore AIDS? Cant!” and “Deaf Stars Showcase.” Crystal’s musical performances combine the visual language of American Signs and Rhythm. Currently, Crystal is an on screen reporter and also stars in her new show, “Behind the Scene with Crystal,” which features conversations with strong leaders and individuals who are making strides in impactful ways for the Deaf community. Crystal has worked as a health educator, counselor and advocate along with experiences as an ASL consultant with theatres including Goodman, Steppenwolf and Victory Gardens in Chicago. She mentors children with hearing loss, and has also worked as an ASL professor. She graduated with a Bachelor’s in Business Administrations and is pursuing her Masters in Management. She founded and runs a Deaf Youth Center in Naperville, Illinois. She is also a homeschool teacher to two of her four Deaf/Hard of Hearing children. Crystal discovered her passion for performing while being involved with Gallaudet University’s Dance Company. While she earned her degree in Chicago, Crystal has a strong desire to return to Gallaudet in the future to join the many strong leaders that often find their way to Washington D.C. in developing breakthroughs for many communities within the Deaf circle. She continues to be a strong advocate by sitting on several boards and committees that serve the Deaf community including the Illinois Association of the Deaf, Illinois School for the Deaf Advisory Board, Deaf Quest, Inc., National Association of the Deaf and formerly held the title of Miss Deaf Chicagoland Black Deaf Advocates (1998-2000.) Crystal continues to enjoy speaking, teaching, spending time with her family and working on her book.

Phillip Smith, Jr., California, Community Advocate

Phillip SmithPhillip Smith, Jr. is the current president of the local chapter Bay Area Black Deaf Advocates. He is a native of the Bay Area where he attended Richmond High School in Richmond, CA and graduated from ITT Technical Institute in Hayward, CA with an associate degree in Computer Electronics and a Bachelor of Science degree in Telecommunication Engineering.

Phillip currently works as a High School Teacher's Assistant in Oakland, CA. He is also a basketball referee serving as a member of the basketball officials associations: East Bay Basketball Association (EEBA) and Deaf Basketball Officials (DBO).His most proud accomplishment was being the first African-American to win the Master's Champion at Pacific Coast Deaf Bowling Association Tournament in 2009. In his leisure time, he enjoys cooking and coordinating various Deaf events to the Bay Area Deaf community on the Facebook page he manages - Deaf Bay Area Event.

Opeoluwa Sotonwa, Missouri, Administrator/Management

Opeoluwa SotonwaOpeoluwa Sotonwa is the Executive Director of Missouri Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (MCDHH). By virtue of his position as MCDHH Executive Director, he is a member of Missouri Board of Certified Interpreters, Missouri Governor Council on Disability, Missouri Relay Committee, Deaf Advisory Council on Mental Health, Missouri Newborn Hearing Screening Standing Committee.

Opeoluwa is also the Vice President of National Black Deaf Advocates (NBDA), and the Chair of NBDA Board of Directors. He has been instrumental in helping to promote the leadership development, economic and educational opportunities, social equality, and the general health and welfare of Black deaf and hard of hearing people in America.

Opeoluwa is also a member of the Diversity Committee within the Conference of Educational Administrators of Schools and Programs for the Deaf (CEASD). He holds a law degree from the University of Ilorin, Nigeria and a LL.M (Master of Laws) from the Howard University School of Law, Washington, D.C.

De'Lasha Singleton, Texas, Activist

DeLasha SingletonDe'Lasha Singleton, a native of Austin, TX, is a proud single mother of two young children, Sosiua and Siaosi Ofiu. She is a social justice activist, collectivist, lactivist and freelance photographer. She is an alumni of Texas School for the Deaf '08 and Gallaudet '14 with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology.  She is the co-founder of Together All in Solidarity (TAS) with Stephanie "Najma" Johnson. She has also serves additional roles for the community including public relation coordinator for the Austin Black Deaf Advocates and peer advisors coordinator for the Youth Empowerment Summit (Y.E.S!). De'Lasha is an active presenter on a wide variety of topics through workshop sessions, dialogue forum, and social media in relation to social justice, intersectionality, self-love and body liberation, and breast feeding. She is actively involved in spreading the awareness of domestic violence, sexual violence, sexual assault and stalking. She believesin the healing of the DDBDDHH (Deaf, DeafBlind, DeafDisability and Hard of Hearing, especially all umbrella of queer, Trans, Black Indigenous People of Color, Class, Non-christian religion, undocumented and other marginalized identities) community by recognizing the systemically oppressive behaviors and the needs to eradicate them.

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Andrea Sonnier, Louisiana, Deaf Education

Andrea SonnierAndrea Sonnier is pursuing her doctoral degree from the Department of Education at Gallaudet University. In her research studies, she concentrates on the need for critical pedagogy in deaf education to reshape the language and literacy education of secondary deaf students of color. Andrea obtained her master’s degree in Deaf Education at Lamar University while teaching at Louisiana School for the Deaf. She received her bachelor’s degree in English from Louisiana State University. While at LSU, she was recognized as the first deaf recipient of the LSU Distinguished Communicator award and also received the A.P. Tureaud Milestone Black Scholars Award.

Andrea was a member of LSU Tiger Girls, a nationally-ranked dance team for the LSU Men’s and Women’s basketball teams as well as a member of the NFL’s New Orleans Saints cheerleaders. Andrea competed in the Miss Louisiana Pageant within the Miss America Organization as part of her advocacy for deaf education. She won the Miss Congeniality award, preliminary health and fitness award, over $6,000 in scholarships, and second-runner up to Miss Louisiana. Outside of her current studies, Andrea enjoys tutoring at Model Secondary School for the Deaf, traveling, and dancing at home, in a studio, or in the street.

DeAnna Swope, Georgia, Community Advocate

DeAnna SwopeDeanna Swope was born and raised in the small town of Eatonton, Georgia. She is a graduate of the Clarkston High School in Atlanta and received her Bachelor’s degree in Social and Criminal Justice from Ashford University. She also obtained a Master of Public Administration from Ashford University in 2014. Currently, she is currently the Coordinator for Hope House and Domestic Violence Outreach Specialist for the Georgia Council for the Hearing Impaired (GACHI). She also owns a consultant company, DeAnna's Outreach Agency. She is an aspiring consultant and public speaker. She continually promotes the importance of self-advocacy to the deaf community. She now pursues a doctorate degree in Human Service Administration at Walden University. One of her goals is to open a domestic violence and substance abuse program for deaf and CODA (Children Of Deaf Adults) women upon graduation.

Korian Thomas, Texas, Advocate

Korian ThomasKorian Thomas is a native of Dallas, Texas. Korian has invested in the social services field for more than 14 years. Over the course of his experiences, he has served as an HIV Educator, Case Manager, Rehabilitation Counselor, and Mental Health Therapist.

Korian obtained a Bachelor's degree in Social Work from Gallaudet University and a master's degree in Vocational Rehabilitation Counseling/Counselor from the University of North Texas. Korian is currently seeking a new direction and has now returned to Gallaudet University for his second Master's degree in Public Administration. This new degree will give him the opportunity to become a leader like many others whom he admires. It is his dream to utilize his knowledge and experience to become a leader for a diverse community of people with disabilities.

Niesha Washington-Shephard, Washington, D.C., Deaf Interpreter

Niesha WashingtonNiesha Washington-Shepard is a native of New Orleans, Louisiana. She began interpreting while in the Results! Visiting Interpreter Program with Gallaudet Interpreting Service, a 9-month mentoring program for Deaf and Hearing interpreters. During that time, she was also involved in the partnership between Gallaudet University Regional Interpreter Education Center (GURIEC) and (National Alliance of Black Interpreters of Washington, DC (NAOBI-DC) to train more Discover Interpreting Ambassadors. After the program, she decided to pursue her goal of becoming a Certified Deaf Interpreter of the deaf and hard of hearing community by getting involved in the interpreting and Deaf community. She is currently working as a freelance interpreter outside of Washington, DC, teaches biology at Gallaudet and is a leader in the local District of Columbia Area Black Deaf Advocates (DCABDA). Besides the work of interpreting, she enjoys teaching, running and reading books. 

Sharon White, Kentucky, Community Advocate

Sharon WhiteSharon D. White hails from Aurora, IL and now resides in Frankfort, Kentucky. Sharon currently works as an Administrative Assistant to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Branch in Kentucky Office of Vocational Rehabilitation. She previously served as Secretary of the National Black Deaf Advocates (NBDA) from 2009 to 2013. She continues her service with the NBDA as the current conference co-chair. She is in her third term as the President of Kentucky Association of the Deaf. Sharon has been actively involved in the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community in various capacities in the state of Kentucky including current Vice Chair for the Kentucky School for the Deaf (KSD) Advisory Board and Commission Secretary for the Kentucky Commission on the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. In 2011, Sharon advocated on behalf of the former Black Deaf students who attended Kentucky School for the Deaf between 1930 to 1955 to correct the unjust and racially motivated actions of withholding the Black Deaf diplomas by the school. As a result of her advocacy efforts, Sharon was the recipient of the Leadership Award at the Kentucky Governor Ambassador Award Ceremony.

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Black Deaf People in Arts & Entertainment

A diverse range of arts and entertainment like poetry, dancing, acting, and music such as jazz, blues, gospel, soul, and hip hop are integral parts of the lives and culture of the African-American community. It would be unthinkable to believe it does not apply to Black Deaf individuals in terms of expressing their life and experience through arts and entertainment. Historically, Black Deaf individuals excelled in arts, music, sports and entertainment. Unfortunately, their names and talents are not as widely known and recognized. Today, largely due to the popularity of social media, a wide range of talented Black Deaf individuals are emerging in the world of arts and entertainment and gaining increasing recognition. In honor of Black History Month with 28 days in February, brief highlights on 28 contemporary Black Deaf artists are provided below:


Kazeem BabatundeKazeem Babatunde is immensely passionate about the art of music and has been an active and highly-demanded musical professional for the past six years and counting. He is a disc jockey known as Deaf DJ Baba. Kazeem is a native of Rhode Island and a 2009 graduate of Gallaudet University with distinguished honors, including the President's Scholarship Award from Gallaudet University with a BA degree in Graphic Design and a minor in Business Administration. He also participated in Gallaudet's "Keeping the Promise" program as a black deaf student, which prepared him to embark on his public service career and continue to foster his leadership and teamwork abilities through the public service. In his spare time, Kazeem enjoys weightlifting, studying music, and spreading his contagious vibes amongst his social like-minded peers. Kazeem is currently an Information Technology specialist at the National Institute of Health's Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) in Bethesda, MD. He also continues to mentor young deaf African-American high school and college students.


Michelle BanksMichelle A. Banks, a native of Washington, DC, is an award-winning actress, writer, director, producer, choreographer, motivational speaker, and teacher. She has TV/movie appearances in Soul Food, Girlfriends, Strong Medicine, See What I'm Saying, and Compensation. Michelle credits Jadolphus CW Fraser, an independent filmmaker, for introducing her to filmmaking and co-directing his feature debut, Always Chasing Love. Michelle was chosen as one of 13 actors for NYC's 2008 ABC Diversity Talent Showcase. She has appeared in plays such as Big River, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow if Enuf, and her one-woman show, Reflections of a Black Deaf Woman. Her other achievements include: Artistic Director of Onyx Theatre Company, sign master for Broadway plays, Arena Stage, and Centerstage, director for stage plays such as Guys and Dolls, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and Z: A Christmas Story. Michelle's most recent works include dancing for Kankouran West African Dance Company, and producing/directing In Sight and Sound: De(a)f Poetry I and II, and Richard Graham's one man show, What It's LIke: One Veteran's Tale of Addiction, Survival & PTSD.


Fred M BeamFred M. Beam is an internationally known performing artist who has different artistic outlets in many forms. He has been a visual artist since his high school years where he won several local arts awards for his outstanding work. Fred is known as the first Deaf African-American to perform in a leading role in hearing theater — the Equity Theater in Chicago. Fred is the former president of National Black Deaf Advocates (NBDA) and District of Columbia Area Black Deaf Advocates (DCABDA). He is the founder of Invisible Hands Inc., which is made up of a number of different companies including: The Wild Zappers, an all male deaf dance company which has toured nationally and internationally; National Deaf Dance Theater, a mainstream dance company for both deaf and hearing communities; and I Didn't Hear That Color, a deaf African American touring theater troupe. He has been performing at venues around the world including Japan, Kentucky DeaFestival, and NBDA Conferences and events. Fred was featured in the Essence Magazine's Real Man of the Month and has won numerous awards for his theater performance. He is the coordinator of the annual DC Black Deaf Expo.


Ronnie BradleyRonnie Bradley was born and raised in Washington, DC. Bradley is an alumnus of Model Secondary School for the Deaf (MSSD) and graduated in 1994. His passion for dance originated at MSSD. After he graduated, he went on to pursue his dream of becoming a professional dancer. Bradley had studied with a variety of dance companies, including the KanKouran West African Dance Company, The Wild Zappers, Joy of Motion, and Soul in Motion. He had traveled nationally and internationally for more than 12 years as a performer. He is currently teaching African Dance in order to understand and appreciate African American cultural expressions through preservation and enrichment of African history.

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Keith Shoroc BrownKeith Sho'Roc Brown is arguably the first deaf Pop recording artist who comes from Wilmington, DE. He went to Gallaudet University where he met Prinz-D The First Deaf Rapper and was inspired to do music. Sho' Roc has performed frequently at open mic events to better his craft and to bridge the gap between the hearing and deaf communities through his music. He also performs at local events in Washington, DC that are geared mostly toward his deaf fans. He made his international debut as the first deaf Pop Artist to perform in Osaka, Japan with an organization called Japanese Deaf Artist Osaka. He is currently featured on Prinz-D's mix tape "First Deaf Rapper Vol. 2" and has been performing songs with him called "Shirt Off" and "You Were My Everything". Sho'Roc is soon to release his first album in 2014. Armed with smooth and melodic wit, singing skills and irresistible charm, Sho Roc has continued to develop and grow as a musician, performer, and songwriter. Keith Sho'Roc Brown's Website:


Terry ClaytonTerry Clayton is a Deaf African-American sculptor from Logan County in Kentucky. Terry is a former college football player for the University of Kentucky and graduated with a degree in Kinesiology. He still attends school with pursuing another degree in fine arts. In metal sculpture, he found an art medium that communicated with him. Clayton was honored recently by having his sculpture, titled "Cherished," placed on permanent display on the University of Kentucky campus. The work is an abstract piece, depicting a mother cradling a baby child. In his own description of his work, Clayton writes that his mother always let him know how precious he was to her and she would not let people mistreat him because of his deafness. Clayton says his main workout comes in the metal shop, working with blowtorches, welding arcs and pouring hot iron into molds to fashion his creations. In addition to his art accolades, Clayton was honored in 2007 as the inaugural winner of the Rudy Award. The award, created by the inspiring Notre Dame walk-on football player Daniel "Rudy" Ruettiger, recognizes "Character, Courage, Contribution and Commitment."


Regina DanielsRegina Daniels, a native of New Orleans, is a multi-talented performer who has performed in theater and film productions and is also a dancer and a model. She was featured in one of her ASL student's video project for her school at California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB) where she discussed her passion for teaching American Sign Language (ASL) to her students. She also was featured in I.D.E.A.L. Magazine for Winter Edition (2014). In 2012, she earned a lead role in the play "Daffodils" at the Rocky Mountain Deaf Theater in Denver, CO. The play was written by deaf writer Raymond Luczak and directed by Nicki L. Runge. Her remarkable talent earned her roles in the following films: "Critical Nexus" (2011), "The Wiz" (2011), "A Mind of a Serial Killer" (2010), "Hers.Theirs.Ours" (2010), a short film, "Dancing with Silence" (2007), and a documentary for a Columbia College (Chicago) student project, "If You Can Hear Your Own Tune" (2000). She was featured on cover publications of Tour Secrets 1 & 2 and Kiss-Fist. In addition, she has served as an ASL translator with the Steppenwolf and Victory Gardens Theaters, the Columbia College Theater Department, and the ASL-English Interpretation Department at Columbia College. Regina Daniels Website:


Takiyah C HarrisTakiyah C. Harris is a passionate artist and a fine art photographer from the Chicago area. She captures photographs in color and black & white from events and environments. Takiyah started her photography business two years ago after receiving positive feedback on her work from professional artists and interpreters. She took photography classes at Southern Illinois University and Governors State University. Takiyah has talents in digital and 35 mm photography techniques. Takiyah aspires to be involved in the arts community in the Chicago area and to have her work displayed in galleries such as the Beverly Arts Center, Union Street Gallery, and others.

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Antoine HunterAntoine Hunter is an African American Deaf/Hard of Hearing Choreographer, Dancer, Dance Instructor, Actor and Advocate. Hailing from Oakland, CA, he began dancing with Dawn James at Skyline High School. Mr. Hunter attended the California Institute of the Arts and is studying toward a B.A. degree in Dance through St. Mary's College of California's LEAP Program. Mr. Hunter danced for various companies from many parts of the world like Cuba, Rome, Paris and much more. Through his art and advocacy he proves that those with a hearing loss or any kind of disability can reach for their dreams.


CJ JonesCJ Jones is a world renowned Deaf entertainer. As an entertainer, CJ Jones has done just about everything, from performing in a Tony Award winning play on National Tour, to directing Deaf kids from high school to kindergarten in their own productions. He has acted in TV, written several one-man shows that have toured the US and internationally, and gives motivational speeches to colleges and companies. In short, CJ is CEO, producer, director, writer, actor, comedian, and musician. CJ has performed his one-man show in Ecuador, Japan, Sweden, Australia, Canada, the US Virgin Islands, and in every state in the union. He has performed in hundreds of elementary schools, high schools, universities, colleges, conventions, and many events across the continent, inspiring hearing and deaf, young and old. CJ Jones' Website:


Jubil KhanJubil Khan, a Native of Philadelphia, received a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in Dance from Temple University. Captivated by African and Hip Hop, she participated in renowned African American Deaf Dance Company (Wild Zappers) and KanKouran West African Dance company in Washington, DC. She then expanded her dance training in Modern and Ballet dance techniques at other renowned dance schools and studios such as Philadanco, University of the Arts, Dance Theater of Harlem and more. Furthermore, she did fashion modeling and also won First Runner-Up for Miss Black Deaf America in 2000. She is now pursing her acting career, in the creating process of developing a One Woman Show. Among her credits in Film/TV include extra roles in "Baby Mama Drama", "Men in Black III", "Law & Order", and "Blue Bloods". She had speaking roles in independent films "The Shattered Mind" as Imani and "Parallax" as Melanie Bardo, both deaf roles. Jubil has some stage work credits, including a role in a thrilling play, "Fetes de la Nuit", which received a Drama Desk Award in 2010, and the challenge of playing four different characters in an off-Broadway play "Almost Maine". Jubil recently performed on tour with SignStage on Tour Company (owned by Windwood Productions) for a month and a half performing "The Ugly Duckling". Currently, she is also pursuing another avenue in building a business team that will help families and individuals build a secured financial and wealthy future or, as we call it, build a legacy.


Vyron KinsonVyron Kinson is an up and coming disc jockey known as DJ Lekim. Vyron is born and raised in Albany, GA. He is a graduate of Georgia School for the Deaf and Gallaudet University with a bachelor's degree in Social Work. He chose his DJ name because of his middle name Mikel which is spelled backward. He first got started in the DJ business from his mentor Lisa "DJ Lisa Love" McAdoo of Philadelphia, PA. He credited Leyland "DJ Supalee" Lyken, LaDon "DJ Def" Battle, and DJ Jamon Freeman for their inspirations.

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Daressie LairdDaressie "Elaine" Laird is the CEO of Laird's Graphic ASL Greeting Cards. Elaine received her BA degree in Art (concentration Graphic Design) at the University of Louisville in 1994. In 1996, she started a home based business called Laird's Graphic — specialized in greeting cards in American Sign Language. To promote and sell her artwork, she created a website, a Facebook page, and attends local and national events. Her work appeals to anyone looking for unique greeting cards designed by a local artist. To learn about how to advance her business, she enrolled in the Jefferson Community and Technical College, Small Business and Entrepreneurship program and received a certificate in 2013.


Aarron LogginsAarron Loggins, known as Deaf King, is an R&B/Pop artist and American Sign Language Translator whose unique performances reach out to a diverse fan base. The Chicago native did not take being hard of hearing as a limitation as he managed to learn American Sign Language by the age of three. Aarron developed a passion for music as a teenager singing in the church choir. His love for Gospel was the first step in developing an unmatched talent for performing in his own unique style. During his high school years, Aarron joined the step team and kept his focus on the theatre and musical industry. This led to his major move to the east coast to attend Gallaudet University, where he could thrive in an environment with a population of driven students who are hard of hearing, just like him. Deaf King emerged in those years as Aarron joined and performed with several companies such as Wild Zappers, the National Theatre for the Deaf, the Gallaudet Dance Company, and he was a founder of the deaf step team Da Jump Back. Deaf King became the premier entertainer and advocate for the deaf and hard of hearing.


DJ Supalee was born Leyland K Lyken in Brooklyn, NY. He lost his hearing at the age of nine when he almost drowned in a swimming pool. By the time they revived him he was deaf. At the age of 16 he was taught the basics of Djing by his father Leyland Lyken, Sr. (aka Funky Lee). From there he honed his DJ skills from home along with travel Fox crew until he went away to college. At NTID, he evolved into the deaf community and started Djing for Ebony Club, house parties, and other college events leading up to Sailors Ball and Brickfest. After graduation, he hosted his first major event called Supafest which exposed his Djing skills to the world and he hasn't stopped since. From 2004 - 2006 Lee was president of New York City Black Deaf Advocates (NYCBDA) where he brought together the first bi-annual Eastern Regional Conference. During his tenure, the organization went from no board to a full board by the time his term was completed. DJ Supalee is now one of the biggest nightlife promoters and disc jockeys in the USA. He also co-founded Deaf United Entertainment and used his mixing skills and connections to bring people together. "D.U.E." showcases events which bring in artists from all over the world. In May 2009, he also founded ASL Poetry at Busboy and Poets in Washington, DC. This is a popular open stage month to month event where hearing and deaf patrons interact and perform sign songs, short skits and poems. This is the first and longest running "open mic" event in the deaf community.


Darius McCallDarius McCall hails from Birmingham, Alabama, and resides in Washington, DC. He is a multi-talented individual who has been recognized for both musical and acting skills. Musically, McCall is known as the first deaf hip hop recording artist (as he was the first who had his music copyrighted through the Library of Congress). As Prinz-D The First Deaf Rapper, he has released several albums and performed both nationally and internationally. As an actor McCall has received a vast amount of positive feedback for the roles he's taken and from people he has worked with. He has taken roles acting on stage and in film… some with an all-hearing cast, and some with a deaf cast. Society's expectations have never dissuaded him from turning his dreams into accomplishments. McCall encourages anyone who may have hesitations to not let other people's opinions stop them from following their hearts.

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Tara MilesTara J. Miles is a native of Youngstown, Ohio. She discovered her love for dance and the performing arts while studying at Howard University. One class there was all it took for her to get off the launch pad and pursue her dream. It was soon discovered that she had a naturally ability to pick up dance. With this raw talent in hand, she started taking up several dance classes in the DC area to make up for the skills she lacked. Since then, she has performed all over the United States and even abroad in countries such as China, England, Finland, South America, France and Canada. Although her first love is hip hop dance, she enjoys performing jazz pieces, lyrical pieces, and liturgical dance. She has been blessed to have come across many individuals in the performing world who have impacted her, including working with Debbie Allen and Darren Henson (choreographer to the stars such as Jennifer Lopez and Brittany Spears). Currently, she is employed at Gallaudet University as a family educator and performance arts teacher for grades 3-8. She is also a graduate student pursuing a second master's degree in social work. She is anticipating her May 2015 graduation. In her spare time she enjoys shopping for cool stilettos, traveling, and spending time with families. She also enjoys giving workshops on dance and sharing her passion with anyone she comes across.


Awet MogesAwet Moges was born deaf in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and moved with his parents and older sister Zaid to the USA in the 1970s. He learned sign language in Syracuse, and was mainstreamed after the second grade. He has a younger sister, Rezenet, who is also deaf. Awet graduated from CSULB with a BA in philosophy and is now a graduate student majoring in philosophy at California State University, LA, and aspires to become a graphic novelist. He is currently working on Pantheon, a post-human story that is filled with characters from mythology and written in classical, almost operatic tradition, with elevated prosody. He has shown his work in various galleries in Glendale, San Diego, and the Linda K. Jordan gallery at Gallaudet.


Nathalie PluvioseNathalie Pluviose, also known as NatPlu, grew up in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. She attended oral and mainstream schools in her earlier years before she started learning American Sign Language. By being very abstract and creative, she likes to give an extraordinary performance with a spirited audience participation entertainment style. She received her Associate's degree in Foreign Language Teaching Education from Broward College, FL and a Bachelor's in American Sign Language at Gallaudet University. After two years of working and being away from school, she decided to go back and continue her education as a graduate student at Ashford University majoring in Public Administration. After receiving her doctoral degree, she plans to go back to Haiti to set up her own business and a school for the deaf — providing Deaf Haitians the education and language they have lacked for many years.


Adria RhyneAdria Rhyne was born in the heart of Los Angeles and lost her hearing at the age of five. She attended an oral school until middle school before enrolling in a mainstream program. When she was little, she had three aspirational goals: a veterinarian, an astronomer, or a fashion designer/artist. She chose the latter. Adria followed her passion of becoming a fashion designer by enrolling in the Fashion Design School in West Covina, CA in 1990. After three years of working as a fashion illustrator, she got interested in graphic design and was greatly influenced by the Art Nouveau Movement. She received a BS degree from California State University, Northridge (CSUN). She is currently employed at the National Center on Deafness in CSUN as an Administrative Support/Graphic Designer and Marketing for pepnet 2 (Postsecondary Education Programs Network) to improve the postsecondary outcomes for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. In addition, she has been involved in planning two events for the deaf community: De' Via Art Gala and EGE Red Carpet. She is passionate about volunteering, teaching and getting involved in the arts and entertainment world.

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Shawn RichardsonShawn Richardson was born in Tucson, Arizona, and grew up in Maryland. Shawn graduated from National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID) and earned an Associate of Applied Science in Applied Arts in 1992. Shawn worked as a production associate with Preservation magazine and its website at the National Trust for Historic Preservation in Washington, DC for many years. He moved to Houston and has been residing in Austin. Shawn seldom does freelance art and graphic work. He specializes in cartoons and humorous illustrations on the Macintosh and in traditional media including acrylic, pen, pencil, ink, and watercolor. Shawn's cartoons were exhibited at Texas School for the Deaf (TSD) for ASLfest (2012). He was once an employee of TSD and took pleasure in working with students. Shawn has been passionately fond of drawing and painting since he was a little boy. He enjoys reading comic strips and cartoons. His favorite cartoonists are Robb Armstrong, Matt Daigle, Lynn Johnston, Morris Turner, and Bill Watterson. He also loves fine art and is very keen on going to museums and galleries. His inspirational artists are William H. Johnson, Frida Kahlo, Jacob Lawrence, Henri Matisse, Alice Neel, Pablo Picasso, and Egon Schiele. Shawn has been an active member of Houston Black Deaf Advocates (HBDA) since 2009. He appreciates his involvements with activities, community services, events, and meetings of HBDA. Currently, he is a volunteer web master for HBDA's website ( Shawn Richardson Website:


Andrew RobertsonAndrew Robertson is a talented photographer from Reserve, Louisiana. He followed in his mother's footsteps when she shared her passion in photography after she gave him a 35mm automatic SLR Minolta camera. The pictures gave so much inspiration when he enjoyed shooting images of events and activities at his alma mater, Louisiana School for the Deaf (LSD) in Baton Rouge, LA. By 2011, he turned his photography as a hobby into becoming a professional photographer. He has captured photos and provided photo session services for memorable events such as: District of Columbia Area Black Deaf Advocates' 30th Anniversary Gala "Remembering Our Legacy" in Washington, DC; NBDA 30th Anniversary Celebration Gala "Celebrating A Legacy: NBDA's 30 Years of Advocacy" in Baltimore, MD; and 26th NBDA National Conference, "Aiming for Greater Excellence" in New Orleans, LA. He also spends time with his online photography portfolio and provides personalized views for his clients. His goal is to increase awareness of photography as a career and to help NBDA build a photo archive. Andrew Robertson's Website:


Storm SmithStorm Smith is known as a vivid storyteller through her work, as well as an acclaimed filmmaker in the Deaf community across the nation. She still continues to share her passion throughout. Storm discovered her hidden talent back in Fall 2010, when she submitted her first film, titled "Unveiled", to the World Deaf Cinema Festival. This film was nominated for the top three films in the Best Short Film category. This ignited Storm's passion to continue and produce three other feature films: Women basketball-related "Inbounds", drama-dance related "Evolution", and the latest, psychological-drama "Roulette". Some of her films were recognized internationally at deaf film festivals, earning her nominations and the prestigious Rochester Deaf Film Festival's "Rising Star" award. Storm didn't limit herself to only films, but rather expanded her horizons by producing and directing a variety of music videos, sports promotional videos, commercials, and film interviews. One of her best pieces of work, "Imagine Yourself Here", was recognized as a thirty-second commercial that showcased between "Switched At Birth" on ABC. "Demolition Tatum" — a sports promotional video featuring Tony Tatum, a well-known football player at Gallaudet University — appeared on Football Scoop, a website internationally acclaimed for its various videos featuring football players at colleges all over the world. Finally, "Stay Strong", a music video Storm also produced, promoting anti-bullying messages for Deaf and hearing people alike, received more than ten thousand viewings in both the United States and in Canada. Storm also teaches workshops and leads a seminar on how to edit videos using Final Cut Pro, while working as a Digital Media Technician at Gallaudet University.


Seandra Smith-ReeseSeandra Smith-Reese was born and raised in Dallas, Texas. She comes from a very large deaf family. She was the first Miss Black Deaf of Dallas and was the Miss Black Deaf America in 1995. She started performing a song on a stage in first grade. She has been passionate at singing, mime, and ministry for the Lord. She has performed at various venues including at the National Black Deaf Advocates conferences and Dallas Black Deaf Advocates events as well as at high schools, colleges, wedding, funeral, and birthday parties. Seandra is actively involved with a new singing group called Sisters in Spirits (S.I.P.). She is currently enrolled in college pursuing a bachelor degree in Social Work. She is also co-director of the Miss Black Deaf America.

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Warren SnipeThis multi-talented performer with a fan base across the nation and beyond is originally from Philadelphia, now residing in the Washington, DC area. This consummate entertainer has been performing since childhood and has done, and does, nearly everything in the entertainment world, plus traveled the globe for the past dozen years. Known affectionately as "WAWA", Warren Snipe has written powerful poems and songs and his passion for music grew to a point that he had to share with the world. So watch out...Wawa's doing what he does best...breaking down barriers and taking on challenges. He's the type that likes to break down barriers, every day in every way, moving one step closer to his life's personal put Deaf recording artists on the mainstream music map! Warren "Wawa" Snipe's Website:


Michael Anthony SpadyMichael Anthony Spady was born in New Rochelle, New York and began acting at the age of nine. Best known for his outstanding performance in the film The Hammer, opposite Russell Harvard and Shoshannah Stern, Spady is one of Hollywood's most talented, motivated, determined and notable young Deaf actors working in film and television today. Spady has also appeared in numerous films, including Sympathy For Delicious, opposite his good friend and mentor Mark Ruffalo, which also starred renowned actors Juliette Lewis, Orlando Bloom and Laura Linney. Spady most recently completed a cameo role in John Maucere's SuperDeafy, No Ordinary Hero and will soon be seen in the Award-Winning film The Championship Rounds with actors Harold Perrineau, and Rutina Wesley, "Tara Thornton" on HBO's hit show True Blood. Spady's future projects include a role in the film entitled Wasted Beauty, produced by Eva Longoria, which stars Amber Zion, and a role in an upcoming film called The Dutch Book. Possessing the skills for both dramatic and comedic acting, Spady has also been featured in music videos, commercials and television shows including The New Normal, Love That Girl, Cold Case and True Blood. A graduate of Rochester Institute of Technology with a degree in Business, Spady has honed his acting skills by training at the Actor's Academy, Weist-Barron Hills, Deaf West Theater, and was awarded a full scholarship at the prestigious Stella Adler School in Hollywood.


Rosa Lee TimmRosa Lee is a performance artist known mostly for her YouTube ASL music videos, her work as a solo performer in The Rosa Lee Show, and as a lead actor in ASL Films's feature film Versa Effect. Since 1993, Rosa Lee has been involved with several stage productions, performance troupes, and has appeared in television, videos, DVDs, and CD-ROMs as an actress, sign model, and director. Currently, she is an ASL teacher, the managing editor of KISSFIST Magazine, and presenter and workshop leader. Rosa Lee Timm's Website:


Alexandria WailesAlexandria Wailes is an actress and writer known for God Loves You, Freedom Is Not Free, and The Hyperglot. She appeared in a popular NBC TV show Law & Order: Criminal Intent. She has been actively involved in theater plays. She is also a choreographer and dancer. Among her awards: Recipient of the 2004 Tony Honors for Excellence for her role (Joanna/Ensemble) in 2003 Broadway play of Big River and Nominee for 2007 LA Ovation Awards for Best Lead Actress in a Musical, Sleeping Beauty Wakes.

Other Recognition:

Evon Black (Entertainer, Alabama), Ann Marie Bryan (Filmmaker, New York), Kamau Buchanan (Filmmaker, New York), Joey "DJ Vibrator" Butler (DJ, Kentucky), Reggie "Lucky Ztar" Green (Hip Hop Artist, Texas), Wade Green (Performing Artist, Washington, D.C.), Brian Herman (Performing Artist, New York), Samuel Hudson (Artist, Alabama), Ameena Jordan (Performing Artist, Washington, D.C.), Troy Miles (Performing Artist, Maryland), Penelope Miller (Graphic Designer, Maryland), Lauren Ridloff (Actress, New York), Damon L. Tidwell (Cinematographer, New York), and many more current and future prospects in the field of arts and entertainment!

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Black Deaf Books

Black Deaf authors and other authors have written the book narratives about the Black Deaf people as a community and individually. The selected books below are the cornerstone of the Black Deaf history, culture, education, experiences, and language.

Black and Deaf in AmericaBlack and Deaf in America, Are We That Different? (1983)

By Dr. Ernest Hairston & Linwood Smith

This first known book by and about the Black Deaf people. It provides an in-depth look at some of the difficulties of the Black Deaf community. The book includes interviews with prominent Black Deaf Americans who share their joys, fears and hopes for the future. Also includes an important chapter on signs used in the black community.

Sounds Like HomeSounds Like Home: Growing Up Black and Deaf in the South (1999)

By Mary Herring Wright

Mary Herring Wright began to lose her hearing when she was eight and a half years old, and was completely deaf by the age of ten. At that time, she began to travel back and forth from her home in Iron Mine, NC to Raleigh, where she attended a residential school for black deaf and blind children from the mid-1920s to the early 1940s. Her account adds an important dimension to current literature in that it is a story by and about an African American deaf child. It is unique and historically significant because it provides valuable descriptive information about the faculty and staff of her school from the perspective of a student as well as a student teacher.

Black Deaf StudentsBlack Deaf Students: A Model for Educational Success (2007)

By Carolyn E. Williamson

Until now, the majority of studies of African American deaf and hard of hearing students concentrated upon their underachievement. The only success stories available involved high-achieving African American hearing students. To create an effective model in Black Deaf Students, this book focuses on the factors that contributed to her subjects' successes in postsecondary programs, what they viewed as obstacles and how they overcame them, and their recommendations for facilitating graduation from postsecondary programs.

Kenny Walker StoryRoar of Silence: The Kenny Walker Story (1998)

By Bob Shaller

The story of a former NFL football player who is Deaf and uses sign language. His world is without sound. But Kenny Walker made his own noise through his actions growing up in Texas and Colorado. Kenny went on to become an All-American at the University of Nebraska before playing five years of professional football, including two with the Denver Broncos in the NFL.

Still I RiseStill I Rise: The Enduring Legacy of Black Deaf Arkansans Before & After Integration (2006)

By Dr. Glenn B. Anderson

This combination DVD and booklet tells compelling stories of the experiences of Black deaf students prior to and after the Supreme Court's Brown vs. the Topeka Board of Education decision in 1954. Before the Brown decision, Arkansas was one of about 15 states, mostly in the South, that maintained separate schools for White and Black deaf students. The memories and stories compiled in the DVD and book range from an alumnus who attended school during the segregation era in 1919 to those who were among the first group of Black students to integrate the Arkansas School for the Deaf in 1965 and afterward.

Hidden Treasure of Black ASLThe Hidden Treasure of Black ASL: Its History and Structure (2011)

By Dr. Carolyn McCaskill

This book and DVD companion describe the linguistic features of a variety of American Sign Language (ASL) used by African American signers known as Black ASL. Four year research project on the differences between Black and White signers in the South during segregation that occurred in the education of Black and White deaf children.

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About the NBDA

National Black Deaf Advocates (NBDA) is the official advocacy organization for thousands of Black Deaf and Hard of Hearing Americans. For more than three decades, NBDA has been at the forefront of advocacy efforts for civil rights and equal access to education, employment, and social services on behalf of the Black Deaf and Hard of Hearing in the United States.

The organization's mission is "to promote the leadership development, economic, and educational opportunities; social equality; and to safeguard the general health and welfare of Black Deaf and hard of hearing people."

Founded in 1982, NBDA is a growing organization with more than 30 chapters across the country. As a non-profit organization, NBDA is supported by its members and others interested in furthering the mission, vision, and strategic objectives of this esteemed organization. Membership includes Black Deaf and Hard of Hearing; parents of Black Deaf and Hard of Hearing children; professionals who work with Black Deaf and Hard of Hearing youth and adults; sign language interpreters; people of color; and other interested individuals and organizations.

NBDA Executive Board serves on a voluntary basis and is comprised of a majority of Deaf and Hard of Hearing advocates, and governs National Black Deaf Advocates. The NBDA Board of Directors consists of officers elected during the national conferences, elected regional representatives from their respective regional conferences, and appointed board members.

For more information about NBDA, please visit our website:

NBDA Board of Directors

Patrick Robinson, NBDA President
Opeoluwa Sotonwa, NBDA Vice President
Donald T. Tinsley, Sr., NBDA Secretary
Betty Henderson, NBDA Treasurer
Kimberly Lucas, Eastern Regional Representative
Martina Moore, Southern Regional Representative
Ronelle Johnson, Midwestern Regional Representative
Tanya Brown, Southwestern Regional Representative
Dr. Glenn B. Anderson, Board Member & Regional Advisor
Lindsay Dunn, Board Member


Last, but not least, NBDA is greatly indebted to the U.S. Department of Education, particularly its Described and Captioned Media Program (DCMP), which provides valuable resources to enhance the educational success of our K–12 Black Deaf students and those who also experience varying degrees of vision loss. Their service also extends to interpreters and other professions serving those K-12 students. NBDA cannot do it alone; with programs such as the DCMP, we are confident that one day Black Deaf people can—and will—enjoy greater educational, economic, and social parity within mainstream society.

About the Author

Benro TOBenro Ogunyipe previously served as President of the National Black Deaf Advocates, Inc. (NBDA) from 2011 to 2013. Benro was born in France and raised in Nigeria before being relocated to the United States when he was 10 years old. Benro is currently employed with the State of Illinois, Department of Human Services in Chicago, Illinois.

Benro received a master's degree in Public Administration (MPA) from the School of Public Service at DePaul University (Chicago, IL) and a bachelor's degree in Art: Graphic Design from Gallaudet University (Washington, D.C.). Benro has been actively involved as an advocate and a board member with several organizations geared towards serving the deaf and hard of hearing community. He served two 3 year-terms as a Commissioner and Vice Chair of the Illinois Deaf and Hard of Commission (IDHHC) as appointed by the Governor. He also has served as Vice President and Board Chairman of the NBDA from 2007 to 2011. He is a current member of the National Council on Disability as appointed by U.S. President Barack Obama.

Benro can be reached at

To cite this article:

Ogunyipe, Benro. "Black Deaf Culture Through the Lens of Black Deaf History." Described and Captioned Media Program, n.d. Web.

Updated February, 2016

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