Celebrating the stories of BAME VIP community members - Black History Month
My name is Rhea and I am a Digital Marketing Intern for VIP World Services. I am a member of the BAME community. I felt that it was important as a young, black female living through these hard times, that it was important, especially in Black History Month to educate people on being part of the BAME community as well as inspirational BAME VIPs and their struggles and successes. It is inspiring to hear about the BAME VIPs that have done so much in their lives.
Black History Month is celebrated in the UK, Ireland and the Netherlands in the month of October to commemorate the achievements of important people and events in the history of the African diaspora. The purpose of this blog post is to recognise and praise the achievements of members of the Black, Asian Minority Ethnic (BAME) and Visually Impaired People (VIP) community.
For years, people with colour have faced a lot of struggles simply because of the colour of their skin, imagine how hard things would be for a VIP of colour? Members of this community have to go through many struggles to reach their goals - their contributions often ignored or played down not only because of the colour of their skin but also their disability.
Across history, there have been many people belonging to the BAME and VIP community, who have fought the social stigma of colour and their disability to inspire every other human being. In this blog, I share the stories of some remarkable people; their battles and their achievements.
Inspirational VIP-Heben Girma
Haben Girma (1988-Present) is an American disability rights advocate and the first deaf-blind graduate of Harvard Law School. Girma lost her vision and hearing at an early age and now strives to change people's attitudes about disabilities around the world. Girma is also a member of the national board of trustees for the Helen Keller Services for the Blind. Heben has also given multiple talks and has even written a memoir, Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law. It is clear to see Heben is a remarkable black woman and is an inspiration to all VIPs.
Girma learnt about advocacy and being persistent from her parents, she also struggled with confidence at a young age, however, her teachers in school pushed her to do more; capable of so much more. Haben is someone that will inspire young VIPs that are not confident about studying a degree to take that step and believe you can achieve great things regardless if you have a disability. Young people in the BAME community have been facing racial judgement and minimal opportunities due to race for a long time i.e. scholarships in the BAME community scarce, Haben overcame this with acceptance to Harvard (A top university) and inspires more BAME young people to attend university and work for scholarship opportunities.
Inspirational VIP in the music industry-Stevie Wonder
A big influential Black VIP is the music legend, Stevie Wonder. Stevland Hardaway Morris (1950-Present) is an American singer, songwriter, musician and record producer. He is known as one of the most successful musicians of the 20th century. Stevie Wonder began playing instruments at an early age, including piano, harmonica, and drums and he has also sung in the church choir. Wonder also attended Michigan School for the Blind. Stevie had multiple hits such as "Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours", "Superstition" and "Happy Birthday". Stevie overcame his sight loss from an early age to become one of the most successful and well-known black visually impaired musicians of a generation. Wonder faced one of the most difficult childhoods, being blind since birth he has never experienced visuals before and as a musician, this made it that much harder to learn to play the piano among other instruments yet he still managed to learn and is now an expert on the piano and a big inspiration to aspiring musicians.
Inspirational VIP- Ever Lee Hairston
One woman that deserves a mention is Ever-Lee Hairston. Ever-Lee serves on the Board of Directors for the National Federation of the Blind. From a young age, Ever-Lee wanted to be a nurse, however, she failed the required eye exam due to being diagnosed with a genetic eye disease, retinitis pigmentosa (RP) and was told that she would not be suitable for admission to nursing school. She was heartbroken but refused to be defeated, she then went on to earn a teaching degree, however, her career was cut short as her eyesight deteriorated, by the age of 29, she was facing total blindness. Ever-Lee had not learnt skills blind people have such as cane walking and braille reading, she then attended Louisiana Center for the Blind and learnt the necessary skills to be able to live an easier life. Hairston now devotes tireless hours mentoring and advocating for the blind, as well as delivering inspiring speeches to blind and visually impaired audiences and educating the sighted public about blindness. Ever-Lee has shown resilience and has not given up on living her life, she is an inspiration to all VIPs. Hairston has taken the knockbacks she’s had in life and pushed harder to get to where she wants to be, and that is true perseverance.
Heben Girma, Stevie Wonder and Ever-Lee Hairston are all inspirational VIPs that have all faced their battles, overcoming struggles in the best way they could. They are all not only an inspiration to the VIP community but also to the people with sight.
There are so many BAME VIPs we could talk about, the list is extensive. From Harriet Tubman freeing slaves on the underground railroad to Matthew Whitiker, a young Visually Impaired musician that has already created an album in his teenage years. BAME VIPs have had a big impact on society over the years and are still continuing to have one.
Question: Can blind people be racist?
This is a question that has been on my mind for a little while: Can Visually Impaired People be racist? The saying “never judge a book by its cover” comes to mind. We tend to judge people based on their looks on a first impression, however, I wonder if VIPs think about a person's physical appearance?
Racism has been a part of society for a long time and unfortunately, it still exists. In the VIP community, racism is still an issue. VIPs can receive racism and in fact, can be racist. You may be confused as to how this is possible right?
According to a study completed in the US “The study found that blind people can still have racial stereotypes, but "in all cases, it takes them longer to categorize people by race and there is more ambiguity," said Asia M. Friedman, an assistant professor of sociology and criminal justice at University of Delaware, who conducted the study.” (Source CNN)
You’d think that as Martin Luther King Jr said “they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character”, however, that, unfortunately, isn’t the case. It has been said that VIPs can be racist even if they don’t intend to. VIPs can pick up on accents and voices and can therefore make a judgement on where a person may be from and as a result potentially their race. It may be innocent but we all need to avoid judging each other based on race.
VIP World's commitment to be the Bame Community
VIP World has been posting stories of influential VIPs, who are also people of colour, over the course of October to celebrate Black History Month. The company recognises that this is an important time in Black VIPs lives and can influence young Black VIPs in a positive way.
VIP World prides itself of being a diverse start-up company, aiming to make the lives of all VIPs easier by designing accessible solutions.
Black History Month is a special opportunity for reflection, to encourage and motivate others to succeed, and to emphasise perseverance and respect. At VIP World, we are proud supporters of the BAME VIP community. And so we combine all of these contributions, the struggles, the achievements and accomplishments, and allow these to be our motivation to work together to ensure our history is accurately recorded and available for all who come after us, so that they, too, will know about, appreciate, learn from, and dispel myths and stereotypes associated with race and disability. And this starts with access.