2020 Advancing Power and Influence (video and transcript)

>> EMILY: Welcome. And thank you for joining us tonight for our annual celebration, featuring a conversation you won’t want to miss between two incredible disability advocates, the honorable Tony Coelho, and organizer and activist Keri Gray. This is Emily Blum speaking, and I’m the executive director of ADA 25 Advancing Leadership. My pronouns are she and her, and the image description of me is that I am a white woman with brown, wavy hair. I’m wearing tortoise shell glasses, a cream blouse, a black sweater and chandelier earrings. And I’m in my home office, which I’ve decorated for the holidays. We sent out a guide on accessing key accessibility features in Zoom, and we have both ASL and Spanish interpreters available. If you have challenges accessing any of these features, please connect with us via the chat box. My colleagues will be monitoring and responding. Welcome to all of our supporters, our friends and our members. And to those who are brand new, we are very glad to meet you. And a special welcome and congratulations to the graduating class of 2020, the incoming class of 2021 and our four new members. For those who may be unfamiliar with ADA 25 Advancing Leadership, we are a network of positive disruptors. All people with disabilities, including myself, who are using our power to create an equitable and inclusive society. And we believe our experiences, ideas and leadership as people with disabilities are vital to achieving justice. Critical to our ability to positively disrupt is the strong support we receive from our donors and friends without whom tonight and our work would not be possible. So I especially want to thank our funders at the Chicago Community Trust, MacArthur Foundation, The Disabilities Fund at the Chicago Community Trust, BMO Harris Bank, Exelon, Field Foundation of Illinois, JP Morgan Chase, McCormick Foundation and Polk Brothers Foundation. Our work depends on the generous support of funders like the ones I just mentioned, but also individuals who believe that disabilities are an asset, that our perspective is valuable and needed, and who believe in the power of nurturing a strong disability community. And if that’s you, I invite you to support Advancing Leadership by making a donation. Please visit ADA25chicago.org/donate to make a donation this giving season. Also be sure to follow us on social media. We’re on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Medium. To learn more about our work and to make sure you don’t miss events like the one you are joining right now. To get our evening started, I’d like to welcome poet, blogger, activist, and fellow positive disruptor, Lateef McLeod who’s going to read his piece, “I am too pretty for some ugly laws.” Welcome, Lateef.

>> LATEEF: Hello. Thank you for inviting me to this event. For an image description of myself, I am a Black man with cerebral palsy who is wearing a black sweater. I have low cut hair, a mustache, and a beard. I am in a [inaudible] power wheelchair. I will read my poem, “I am too pretty for some ugly laws.” I am too pretty for some ugly laws. I am not supposed to be here in this body, here speaking to you. My mere presence of erratic moving limbs and drooling smile used to be scrubbed off the public pavement. Ugly laws used to be in many US cities, law books, beginning in Chicago in 1867, stating that any person who was diseased, maimed, mutilated, or in any way deformed so as to be a unsightly or disgusting object or an improper person to be allowed in or on the streets, highways, thoroughfares, or public places in the city shall not there enter or expose himself to public view under the penalty of $1 for each offense. Any person who looked like me was deemed disgusting and was locked away from the eyes of the upstanding citizens. I am too pretty for some ugly laws, too smooth to be shut in, to smart and eclectic for any box you put me in. My swagger is too bold to be swept up in these public streets. You can stare at me all you want. No cop will bust in my head and carry me away to an institution. No doctor will diagnose me a helpless invalid with an incurable disease. No angry mob with clubs and torches will try to run me out of town. Whatever you do, my roots are rigid like a hundred year old tree. I will stay right here to glare at your ugly face, too.

>> EMILY: This is Emily speaking. Thank you, Lateef for that powerful piece. Many of you know, and our 2020 Fellows examined this year, the ugly laws that Lateef referenced. They existed in many US cities, including Chicago where Advancing Leadership is located. And it wasn’t until 1974 that the law was repealed. Those disability advocates who fought those laws and who fought for our collective rights are the shoulders we stand on today. And they are the shoulders from whom we are launching the next generation of leaders. I’m incredibly proud to welcome and congratulate those leaders, our 2020 Fellows and members tonight. And what a year it’s been. Our transition to a virtual environment for both our Fellows and our members events wasn’t easy or seamless, but it was strong and needed. We built an incredible community online, fostered comradery, and created an environment for our leaders to grow. Our Fellows, members and thousands more around the country joined us for critical conversations. We discussed the policy implications of COVID-19 on our community, voter suppression with fair fights, Stacey Abrams and racial equity and disability justice with leaders like Congresswoman Ayanna Presley, Rebecca Coakley, and more. We also made nearly a hundred civic and professional connections and advancements, which goes to show that even in a year of tremendous challenges, our leaders have heard the call to lead and jumped at opportunities. To properly congratulate our 2020 Fellows and new members, I’d like to welcome our friend and supporter. Paula Conrad, Vice President of Corporate Relations and President of the Exelon Foundation. Welcome, Paula.

>> PAULA: Hi, I’m Paula Conrad, Vice President of Corporate Relations at Exelon and President of the Exelon Foundation. I have shoulder length brown hair with bangs, blue eyes, and I’m wearing a cream colored jacket with flowers on it. I’m so happy to join you tonight to celebrate and congratulate the 2020 Fellows of the Leadership Institute and the new members of ADA 25 Advancing Leadership. At Exelon, we’re proud to support ADA 25 Advancing Leadership since day one five years ago. But it goes beyond a financial contribution for us. We’ve had four colleagues go through the programs, and they’ve been able to bring new skills, experiences and insights back into the company. Disability inclusion is really a part of who we are. There are a number of different programs and initiatives that I could bring up, but one is the ComEd Energy Force. Next year, we’re going to be celebrating our 10th anniversary at this program. This is the first program of its kind in the country through which we have people with developmental disabilities teaching their peers and members of the community at large about energy fundamentals and energy efficiency. We have 25 Ambassadors with disabilities in the program, and we’re looking to grow and strengthen this program in the future. So with that, I’m pleased to introduce our 2020 Fellows of the Leadership Institute who are Bri Beck, Keidra Chaney, Brianne Coleman, Candace Coleman, C. Richard Costes, Derrick Dawson. From ComEd, Debprah Decker, hey Deb. LaShon Gurrola, Whitney Hill, Christopher Huff, Laura Isaacs, Michelle Johnson, Adero Knott Edison Lopez Jr, Alexandra V Perez-Garcia, Brian Rohde, Gene Skonicki, Suhail Tariq and Hugo Trevino. Congratulations. And also welcome to the new members of ADA 25 Advancing Leadership, Randy Colon, Pat Daley, Daniel Ferriera, Timotheus Gordon, Kenneth Jennings, Kira Meskin, Reveca Torres and John Tuhey. Congratulations to all of you. And thank you again for welcoming me. Have a great night.

>> EMILY: This is Emily speaking. Thank you, Paula. It’s so great to see the class photo of the 2020 Fellows from last year’s event when they were announced and a quick photo description, the image shows about 19 people of different genders, races, and various types of visible and invisible disabilities. We’re all standing together. Congrats again to our 2020 Fellows. I’m so proud of you that you are a part of our network and you’re part of our network of positive disruptors. Know that your disruption, which is really your ability to question how things are done, to innovate, to lead the charge, to create something entirely new is needed. It’s how our communities will evolve to be more equitable. It’s how businesses grow and survive. Your voice rooted in this positive disruption is needed and it is valuable. And there’s no two individuals who exemplify that more than our next speakers. The honorable Tony Coelho is a former US Congressman from California and was primary sponsor of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Tony is now not only a top strategist for the Democratic Party, but he works tirelessly for the disability community and is the founder of the Coelho Center for Disability Law, Policy and Innovation. Tony is joined in conversation by Keri Gray of the Keri Gray Group. Keri is an organizer, activist, and advocate working to center and honor the multiple intersections of the Black experience. Welcome Tony and Keri.

>> KERI: All right, well, I’m so excited to have a conversation with the honorable Tony Coelho today, and we’re going to be having a conversation essentially about disability rights, disability power, and what that looks like. So my name is Keri Gray. My pronouns are she/her. As an image description, I’m a Black woman with long twists that are dark brown and light brown. And I have on a green collared shirt with a green background behind me. So diving into this conversation, I would love to go ahead and ask you a question, Tony. I would love to get your perspective on how do we claim power as people with disabilities. I’m wondering if you can help describe what this means and maybe a moment or instance in which it looks like for us to claim power as people with disabilities.

>> TONY: Thank you, Keri. This is Tony Cohelo. I’m a 70-year-old White man with white hair, gray hair. I have on a blue shirt with gray around the collar. I’m he and him. And I’m in an office with a white door in the background. In answer to your question, Keri, I think power comes from a willingness to say who we are. I think there has been a tendency over the years for us as people with disabilities not to want to talk about it, not to want to be upfront and admit and what I’d like to say all the time is to love ourselves. If you’re unwilling to talk about it, you don’t love yourself. So love yourself. Talk about who you are, what you are, what you believe, what you want, and that gives you power. If you’re unwilling to do that, then you’re powerless. And as a community, we have not been powerful over the years and we’re gaining a lot of power now because more and more of us are willing to talk about our disability and demand the rights that everybody else has. We don’t want anything that somebody else doesn’t have. We just want the same rights that everybody else has, and the same opportunities to fail like everybody else. If you don’t give us the right to fail, we’l Never succeed. And so those are the things that we want. We want jobs, we want to pay taxes, but that means a job, but we’re one of the only communities in the world that willing to pay taxes. But if you give us a job, we’ll do it. And we then can provide for our loved ones and we can then have the dignity of being able to work like everybody else. So it’s that type of thing that creates power, but it’s from within first. And then if you are willing to say who you are, you will gain power, not only for yourself, but for all of us And that’s what’s really important.

>> KERI: When I think about this idea of disability power, to me, it speaks to the moments in times where we have had power stripped from us in ways that are very unjust. And so what does it mean to go through life and situation after situation and say, you know what, I’m not going to accept that for myself or for other people moving forward. And I genuinely believe in what you were talking about if it starts within and it starts by claiming our own narratives. I think that—I grew up this young, Black girl, and I was very unapologetic about living, rejecting any of these notions that might be sexist or stereotypical, anything that attempted to put me in a certain type of box. I was like, “I’m going to live my life for who I see it to be.” And thankfully, I live in a day in time where I’ve had a lot of representation that has empowered me to live my truest and my best form of life. I would say that has been very different from my disability narrative where the representation that I saw growing up was mostly folks who were sick in hospitals, folks who were locked up in various types of institutions. Even though that is part of our narrative, it was not balanced out with anything that I found to be positive or empowering. And so, because of that, I found myself in a place where I thought that it was only right for me not to claim being disabled, for me not to live a life that was in the fullness of what it means to be like, “Keri is a Black disabled woman.”

>> TONY: What you were talking about basically is the stigma that exists. You knew the stigma and you wanted to avoid the stigma.

>> KERI: Yeah, that was literally most of my life. And so I think for me, one of the most powerful things that we can do as a community is reject and fight against any of those expectations, and even policies, and do anything that we can to define our own narratives and our own livelihood. And again, I think thankfully today we are seeing more and more representation of this through folks like the Supreme Court case of Olmstead versus L.C. and talking about what it means to be a person with a disability living in our own community. We see that through folks like Jennifer Lewis, who’s talking about mental health and what it means to de-stigmatize those expectations—And Olympic gymnast, Simone Biles, coming out and talking about what it means to have ADHD. I mean, we could go on and on and on, but to me, I just genuinely agree. We have to start with this concept of just saying the word disability, acknowledging that, and reclaiming our power.

>> TONY: There are some people who want to get away from the word disability and want to say able-bodied. And I resent that because that implies the stigma is working. And I want us to address openly who we are. So we have a disability, that doesn’t mean we’re any less valuable than anybody else. And so I think we have to aggressively fight the stigma that exists out there. You’re absolutely right. I mean, my growing up, my family thought because of my epilepsy, I was possessed by the devil. Now that’s a cultural thing with a lot of religions and a lot of cultures. It’s true in the Black church, it’s true in the Catholic Church, and so forth. And so I had to grow up with that and I got kicked out of the seminary. I wanted to be a Catholic priest. I was kicked out because Canon Law said, if you have epilepsy or possessed by the devil, you can’t be a Catholic priest. And I became suicidal because I just didn’t know how to react to all this negativism that was going on. And I decided that it was time just to give up. And I overcame that one day that I was going to do the dirty deed. And since then I’ve said, “No, I’m not going to let anybody stop me from doing what I want to do.” And so that’s why I’ve been a leader in all these years in the disability community because of what I went through, what I just about did, because of what people were doing to me. And so I now fight the other way. I fight aggressively to make sure that people aren’t afraid to say who they are and to take on these stereotypes against us, to take on the stigma and so forth. So you’re absolutely right, Keri, in what you’ve been through. And since the ADA, the law’s on our side. And the Supreme Court has ruled in our favor several times in regards to the ADA. So we have the civil rights protection now that a lot of other groups had prior to us, but we have it now. So we should be able to use it, respect it, and demand our rights. And you’re absolutely right. And it’s exciting to see today. I particularly like Simone Biles, that she’s such a hero to so many people and for her to come out openly and talk about her disability and say, “Look it, I get all these gold medals and I can do all these things. I’m just like anybody else. I just happen to have a disability.” She is a great symbol in regards to our community.

>> KERI: Right. Absolutely. And speaking of the ADA, so you know this year we celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disability Act. I’m wondering if you can help us reflect on what that journey was like of seeing the ADA passed, what that meant for our community, how monumental it was to get this piece of the civil rights act happen and kind of what you hope to see leading from the past, leading up to the future, of what else we need to be looking for.

>> TONY: When I put it in, I put in the legislation in the House of Representatives. It was because of my experiences. It was because everything I went through. I didn’t realize there was a grassroots effort out there working on something as well and we basically ended up merging and so forth. But when I led it, it was interesting to me when I first put out my letter that I had members of Congress come up to me and say, “Tony, I want to support your bill because I don’t like the way my wife, my mother, my father, my brother, my next door neighbor is treated because of their disability. And I think it’s wrong. And I want to help you.” I was shocked that I got that reaction from Republicans, Democrats, liberals, conservatives, didn’t make any difference. And when I reintroduced it in the next Congress, I got over 200 co-sponsors based on the same thing. And so I realized that there was, what we in our community were experiencing, that others didn’t like it as well. And so all of a sudden with a lot of effort, it took a lot of effort to get the legislation through because some people in leadership were opposed because they thought it was too broad and the public would react against it and so forth. And we passed it and it got signed into law, but then the Supreme Court ruled that only those disabilities you could see, those standard disabilities, people in wheelchairs, people blind, hard of hearing and so forth, that those were the ones, nothing else was covered. And so then we had to introduce the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act to in effect say, “Supreme Court, you’re wrong.” Unusual to do that, but “Supreme court you’re wrong. ADA includes every disability.” So we got that through. So it was a process of going through educating all kinds of people that those of us with disabilities deserved our rights. Before the ADA passed, you could get kicked out of a movie theater if you were in a wheelchair, you could denied access in a restaurant if you couldn’t see the menu, on and on. People could fire you by asking you if you had a disability and say, “Because of your disability, I’m not going to hire you, or I’m going to fire you.” None of those things are illegal today. So a lot of people growing up today in the last 30 years, they don’t have to face that, but it makes the ground a little more even for those in our community to participate.

>> KERI: I don’t think I realized in our history that initially it was for folks who had most visible disabilities and we had to go back and make sure that we were more inclusive. And it makes me think of the history of the Civil Rights Act, where initially it didn’t include sex. And then you had to go back and make sure that we are incorporating a more inclusive society. And to me, that’s so beautiful for us to be able to one, understand that when we talk about disability, we talk about it from a framework of community of history, of future, of ideas, of putting in those into actions. And that’s so important, I think, for all of us in this generation as we think about what’s next, about how we can continue to build on the foundations that have [inaudible] for us. Of how we can think about acknowledging the fact that so many folks have put an effort to make sure that we are standing on a more level playing field and say, “What else can we do to be a part of the disability rights movement and make it go forward?” I think for me, one of the things that I’m thinking about is the future of disability rights is intersectional. So I think this idea that traditionally in movements that we have created these pockets of like there’s women’s rights and LGBTQ rights and Black rights and all of these different pockets and they work to create opportunities of access and rights and opportunity. Because we know that there’s so much diversity within each one of these communities in and of itself. Not all Black people are the same, not all disabled people are the same. There’s a lot to work with an advocate for. And so one of the things that I really love when I think about the journey that disability rights is on right now, is making sure that we’re incorporating a system and a framework that is intersectional and making sure that no one is left behind. So this idea that we were talking about disability rights means something that if you have—We’re not just talking about visible disabilities, we’re also talking about invisible disabilities. We are also talking about disabled people of color. We are also talking about disabled folks who are LGBTQ, who are women, and going down the list and making sure that all of our folks are incorporated. And we’re looking at that intentionally, because if we look at COVID for an example, being a situation that we’ve been in the midst of this global pandemic and this global situation that we were mostly unprepared for. And when we look at the numbers, seeing how it significantly impacted people with disabilities and people of color, and if we’re not looking at it from an intersectional perspective, then we are once again leaving people behind. So to me, I’m so excited to think about how much has been done for our movement and how much space there is for us to continue to do that.

>> TONY: I think one of the things we should do is thank the ADA Advanced Leadership Fellows for all the work that they’re doing. This is what leadership is all about and each and every one of you, your work is so critically important to make the progress that Keri and I have been talking about. So the two of us want to thank all of you and congratulate you on the work that you’re doing.

>> KERI: Speaking of this administration, one of the things that was very exciting about the—Oh my goodness, it was such a journey when it came to this presidential run that year. And when I reflect back on it, it was very powerful to hear President-elect Joe Biden talk about his stutter. It was very powerful in their acceptance speech to talk about representation. Having President-elect Joe Biden talk about disability, having Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, talk about she’s the first woman, but will not be the last woman. I’m wondering your perspective of what it means to have these moments where we’re seeing this representation increase. And I’m wondering if you see this culture of change in terms of disability, leadership and representation.

>> TONY: Well, it’s happening Keri, but it is slower than I would like, to be very honest. And that when people talk about all different types of communities that need to be included on whatever they’re talking about, they generally don’t mention disabilities. And so we fight as a community to be included. We’re 25% of the U.S. Population and so that means we’re bigger than a lot of communities that are always mentioned. And so we are fighting to make sure that we’re included. Having Joe Biden talk about his stutter and to having that young man at the convention and so forth, it was a huge moment for our community, that we had a man running for president, the nominee of the Democratic Party, and then ultimately becoming President. And on the night accepted, he talked about disability again. All of a sudden that makes us feel like we are really there. We’re part of it. We have somebody in our community who’s willing to identify. Again, as I said in the very beginning, having him say that “I have a disability, I stutter, I’ve stuttered since I was four years old.” That’s exactly what all of us in the disability community need to do. Embrace it, talk about it. And with Joe doing it is just tremendously helpful to our community. But that doesn’t mean that we’re there yet. That means that we still have a lot of work to do.

>> KERI: Remember the conversations when President Obama got elected and people wondering, have Black folks finally arrived because we got a Black president in office, and Lord knows that was very important in terms of the Black community having that, but at the same time, to be disillusioned and thinking that everything is where it needs to be because of that would be false. I think that’s super real. I think over the years, especially as I’ve gotten more and more ingrained in disability rights and disability justice, I’ve been so happy to see certain progress in terms of representation. I think I just have one more question for you.

>> TONY: Okay.

>> KERI: As we’re talking about representation a lot, I’m curious if your perspective of where are our leaders needed in terms of people with disabilities, and what should they be focused on? I think finally attached to that is how do we hold ourselves accountable to the change that we need to see? I’m curious to hear your perspective on that.

>> TONY: Getting a job and having people consider us for employment is one of the biggest things our community needs. Sometimes we have to go to the CEO or the COO to get a company to give us a shot. That shouldn’t happen. But it’s taking time to get that done because the more of our people who have jobs and can participate in ways everybody else does, the better it is for us as a community. That’s the same as all of the communities in the Civil Rights movement. The same thing that they need to be employed. They need to be able to provide for their loved ones.

>> KERI: I honestly feel like this is a tough question because leadership is needed everywhere. You know? Everywhere. We need leadership and government. You know what I’m saying? We need recognition of Senator Duckworth, of Representative Pressley, of so many folks who are across—up and down the aisle of staffers. Of everyone who makes sure that when we are thinking about the policies and the legislation that—we’re talking about accountability, then we’re needing folks who we know understand this lifestyle.

>> TONY: One of the things to remember, Keri, is that not so long ago when I was in the Congress there were very few women in the House or the Senate. Now, there’s over a hundred women in the House and there’s several women in the Senate. What has happened in that period of time? Women come to the table differently than men in regards to legislative issues, and priorities, and so forth, so that things have changed as a result. It’s true with people of color. It’s also true with us. We have very few people who acknowledge their disability in the House, in the Senate. But the more we get people in elected office, we can have the same impact that women have had, and people of color have had, by getting elected to local offices, state offices, and federal offices. I mean, it’s things like that. I go back to what I said about Simone Biles. She’s a leader, and it doesn’t be a leader just in Congress. It’s a leader in everyday life in everything that happens. That’s what causes a change in this country with leaders like that.

>> KERI: Yep. And speaking of everyday life, I think your point about jobs in general is another big area of focus. We’re talking about government, but we’re also talking about corporate America. We’re talking about the nonprofit organizations. We’re talking about public sector. Like, everywhere and anywhere possible. We need to be looking at: are people with disabilities represented in our organizations and our businesses? And are we leveraging that sense of diversity? Are we creating policies that are inclusive of our people? We have a lot of things that we need to accomplish for our community. But at the same time, I think it is the journey. As you mentioned earlier, I think it is looking at the folks who have come and been doing this work for many, many years. Seeing the progress that has been made. Seeing the policies, the practices, all of that and saying, “What else can I do to make sure that I’ve keep the torch going?”

>> TONY: That’s right.

>> KERI: And I think that type of unity—I think that type of us being able to find ways that we can collaborate and find not what we disagree on, but what we have in common. I feel like I’m talking like we need some more bipartisanship up in here. But essentially, there’s so much I think that we can do, and I’m very hopeful and optimistic of the journey.

>> TONY: Well, and disability isn’t political. Isn’t Democrat or Republican. It’s everybody. Anybody can join our community at any time in their life. At birth, or when they’re 60, or when they’re 40 or 70. They can join. It should be bipartisan. It shouldn’t have anything to do with politics. Unfortunately-—and this administration has been a problem. But hopefully we’ll get back to where it’s bipartisan, and we’re all looking to make the changes that are necessary for our community to participate.

>> KERI: Absolutely.

>> [crosstalk]

>> TONY: This was a great discussion. I’ve enjoyed it. So, thank you for being with me and the two of us being able to have this conversation.

>> KERI: Well, same. I appreciate it, and I look forward to more to come.

>> TONY: Yes.

>> EMILY: This is Emily speaking. Thank you, Tony and Keri, for sharing your insights and your work with us. I can’t imagine a better conversation and message for our fellows and members as we look toward a new year. And speaking of a new year, this is the part you’ve all been waiting for—the announcement of our 2021 Leadership Institute Class. To help do that is Helene Gayle, president and CEO of the Chicago Community Trust. Welcome, Helene.

>> HELENE: Hi. My name is Helene Gayle, and I am the president and CEO of the Chicago Community Trust. For anyone who is low vision, let me just give brief description of what I look like and where I am today. I’m an African American woman, middle-aged. Or maybe I’m little over middle-aged with long dark hair, and I am in my home office. I’m just happy to be here with everybody. It’s just wonderful to join you this evening for what I know is going to be a great event, and to congratulate and to announce the 2021 Fellows of the Leadership Institute, as well as the new members of ADA 25 Advancing Leadership. The Trust has been a proud supporter of ADA 25 Advancing Leadership since its founding five years ago as we incubated the program. I have such a deep appreciation for this program and having been a part of The Trust during my tenure, because I learned so much from the program and from meeting so many people who were part of that. I am proud to have personally worked with the team. And so glad that my colleague, Anna Lee, serves on the board. We at The Trust feel like ADA 25 Advancing Leadership and all the work that has come from this is still part of our Trust family. We continue to have a strong commitment to disability inclusion, and really see it as integral to our overall strategy of closing the racial and ethnic wealth gap, and understanding the disabilities, and people with disabilities play a real role in that. We continue to really highlight and remember the many lessons that we have learned from our work in disability inclusion. With that, I would just like to give a warm congratulations to the 2021 Fellows of the Leadership Institute. They include Kyle Adams, Sergio Alfaro, Clinton Allen, Alana Clark, Megan Doherty, Lindsay Drexler, Ashley Eisenmenger, Ericca Glasgow, Stephen Hiatt-Leonard, Earl Jordan, Brittany King, Daniella Mazzio—sorry. Daniella Mazzio, Brianna Morgan, Dan Tun, Amanda Zagloba, Kirstin Zakafas. Sorry. And welcome to the following individuals who just became members of ADA 25 Advancing Leadership. Allyson Bain, Stephanie Ban, Shannon Kelly, and Barbara Padilla. Congratulations to everyone and have a wonderful evening.

>> EMILY: This is Emily speaking. Thank you, Helene. We are so honored to be both incubated and strongly supported by The Trust, and we are proud to be part of your vision to make the Chicago region more inclusive and equitable. Since this year we can’t be together in-person, on the screen is a beautiful illustration done by Sam Viotti [phonetic] that reimagines what an in-person group shot would look like. Featured here are our 16 2021 fellows. Again, all of whom are diverse in gender, race, and disability. My hope for all of you joining our network is that your voice grows stronger, that your ideas are emboldened, that your perspective is valued, and most important that your passions take flight. Because if 2020 has revealed anything, it’s that our collective voice is so desperately needed. Leaders like you, leaders with disabilities, are driving the culture change and the narrative shift that’s needed. You are the powerful, intersectional disability voice that will create solutions for our most intractable social problems because they are inherently disability issues. You are the leaders who will deliver disability justice. You are the leaders who will change the world. And to close out our program. I’m excited to introduce the next two speakers. Member Brian Heyburn, who is also a 2017 fellow. And Whitney Hill, a 2020 fellow, and she’ll be sharing her experience in our Leadership Institute.

>> BRIAN: Hi everyone. My name is Brian Heyburn, a quick visual description of me. I’m a white cisgendered gay man with short brown hair and a short brown beard. I’m wearing a gray button down shirt. I’m sitting in my upstairs office under the slanted roots. I use he/him/his pronouns. I was also 2017 fellow, and now a member. I’ve also been a part of the program committee as a member as well. This year, I’ve also been a part of the Rebranding Committee. I’m proud to say that as a part of that process, access and accessibility is and has always been front and center of our conversations in design decisions. Having a little logo that shows the diversity intersectionality of our membership has always been incredibly important. We are looking forward to coming back in 2021 with a new name and logo for those who are in the know. And now, we’re here for a 2020 fellow to talk about their experience.

>> WHITNEY: Hi. My name is Whitney Hill, and I work at LCM Architects as an accessibility specialist. I also own my own nonprofit here in Chicago called SPORK! which also serves to help the disabled community. I am a Black woman, and then right now I’m wearing a white and black sweater. If you can see my shirt, it’s also black with a little bit of golden white trimming. This is the post that I wrote on Facebook a few weeks ago. And it touches my heart, and still rings true today, and I want to share it with you. The main source that made me feel empowered in my skin this year has been the ADA 25 Advancing Leadership. They set the bar first for me when I joined, and wasn’t the only minority sitting at the table surrounded by the soon to be national superstars of the disabled community. It’s true. They set the bar first for me when I finally found a mentor-—my first ever. And it was no other than Rachel Arfa, Chicago’s new MOPD. She’s amazing. They set the bar first for me when I got to directly talk to and hear from other great Black legendaries in our community, like State Senator Robert Peters, and former Georgia House of Representatives, Stacey Abrams on how to stand tall and be proud. They’re phenomenal. They set the bar first for me when I was finally able to merge and fully accept my identities of being a Black female with disabilities. And for the year to come to a close with a Black female, our new Vice President, Kamala Harris, shattering the nation’s lists of firsts. I feel amazed. Thank you, ADA 25 for making me realize how my self-acceptance and perspective conform my career and shatter my own mini glass ceiling. Thank you democracy for proving to me that my voice matters.

>> EMILY: This is Emily speaking. Thank you, Brian and Whitney. That was truly amazing. And thank you everyone for joining us this evening. We wish you a safe and peaceful 2020. Before we go, please consider making a donation to support our work by visiting ADA25chicago.org/donate and follow us on social media. We have a lot of exciting events and work planned for 2021, including a new name and we look forward to connecting with all of you in the new year. Thank you.