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Director of OSEP Addresses Young Black Leaders with Disabilities

On Thursday, the White House hosted a roundtable featuring the next generation of young Black leaders with disabilities. Valerie Williams, director of the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), was among Administration members to speak about the importance of the Biden-Harris efforts to strengthen equity and support underserved communities across the federal government. As an advocate for the birth through 21 system, OSEP monitors outcomes from their state grants. Williams called for equity, defined as providing what a student needs for success, keeping in mind that everything that is good for all students applies to those with disabilities as well. 

The need for a pathway to success was exemplified by the personal stories from the young Black leaders who followed. Shawn Aleong, youth member of President Biden’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities, described how he defied his teachers’ expectations by using the confidence his mother instilled in him to persevere. He currently studies at Temple University with a 3.56 GPA. 

Another speaker, Elisha Armstrong, won a lawsuit against his high school, when they refused to remedy lights in his math classroom that induced epileptic seizures every time he went to class. He is a founder of the Heumann-Armstrong Award for Equal Opportunity for Students. 

Other speakers included Jalyn Radziminski, who advocates for mental health for people of color and founded Count US IN; Reginald (Neli) Latson who was pardoned in 2021 by Governor Ralph Northam (D-VA) after being incarcerated and held in solitary confinement when his autistic “flight or fight” reflexes ended in years of incarceration when he was accused by police of loitering while waiting for a public library to open; and Raven Sutton of National Black Deaf Advocates (NBDA), who uses her experiences to develop compelling content for social media. Raven appears on The Circle, a Netflix reality show. The live webinar was part of the White House’s Black History Celebration.  

Posted:  24 February, 2023

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