Q&A with Author and Social Justice Activist Grace Eagle Reed

In 2017 and 2018, Northwest Health Foundation convened the Disability Justice Leaders Collaborative – a group of fourteen disabled people of color interested in deepening their understanding of disability justice and discussing visions and strategies for ensuring the needs of people with disabilities are centered in decision-making. Grace is one of the leaders who participated in the Collaborative.

 Grace Eagle Reed holds her fingers up in a “peace sign.”

Q. What communities do you consider yourself a part of?

A. I am part of several communities that address the issues raised by Black Lives Matter, gun violence, racism, alcoholism/addiction support, nonviolent communication, homeless/houseless street outreach, etc. I’m also on Multnomah County’s Disability Services Advisory Council.

Q. What leadership roles have you played?

A. I was part of the MLK Jr. marches in the U.S. South, Vietnam War protests, support for the Black Panthers, Native American Métis movement (bringing equality to mixed-blood Natives), the women's rights movement (yes, we did burn our bras) and Woodstock (peace through music and legalizing that MaryJane). I was able to enjoy Jimmy Hendricks, the Beatles, Janis Joplin and Bob Marley in LA, and I’ve been a social justice activist since then.

Last year I was awarded Senior Leader of the Year by the City of Portland. I step up for leadership roles in various places in my life, mostly as a supporter for leaders who are more front and center in creative art/poetry, religion, political and peace movement efforts. I prefer to be a cheerleader to those that are already doing good work daily in the social justice arena.

Q. What leadership roles do you hope to play in the future?

A. I am 75 with 40 years of sobriety and a published author/poet/dramatist with a B.A. in drama therapy and a M.A. in restorative justice/conflict resolution. I hope to do more work with organizations with my 'Friendship Table' project. I am also working on another book.

Q. What did you get out of participating in the Disability Justice Leaders Collaborative? 

I enjoyed being a part of the Disability Justice Leaders Collaborative and the people involved. There is much work to be done, and I admire people who step up with passion to bring justice and peace to the chaos and who look for more solutions. 

Q. What did you contribute that you hope others learned from?

A. Justice is needed in most areas of life, especially with marginalized and oppressed peoples. Restoration and balance in the broken systems of this world takes many people with much courage and vision, and I am grateful to be part of this movement. I addressed this in my book Negotiating Shadows and continue to work toward world peace. Our local region is doing much with housing issues, the Black Lives Matter movement, etc., and I am glad I am part of making life more wonderful for my city and community.

Q&A with Pessoptimist Mohammed Usrof

In 2017 and 2018, Northwest Health Foundation convened the Disability Justice Leaders Collaborative – a group of fourteen disabled people of color interested in deepening their understanding of disability justice and discussing visions and strategies for ensuring the needs of people with disabilities are centered in decision-making. Mohammed is one of the leaders who participated in the Collaborative.

 Mohammed sits cross-legged on top of a round picnic table, smiling.

What communities do you consider yourself a part of?

Muslim community, Arab community, Arab American community, the Palestine solidarity community. And people with disabilities.

What leadership roles have you played?

I’m not sure how to define leadership, but I was part of the Unite Oregon Pan-Immigrant Leadership Program. Through them I was able to participate in introducing bills and supporting bills to end profiling and supporting the housing for Section 8 and expanding it. Also, I was an activist on-campus when I was at PSU in regards of the Palestinian question and how to introduce people to what’s going on in Palestine in regards of occupation. And also further exploring the intersectionality between the Palestinian question and other issues that are facing our communities here in Oregon. How to tie both issues together in regards of advancing to find the best way to handle it.

What leadership roles do you hope to take on in the future?

I haven’t taken any leadership role in regards of disability specifically, so I would like to further advance my skills and my spectrum to go to that. You know, like currently, I’m facing some stuff relating to work and technology and how to introduce the workplace to the right technology. And that accessibility culture it’s not just like accessibility because we like to be progressive, but to be part of the culture itself. So that’s something I’m interested in. And also, in regards of what leadership stuff I did, is at work also we’re currently working on exploring what’s the best way to target the holidays. In regards of like marginalized people like holidays, like the Muslim holidays, Jewish holidays, the Hindu holidays and like how, for example, the county is recognizing only the mainstream Christian holidays and MLK and Presidents Day, but when it comes to the Eid Al-Fitr or Eid Al-Adha for Muslims you have to educate your supervisor about the holiday in order to be able to ask the day off. So we’re working on that and trying to find what’s going on, so we’re mobilizing, organizing, having meetings. So that’s one of the things that we’re doing, but in regards of advancing, I’d like to basically introduce myself more to disability and people of color in general.

Where do you work?

Multnomah County.

What’s most exciting to you about disability justice?

I’m excited that we’re exploring it in a group of non-white people, because there is this big thing about like, well, disability justice concept is being exploited, or like I mean being explored only, by white people. And when I see a group of us in the room talking about it and exploring it as people of color. I started reading the handout that we got that is actually like a Black vision, a Black lens of disability justice that actually makes me feel happy.

What do you hope to get out of being part of the Collaborative?

Well if I want to be realistic, I hope to be a friend of at least all of them. All of the people who are there. On a wider lens I hope to, you know, be connected to the work of disability justice just like after the Collaborative because, yes we did four days a year, but what’s after? How can we translate the concepts that we’re tackling into something visible on the ground?

What’s your vision for the future of our region?

I can’t see very well, but… [laughs] 

In regards of disability and accessibility, I’m skeptical in regards of if we’re going to the best. But I think I would like accessibility to become part of our culture, not something strange or something special. Or something like when you go to an employer or go to a FedEx store, not having to have help to use the printer. Like the printer to be all accessible printer for example. So I would like the vision to be something like that.

My vision for the future in a more realistic way, a disability group that focuses on and is led by people of color.

What is your favorite book, movie or song, and why?

My favorite book is The Pessoptimist by Emile Habibi, and… It’s, you know, he’s a Palestinian and writer, and he’s exploring the regular person notion in regards of the question of Palestine from a person who’s on the ground, who’s basically, it was written when Oslo was like people starting talking about it, and the idea of two-state solution coming up. And somebody on the ground basically happy that there might be some good stuff coming out of it, but at the same time very disappointed at it wasn’t yet justice that we deserve as Palestinians or he deserve as Palestinian. That notion of not optimistic, but optimistic. I feel like it’s an ongoing book. Yes, maybe it’s written about the Palestinian question, but, you know, switch the Palestinian question and put Trump. Or like put accessibility, or put something. You find yourself as a person who’s living in this contemporary age basically cannot be optimistic and cannot be not optimistic. Or pessimistic. So it’s like in-between.

And songs, there’s so many. I like Fairuz. Fairuz is like one of the most famous singers in the Arab world. She’s almost eighty-three, and she’s singing. She just released an album this year, and she’s wonderful. The best time to listen to her is in the morning.

And movie. I’ve never answered that question before. The Lion King.

Anything else you want people to know?

I would just like to see us advancing, and what’s the role of Northwest Health Foundation after the Collaborative? One of the things is like the room that we’re meeting in. It’s one of the best rooms in regards of accommodating people with disability that I’ve ever been in. If there’s a way to make this room accessible for the community of people with disability, how is that would look like? In regards of like the access to the online, like how it’s very helpful in accommodating all types of wheelchairs. And how the tables are configured. So I think, yeah, that’s a question I have. And I think it would be very, very helpful. I remember in one of our email threads – I don’t think if any of the Northwest staff was on it – we were trying to do a meeting outside of the Collaborative, and the different type of accessibilities ended up being a barrier. So, I think that’s a need, and I think it would be nice if you can explore what to do as an organization. 

Q&A with Environmental Justice & Immigrant Justice Leader Joel Iboa

In 2017 and 2018, Northwest Health Foundation convened the Disability Justice Leaders Collaborative – a group of fourteen disabled people of color interested in deepening their understanding of disability justice and discussing visions and strategies for ensuring the needs of people with disabilities are centered in decision-making. Joel is one of the leaders participating in the Collaborative.

 Joel stands on stage smiling with a group of graduates in caps and gowns seated behind him, facing the stage.

Q. What communities do you consider yourself a part of?

A. I consider myself a first-generation Oregonian, a child of immigrants, Latino, Indigenous and disabled.

Q. What leadership roles have you played?

A. A bunch. In high school, I was captain of my water polo and swim teams. College, I had leadership positions in MEChA and the Coalition Against Environmental Racism. After college, the governor, Kate Brown, invited me to join the Governor’s Environmental Justice Task Force. I’m the chair of that now. Two years ago, I was chosen to be on the City of Eugene’s Human Rights Commission. I’m now the vice chair, and I was just elected to be the incoming chair next year. I’m also the oldest of three siblings. That was my first leadership role. My mom was the oldest of 14. And I’m the oldest cousin of about 30.

Q. What leadership roles do you hope to take on in the future?

A. Like I said, I’m going to be the chair of the Human Rights Commission in Eugene and the Governor’s Task Force. I want all my leadership roles to have a positive impact on the most vulnerable: disabled people, communities of color, elders, children. I want my leadership roles to get increasingly larger and more impactful as I get older, because leadership positions are where you can have the most, largest impact on a lot of people.

Q. What is most exciting to you about disability justice?

A. The people who participate in disability justice are some of the most vulnerable. One of the earliest things I worked on was the achievement gap between white students and students of color. I learned that when black boys do better, all students get better. When the most vulnerable are supported, everyone benefits.

Disability justice also affirms that all our bodies are unique, and all our bodies are essential. It welcomes people who haven’t been able to participate. It affirms that disabled bodies aren’t a detriment to the world. They’re an asset. The liberation of people with disabilities is crucial. The ADA and disability rights are also crucial, but DJ builds on that by transforming society to see people with disabilities as having inherent worth.

The movements I’ve been involved with – immigrant justice, anti-prison, environmental justice – some of the people most affected are people with disabilities, especially queer and trans people of color with disabilities. I see this as the last frontier in terms of my personal development.

Q. What do you hope to get out of being a part of the Disability Justice Leaders Collaborative?

A. I’m hoping we can begin to make some noise around disability justice. We’re already starting. The people in the group are movers and shakers.

I want to see disability justice raised in the same way gender has been raised recently. We’ve realized men aren’t the only folks who can lead. Queer and trans folks need to be welcomed and centered. We’re dealing with double standards around sexual harassment. I’m hoping we can do the same thing with disability. For instance, access check-ins should be normalized. Aspects of disability justice are useful for everyone, especially people doing this strenuous, stressful, emotionally difficult work.

I also want to see us develop political power at a local and statewide level. 

Q. What is your vision for the future of our region?

A. I know it sounds cheesy, but life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. A lot of people don’t have these things. For many of us, life itself is difficult. I want to live in a time and place where everyone who lives here can pursue life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Q. What is your favorite book, movie or song, and why?

A. The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I love those movies. When I was really sick in middle school, and I spent three months in a hospital up in Portland – which is part of the reason I became disabled – one of the things that got me through was Lord of the Rings. It still helps me feel better, when I’m sick or having a bad day. All things Tolkien, actually. *laughs* That’s my vision for the future of our region. Hobbiton.

Q&A with Disability Justice Visionary Myrlaviani Perez-Rivier

In 2017 and 2018, Northwest Health Foundation convened the Disability Justice Leaders Collaborative – a group of fourteen disabled people of color interested in deepening their understanding of disability justice and discussing visions and strategies for ensuring the needs of people with disabilities are centered in decision-making. Myrlaviani is one of the leaders participating in the Collaborative.

 photo portrait of Myrlaviani

What is your vision for the future of our region?

I envision Disabled People of Color winning political positions, influencing decisions, and deepening our overall capacity as a community.

What is most exciting to you about Disability Justice?

Disability Justice demands, by way of compassion and caring communities, systems change, institutional reform, and a new notion of private and public market performance defined, owned, operated, and valued by community members most impacted. Disability Justice is all about creativity and innovation. It’s invigorating and demanding. It means you have to show up and demonstrate radical self-love and compassion, which are founded on standards of quality caring and intimate connection. We account for the complex strata of universal access, intersectionality of race, disability, gender, and religion with the never-ending and always-loved question of “What am I missing here, right now? Do we have what we need?” We are the road builders and bridge architects we need. I feel we are ready for Us.

What do you hope to get out of being a part of the Disability Justice Leaders Collaborative?

My goals include organizing a group of leaders holding conversations within and across urban-rural communities to discover and cultivate participants committed to policy and program change and implementation. Addressing current power dynamics will enhance collaboration across systems by way of generating ideas and building alternative solutions. Our community has the solutions and, through strategic partnerships, we can help lead and build the results we need.

For instance, this looks like rural and urban Oregon building relational bridges and, through a willingness to learn, adapt, and innovate, realizing opportunities for one another while addressing public problems. One which comes to mind is food deserts. We need effective policies whereby our Disabled community can readily access high-quality, nutritious food. There are solutions, but we need courage and support. At the same time, nothing happens without supportive housing, and who says passive-designed homes cannot also be designed within the universal design criteria? High-quality housing designed around collective access means building a new type of community—a community where people actively support one another. This is the vision I have of our reNew Oregon™—one where we support one another and build a meaningful future together. When enough of us make this decision, then we will see employment rates rising, especially for Disabled “People of Color.”

What leadership roles do you hope to take on in the future?

I am committed to becoming a better transformational leader: identifying, cultivating, and promoting leadership and leadership development in Disability communities. I am keen on improving the employment rates of individuals with disabilities and recognize this will require not only policy change but also changes in awareness and attitudes on the part of families, businesses, and civic leaders.

What communities do you consider yourself a part of?

Disability foremost, and all else follows. I come from a multicultural background. I grew up dancing flamenco, listening to Tejano music, being friends with Latins from Central America to South America to Spain, marching with Chicano Agricultural Workers (Cesar Chavez), listening to my Mother’s stories of her ancestors and, on my Father’s side, learning about poverty and oppression, or how the Mexican-American wars impacted the trajectory of his family’s development. The cultural extremes from both families provided a rich and textured playground of possibilities from which my curiosity and drive still develop.

What leadership roles have you played?

I have participated in local advisory boards or commissions, as well as community engagement work across Disability lines, especially with “People of Color.” I also started a community restorative listening circle. I have been particularly enthusiastic in volunteering for positions that work towards criminal justice reform, racial justice, and disability justice, across government and community-based organizations.

What is your favorite book, movie or song, and why?

The book I’m enjoying the most right now compels me to wonder and enjoy breathing, reading, imagining impossibilities and living, again. It is Dirty River: A Queer Femme of Color Dreaming Her Way Home by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha. Artists lead the way for social change and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha is wonderfully and refreshingly uncompromising.

Is there anything else you want people to know?

When you love something or someone, including yourself, you make a stand, define your standards, live with integrity and a willingness to self-assess. With that in mind, I’m curious about what is important to my fellow Disabled community members. I want to know what satisfies and, equally, what leaves them with discontent within our current system. Further, what improvements are they willing to invest their talents, energy, and time in to create and operate? If you are interested in developing dialogue around these and other questions, please contact me through NWHF.

Q&A with Palestinian Rights Advocate and Basketball enthusiast Waddah Sofan

In 2017 and 2018, Northwest Health Foundation convened the Disability Justice Leaders Collaborative – a group of fourteen disabled people of color interested in deepening their understanding of disability justice and discussing visions and strategies for ensuring the needs of people with disabilities are centered in decision-making. Waddah is one of the leaders participating in the Collaborative.

 Waddah sits in a wheelchair in front of picnic table and smiles.

Q. What communities do you consider yourself a part of?

A. I am part of Palestinian/American, Muslim, Middle Eastern, people of color and disabled communities. I am a very diverse individual who is lucky to belong to all of the above communities.

Q. What leadership roles have you played?

A. I was highly involved as a student government leader at Portland State University and community leader, community organizer and disabled rights advocate. I've also been involved with the following agencies:

  • Advisory chair for Multicultural Student Center, Portland State University

  • Student government leader, Portland State University

  • Head of disability advocacy cultural association student group, Portland State University

  • Outreach coordinator for Arab Persian Student Organization

  • Board member for Center for Intercultural Organizing (now known as Unite Oregon)

  • Wheelchair youth basketball coach for Oregon Disability Sports

  • Co-founder of Palestinian Federation for Disabled for Sport

  • Member of national wheelchair basketball team

  • Co-founder of Students United for Palestinian Equal Rights, Portland State University

  • Member of Disability Power PDX, City of Portland

Q. What leadership roles do you hope to take on in the future?

A. I would like to improve my leadership skills to be able to serve the disabled community at large, to help create and change polices at the local and state level that impact disabled peoples' daily life. Also, I would like to share my experience and train disabled youth to become independent and take command of their lives.

Q. What is most exciting to you about disability justice?

A. Advocating for disabled individuals around the globe is something that excites me about disability justice. Also, what excites me is that we, the oppressed people, are uniting and moving together as one to bring justice and equity to those who seek it.

Q. What do you hope to get out of being a part of the Disability Justice Leaders Collaborative?

A. I would like to be more familiar with policies and regulations that concern disability accessibility in our community, so I would be able to communicate them clearly to improve outcomes for people with disabilities.

Q. What is your vision for the future of our region?

A. In my simple opinion, I would like to see the disability rights and disability justice movements continue to grow and more people claim their own uniqueness or identity as people with disabilities or as an oppressed people. I would like for everyone to live in peace and harmony, and for our community to be very welcoming and understanding of those they don’t have common interested with.

Q. What is your favorite book, movie or song, and why?

A. My favorite movie is The Green Mile. It is a great story about forgiveness, kindness and love. The story was very uplifting and draws you into it most of the time. It was about an innocent man who has very soft heart on death row for a crime he did not commit. The man has nothing but hope and love for all people he came in touch with. He healed peoples' hurts on his own expense when either used his miracle of healing. He even healed those who were selfish and put him to death. It is a story of giving and making good in life despite knowing you won’t live long enough to see the goodness that impacted others.

Q&A with Healthcare and Housing Advocate Nico Serra

In 2017 and 2018, Northwest Health Foundation convened the Disability Justice Leaders Collaborative – a group of fourteen disabled people of color interested in deepening their understanding of disability justice and discussing visions and strategies for ensuring the needs of people with disabilities are centered in decision-making. Nico is one of the leaders participating in the Collaborative.

 Nico sits in their GRIT Freedom Chair in the middle of a street and smiles. Behind them people wear rainbow flag capes and a unicorn hoodie.

Q. What communities do you consider yourself a part of?

A. The transgender community and the queer community. The disability justice community. The Black community. The healthcare advocacy community.

Q. What leadership roles have you played?

A. I’ve had the opportunity to do a lot of speaking at events and rallies, and to give testimony at hearings. I’m on the Board of Directors at Real Choice Initiative and Health Care for All Oregon, and I organize with several other groups focused on justice for vulnerable people.

I spend a lot of time advocating for myself and other folks with serious health concerns. Many have shared resources with me, and I enjoy passing that knowledge on to others. I’m mostly focused on housing and healthcare. I strongly believe that housing is healthcare, because no matter how good someone’s healthcare is or how good their nutrition is, if they don’t have housing it doesn’t matter.

The waitlist for accessible housing in the City of Portland is fifteen, eighteen years long. Folks are forced into nursing and group homes, where they control almost nothing about their lives. Recently, I heard a friend talking about how hard it is to be twenty years old and living in hospice care. They were trying to study for exams, but instead wound up hanging out with someone who was about to pass because that person’s family didn’t show up. People forced into these situations describe what sounds like imprisonment. They don’t get any privacy. They can’t choose what they want to eat or when to eat. They can’t come and go as they please. They don’t even get to choose when to bath or go to the bathroom. This and ending up on the street is everyone’s worst nightmare, and it's brought to you by your tax dollars. I’m doing my part and encouraging others to join in changing this problem.

Q. What leadership roles do you hope to take on in the future?

A. I want to organize with other People with Disabilities and serious health concerns, transgender people and people of color to find or create sustainable, accessible and affordable housing and healthcare.

I also want to focus on employment for the mentioned populations. Due to capitalism, eugenics and imperialism, I think people with health issues, transgender and non-binary people, and people of color have a harder time getting and keeping jobs. I want to organize folks struggling to find work to become personal care assistants. Then we’ll have someone who doesn’t just tolerate or respect our culture, but who are actual members of the same cultures and communities.

Q. What is most exciting to you about disability justice?

A. What’s most exciting to me is that it affects everybody. I agree with something a friend and fellow organizer said: “I’m less interested in breaking through the next glass ceiling and more interested in raising the floor.” With disability justice, everybody does better.

Q. What do you hope to get out of being a part of the Disability Justice Leaders Collaborative?

A. I hope to have a more thorough understanding of where the disability justice movement came from and how I can continue the work. I’ve become disabled in my adult life, so I don’t have as deep of an understanding of it compared to folks that have had altered abilities since birth or childhood.

I’m excited about meeting more brown and Black people organizing around Disability Justice. These are all seriously resilient people who know how to survive almost impossible circumstances. These are people who get it and want to change the way things are, not just for us, but for elders and the people coming after us as well.

Q. What is your vision for the future of our region?

A. The system must undergo revolutionary reformation, because it’s not just a broken system, it’s a system that was built on the broken backs of brown and Black people and that continues to this day. 100 million indigenous people were killed when this land was colonized and 52 million people were killed in the TransAtlantic slave trade. Is it really any wonder why some people’s lives are more difficult than others? Being actively hunted in the streets and/or being thrown into institutions absolutely changes whether or not a person can reach self-actualization. I think We The People must throw capitalism out. In 2017, 82% of the wealth in the USA was in the hands of the top 1%. That means that the other 99% of us are expected to step on the throats of our loved ones and neighbors and fight over the leftover scraps. I, for one, am done with this dynamic, and I think many others are too.

I think unlearning the dangerous practice of consuming one thing or another to deal with big feelings is the place to start. Learning how to be in the center of our centers, in the eye of the storm, will help all of us emerge from our "trauma tunnels." From there, everyone learning how to think critically is a part of my vision. I think the Pacific Northwest and the West Coast are places where all this could actually change. I think there are enough people here who care and are actually doing real things to create these changes.

The way the Social Security Administration defines disability is all about functionality. If someone has an inability to hold down housing, that makes them functionally disabled, in my opinion. The folks stranded out on the street are on the front lines of a brutal class war, and We The People cannot wait for the State to solve this. We must create ways to meet our needs and the needs of those around us. If there is any place on this land where this could happen, it's Portland, the Pacific Northwest and the West Coast.

I envision everyone receiving holistic healthcare and being housed. Unfortunately, institutionalized oppression is real, and this crushes our bodies, minds and spirits. If we get locked out of healthcare and/or housing, it’s almost impossible to develop sustainable connections with those around you, get a job, and so many other things. When someone shows up and is deemed to have red flags – you’re a person of color, you don’t have insurance, you don’t have a place to live, you have depression, chronic pain, you’re trans, queer, you’ve been on opiates, you experience post-traumatic stress, etc. – unless you have a really good support network, advocates, and, in my case, help from my Congressional Representative, you get blown off and end up dead, on the streets or in prison. When I first sought treatment after being hit and dragged around a corner by a station wagon while riding my bicycle, I was blown off, yelled at, humiliated, among many other horrors. For example, it took three years to get a cast on my broken hand. So, it’s really important to me to pass Health Care for ALL Oregon and on the West Coast, while at the same time changing the way people think about healthcare. Many folks are taught to run to the doctor’s office for every piece of advice about how to take care of our bodies, but there’s so much people can do themselves just by changing what we put in our bodies and other daily habits.

Q. What is your favorite song, book or movie?

A. I’m really into this Beyonce song called “Freedom:” “Freedom! Freedom! I can’t move, freedom, cut me loose! Freedom! Freedom! Where are you? Cause I need freedom too! I break chains all by myself, won’t let my freedom rot in hell. Hey! Ima gonna keep running cause a winner don’t quit on themselves.”

Q. Is there anything else you want people to know?

A. Please join me in this work at RealChoiceOregon.com and HCAO.org (Health Care for ALL Oregon). Let go of the next glass ceiling, raise the floor and build from the ground up.

Q&A with Somali Refugee and Community Organizer Saara Hirsi

In 2017 and 2018, Northwest Health Foundation convened the Disability Justice Leaders Collaborative – a group of fourteen disabled people of color interested in deepening their understanding of disability justice and discussing visions and strategies for ensuring the needs of people with disabilities are centered in decision-making. Saara is one of the leaders participating in the Collaborative.

 Saara sits with other members of her African immigrant/refugee community.

Q. What communities do you consider yourself a part of?

A. I’m from a lot of communities. I’m originally from Somalia, which is located in East Africa. I consider myself part of the immigrant/refugee community. I’m also part of the advocacy and social justice communities and the disability community.

Q. What leadership roles have you played?

A. I’m an activist and community organizer. I created a program called Health Care and People with Disabilities within the African Youth and Community Organization (AYCO). This program empowers individuals with disabilities to get education and employment when they are ready. This program gives resources and information to family, adults and parents who have children with disabilities. We have English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes, Personal Support Worker training and community education about disabilities. I introduced the AYCO organization to what people with disabilities can do and how they can get resources in this country. Refugees with disabilities are often socially isolated their home. This project is about educating the community to change beliefs and attitudes about disabilities.

I’m also part of REAL: Reject Economic Ablest Limits. REAL is about understanding leadership, systems change, and learning and working on employment. We advocated for two positions with the City of Portland. We've also done leadership trainings, and we used the ten principles of disability justice.

Q. What leadership roles do you hope to take on in the future?

A. I want to be a part of policymaking. I am interested in participating in advocacy and policy change, because our voice is not there. When we put more people who experience the problem in decision-making positions, we’ll get more solutions to fix the problem.

Q. What is most exciting to you about disability justice?

A. I really appreciate this opportunity, because I was fighting for this on my own. Disability justice gives me the opportunity to learn social justice language, build confidence and give me hope to make change. Before disability justice training, I thought no one understood my challenges. I learned that there are activists who are working to change these problems. I appreciate seeing other people working on these issues. I look forward to becoming a better leader and learning more, so I can help more people to become leaders in the future.

Q. What is your vision for the future of our region?

A. I would like to see the people affected by problems in leadership role: young people with disabilities, immigrants, refugees and people of color. When these people become leaders everyone will benefit. We will all walk together and achieve our goals.

Q. What is your favorite song, book or movie?

A. Actually, I love poetry, because I love the idea behind it. I come from a poetry culture.

Q. Is there anything else you want people to know?

A. I am a good listener and love to learn. I love meeting new people and learning something different. And I’m open-minded to learn about other people. I would like to travel if I could.

Q&A with PSU Student and Advocate Arlene Amaya

In 2017 and 2018, Northwest Health Foundation convened the Disability Justice Leaders Collaborative – a group of fourteen disabled people of color interested in deepening their understanding of disability justice and discussing visions and strategies for ensuring the needs of people with disabilities are centered in decision-making. Arlene is one of the leaders participating in the Collaborative.

 Arlene smiles, standing in front of an industrial background.

Q. What leadership roles have you played?

A. Currently, I'm the cultural sustainability coordinator for Portland State University’s Student Sustainability Center and the community engagement coordinator for Green Lents. I also hold leadership positions through PSU’s accessibility committee, universal design subcommittee and environmental club.

Q. What leadership roles do you hope to take on in the future?

A. I’m not entirely sure what my future leadership roles will look like, but I'll be graduating from Portland State in Spring 2018, so they'll likely be significantly different.  Right now I'm more focused on the process of shaping what principles I want to apply to my current and future work. 

Q. What is most exciting to you about disability justice?

A. I think it’s another opportunity to recognize the inherent value and dignity of everyone, which conflicts with the ways many of our systems and institutions currently operate. It’s also a chance to recognize the strength in our differences. Validating one another’s accessibility needs is crucial, and it requires that we are part of a community that holds itself accountable to a dynamic learning process. In these ways, disability justice feels like truly exciting and revolutionary work to me.

Q. What do you hope to get out of being a part of the Disability Justice Leaders Collaborative?

A. I decided to apply for the DJLC, because I wanted to gain a better understanding of ableism, my own accessibility needs and how to apply these principles to my work. I wanted to do so as part of a community, and then work within that community to build collective power. 

Additionally, my identity as someone who's disabled doesn't exist separately from my identities as a queer, working-class Latina (from Salvadoran parents). In many spaces that focus on disability rights, we're not able to explore the significance and influence of our other identities and that comes at a huge cost. The DJLC is a unique and special space, because it really mobilizes those important conversations. Its leading principles should be part of all justice movements. 

Q. What is your favorite book, movie or song, and why?

A. I have many favorites in each category, but the last book I read was Corazón by Yesika Salgado, the last movie I watched was Black Panther, and the last song I listened to was "Sound & Color" by Alabama Shakes. 

Q&A with Veteran and Community Health Worker Tamyca Branam Phillips

In 2017 and 2018, Northwest Health Foundation convened the Disability Justice Leaders Collaborative – a group of fourteen disabled people of color interested in deepening their understanding of disability justice and discussing visions and strategies for ensuring the needs of people with disabilities are centered in decision-making. Tamyca is one of the leaders participating in the Collaborative.

 Tamyca Branam Phillips

Tamyca Branam Phillips

Q. What communities do you consider yourself a part of?

A. African American, Native American, veterans, military, grandparents, community activists, community health workers, community education workers.

Q. What leadership roles have you played?

A. Currently head of the Urban League of Portland's morale committee, as well as facilitator for parent empowerment workshops in the Urban League's community health worker program.

Q. What leadership roles do you hope to take on in the future?

A. I would love to work up the chain to management and executive management positions within the Urban League. I also want to be highly active in roles of systemic change within broken systems hurting our communities.

Q. What is most exciting to you about disability justice?

A. Being a part of a team that is addressing the inequities placed upon individuals with disabilities. Being part of the solution in fixing the systemic oppression and discrimination.

Q. What do you hope to get out of being a part of the Disability Justice Leaders Collaborative?

Additional resources, networking, ideas and language to help educate and empower the many communities that I am a part of.  Knowledge is power, so I will take the knowledge learned and share it.

Q. What is your vision for the future of our region?

I don’t know. The running joke amongst family, friends and my community is, when am I going to run for any number of offices… commissioner, mayor, senator, congresswoman, president. I want to finish my B.S. in public health with a minor in civic engagement. Then, of course, move forward up the education ladder.

Q. What is your favorite book, movie and/or song, and why?

A. Book: don’t have one, but I do enjoy Where The Side Walk Ends. Movies: Legend, Labyrinth, Dark Crystal, Matilda and any Tim Burton movie. Song: Christina Aguilera's "Fighter" (inspired my fighter tattoo on my right shoulder). It represents that, no matter what, I will get back up. You can never hold this girl down.

Q. Is there anything else you want people to know? 

A. I am veteran of two military services: Navy and Coast Guard. I'm a former EMT Basic and firefighter. I have multiple invisible disabilities. I don’t show them, because I am determined not to let them hold me down.

I was born to serve my community. From 16-years-old to the present, you can find me serving my community in a variety of ways. So much so that a coworker published a story about me giving my all without thinking. You can read the story here.

Learn more about the Disability Justice Leaders Collaborative here.