The following is an account of prominent black historical figures that achieved their goals all the while having a disability. This further speaks to their courage as they did not allow their disability get in the way of their purpose.
Harry Belafonte, who’s known for hits like Jump in the Line and Banana Boat (Day-O), also struggled with dyslexia. So much so that he dropped out of high school. As an adult, he learned that his trouble with reading was due to dyslexia, but during his time at school the disorder was widely misunderstood and made him feel like a misfit. But that didn’t stop him from sharing his beautiful music with the world. His album “Calypso” was the first LP in history to sell one million copies. He has since been a champion for dyslexia awareness and other learning or attention impairments.
Maya Angelou was a writer, poet, singer, and civil rights activist. In her famous autobiography I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, Angelou illustrates her childhood and the racism and trauma she faced. When she was eight years old, she was sexually assaulted by her mother’s boyfriend and the resulting trauma led to five years of muteness. She overcame her selective mutism however and became an international voice for black people and women. Maya Angelou’s career spanned over 50 years and her writing has inspired millions.
Harriet Tubman was an abolitionist and a political activist. Born into slavery, she later escaped and became a powerful force in the Underground Railroad, where she helped lead enslaved people to freedom. What is lesser known is that Harriet Tubman also suffered from epilepsy. As an adolescent she suffered a severe head injury at the hands of an overseer. She endured painful headaches, seizures, and spells of unconsciousness. Nevertheless, she was the conductor of the Underground Railroad for eight years about which she said, “I never ran my train off the track and never lost a passenger.”
Simone Biles is known widely as the Olympic champion who dominated the sport of gymnastics during the 2016 Rio Olympics. Biles has won four consecutive all around titles and is the first female to do so since the 1970’s. She also has competed and won 14 world championship medals.
At a young age, Biles was diagnosed with Attention Deficient Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD). Confidential medical records were revealed to the public around the time she was competing in the 2016 Olympics. Since being vocal regarding her ADHD, many have classified her as a hero, especially those who have endured stigma from the disability. She has taken to Twitter vocalizing her disability and what she has been doing to treat her ADHD.
Muhammad Ali was known to many as a champion boxer and a man who fought for racial and social justice his entire life. He acquired Parkinson’s at age 42 and became a role model for people with physical disabilities. What many may not know, however, is that Ali also had dyslexia.