Black Disabled Lives Matter, Too — and Colin Kaepernick Knows It

It takes a real change agent to stand up for all Black people’s rights, not just Black men

Photo: Vivian Lin/Getty Images

All around the world, people are chanting, “Black lives matter!”

Fast-food companies now tweet a phrase once seen as a dirty term that would incite anger in even the most “polite” racists. Mayor Muriel Bowser of Washington, D.C., renamed Lafayette Square Black Lives Matter Plaza, conveniently located mere footsteps away from the White House, which currently houses Donald Trump.

As more corporations and businesses throw support behind BLM, we have to determine who is legitimately committed to racial justice and who is in this for a quick payday. Is the real Colin Kaepernick in the former or the latter? In my opinion, he is a real activist interested in leveraging his power to fight for the powerless.

I’m one of the disabled activists who attended Kaepernick’s Know Your Rights Camp (KYRC), a nonprofit that works to reduce deadly police brutality. His organization is one of the few that addresses the primary victims of police brutality — people with disabilities. According to the Ruderman Foundation, a shocking 50% of people killed by police are disabled. Though the Black Lives Matter nonprofit organization makes an effort to include the disabled, subsects of the movement fail to recognize us.

Often, disabled professionals push ourselves to the limit to prove that we are just as qualified and capable as our able-bodied counterparts. Millennials want to be like Mike, even if it means pushing the boundaries of our health. But I hope Gen Z wants to be like Kap.

As a wheelchair user, I have witnessed this discrimination firsthand. I became involved with KYRC due to my disability justice activism. After a member of the KYRC team emailed me about recruiting disabled young people in the training’s Baltimore location, I worked with local disabled advocates to bring disabled Black students to KYRC.

I expected to work with the youth and have an enjoyable day learning about criminal justice reform. I didn’t expect to have a seizure in the first hour of programming and nearly be carried out in an ambulance. The cause was an infection I didn’t even realize I had, one that was partly due to my suppressed immune system as a cancer, heart, and kidney transplant survivor.

Left: Project ASCEND Founder and Director Ola Ojewumi talking to athlete Colin Kaepernick about police brutality against disabled people. Right: Ola Ojewumi and her father standing next to athlete Colin Kaepernick and smiling. Photos: Mariela Regalado took this photo KYRC Baltimore.

In what was, bar none, the most embarrassing moment of my career, I can only remember sitting in my wheelchair in the front row, beginning to convulse as a speaker talked about mass incarceration and structural racism. As I came to, I started crying. Then, I saw a shadowy figure with cornrows near the front door. It was Colin Kaepernick.

I was mortified.

When I fully regained consciousness, I felt enveloped in a circle of love. The daughter of Malcolm X came to comfort me. The event’s speakers and members of the KYRC team came to check on my condition, including the loved ones and friends of Kaepernick and USA cable network Talk Stoop host Nessa Diab, who joined them in doing the same. They all said one thing that will stick with me forever: “We love you, sis.”

Often, disabled professionals push ourselves to the limit to prove that we are just as qualified and capable as our able-bodied counterparts. Millennials want to be like Mike, even if it means pushing the boundaries of our health. But I hope Gen Z wants to be like Kap. He’s the truth and definition of a real activist because he uses his able-bodied privilege to empower disabled youth, which continues to be ignored by activist groups.

The murders of disabled people will not be televised in the same way George Floyd and Eric Garner’s were; they get swept under the rug. We must value all Black life, starting with disabled life. It is a life worth living.

Activists can change the game by discouraging the use of terms like “mercy killings,” and make it clear that disabled doesn’t mean disposable. You can see the authenticity of a racial justice advocate’s leadership if they make an effort to include the disabled.

Activists, take a note out of Kap’s book — because you have the power to do the same. The next time you organize a protest or demonstration, ensure you include us. If we die in police custody, there aren’t Black or White able-bodied allies organizing disability rights marches. Why not help save our lives by opening your circles of advocacy to us and making accessibility a priority?

Love heals, and hate kills. It’s the Know Your Rights Camp’s overall message. They teach youth and adults how racism, anti-Blackness, and hatred are behind the deaths of unarmed Black people. It’s time we include the murders of unarmed disabled Black people in Black Lives Matter. Let’s do it in the same manner as Kaepernick includes people with disabilities — because #BlackDisabledLivesMatter, too.

[Editors’ Note: Colin Kaepernick is a member of Medium’s board of directors. This piece was originally published on Medium before that appointment was made.]

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