Ola Ojewumi was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a heart condition, at a young age. By the age of eleven, she had received a heart and kidney transplant which caused her to have limited mobility and chronic illness.
Ola admits that for years she despised being a person with a disability. “I lived in fear of people discovering my transplants because I saw the pity in their eyes once they learned the truth,” she says. But eventually, Ola came to terms with her disability stating that she was tired of concealing her existence as a black woman with a disability because the world was already doing that for her.
“Being a disabled black woman essentially makes me invisible to much of society.”
Every year Ola watches BET’s award show Black Girls Rock! hoping to see a woman with a disability being honored on the stage amongst society’s most influential women. She writes “I’m always stunned by the great leaders who take the stage and remind us that black excellence often starts with the contributions of black women. From former first lady Michelle Obama to the founders of Black Lives Matter and musical visionaries like Janelle Monae and Missy Elliot, these women have all inspired me in their own way. But I’m still waiting to see an honoree who looks like me: not only black but using a wheelchair, too.”
“Although it’s not always easy, I’ve learned there is an unmatched beauty in being a disabled black woman.”
In the summer of 2011, Ola interned at the White House under President Obama’s Council on Women and Girls. She was then invited back to serve on the White House Disability Liaison’s Disability-African American Kitchen Cabinet where she met some very influential black women with disabilities. Ola states these women gave her strength to believe in herself. She says, “They showed me that making yourself visible in this world as a disabled black woman requires a special kind of strength. I wanted to be right there with them, which is why I’ve become a vocal advocate for disabled black women.”
There are times when Ola says she loses the sight of power that comes from her intersecting identities. During these times, Ola reminds herself that God did not make a mistake on her and that there is beauty in disability.
Ola accepts the fact that she may have to work harder because of her disability. “Most people underestimate wheelchair users, women, and people of color. So, I boss up, put my wheelchair in drive, and prove them wrong, playing on their ignorance as I climb the ladder to success,” she says.
“If the world is going to make black women and disabled people work harder to reach their goals, I’m damn sure going to help as much as I can.”
In difficult times, Ola reminds herself that she is in a position to help others. She is the founder of Project ASCEND which helps young black women and youth with disabilities go to college. To date, the organization has raised $15,000 in scholarships.
Ola concludes her post by saying, “There is no limit to the potential of disabled black women who use our disabilities as our strength, taking on the world and bringing justice to a society devoid of equality. We are not a mistake. We are not a tragedy. We are disabled black girl magic.”
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