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A Short History of National Black Deaf Advocates

The story of Black Deaf Advocates goes back to 1980, where the idea was brought up to a small group of locals in DC meeting with the board of the Deaf Pride. They were concerned about identifying Black Deaf people, problems that prevent Black deaf from achieving their potential, and the lack of leadership. Since motivation brings together shared experiences, ideas, hopes talents, and abilities, it was apparent that isolation was a key factor. Goals were developed, and other skills that are usually ignored were discussed.

In July of 1980, NAD had its convention in Ohio. A Black Caucus was developed. Though several members of the DC group were there, this was not a part of the BDA movement. These two events should not be confused.

In August of 1980, Charles ( Chuck) Williams came to DC to file a class action suit against the National Democratic Convention; seeking to force the convention to televise a sign language interpreter throughout the meeting in order to make it accessible to the deaf people. Chuck was invited to work with the local BDA planners. From this, the theme "The Black Experience" was born. A mini conference was held for planning in November of the same year. The chairperson of the conference was Ms. Lottie Crook, Vice Chairman, Lindwood Smith, and Interpreter Coordinator, Ms. Shirley Johnson, and Mr. Robert Howard as the trainer and consultant.

Nearly one year later, on June 25 - 26th of 1981, the conference became a reality. The conference brought together nearly 100 Black people from the deaf community. We met at Howard University.

In August of 1982, the Cleveland conference took place, attracting nearly 300 people from across the United States. Topics were related to section 504, Mental Health, Substance abuse Social Services, and Hearing Parents with deaf children.

A debate was held as to whether a national organization should be formed. The idea was accepted. The national executive secretary, Mr. Albert Couthen was elected to coordinate the efforts to form a national office. The vote was cast that Philadelphia, Pa would host the next conference with Ms. Elizabeth Moore-Aviles as president of that chapter.

So, in August of 1983, the second conference was held in Pennsylvania with nearly the same number in attendance as the previous year. The focus was on leadership and education. The first beauty pageant was held, and Ms. Ronnie Mae Tyson was chosen as the reigning Miss Black Deaf America. During this time, New York asked to be recognized as chapter #4, and they were chosen as host of the conference for 1984. Ms. Patricia Johnson was president of the NY chapter. Also during that time, Al Couthen resigned after successfully Philadelphia with their conference.

Following Al Couthen's resignation, Sheryl Guest-Emery was elected as the continuing national executive secretary. Under her administration, she was challenged to develop a set of national by-laws and incorporate the organization, as well as to develop procedures to make sure that the by-laws would be implemented. Dr. Seth Tetteh-Ocloo was appointed as acting treasurer and greatly assisted with the development of the bylaws and incorporation. Ms. Pamela Reichelle Anderson of Detroit Michigan set about to obtain the 501 (C)3 tax exemption and was successful.

During that conference, of 1983-1984, Atlanta joined as chapter #5, and Detroit became chapter #6 and Chicago was #7. All of the newly formed chapters were using the structure of the newly developed by-laws. In 1986 Nashville TN became chapter #8, and Memphis became chapter #9 in 1987. Tennessee was the first state to hold two chapters.


What does that mean to us as African Americans?

Respectfully Submitted by,

Mrs. Joyce T. Cobbs, Nashville Chapter Black Deaf Advocates



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