Emotional Intelligence: A Foundation in Recovery from Centuries of Oppression

As I continue to unpack what has happened during and since the events in Charlottesville, VA, and have recently also experienced many personal and family-based crises that require public attention directly linked to the failed system of care for children, adults and the elderly with a variety of disabilities, it has been impossible to have an abstract opinion on just about any subject. Having a front row seat at the racial and economic divide of affordability and accessibility of care options expose to me not only who has access to care options but how one is treated when interacting with by government agency representatives and providers when seeking help.  There is something terribly wrong with how things work, or don’t work, for families seeking a helping hand when in crisis and I argue to say that our biggest problem in the Washington, DC area, and possibly much of the United States, are not neo-Nazis or the Ku Klux Klan.

From my vantage point as a black, first-generation American and mother of children with disabilities; it is difficult to hear discussions of white supremacy or white nationalism in a vacuum. Pundits on news shows will say, those racists/neo-Nazis/white nationalists and paint the picture that racism and bigotry is a sport for lower class deplorable white men.  The left-out part of this American tragedy is the fact that for my family, and many other oppressed people and communities, the boogie man of white supremacy does not always wear a white hood or is branded openly with a swastika but most often times is the local police, the social worker, ICE officer, the public school teacher, etc. These agents of the state and civil servants have the power to deeply impact a quality of life that often times extend beyond their immediate scope of influence and, in my experience, fail to understand the interconnected impact that link education to human services to housing to healthcare to law enforcement and beyond.  And while there are historical, political and economic explanations that make the case to justify both the fear against and the necessity of these empowered agents, there is also an emotional basis to this oversight.

Just think about it (or imagine, if don’t have firsthand experience), getting a knock on your door by the police because a neighbor complained about your child’s non-typical, loud forms of communication or you call social services seeking help for a loved one in a health-based crisis. In my experience, I’ve met both “Officer Friendly” and “Officer Pitbull”; and have had a similar polarity in interactions with social workers, teachers and school administrators. So, the socio-economic basis that lends to my empathy with them, regardless of how they interact with me, is that I keep in mind that they earn a humble middle class living wage, are loaded with student loan and other personal debt, possibly are functioning in a toxic work environment of crabs in the barrel and might be battling their own traumas and health issues. In saying this, it is not to excuse unethical or discriminatory behaviors that are often experienced in these encounters, and certainly I have personal testimony, yet it is to humanize the phenomenon. And to employ empathy effectively and consistently requires emotional intelligence.

To this end, training is the key. Not simply as a practice but as a principle based on a well-designed training system to orient employees and to invest in the on-going need to oil-the-machine with refresher courses and opportunities to acquire new skills that contribute to creating and improving upon an organization’s culture.  This is true for not only the development of hard skills (i.e. job specific licenses and certifications) but also for soft skills, which include a wide range of transferable knowledge that attributes of personality, behavior and speak to how one interacts with others.  When it comes to emotional development, there is a growing field of study of social emotional learning (SEL) that has piqued my interest. It provides an opportunity to develop hard and soft skills through a variety of integrated and interactive approaches. While a big part of the intrigue for me is in its application in early childhood education, however, the principles of SEL also apply to adults in the workplace. And if that workplace environment happens to be a critical element in the system of care for individuals with disabilities, then I feel it imperative that our local and federal government agencies take a more serious look at practices that go beyond an anti-discrimination workshop to satisfy competency requirements. Because, in truth, we spend a significant amount of our time in life simply just learning how to live yet I have discovered that life itself is just a series of on-going lessons and growth opportunities.

From Kindergarten to 12th grade (13 years), the average child in the United States spends 35% of those years in school. Additionally, many children (approximately 42%) under the age of 5 with employed mothers spend at least 35 hours a week in child care or preschool – which is 20% of time per year.  And this does not factor into university education, which generally functions on the principle that it take 10,000 hours (approximately 1 year) to master information and students on average spend 4 years pursing an undergraduate degree.  And with the increasing demand for graduate degree work, well that’s another 2 years for master’s level work and an average of 4-7 years for a doctorate degree. That’s a lot of hours of time spent from birth within structured learning spaces.  Yet while it is illegal, bullying and harassment are prominent features in the experience of many individuals in an educational campus including LGBTQ and immigrant youth as well as children and youth with disabilities. Acknowledged by the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights and the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, bullying can have a profound impact on students, raise safety concerns, and eroding efforts to ensure that students with disabilities have equal access to the myriad of benefits that education offers.

Institutional racism or discrimination, which speaks to the system of care, is set by the individuals that decide the functions of the system. It is through these many years of schooling one learns white supremacist behaviors and other related survival of the fittest mentalities of sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, ableism, etc. So, after all these many years being exposed to under-addressed and sometimes nurtured in discriminatory processes, behaviors learned from observing, participating in or being victimized by bullying in the many years in the school yard spill into the work environment and do not simply go away at graduation. To me, this suggests an unlearning process in the workplace is as critical to human development as it is important to equip children at a very young age with these tools to achieve emotional intelligence and achieve real and sustained cultural competencies. It takes political will – the will to not enforce white nationalist ideas – and leadership with integrity that offers incentive and invests in the emotional development of government agents and others in the workforce that become deciders, impacting the lives of so many vulnerable families and communities in need.


The People’s Convention: Why It’s Important to Join Organizations.

Photo provided by SPACES in Action

I’ve had over a week now to digest the many great lessons learned at the Center for Popular Democracy’s (CPD) Our Vision, Our Future: People’s Convention held in Detroit, MI from July 25-27th.  In the time since coming home, and post watching the Democratic primary debates that also took place in Detroit shortly after the convention, I’ve had some time to reflect on the significance of this convention both personally and politically.

Personally, I feel like I’ve found my tribe. It was such an empowering opportunity to bring so much of what I personally identify with and give it a political platform. Starting with my delegation from Washington, DC led by SPACES in Action. I had joined SPACES a few months back, when I was introduced to the Executive Director, LaDon Love. And I simply fell in love with the mission and vision of this organization. In working together on the Birth to Three Campaign, I also learned the unique value of SPACES, as an affiliate organization of CPD.

As far as I understand, CPD carries out it’s mission of building organizing power to transform the local and state policy landscape through deep, long-term partnerships with leading community-based organizing groups nationwide like SPACES in Action, which is the affiliate organization in Washington, DC. It is from joining SPACES and being invited to join the delegation to the Detroit convention that I really injested the power of their vision and how truly transformative this approach to organizing is.


My first impression was of the illustrious venue: The Marriott Hotel at the Renaissance Center owned by General Motors. The Renaissance Center is a connection of 7 skyscrapers and sits in the middle of downtown Detroit. Impressive in structure, I kept getting lost attempting to get from one point to the other. I learned that it was deliberately designed this way to dissuade against protests and other community based action, given the history of resistance due to economic instability in the Motor City. We didn’t have much time for jet lag and hit the ground running with leadership meetings underway. The one that peaked my interest was: Class Privilege & Organizing: The Role of Wealthy People in The Movement.

Photo provided by SPACES in Action

The Class Privilege workshop unpacked issues of how wealthy people and funding institutions and organizations can successfully support local organizing efforts. Coming from Washington, DC, where we also have such a huge economic divide and are living in a modern-day rendition of the Dickens’ classic A Tale of Two Cities, it was healing to engage in a discussion centered around the need for financial investments in grassroots efforts without the dominance of the investors in the carrying out of the message. This is also critical for me, as an organizer envisioning a way in which caregivers of children and youth with disabilities can create a self-determined vision of a working system of care and disrupt the poverty-pattern that comes with being a primary caregiver.

On day two of the convention, all delegations marched from the Renaissance Center to the Cobo Convention Center. This march on the waterfront was so powerful and reinforcing – we danced, we cried, chanted and built alliances. The image of our march was powerfully captured in post-cap video of the Convention put out by CPD:

Day two ended with a block party and had several artists perform, also seen in clips in the video above. It was transformative to see the arts incorporated in the vision of our future. And to be honest, it got me thinking about ways to rediscover myself as a poet and writer, bringing my own creativity into my own advocacy efforts. And like everything else with this convention, it was intergenerational with elders and young children alike participating in both the audience and performances.

Day three of the convention was the most impactful for me because I spent most of my time in the 5-hour workshop on Education, which is my passion. Yet, the most powerful showing in this workshop was the number of parent advocates that attended, many of them from Spanish-speaking immigrant communities. It was truly powerful to see this convening of advocates bringing our local mission to infuse a national vision for a new paradigm in education reform efforts. And while the workshop was filled with diverse ideas about education, ranging from teachers to parents to organizers, it was parent-dominant, which reinforces what I already know about this movement. And it was also not lost on me that many of the most vocal parents gave testimony to their experiences raising children with disabilities and complex healthcare needs.

We left in the whirlwind that brought us in. And a week later, I am still charged with the love, creativity and power that surrounded all of us in attendance. We were also honored to see some Democratic candidates video-conference into the Convention and share their vision impacting the many delegations of local communities present. And now, back home in Washington, DC, I am re-energized to continue to build on a positive vision of the future for the benefit of the children and the many generations unborn dependent on our collective ability to truly create another world where pain and suffering is no longer status quo.

While it was quite the anti-climax coming back home to DC after a highly charged and energetic convention, it’s soothing to know that I came home with the people I made the deepest connections with: SPACES in Action. I look forward to deepening my connection as a SPACES member, and look forward to learning more about the national platform that CPD offers for our local issues. And vice-versa, I also look forward to sharpening my skills as an organizer and working with SPACES to become fortified allies for all freedom loving, justice seeking people all over these United States. The future is bright!

Blog written by Chioma Oruh, Ph.D. @chiomaoruh, a contributing writer for Mothering Hands Cooperative. Follow her on twitter @ChiBornfree.

Nurtured in Politics: Growing Up in Washington, DC

welcome-to-washington-dcUnless one is living under a rock, or is a millennial that didn’t grow in Washington, DC, most are aware and saddened by the passing of longtime news anchor Jim Vance. Reflecting on how much he and co-anchor Doreen Genzler were furniture in memories of my youth in DC also here prompted more bittersweet thoughts about this great city.

Since becoming a mother, I am increasingly more prideful about being a Washingtonian. Given the many challenges I’ve faced in efforts to gain access to a better quality care for my children at school, in the community and at home, this statement would seem contradictory. Also, given the chaotic political climate in the Federal government with the majority Senate vote today on a key motion to open discussion on moving forward with repealing the Affordable Care Act and other critical issues that’s all happening right here in DC.  Due to this, I receive many calls of concern from family, friends and loved ones living outside of this area wondering how I cope with being in such an intense and critical time.  Despite all of these factors, my DC pride has kicked up and here’s why.


Beneath the surface of all the real stress and tension in DC right now is an extraordinary history that’s at once both local and global – a history well captured by great journalists such as Jim Vance. The people of DC, those that I’ve come to know and love as native Washingtonians, with roots in this city going back generations, there is a unique pride and articulation of black identity that’s very familiar and communal like a small town; and at the same time, flavored with big city ambition and sophistication.  And as an immigrant African growing up here, I’ve had the vantage point of being both an insider and outsider to the “real DC” culture.

Birthing and raising children here, joining the ranks as a multi-generational Washingtonian, has also allowed for a new perspective on my local identity.  I think, politically, another factor contributing to my increased DC pride also comes as a response, a resistance to the changing landscape of the city largely due to urban renewal, otherwise known as gentrification.  In the past twenty (20) years, I have watched family and friends move out of DC, with the majority moving just next door to either Maryland or Virginia. At the same time, I read of lot of articles – one of which was on the widening wealth gap in the city that was recently reported by the Washington Post, citing an Urban Institute study called the “Color of Wealth in the Nation’s Capital”. The study found that between 2013 and 2014, white households in the DC area had a net worth (value of assets minus debt) of $284,000 while black households had a net worth of $3,500, the report said – in other words, the average white household has a net worth 81 times that of the average black household in Washington, DC. Hispanics had a net worth of $13,000, East Asian Indians a net worth of $573,000, Koreans at $496,000 and Chinese at $220,000.  The study doesn’t mention or distinguish the immigrant black populations from the traditional African American demographic.

Wealth Gap DC

An Urban Institute study also notes that the black population in DC stands at 48%, down since the 2007 recession from 70% in the 1970s.  The study also finds that black unemployment in DC is higher than the national average, despite the high rate of employment in the public sector in DC.  Most critically, the report cites that, “the typical black household in DC has only $2,100 in liquid assets – resources they can quickly convert into cash when faced with an emergency. Whites, in contrast, have $65,000 in liquid assets.” Another article in The Atlantic notes that more than any other racial group in DC, blacks have a much higher unemployment rate, lower education rates and more likely to receive a subprime loan. Ironically, black people in Washington, DC are economically doing better than most blacks in other cities in the United States, ranking as the 3rd most economically beneficial cities for African Americans in 2015 by Forbes.

“…the typical black household in DC has only $2,100 in liquid assets – resources they can quickly convert into cash when faced with an emergency. Whites, in contract, have $65,000 in liquid assets.”

The reality of a widening wealth gap and displacement has a negative impact on access to a quality of life for individuals with disabilities; and for parents raising children with disabilities, the economic reality in the US is dismal.  Here are some quick facts:

  • The Children’s Defense Fund finds that 16% of low-income families (families earning less than 200% of poverty) have a child with a disability; 9% have a child with a severe disability. This is nearly 50% higher than the rate among higher-income families. The percentage is particularly high among welfare families -20% of these families have a child with a disability, including 13% where a child has a severe disability.


  • According to the 2000 US Census, among families with one or more members with a disability, the poverty rate was 12.8% – higher than the 9.2% for all families and 7.7% for families without members with a disability.


  • The same 2000 US Census noted that families with a female household (totaling 12.5 million families) with no husband present were more likely than other types of families to report having members with a disability. 34.8% of these families reported one or more member with a disability, compared with 27.3% among the 55.5 million married-couple families and 31.6% among the 4.3 million families with a male household with no wife present. Divorce following the birth of a child with a severe disability has been cited as the primary factor leading to a single-mother headed household for families with children with disabilities.


Disabilities HousingA recent report called “A Broken Foundation:  Affordable Housing Crisis Threatens DC’s Lowest-Income Residents” by Claire Zippel of the DC Fiscal Policy Institute notes, “A typical extremely low-income renter in need of affordable housing is a working mother raising two children, a person with a disability relying on a fixed income, or a childless adult in a low-wage job.” Imagine the intersection between both a working mother raising children with disabilities or a childless adult that has a disability. The economic outcome is dismal and this perverse real life remake of Darwin’s Survival of the Fittest is unbelievable and unacceptable. It is only through city leadership that understands the layers of these problems and has the commitment to resolve these issues will we see real solutions to these sorts of problems. But as it stands, while I love DC, it doesn’t seem to love me or anyone that fits into my kind of vulnerability or even much a worse economic position.

I keep reading reports of that new arrivals to DC are  now leaving because of how expensive the city is, and while this is important to learn, these reports don’t reflect what would be the original sin of this crime.  Looking at the many families of children with disabilities that ascended this week to observe the Senate vote against our interests, because DC is not a state and we are bearing our own cross in this fight, it is impossible to be a formidable ally to others around the country that could benefit from our proximity. If we weren’t riddled with the extraordinary economic stress in raising our children here in DC, with constant fear of losing benefits should we be forced to relocate, we might be more able to join forces and better play our position as DC residents.  And at a point, we were strong allies for many liberation efforts, from the March on Washington to the Anti-apartheid movement, DC has been a hub for black civil and human rights, with Howard University playing a critical role the black studies movement – a higher education movement for education reform calling on universities to academically invest in research areas.

To know DC, the real DC, is to love it. And to know it, one would have to see  DC the way I’ve seen it transform to really feel the pain in my heart when observing what is happening and the distance from the history behind it. And while I remain deeply committed to improving the educational outcomes for children with disabilities in DC public and public charter schools, I can’t help but wonder if I’m cleaning up my home so its more livable or if I’m working as its maid or nanny – only working to benefit a demographic that won’t include me because I too cannot afford to live in this city I love much longer.


In solidarity,


Medicaid and Me

AHCA-2It is wonderful news to hear that the vote on the massive tax-cut for the wealthy bill (disguised as a health care bill) has been postponed for at least another week and a half. Yet as a mother and head of household of two young children with autism whose quality of care is heavily dependent on what happens to health care policy, I remain sober. Because we live in a world where it is sometimes hard to tell fact from fiction, here are some personal and objective truths as to why it is important to remain vigilant and engaged in what happens next with the American health care system:

Disability MattersThe truth is that my role as “parent” does not end my resume as a caretaker; and H.R. 1628, the American Health Care (AHCA) Act of 2017 bill, is a cruel contract that takes for granted the real life impact on able-bodied caretakers tasked to providing for our loved ones. In truth no matter what the family structure, or even if one has private insurance, the impact of the AHCA will be detrimental to everyone.


The truth is that Medicaid helps schools help children with a variety of health care needs. And whatever happens to this bill, it will alter the culture of care that schools are able to provide for our children. And for children with disabilities, especially students who are medically fragile but are able to attend school, their safety is compromised by this law. And for many more children that receive speech and occupational therapy, typically noted in an IEP, Medicaid not IDEA funds typically cover the cost of care.



Katie Beckett (1978-2012) and her mother-advocate, to learn more about her heroic life, click here


The truth is that beyond Medicaid or Medicaid Expansion, state-sponsored waiver programs such as the Katie Beckett program, whose funding comes out of the District’s local budget, is compromised by the AHCA.  If Congress is successful in its aims to gut Medicaid and turn it into a block grant program, as has been suggested by earlier this year, it would put a lot of pressure on local funds to meet the needs of a variety of families. And the means tests, the same means tests that I already suggest whose metrics are out-dated, thus problematic, and are the reason I support Universal Basic Income, will now be used to weed out families such as my own that don’t neatly fit into the definition of “low income”. I will be forced off any public assistance, leaving me out to dry on the marketplace of predatory lenders because there is absolutely no way I would be able to cover the cost of care needed for my children with disabilities.

The truth is that the AHCA dehumanizes experiences such as my own that involves complex layers of care. Beyond being a mother of two brilliant boys with autism, Atty and Jedi, I am also the daughter of a larger-than-life African father who I have watched etch away little by little due to the impact of dementia. I am a sister to two protective and wonderful brothers – one with mild scoliosis but is overall high-functioning and the other, our superhero big bro, who struggles with bipolar schizophrenia. Beyond these, our mother has had multiple back surgeries due to chronic back pain caused by inflammatory arthritis.

The truth is that sometimes I feel overwhelmed with the pressure of being the most able-bodied person in my family and I live in constant fear thinking of what would happen if something were to happen to me. What would happen with my children? My parents? My brothers and their families? And even as I have lived largely in resistance to the culturally imposed family title of the ada, which in the Igbo language translates as “first daughter”. I am, indeed, the ada of my family and I inherit all the traditional and modern implications of this role and title.

Male DaughtersIn Igbo culture, the two most important roles in the family are the okpara (first son) and the ada, and both roles in the family are filled with duty and authority, expressed in the traditional concept of ofo. In times of ceremony or in the untimely death or bad health of a parent, both the first son and daughter are to take on the responsibilities of maintaining the household both financially and in carrying on cultural traditions.  And, then, in cases where there is only one able first son or daughter, then gender becomes a secondary notion and they are to adopt the role of keeping the household regardless of if they are male or female.  The concept of these traditional roles of the okpara (also known as di-okpala in some dialects) and ada (referenced as aku in some dialects) are captured by the scholar Ifi Amadiume, who explains these complex Igbo cultural traditions in the classic book Male Daughters, Female Husbands: Gender and Sex in African Society (1987).

But I digress…the truth is that my culture and experience as a first generation American is considered a threat to those seeking to make America great, in the way that would only welcome me in shackles and not as a full citizen that requires all the benefits of citizenship for myself, my family and all Americans. The bitter truth is that even as my children are generations American from their fathers side and were born in this great city of Washington, DC, their access to full citizenship has also historically been stripped not just due to their blackness but because this has been the experience of individuals with disabilities of all races and cultural backgrounds.


As Senator Chuck Schumer said earlier today, the truth is that “the ultimate reason this bill failed is that the American people just didn’t like it.” Beyond political rhethoric and real life socially impactful concerns from caretakers like myself, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that the AHCA would reduce federal deficits by $119 billion over the coming decade and increase the number of people who are uninsured by 23 million in 2026 relative to current law. In the 49-page report released by the CBO yesterday, June 26, 2017, can be credited for slowing down the passage of this troubling law but it won’t likely stop some of the key signatures of the goals of the bill: to gut Medicaid.

paul-ryan-on-medicaidThe truth is that many Republicans, such as the House Majority Leader Paul Ryan (R-WI), have been dreaming of cutting Medicaid since college and that they have majority representation in the House of Representatives, Senate and the White House.  And while I pride myself in seeing the best in people, I cannot find the brighter side of these neoliberal policies that have no precedence anywhere else in the world and no major economy in Europe or with our neighbors in Canada reflect such a cruel approach to healthcare, which is truly a human right.

The truth is that beyond the CBO report, a large reason why public outcry has come out against the AHCA is because of disabilities self-advocates from the historic and proven might of ADAPT. About 60 members of ADAPT were arrested on Thursday June 22, 2017 in front of Sentor Mitch McConnell’s office. The graphic images of police officers carrying out protesting Americans in their wheelchairs and other medical devices sent a compelling visual around not only who is impacted by the AHCA but that they are willing to risk it all to stand up for their democratic rights. We as parents locally based in Washington, DC form greater alliances with ADAPT and our local powerhouse self-advocates organization, Project ACTION, because there is so much that comes out of solidarity and working together for a common cause.


Finally, we are going in the wrong direction when it comes to healthcare reform. Truthfully, I was not a big fan of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) because it did not go far enough.  But I was grateful for some victories of the ACA because of key benefits including critical therapies such as Applied Behavior Therapy previously not accepted by insurance companies, as well as forcing these same insurance companies to indiscriminately cover pre-existing conditions and long-term care.  It was my hope at the time that we would steadily move closer to proven effective single-payer systems adopted in Canada and several other countries around the world.  And, so it is crucial that we as parent advocates of children with disabilities learn more about efforts happening in real time to promote the “Medicare for All” bill introduced by John Conyers, (D-MI) that has already passed three times before 2017 and received support by over 100 Democrats in the US but failed each time in this 115th Republican led Congress.

Let’s all keep watching and speaking truth to power, together.


In solidarity,