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Home > Clerc Center > MSSD Salutes Black History Month

MSSD Salutes Black History Month

Image: Deaf students in Africa

Image: Classroom

Image: Two ladies in MSSD building

"What does being an advocate mean?" Fred Beam, chairperson of the DC Area Black Deaf Advocates and executive director of Invisible Hands, Inc., asked this question at the beginning of his February 22 presentation to students, teachers, and staff as part of the Model Secondary School for the Deaf's tribute to Black History Month.

Several audience members came up to offer their ideas. Beam nodded enthusiastically at the various replies and then invited everyone to take part in a fun exercise to bring the concept of advocacy to life. He divided the students into two legal teams for the trial of the Big Wolf vs. The Three Pigs, with the audience serving as the jury. Each legal team came up with arguments for their client's position, arguing their case before the jury. The audience laughed when the wolf's lawyer claimed the wolf didn't mean to blow the house down; he had a bad cold that he could not control.

Beam then explained how the National Black Deaf Advocates (NBDA) organization advocates to make sure deaf and hard of hearing African Americans are adequately represented in leadership and policy decision-making activities affecting their lives. The organization was founded in 1982 and is the oldest and largest consumer organization of deaf and hard of hearing black deaf people. It now has 30 chapters in the United States.

Beam introduced the audience to Miss Black Deaf America (2009-11), Brianna Johnson, and Mr. Black Deaf America, Aarron Loggins (2009-11), for a Q&A with the audience. Johnson and Loggins shared their personal life stories with the audience. They urged students to become advocates for themselves and to appreciate their language and their culture.

Click here for more information on NBDA.

Andrew Foster Lecture

On February 25, Fred Beam was joined by Pam Baldwin, former National Black Deaf Advocates history archivist and long-time DC Area Black Deaf Advocates member, and Jeff Bowden, a Washington, D.C.-based interpreter, for a presentation in MSSD's Theatre Malz honoring Andrew Foster.

Andrew Foster was a distinguished black deaf African American who founded many schools for the deaf in Africa. Beam shared that Foster was born in Ensley, Alabama, and that he became the first black deaf person to earn a bachelor's degree from Gallaudet University. Foster was also the first black deaf person to earn a master's degree from Eastern Michigan University.

In 1957, after earning another master's degree from Seattle Pacific Christian College, Foster went to Africa. There he encountered cultures so oppressive of deaf people that parents often hid their deaf children at home or abandoned them altogether. Some missionaries even told Foster that deaf children didn't exist in Africa. Foster became a great advocate for the deaf community all over Africa. When he found that deaf children had no place in school, he established schools for them-31 in all. Before Foster was done, he had established schools in places including Benin, Congo, Chad, the Ivory Coast, Kenya, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and Cameroon. Beam showed the audience a map marked with the locations of the schools. For much of his life, Foster spent six months of each year in Africa establishing schools and the other six months in the United States raising money to support those schools. In 1970, Gallaudet granted Foster an honorary doctorate of humane letters in recognition of his accomplishments. Foster met his untimely death in a plane crash in 1987 and the black deaf community lost an extraordinary leader.

Baldwin told the story of Gallaudet erecting a bust of Foster in the Andrew Foster auditorium on campus. Foster is the first Gallaudet alumnus to be so honored and the second deaf person on campus to have to received this recognition (Laurent Clerc was the first deaf man honored with a bust on campus). She showed the audience her film from "Deaf Mosaic" of Foster's work in Africa.

Bowden shared with the audience his experience visiting one of Foster's schools in Africa. He showed his documentary film on the lives of deaf people in Africa and the conditions of the schools today.

For more information about Foster and the schools he established, visit the Christian Mission for the Deaf website at www.cmdeaf.org.