Celebrating our 2023 Fellows

Disability Lead
December 18, 2023

It’s time to celebrate the 16 incredible people graduating from the 2023 Institute, who are now Members! Since becoming Fellows, members of the 2023 Institute cohort have already experienced advancements in their professional and civic roles.  

The 2023 Fellows had opportunities to participate in new programming this year. In addition to the Institute being 100% led by disabled facilitators, for the first time we brought in facilitators from outside the Chicago region who represented more national conversations. Keri Gray, CEO of Keri Gray Consulting and founder of the National Alliance of Melanin Disabled Advocates, spoke about the transformative power of authentic stories, and Rami Alvarez, the Director of Communications at Detroit Disability Power, discussed how to transform intersectionality as a theory into cross-issue organizing and actions. As an organization, we hosted our first-ever Storytelling series, and the inaugural event featured four of our 2023 Fellows, who opened up about community, ableism, diagnosis, and how disabled people innovate solutions to problems society puts in front of us.

Not to mention, this group was one of the most diverse in our history. Sixty percent of this cohort were people of color, and mental health was the top disability represented among them, followed by chronic pain and physical disability. Every year, we hope that our Network becomes more and more representative of the professional landscape here in the Chicago region, and this Fellowship class brought us even closer to that goal: they are educators, public servants, medical professionals, folks who work in community and social services, and more—making this year well-representative of Chicago’s nonprofit, corporate, public, and small business sectors.

“We've been deeply impressed with the 2023 Fellows. Over the past year, we’ve listened and learned together, and I have seen so much growth from these leaders stepping into their power as people with disabilities,” said Emily Blum, Executive Director of Disability Lead. “I know they're going to do amazing things as they lead with power and influence, and we’re so humbled to have been a part of their journeys. We can’t wait to see what they do next!”

While we can do our best to articulate what this past year has meant, our words can’t do it justice the way yours can. What better way to honor and celebrate the journey we’ve all been on this year than to highlight a few reflections from some of the 2023 Fellows themselves:

“I am in such a better place. Through the fellowship training and interactions with my cohort, I became at peace with myself and my disability. My curiosity has expanded to learning about my friendlies’ and the journey they each lived before they became full-fledged advocates for me and people like me. I listen differently now. The Institute has deepened how I approach community, giving back to our friendlies has been pure joy this year.” - JP Price
“The last virtual session was the most memorable session for me, as I felt a deep sense of connection with my fellow cohorts and staff members, and it was really hard to say goodbyes - I was in tears! I was in awe because I did not think virtual meetings would be the same - but magically, we developed a very strong bond with each other.” - Kruti Shah
“Being a Disability Lead Fellow completely shifted my trajectory as a leader who is living with invisible and visible disabilities. A lot of my development and growth in my identity could not have happened without my mentor. He saw my potential and nurtured it by helping me connect dots and make connections with other leaders in Chicago who inspired me to take ownership of what I wanted my journey as a leader to be and most importantly what kind of impact I wanted to make.” - Gizelle Clemens
“Through Board Lead, I was matched with a nonprofit, Full Spectrum Features of which I am now a board member. Serving on a board was not something that was previously on my radar. In fact, my work with nonprofits have left a bad taste in my mouth and I probably would have strayed far away from that. Disability Lead opened my eyes to why it is important and I am really glad they did!” - Brittney Hyde
“Many people are afraid to disclose their disability in the workplace for fear of backlash and/or stigma when all they are needing is simple tools/accommodations that would help them thrive in their work space. As a leader in my workplace, I have been able to recognize this more and give my staff and colleagues the confidence to request and access their rights.” - Garcsa Brooks
“The fellowship greatly strengthened my identity as an autistic person. Going into my speaking events I am much more confident as a disabled leader and that, in turn, makes me a more impactful speaker. I feel much more in tune with my mission to bring neuro-inclusion practices to tech and design communities.” - Amy Johnson
“Having the privilege to spend time with a group of some of the most well-accomplished professionals, who also self-identified as a person with a disability, has truly revealed another perspective for me. It is because of my cohort members and our program leaders and teachers at Disability Lead that I have never felt more confident and more proud to call myself a disabled leader, and knowing that I no longer have to fight alone.” - Marina Salman

CONGRATULATIONS to one and all!

Mike Blight  

Garcsa Brooks  

Gizelle Clemens  

Lincoln Edwards  

Akeseiah “Keys” Felton  

Sydney Holman  

Brittney Hyde  

Amy Johnson  

Frank Lally  

Ana Monga  

Mads Oliver  

Jennifer "JP" Price  

Marina Salman  

Kruti Shah  

Matthew Silva  

Riley Spreadbury