We're highlighting our newest Members from this past year so you can welcome and get to know them. Please give it up for:
Jess Westbrook, Associate Professor, DePaul University
Safiya Eshe Gyasi James, Founder and CEO, Blaq Gurl Fya
Tina Lowry, Director of Quality, Aspire
Rebecca Williford, President and CEO, Disability Rights Advocates
Amanda Walsh, Director, Illinois Children's Mental Health Partnership
Carly Englander, Career Placement Counselor, Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities
(And remember, Membership applications are open year-round!)
"With my disabilities, I feel there is no book or manual for when you are trying to navigate those next steps in becoming a director, vice president, or CEO. Disability Lead membership provides opportunities to grow in the social algorithms of life through mentorship, partnerships, and connections that honor who I am without pushing my disability to the background."
"I am excited to support other disabled leaders, give back to the community, and develop more extensive relationships as I lead Disability Rights Advocates’ (DRA) work in Chicago. As a disabled lawyer who practices disability rights law, it is very important to me to be in community with other disabled leaders as much as possible so that we can learn from and support each other in our work. Since opening our Chicago office a few years ago, we have been working to build relationships in the local disability community. And since recently stepping into the President & CEO role at DRA, I have been working hard to ensure that our legal advocacy is rooted in and coordinated with the needs of the community."
"Starting in 2020, I had the privilege to work with several Disability Lead members on a comprehensive plan to address children's mental health in Illinois. At that time, I was struggling greatly with the stigma around mental health and its impact on leadership, particularly my own. I felt defeated and was on the verge of walking away from my career, but Disability Lead and its members provided the space and support I needed to explore my own identity and become a stronger advocate around these issues in the workplace. I will be forever grateful to Disability Lead for helping me in that moment and ever since!"
"My work remains centered on promoting child, family, and community wellness through systems and policy change as well as organizational development. In particular, I advocate for equitable access to innovative models of care, focusing on populations, supports, and treatments that have been historically stigmatized and criminalized. Currently, that work is focused on the burgeoning entheogenic (psychedelic) care field, which includes achieving decriminalization, establishing a system of regulation, and promoting community-based models in Illinois and around the country. I am particularly interested in the intersection between disability justice and entheogens."
"I'm currently wrapping up a PhD in Educational Leadership. This project has involved the design and development of a new framework, the Queering Futures Framework, that intersects expanded mixed methods, inclusive data, and futures speculation. Next up, I have been awarded a diversity fellowship that gives me time and space to pursue a new line of inquiry focused on positionality, power, and presence. Underneath my formal research habits, I'm an artist and a designer, so I periodically need to be weird, wander out of bounds, and make a mess."
"I am always going! Right now, Libertyville Stars Swim Club is gearing up for their next season. I am the head coach for this group of athletes that compete through Special Olympics. We had a terrific 2022/2023 season and hope to continue to build on unified sports in Illinois."
"I'm currently focused on the initiative titled 'Disrupting Hollywood: The Chadwick Boseman Effect.' This initiative carries a dual mission. Firstly, it seeks to foster greater inclusivity on film sets, particularly for neurodivergent Black women, addressing an underrepresented group in the entertainment industry. Secondly, it aims to establish the first-ever neurodivergent-focused digital production company. The primary goal is to bridge the gaps in diversity and inclusion within the creative space by drawing inspiration from the remarkable legacy of Chadwick Boseman. My efforts revolve around reshaping industry standards to ensure equitable representation and opportunities for all talents, regardless of their backgrounds or abilities."
-Safiya Eshe Gyasi James
"My last several months have been occupied by moving, my partner and I just moved to Albany Park. And also I just got my first guide dog, a labrador, eight months ago!"
"I grew up in North Carolina and moved to Berkeley – the birthplace of the disability rights movement – immediately after law school graduation. Now that I’m working to grow DRA’s work in Chicago, I’m excited to meet as many folks from the Disability Lead community as possible and enjoy as much amazing pizza as possible! If you're reading this and we haven't had a chance to connect, please reach out – I’d love to learn more about your work and pizza recommendations!"
"I am a Cultural Architect Mogul with a dedicated focus on empowering neurodivergent Black women. Through my content, I aim to highlight the unique experiences and challenges faced by this community and showcase their incredible talents."
-Safiya Eshe Gyasi James
"Professionally speaking, I want to help my clients. I work with folks from all over the city on various career paths. Anytime I can make a positive connection on my clients' behalf, that's a good thing. Personally, I love learning more about the disability community. I just joined the service animal community myself, so meeting folks who also have service animals would be wonderful."
"I've been a type 1 diabetic most of my life. I know vulnerability, trauma, stigma, ableism. I also know priorities, strategy, and self-preservation. The pandemic has been enlightening and motivating. I am COVID-conscious and wear a mask indoors, always."