Today we are going to learn about some of the greats who are still here with us!
CJ Jones is a man of many talents. He’s a producer, director, actor, motivational speaker, dancer and so much more. Jones was born hearing to Deaf parents. At 7 years of age, he had a bout with meningitis and lost his hearing. Due to restrictions on who was allowed into the Missouri School for the Deaf (MSD), Jones was not allowed to attend. The remaining hearing he had disqualified him until his father pushed for a change to the rule.
Jones went on to graduate from the National Technical Institute for the Deaf in Rochester, NY. CJ then toured with the National Theater for the Deaf, Children of a Lesser God touring company, and the National Theater of the Deaf. Some of Jones early works include acting roles on “A Different World,” “Frasier,” and “I Wrote That! Volume One.”
CJ Jones became the first Deaf actor to act in an international blockbuster for his role in “Baby Driver” in 2017. And with that glass ceiling broken CJ Jones shows no signs of slowing down. He said in an interview with 3Play Media, “we need to educate people, and it’s our duty, I think, to always be educating people. I don’t know when I’ll be able to retire…Because I want to work as an actor, therefore I have several hats on my head. I need to be a teacher. I need to be an actor. I need to be an educator.”
Matthew Maxey founder of DEAFinitely Dope was born with a severely profound hearing loss in Decatur, Georgia. Maxey was mainstreamed until going to Gallaudet University where he started learning ASL. He struggled with his place in Deaf and Hearing world and it wasn’t till he, thanks to the encouragement of friends, started making ASL videos to rap on YouTube that he began to find his footing.
He entered in a freestyle rap battle called #4BarFriday by Damian Lillard. Maxey’s first entry in the contest was in sign language with no voice. After seeing this, he created DEAFinitely Dope in 2014, and started encouraging the Deaf and HOH community. You may have seen him interpreting alongside Chance the Rapper. This is because Chance was the first artist to have his own interpreters for his Be Encouraged Tour.
Matt Maxey has definitely changed the way hearing people view what is capable, and be an encouraging light for d/Deaf and HOH people. He’s DEAFinitely made a name for himself as not only an interpreter who believes in authentically interpreting the lyrics, but also an artist in his own right.
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Jade Bryan was born in the West Indies to hearing parents. They moved to the US when she was 4 or 5 years old. As a young child, Bryan didn’t find love in movies or TV shows as they were not really accessible. However, reading books opened the world up to her and she fell in love with the stories. Bryan graduated with a Bachelor’s in Fine Arts from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.
Jade Bryan went on to break glass ceilings, becoming the first Black Deaf woman to direct a documentary and television series in the United States. Bryan has a long history in the film industry as a Producer, Director, Writer, and Cinematographer. According to her IMDB, her earliest credited film was being Producer/Director for the documentary Listen to the Hands of Our People which was released in 1999.
As a Black Deaf woman in the United States, Bryan is no stranger to pushback and barriers when it comes to pushing towards her goals. However, she doesn’t let that stop her! Jade is the owner of the #DeafTalent® trademark and Jade Films and Entertainment (JFE). She is currently working on a few projects including The Two Essences a comedy sitcom, “The Innocent Project,” currently being pitched, and a documentary “Black and Deaf in America.”
If you want to learn about Black American Sign Language and its history then you will for sure learn about Dr. Carolyn McCaskill. Dr. McCaskill is one of five children, three of whom are Deaf. The recipient of the Deaf Humanitarian Award from the National Action Network has spent much of her adulthood uncovering the roots of Deaf Black history. A graduate of Gallaudet University with a Bachelors in Psychology, minor in Social Work, and a Masters in Counseling Dr. McCaskill became the second Black deaf woman to earn a Ph.d in 2005 from Gallaudet University.
For Dr. McCaskill’s dissertation, she wrote on “The Education of Black Deaf American’s in the 20th Century: Policy and Implications for Administrators in Deaf Schools.” Dr. McCaskill would go on to create a documentary showcasing Black ASL from the hands of those who use it. “The Hidden Treasure of Black ASL” can be found on YouTube and I highly recommend checking it out the video and the book.
If you recently learned about Black ASL you may have seen Nakia Smith, AKA @itscharmay. Nakia is 4th generation Deaf, meaning she comes from a Deaf family. Being Black and Deaf Nakia was able to learn some things that many Black Deaf individuals don’t often learn. Black ASL from the elders in her family. Nakia was able to do a video for Netflix in which she explained what Black American Sign Language is and how it was developed from segregated deaf schools.
Smith’s popularity on the social media apps TikTok and Instagram has only grown as she uses her platform to bring awareness to life at the intersection of Black and Deaf. After being asked, by a follower on TikTok, to add voice to her signed videos, she lotioned up her hands and let people know her signs were loud enough.
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Deaf bloggers Hermon and Heroda are twins born in Eritrea, Africa. At 7 years old both of them lost their hearing, and there isn’t really an explanation for why.
After losing their hearing they moved to the UK where Heroda worked in retail fashion and Hermon worked towards being an actress.
Hermon & Heroda created a blog to bring awareness and show an example of Deaf people traveling and living their life freely and happily.
They hope to change the perception hearing people have of deaf and HOH people.
You can learn more about them and their blog in our article:
Read more: Deaf Twins start lifestyle blog, Being Her
Recently we published an article about the first Deaf Black character in a video game, Hailey Cooper. Hailey is played by Natasha Ofili. Ofili is most known for her role in The Politician as Principal Vaughn. Natasha wears many hats as a fashion designer, writer, and actress.
Born in Hyattsville, MD but raised in Hollywood and Burbank Ofili started out in fashion but quickly felt other talents pulling her. Ofili is currently working on a play called The Window.
Sheena Lyles, AKA @msdeafqueen believes in using her comedy as activism. She is known for spreading the word about ASL and Deaf culture on her Instagram page. She is from a Deaf family and grew up in Pennsylvania. Known for her sense of humor and acting skills, her family and friends encouraged her to use her gifts and so she has.
She’s not only a comedian though, she also is an actress. Sheena played in the TV One crime series “For My Woman & For My Man” and was interviewed about her role as Daphne Wright by Daily Moth. Sheena also recently has released some short videos called “Black Poppins. A satire of Mary Poppins.”
When it comes to signed versions of songs one of the main people who come to mind is Raven Sutton, AKA @freelove19xx. Born in Alabama, Raven got her bachelor’s and Masters from Gallaudet University in Social Work. Her passion is to bring dance therapy to the youth in at-risk communities. She is currently listed as a Survivor Resource Specialist for DAWN (Deaf Abused Women’s Network)
Raven is a dancer and a performer. Dancing since she was a child, and bringing Deaf awareness through ASL performances on her Instagram. She’s also done some modeling. Being a model for Chella Man’s showcase The Beauty of Being Deaf which came out on March 15th, 2021.
Raven continues to use her platform to spread awareness around Black, Deaf, and woman issues.
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Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, Kevin Hall is the most well-known golfer in the world. Kevin lost his hearing at two years of age due to meningitis.
His main form of communication is ASL, and he will write back and forth with hearing non-signers.
Kevin graduated from The Ohio State University with a degree in journalism and became a professional golfer.
Hall first picked up a golf club at 7 years old and that has been his passion ever since.
You can learn more about Hall’s achievements in the interview we had with him.
If you watched the Superbowl this year then you most likely saw Warren “Wawa” Snipe performing the national anthem and “America the Beautiful” in American Sign Language. WAWA is a rapper, writer and performer. He has created his own genre of music known as Dip Hop, which he considers hip hop but through Deaf eyes.
WAWA is one of the founding members of an all Deaf/male dance comping known as the Wild Zappers. The company has traveled all over Turtle Island and has toured with the National Deaf Dance Theatre. Warren has even done some acting, most notably playing in four episodes of Black Lightning as Anaya’s father. Little known fact, he does have some skills in doing his own stunts. If you haven’t checked him out, you should!
Harold Foxx, actor, comedian and writer, was born hearing but lost his hearing due to meningitis when he was in elementary school. When Foxx was older he took deaf theater at White Station High School where he graduated in 1999. You would think that his formative years kicked off his passion, but no. He went the football route up until he started to make videos on the app called Vine. There is where Foxx finally saw his calling.
Foxx created the Harold Foxx Show and soon had over 80,000 followers cracking up. With this fame Foxx was invited to the Laugh Factory where he became the first Deaf comedian to perform there. Foxx has also acted with some of his noted works being in Audism Unveiled, For My Woman and The Actor Whisperer. According to IMDB he will also be in Last Debt which is currently in pre-production.
Shaheem Sanchez is an actor, choreographer, dancer and creative director. Becoming deaf at the age of 4, Sanchez started dancing at 11. Sanchez even mentored his little brother Lil Kida who went on to win So You Think You Can Dance. Coming from a family of dancers Sanchez uses his craft to bridge the gap between the hearing and deaf world by pulling down barriers and doubts.
Sanchez also played Shaheem in the Academy Award-winning movie Sound of Metal. A movie about a drummer who begins to lose his hearing. Sanchez has pushed Deaf and hearing alike to move their body and dance as a creative outlet. Definitely, someone to watch!
Dre Hollingsworth is a Deaf entertainer, model, and comedian. Dre appeared on the “Stud Model Project: The Series.” She was the only Deaf model on the show which aired in May of 2019. Dre was actually sought out and the first time they modeled was on the show. Hollinsworth definitely shows the diversity of people in the Deaf community, and by being herself she is definitely bringing awareness. The mother of twin girls has even played football for the Los Angeles Bobcats.
Aarron Loggins is another person who performed the National Anthem during the Super Bowl in 2019. Loggins grew up in Chicago, Illinois and started learning sign language after his parents found out he was hard of hearing (HOH) at 3 years old. As a storyteller and performer since a young age, Aarron has used his work to advocate for the d/Deaf/HOH people. Loggins graduated from Gallaudet University with a bachelor’s in theatre arts.
Gavin has accomplished many things in his life including being the first African American to win Mister Deaf International, created a step team called Da Jump Back, and several acting gigs including “Bride Killa” and “Shock Nation.” In 2019, Loggins gave a TEDx talk titled, “Why We Need You to Advocate for Universal Closed Captioning” where he talks about how not captioning things creates so many barriers for the deaf and hard of hearing.
If you were obsessed with the Walking Dead, then you most likely know Lauren Ridloff. She played the character Connie in over 50 episodes of the Walking Dead since its 9th season in 2018. But before she was on screen as an actress, she has crowned Miss Deaf America. Ridloff was born deaf to hearing parents, and at 13 years of age made the decision to not use her voice. She hadn’t used her voice until she played Sarah Norman in Children of a Lesser God the play in 2018.
Ridloff truly has done so much over her career, including becoming the first deaf superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe for her role as Makkari in Eternals. In 2020 Ridloff was awarded the SAG-AFTRA Harold Russell Award. Lauren Ridloff also played Diane in the Academy Award-winning movie, “Sound of Metal.”
The first Deaf Black female attorney in the United States is Claudia Gordon. She lost her hearing at 8 years old while living in Jamaica with her mother. Claudia describes a woman known only to those around her as “dummy” as also being deaf. She didn’t know that then though and realizes that if her mother had not brought her to America her life may have ended up very different. She came to America at 11 years of age and learned sign language at the Lexington School for the Deaf.
That early understanding of lack of accessibility and resources is what pushed Gordon towards her field in law. Though many tried to dissuade her by telling her she wouldn’t be able to, especially because of her hearing loss, she still persevered. She graduated from Howard University with a bachelor’s in political science. She then went to Washington College of Law and graduated in 2000 making her the first known Black Deaf woman to earn a law degree.
And she took the world by storm after that. She had worked as an attorney at the National Association for the Deaf Law and Advocacy Center, was Vice President of the National Black Deaf Advocates from 2002-2055, was senior Policy Advisor for the Department of Homeland Securities Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, and even was appointed by the Obama Administration to the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) with the U.S. Department of Labor. Gordon Continues to push for change so that the world may be accessible to all.
Haben Girma is a disabilities rights advocate, born in California to Eritrean parents. Girma lost her hearing and sight at a young age and was able to benefit from the advances in America in the way of disability rights. Though still lacking in some areas, she was able to have certain devices to which her older bright, who is also deafblind, did not have when the family still lived in Eritrea.
Girma became the first deafblind person to graduate from Harvard Law, and she has gone on to do wonderful things for people with disabilities. She was a part of the lawsuit against Scribd for not providing access for blind readers. Scribd argued the ADA does not cover online, but in 2015 the U/S/ District Court of Vermont ruled it does. Haben was also recognized as a Champion of Change by former U.S. President Barack Obama. Girma continues to bring about change in the world.
Curtis Pride was named the Major League Baseball’s Ambassador for Inclusion in 2018. The Washington D.C. Native was born to two hearing parents, losing his hearing after his mother contracted rubella while pregnant with him. Curtis’s parents raised him oral, and he ended up learning ASL later in life.
All through his childhood, he excelled at sports. From soccer to swimming, gymnastics, and even basketball. He would go to college at Mary College on a basketball scholarship. During this time he was asked to play baseball and eventually stayed in college longer to play in the minor leagues. Although sports was a passion of his, finance was as well, and Curtis graduated with a degree in finance.
Curtis retired in 2008 and went on to coach baseball at Gallaudet University. In 2014 he was head coach of Team USA in Japan at the World Physically Challenged Tournament. Curtis, a father to two hard-of-hearing children, has contributed so much to the awareness and acceptance of Deaf and HOH people in sports.