With February marked as National African-American History month, we wanted to highlight the achievements of some important African Americans with hearing loss.
Andrew Foster was born in Ensley, Alabama in 1925. He lost his hearing at age 11 after suffering from spinal meningitis. Interested in a career in education, in 1954 he became the first deaf African American to graduate from Gallaudet College and later was the first African American to earn a master’s degree from Eastern Michigan State University. He then earned a third degree, a master’s, from Seattle Pacific Christian College.
In 1957 Foster visited Africa for the first time. He encountered a culture that was so ashamed of their deaf and hard of hearing citizens that many parents hid their deaf children or abandoned them altogether. Hearing missionaries even told Foster that ‘deaf children didn’t exist in Africa’. Against the backdrop of his own country where African Americans were rarely allowed an education, Andrew Foster established 31 schools in Africa for the deaf and hard of hearing. Before the end of his life, he had established schools in Benin, Congo, Chad, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and Cameroon. A devoutly religious man, Foster taught sign language to many African children with a goal that they would eventually be able to sign his favorite verse by Isaiah: “In that day, the deaf will hear the words of the book.” His life was cut tragically short by a plane crash in Rwanda in 1985, causing the African American community to lose an immense leader and educator.
Osei and Adei Morris
Here in the United States we may look toward individuals who are pursuing their own dreams in spite of their profound hearing loss. Osei Morris and his brother, Adei, are both deaf yet they had the courage to pursue their dreams of playing professional basketball. The brothers come from an African American family that does not otherwise exhibit any hearing loss. The two taught themselves how to play the game and find success where they otherwise could have been excluded for excuses of ‘handicap’. If the basketball community had not come to the notion that hearing loss is less a ‘handicap’ than it is a different way of experiencing being human, then they would have excluded tremendous talent from the game.
With February being marked as National African-American History month, exploring African-Americans who have made an impact for those with hearing loss is certainly topical. However, perhaps, above all else, we must try to remember that hearing loss is not more or less of an issue because of one’s racial, cultural, or genetic associations. Instead of dwelling on how and who is affected by hearing loss, we must look for the ways in which we can improve each other’s quality of life, like Mr. Foster or the Morris brothers have done.