Celebrating Pioneers of Black History

First African American/Black individual to become the President of RID.

I had the good fortune of being exposed to visual language and communication from about the age of 10 to 16 at which point I entered an interpreter training program. I began interpreting in 1993 and then started work as a full-time professional interpreter in 1994. Over the years my work in ASL interpretation has taken a variety of twists and turns. While I’ve had the opportunity to really dive into different specialties in the field, I have had regular study/training and consistent experience in visual-gestural communication and mental health interpreting. Mentoring, teaching, curriculum development and facilitation also have all been important parts of my work over the years.

First African American/Black woman to become VP of RID, also first AA/B woman to conduct the RID business meeting at national conference.

Erica West Oyedele, MA, NIC, co-director of Project CLIMB, has interpreted professionally since 2004, working primarily as an independent contractor in government, business and medical settings. She has presented workshops on leadership, power, privilege, and oppression, social justice and regularly facilitates discussions on the topic of intersectionality and social justice in the field of interpreting. In addition to interpreting, she currently works as a
Department Chair of American River College’s Interpreter Preparation Program. Prior to that, she was an Adjunct Professor at the University of Northern Colorado teaching courses on Discourse, Mock Interpreting, and Multicultural Communication.

In March of 2015, she received her Master’s in Interpreting Studies and completed research for her thesis titled, “Persistence of African American/Black Interpreters: The Importance of Culture and Capital”. Her primary research interests include social justice in the field of interpreting and the recruitment and retention of signed language interpreters of color.

Erica has a history of giving back to the interpreting community. She has served the Sacramento Valley RID as Treasurer, Vice President, and President. Each position was a two-
year term. She has also served twice as a committee member during RID Region V conferences (2008 & 2012), served as the Events Committee Chair for the National Alliance of Black Interpreters (NAOBI) conference, was the Correspondence Secretary for NAOBI, was Chair for RID’s Interpreters and Transliterators of Color member section for two terms, and was Region V Representative.

First known African American/Black woman to receive her national certification from RID – 1977.

Born and raised in Washington, D.C., Shirley was considered by many within the deaf and hearing community as an exemplar for music interpretation into American Sign Language (ASL). Always passionate about her work, Shirley was a skilled professional who was one of the first known African Americans to receive her national certification from the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf in 1977. She was a proud CODA (Child of Deaf Adults) who learned ASL from her Deaf parents and later explored interpreting as a work option, which later turned into her legacy.

Perhaps most known for her 37 years serving as a member of the acapella group, Sweet Honey in the Rock, she leaves a legacy of her gift of providing unparalleled interpretations of the music and poetry of the group.

Early in Shirley’s career, she provided interpreting services for a variety of life experiences – for students in high school and college classrooms, for employees in staff meetings, job training, and professional conferences, in legal settings and in religious services. In health care, Shirley interpreted with the Mental Health Program for the Deaf at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, and with Project Access of Deafpride, Inc., who sponsored her first international assignment to Nairobi, Kenya as interpreter for a Deaf delegate to a United Nations conference.

Shirley’s extensive performing arts interpreting include an off-Broadway production of Lost in the Stars, and with a host of artists including Bernice Johnson Reagon, Linda Tillery and the Cultural Heritage Choir, Toshi Reagon and Big Lovely, Holly Near, Pete Seeger, and In Process. Shirley also interpreted for such stellar writers as Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, and Audrey Lorde.

Shirley was first to recognize the need for more African-American interpreters when she founded the organization BRIDGES to focus attention on Black Deaf consumers and interpreters. Shirley was also a founding member of the organization Black Deaf Advocates. The Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf published a tribute to her entitled Shirley Childress Johnson, the Mother of Songs Sung in ASL, pointing out the distinction Shirley has brought to the field. Shirley has been recognized for her interpreting service to the community with awards from Deaf advocacy organizations the Silent Mission Circle at Shiloh Baptist Church, Deafpride, Inc., Women Unlimited, and National Alliance of Black Interpreter, District of Columbia chapter.

Shirley held a bachelor’s degree in Deaf Education from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and a Honorary Doctorate Degree received from Chicago Theological Seminary. She authored several articles on her experiences as a CODA and her work as a Sign language interpreter and also was a recipient of the Trailblazer Award presented by the National Alliance of Black Interpreters based in Washington, DC. Shirley’s sons, Reginald and Deon, and sisters Maxine and Khaula all know American Sign Language.

Shirley’s passion for providing language access to the arts will be etched in the annals of history, her contributions to the interpreting community will forever be honored. *Thank you Gallaudet University for the biography*

First President of NBDA.

Sheryl D. Emery, M.A., has been named as director of the Division on Deaf & Hard of Hearing (DODHH). She will also serve as assistant director of the Commission on Disability Concerns and senior staff liaison to the DODHH governor-appointed advisory council.

“Sheryl has the extensive knowledge and experience we need to advance the indisputable rights of 1.4 million deaf and hard of hearing individuals in Michigan,” said Department of Labor & Economic Growth (DLEG) Director Stanley “Skip” Pruss. “Providing equal access to accurate communication is priority #1 for Sheryl which will help ensure all of our citizens can succeed in education and employment opportunities as we continue to transform Michigan’s economy.”

As director of DODHH, Emery will oversee the testing and certification of sign language interpreters seeking Quality Assurance level certification from the state of Michigan now required by law, Public Acts 23 and 24 of 2007, which amended PA 204 of 1982, the Deaf Persons’ Interpreters Act. This legislation calls for interpreters to be certified by DODHH to work in the state of Michigan and also fines interpreters and appointing authorities in violation of the law. Emery will also work with all state departments to ensure adequate accommodation strategies for deaf and hard of hearing consumers.

Emery was previously assistant director of Deaf C.A.N. (Community Advocacy Network) located in Sylvan Lake, MI. From 1987-2000, she worked as a vocational rehabilitation counselor for the deaf with Michigan Rehabilitation Services (MRS) in Mt. Clemens, Clinton Township, and Warren, MI. During her 13-year tenure with MRS, she placed hundreds of deaf and hard of hearing people into employment and helped them to attain access to technical or liberal arts college education.

Emery has also served on the state mental health advisory board on deafness, the Division on Deafness Advisory Board, National Missions Advisory Panel and as a consultant for the National Council on Interpreting. In 1982, at age 23, Emery became the first national director of National Black Deaf Advocates (NBDA), the oldest and largest consumer and advocacy organization serving thousands of deaf and hard of hearing African-Americans.

A native of Kansas City, Mo., Sheryl received an associate’s degree from Johnson County Community College, a bachelor’s degree in social work from Gallaudet University, and a master’s degree in rehabilitation from New York University.

The DODHH was established by P.A. 72 of 1937 as the Division of Deaf and Deafened. In 2002 it was renamed to the Division on Deaf and Hard of Hearing by Executive Order and provides such services as technical support, workplace assessment, barrier free consultation, information and referrals, accommodations, interpreter information and services, and research and statistics.

The DODHH is an agency within the Department of Labor & Economic Growth (DLEG), Michigan Commission on Disability Concerns (MCDC), which was created in 1949 by Gov. G. Mennen Williams and established under state law by P.A. 11 in 1968. MCDC provides statewide leadership to empower and integrate people with disabilities into all aspects of society and serves as the only state agency that responds to issues impacting all of Michigan’s 1.9 million citizens with disabilities.

First President of NAOBI, INC.

Anthony J. Aramburo is a retire Associate Professor of Education where he taught at Xavier University of Louisiana in both the Department of Education and Counseling and the Language Department. His doctorate
degree is in Special Education with an emphasis on deafness. Dr. Aramburo was instrumental in establishing American Sign Language classes at Xavier offered through the Language Department.

Soon after graduating from Delgado Community College’s Interpreter Education Program, he obtained his certification from the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf and began working as a community American Sign
Language Interpreter. He later went on to earn a master’s degree from Gallaudet University. He returned to New Orleans and worked as a Rehabilitation Counselor for the Deaf before entering the doctoral program at the University of New Orleans where he earned his Ph.D.

Dr. Aramburo has served on the RID Board of Directors as Member-at-Large, former Journal of Interpretation Editor, member of the RID Diversity Committee, Chair of the ITOC Special Interest Group, co-chaired two national RID Conferences, and is currently serving on the Board of Managers with the Center for Assessment of Sign Language Interpreters (CASLI). In 1999 he was presented with the Judie Hustead Leadership award at RID’s conference in Boston, MA. He was also involved with the Conference of Interpreter Trainers (CIT) where he served as secretary. Through CIT he functioned as a former Commissioner on the Commission on Collegiate Interpreter Education (CCIE). Anthony is active in the National Black Deaf Advocates. He was presented with the NBDA President’s Distinguished Service Award at their conference in New Orleans in 2013. Locally, he actively gives of his time serving on the Board of the New Orleans Black Deaf Advocates.