RID Celebrates Black History Month with Former NBDA President, Benro Ogunyipe

A Word from NBDA Former President

Benro Ogunyipe (2011-2013)

Q1: Background information about yourself

Benro T. Ogunyipe has served as president, vice president and board chair of the National Black Deaf Advocates, Inc. from 2007 to 2013. Currently, he is a Senior Accessibility Specialist for the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS), Bureau of Accessibility and Job Accommodation in Chicago, Illinois. In this capacity since 2004, he directs and administers the bureau’s program and training activities to ensure department compliance with Titles I & II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the department’s legal obligations under the Illinois Human Rights Act. In 2014 and again in 2016, U.S. President Barack Obama appointed Benro to the National Council on Disability. Benro was also appointed by three different Illinois Governors to public bodies including twice as a Commissioner of the Illinois Deaf and Hard of Hearing Commission. He is the current Board member of the National Association of the Deaf. Benro received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Gallaudet University and a Master of Public Administration (M.P.A.) from DePaul University.

Q2: Please share your experience as the Past President of NBDA

It was the utmost honor and privilege to be elected as President of the National Black Deaf Advocates, Inc. (NBDA) serving from 2011 to 2013. Prior to commencing the role of President, I served two terms as Vice President under two different Presidents Fred Beam and then Ernest E. Garrett III. I took the opportunity to learn from Ernest’s explementary leadership, professionalism, and strategies in leading the advocacy organization for thousands of Black Deaf and Hard of Hearing Americans of all ages and backgrounds. Understanding Ernest’s passion for social changes for equal access including efforts for better education, employment and social services on behalf of the black deaf community, I continued the passion for the betterment under my tenure while Ernest went on to become the first black and deaf superintendent of Missouri School for the Deaf and eventually became the superintendent of Louisiana Special School District (which covers three school districts including Louisiana School for the Deaf). There were some unexpected challenges during my presidency and looking back, I was proud to coordinate with the NBDA team, stakeholders, sponsors, partners and professionals of all fields on advocacy initiatives to address and ensure inclusion of all Deaf people, including Black Deaf people, in programs, services, and opportunities. 

Q3: Please share 1-2 memorable moments working with NBDA

There were many memorable moments during my presidency working with NBDA including but not limited to: coordinated 30th anniversary mass celebration of the founding of NBDA in 2012; issued an open letter to Arkansas Governor’s Office over utilizing unqualified interpreter that featured on a local TV news; NBDA Secretary Sharon White discovered approximately seventy-five (75) former black deaf students at Kentucky School for the Deaf between the years of 1930 and 1955 were refused their high school graduation diplomas because of the color of their skin and worked with the Kentucky Department of Education to confer diplomas upon these individuals 60 years later; and issued an open letter called upon the Tacoma (Washington) Police Department, FBI, and Justice Department to conduct a thorough, transparent, and unbiased investigation into the black deaf woman’s arrest and tasered with the lack of interpreter provided. 

I’d like to think that this particular significant moment stands out during my tenure as president. It was in 2011 when black deaf people discovered in a new book published on the history of Black American Sign Language that prior to 1965, National Association of the Deaf (NAD) prohibited individuals who are black any right to membership and any right to vote. In my conversation with some of the black deaf elders who attended segregation for the deaf schools, they expressed to me that NAD never publicly apologized for discriminatory exclusion of black deaf people. One NAD board member found out and soon after, NAD got in touch with me. The NAD Board acknowledged that since 1965, NAD never recognized or formally shown regret for this denial and oppression to individuals on the basis of race. After NAD made efforts to widely circulate acknowledges and expresses sincere remorse and regret for the detrimental effects of its discriminatory exclusion of black deaf individuals from membership and voting privileges, both NAD CEO and President attended the 2013 NBDA Conference in New Orleans, LA and presented a certificate of resolution to black deaf seniors, which per se was a formal apology to black deaf community. It was the best closing moment of my presidency.  

Q4: Please share your perspective regarding the importance of diversity.

I thought that some people see diversity connected to different races. It should not always be the first thing in their minds when it comes to inclusion. The importance of diversity is to make sure that people from different walks of life including but not limited to dimensions of race, ethnicity, religious beliefs, physical abilities, social class, age, gender identity, and sexual orientation are represented and have a seat at the table when matters are important affecting their life and opportunities. If an organization hosts a conference or symposium intended to draw a diverse audience for matters important to them and you see five persons from the same race or ethnicity selected as keynote presenters, you know it does not reflect diversity and it is a failure for inclusion.