Episode 49: Unpack Your Ableism, Create REAL Change in Your Child’s Educational Curriculum, & Don’t Forget to Check Your Privilege with Heather Clarke


Click here to read the episode transcript.


It’s true – you can be Black and neurodivergent and STILL have privilege or ableist tendencies… but how does this relate to children’s education?

In this episode, Heather Clarke and I talk about how to better show up for your community, how to advocate for your child’s education, the role of anti-Blackness and ableism in the parenting space, and why it’s important for every parent to unpack their ableism and privilege.

Heather Clarke is a Black Afro Caribbean educational disability advocate, a professor of special education and child development, and mother of two. She is also neuro-divergent with an invisible disability, has over 20 years of experience working as a teacher in the field of educational justice and policy, and is a universal design for learning expert. Additionally, Heather helps administer several local advocacy groups focused on addressing Anti-Black racism, ableism, and dismantling white supremacy, and other educational needs in her local community.

Do you want to show up more for your community’s educational system and better advocate for your children, but don’t know where to begin?

Heather encourages you to start locally, and specifically, start at your local school board. Who’s running for PTA? What time are they meeting? What changes need to be made in your neighborhood to better serve parents and students? If you have demands that need to be heard, make them heard because the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Vote in your local elections, get a position on the school board or in the PTA, meet with your child’s teachers, and figure out how to be a better accomplice to your kids in the fight for equality. Feel free to take someone with you, whether it be an aunt, parent, friend, cousin, or whomever, to be your witness, affirm you, and support you in the fight. Finally, always keep a paper or digital/email trail of your communications.

Ultimately, we need curriculum that reflect our students, that’s pro-Black, that’s pro-Disability, that’s pro-Gender Equality, etc.

“It’s not that people who work in education don’t like children, they get caught up in the system and then the system makes them believe that if we act this way or we teach this way, then the children will grow up and respectability themselves out of anti-Blackness or poverty,” Heather says. “I would say to parents, know you’re operating in these systems but work on making those one-on-one connections with the educators in your child’s lives… When you make those one-on-one connections, you can really move mountains.”

Anti-Blackness and Ableism in Black Parenting 

Everyone has expectations in their mind of who their child is going to be and how their life is going to turn out. Though, children are hardly ever what you expect them to be… and oftentimes, they hold special powers that we need to uncover. 

 “A lot of times, in the Black community, we have our instincts that are natural and innate in us and also come from our ancestors, but we, due to white supremacy and the forces here that are so strong… we have suppressed them so much that we don’t listen to them,” Heather says. “So we have stopped listening to those little voices in our heads that say “we should get this checked out”.”

As a child, Heather was told that her neurodivergence could be “prayed away”. That ableism and anti-Blackness don’t come from our ancestors. A diagnosis doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with your child. A diagnosis is a guide that helps you figure out what will enable your child to learn, grow, and thrive in life.

Since my diagnosis and Gia’s diagnosis, the best thing that I have learned to do is to be a better advocate for her with my family. Without being offensive or controlling, I make sure Gia’s boundaries are respected while letting her family members know how to navigate and respect her boundaries and her humanity. When it comes to family, we can feel stuck in a sense of being seen and treated as younger, but it’s important to advocate for your child and stand up for what you know is right for them. 

Unpacking Your Ableism and Your Privilege

To unpack your ableism, Heather recommends you first become conscious of your vocabulary and the programmed language you use each day. Start listening to the Disability Community, especially Black, non-CisHet disabled voices. Surround yourself and your children with different types of people. Don’t avoid disabled people or pretend they don’t exist. If your child is curious about people with disabilities, treat it as a teaching/learning opportunity to open their eyes to and normalize the diversity of humanity.

We keep talking about building a village, right? We may not have the same village our ancestors had, but when we start doing these investigations and finding solutions, we can start building a real village for ourselves, our children, and future generations.

I will always return to the fact that there’s privilege in conscious parenting, positive parenting, and gentle parenting. Yes, I have ADHD, but I’m still able-bodied. That’s a privilege that I have. Understanding my privilege helps me to find solutions for people who don’t have certain things. If you refuse to acknowledge your privilege and dismantle your internalized ableism, no solutions will be found.

Are you ready to lead with acceptance, dismantle ableism, and see real change in your child’s education? Tune into this discussion to learn more!

Then, join us in the Conscious Parenting for Social Justice Collective, our Black-led, multiracial collective of parents, working together to simultaneously transform ourselves, our families, and our communities by decolonizing our minds! What are you waiting for? See you there!

P.S. Heather is hosting a workshop for parents on navigating the IEP process with a culturally responsive lens during the Parenting Decolonized Conference (May 20th-22nd, 2022). Don’t miss it!

About Crystal Menzies (she/her):
Heather Clarke is a Black Afro Caribbean mother of 2 small children. She is also neuro-divergent, with an invisible disability. She has over 20 years of experience working as a teacher and in the field of educational justice and policy. She is an abolitionist educator and universal design for learning expert with more than 20 years’ experience working with children and families with disabilities both in the United States and in other countries. Through Heather’s Learning Advocacy LLC business, she consults with parents and guardians to help them with the process of educational evaluations and the creation and implementation of IFSPs, IEPS, and 504 Plans. She also consults with businesses, organizations, and educators about topics related to racial Diversity Equity, and Inclusion, with a focus on the Disability community. Heather is an Early Childhood and Special Education adjunct professor at Queen’s College, Brooklyn College CUNY, and New York University. She is also a Field Mentor to student teachers at NYU. Additionally, Heather helps administer several local advocacy groups focused on addressing Anti-Black racism, ableism and dismantling white supremacy, and other educational needs in her local community.

Heather provides Universal Design for learning curriculum and culturally responsive training for education professionals, therapists, teachers, and administrators.

Heather has recently been honored as a Change Maker for Black History Month by New York City’s Public Advocate’s office for her work on “dismantling white supremacy and ableism in education”. 

To connect further with Heather:
Visit her website: www.learning-advocate.com
Follow her on Instagram: www.instagram.com/learning_advocate
Follow her on Twitter: www.twitter.com/learnadvocate 

Read the TRANSCRIPT here: click here