Michael Graham is being honored as a Champion of Change for his efforts in Educational Excellence for African Americans.
I am truly honored and feel very blessed to be selected as a White House Champion of Change for my advocacy of children with disabilities and special needs that learn differently and are truly are exceptional. The parents of these children greatly need our support in helping their children get the best education possible. These supports will make contributions to our communities nationwide.
I have come to learn through advocating for children with special needs that your passion will position you for your purpose. May 12, 1999, is when my journey began. On that date, my daughter, Catherine Imani Graham, who happens to have Downs Syndrome, was born. She is now thirteen years old, in the sixth grade, and doing very well. My passion is renewed daily each time I look at her and other children like her.
After several years of my wife and I not knowing what we didn’t know about Catherine’s education, we became frustrated. My journey to this award started with a program I found out about in 2005 called Partners in Policymaking. This is a leadership training course for parents of children with disabilities. Finding out what I didn’t know as a parent, along with the reality that much of the information given prior to that point was inaccurate, made my future path clear.
My anger was replaced and repackaged as advocacy. Having information and not sharing it would be perpetuating that system of inaccuracies concerning parents and our children with disabilities. It was vital to me to consider the culture of our schools, the assumptions, unchallenged beliefs, and attitudes that surround special needs children, their education, and the families that love and support them. Becoming a change agent with visibility was a must. Being a veteran and having served in the Air Force Reserve for twelve years as a flight medical technician reinforced my commitment to serve at a deeper personal level.
The National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDSE) in Washington, DC and the IDEA Partnership there has been instrumental in my growth for the last eight years. Their mentoring and opportunities have given me ways of having an impact on public education and policies for children in special education. On a local level, I am a former board of director’s member for the ARC of South Carolina, part of the Special Education Task Force of the state superintendent South Carolina Department of Education, and on the Executive Committee of the South Carolina Advisory Council on the Education of Students with Disabilities. On a federal level, I am a part of the IDEA Partnership, invited by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) to be a evaluator of a funded project. These are just a few mentioned occasions where I was able to be the balancing voice of a parent at the table when policy is being developed on all levels concerning our children with special needs and their education. This is my chosen avenue for helping to transform communities into greatness and challenging the achievement gaps of all of our children.
This focus has deepened specifically in the last year as I joined the African American Children with Learning Disabilities (AACLD). I am currently serving as the chair of their Parent Training Institute Advisory Commission. Nancy Tidwell, I am forever grateful for your recognition of my passion and giving me the opportunity to share it through your organization. My goal is to give one small step of encouragement to other parents involved with their children’s education so I can help them to do even greater things.
The two things that drive me now are quotes: “Let each become all that they are capable of becoming;” and Proverbs 31:8-9: “Open thy mouth for those unable to speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are desolate and defenseless; Open your mouth, judge righteously and plead the cause of the poor and needy.”
Michael Granham works at the Durham VA Medical Center