30 Years of NBDA History: The People, The Leadership, and The Movement

Contributed by Dr. Glenn Anderson, Kari Cooke, Sheryl D. Emery, Benro Ogunyipe, Pamela Lloyd-Ogoke, Brian Lucas, & Thomas Samuels

This year, National Black Deaf Advocates (NBDA) joins with thousands of Black Deaf and Hard of Hearing people around the world in celebrating its 30th Anniversary, an important milestone in deaf history. Yes, believe it or not, this organization has been in existence since 1982! NBDA may often go unnoticed in the eyes of general public, especially compared to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2009, and the National Association of the Deaf (NAD), which has been in existence for more than 130 years. The NBDA’s legacy is, at least in part, intertwined with some of the historical developments of the NAD. For example, in 1925, the NAD prohibited membership for Black Deaf Americans. Forty years evolved before the NAD opened up membership for Black Deaf Americans. 

The history of NBDA began in 1980 when a small group of local Black Deaf people in the District of Columbia met with the Board of Deaf Pride, an advocacy organization for the Deaf. They expressed their concerns about discrimination and issues that were preventing the advancement of Black Deaf people, underrepresentation in higher educational and economic success. They were also concerned about the overall lack of representation and leadership in national, state, and local organizations representing the interests of Deaf Americans.    

At the 100th anniversary of the NAD in July 1980, a Black deaf caucus was held. Lead by Charles “Chuck” V. Williams of Ohio, Sandi LaRue and Linwood Smith of Washington, D.C., they presented issues of the NAD’s lack of attentiveness to the concerns of Black Deaf Americans as well as the lack of representation of Black Deaf individuals as convention delegates. Sandi LaRue issued a statement to the convention attendees, noting that: NAD must take action to communicate better with the Black deaf community, encourage the involvement of minorities’ within the national and state organizations, and recruit more Black Deaf children in the Junior NAD and youth leadership camp. The July 6, 1980 Cincinnati Inquirer newspaper published an article on the needs of Black Deaf people at the NAD convention in which Sandi LaRue stated “We would like to get on the cover and front pages.” And they did! The Cincinnati Enquirer article “Need of Deaf Blacks Recognized”, July 6, 1980 (PDF)

Using this call to action, the momentum stayed strong, and a local Black Deaf committee in D.C. began the work on planning a mini-conference by, for, and about the Black Deaf experience. The first Black Deaf Conference entitled “Black Deaf Experience” was held on June 25-26, 1981 at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Charles “Chuck” V. Williams proposed hosting a national conference in Ohio the following year. Thus on August 13-15, 1982, in the heart of downtown Cleveland, Ohio, Black Deaf people from all over the United States met again to address cultural and racial issues impacting the Black Deaf community. The conference theme “Black Deaf Strength through Awareness” drew more than 300 conference attendees. A debate was held as to whether a national organization should be formed. The idea was accepted. Hence a new organization – National Black Deaf Advocates – was officially formed. The six founding members were instrumental in establishing NBDA: Lottie Crook, Ernest Hairston, Willard Shorter, Linwood Smith, Charles “Chuck” V. Williams, and Elizabeth “Ann” Wilson.

Since its establishment in 1982, NBDA has grown to over 30 local BDA Chapters, crowned 23 queens as Miss Black Deaf America, hosted 25 National Conferences including overseas sites in Jamaica and the Virgin Islands, provided thousands of advocacy services to its members, and as of today, conducting leadership training summits for minority college students and high school aged-youth. NBDA has had the privilege of having multiple Black Deaf leaders contribute their invaluable time and efforts to this esteemed organization. Many leaders in the Deaf community either got their start with NBDA or brought their leadership experience into this organization: Sheryl D. Emery (Executive Secretary & Executive Director of NBDA, 1983-‘87) is the current Director of the Michigan’s Division on Deaf and Hard of Hearing; Dr. Glenn Anderson (Member of the NBDA Board of Directors, 2005-’08, 2012-Present), first Black Deaf American to earn his doctorate degree and former Chairman of the Gallaudet University Board of Trustees for 11 years; Claudia Gordon, Esq. (Vice President, 2002-’05), first Black Deaf American Female lawyer, works for the Obama Administration; Pamela Lloyd-Ogoke (President, 1993-‘95 & 1995-‘97) is currently the Chief of Community Services for the North Carolina Division of Vocational Rehabilitation; Duane Halliburton (Treasurer, 2002-‘05) is currently a licensed financial agent and senior marketing director for Allianz and National Life Group and co-founder of Thompson and Halliburton, LLC; and Ernest E. Garrett III (President, 2009-‘11) is the current Executive Director of the Missouri Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. Pamela Lloyd-Ogoke, Claudia Gordon, Esq., and Duane Halliburton are currently members of the Gallaudet University Board of Trustees. Prospects for the future look promising with the emergence of new, young leaders in NBDA. We believe they have potential to make a difference both within the Black Deaf Community and within the American Deaf Community in general.

Throughout its 30 years of leadership, NBDA has made some important contributions towards implementing initiatives by collaborating with other organizations, including the NAD, the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID), and the National Alliance of Black Interpreters (NAOBI). NAOBI was born within NBDA in 1987. In 1995, when the RID Convention was hosted in New Orleans, LA, the then-NBDA President Pamela Lloyd-Ogoke was appointed as co-chair to serve on the NAD-RID Joint Task Force on Interpreter Issues concentrating on developing a new interpreter certification process that would represent all, including people of color. As a result, NAD and RID had a number of diverse deaf individuals and hearing interpreters among the five groups of the ad hoc committees. This led to the successful establishment of National Interpreter Certification (NIC) in 2005. The NAD went on to make a commitment to include diversity within the organization by including Pamela on the NAD leadership team for creating NAD Vision 20/20 Strategic Plan with Howard Rosenblum, who would later become the C.E.O. of NAD in 2011. One of the goals of the Vision 20/20 Strategic Plan was to implement diversity in all levels of NAD, including people of color on the board level. As a result, the NAD Board of Directors has become more diverse in recent years. Indeed, vision that started with a small group of Black Deaf individuals in 1980 has come full circle: honoring a desire for increased diversity in national, state, and local organizations of Deaf people. In all of NBDA’s successful collaborative efforts, NBDA continues to value partnership and work with other organizations to ensure inclusion of diverse groups of people in programs, services, and privileges intended to benefit all Deaf people.

On November 10, 2012, NBDA will host a 30th Anniversary Celebration Gala in Baltimore, Maryland to commemorate and celebrate NBDA’s years of advocacy. On behalf of NBDA, we would like to cordially invite everyone to join our celebration. Please visit website for more information. We look forward to seeing you there, and working with you to create a new legacy for the next 30 years.

Note: If you are interested in reading more information about the history of NBDA, please visit History page.



  • Burch, Susan. Signs of Resistance: American Deaf Cultural History, 1900 to World War II. New York: New York University Press, 2002.
  • McCaskill, Carolyn. The Hidden Treasure of Black ASL: Its History and Structure. Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet University Press, 2011
  • Tabak, John. Significant Gestures: A History of American Sign Language. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2006.


Posted in: NBDA Board, NBDA Staff, NBDA Members

« Back to Blog