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Remembering Disabilities Advocates of Minorities Organization (DAMO) (1998-2002)
by co-founder, Gary Norris Gray
DAMO has many meanings in many different cultures. In Korean it was a very popular television miniseries and in Asia it translated to an undercover female detective in the historical Joseon Dynasty. DAMO also means Tea Lady in Korean. In the Philippines the word DAMO in Tagalog means grass. DAMO is also a historical town in northeastern Somalia, but for African American disabled residents in the San Francisco Bay area DAMO would mean freedom, justice, and equality.
In 1972 four white disabled residents at the University of California, Berkeley started a movement for disabled Americans. These four young college students wanted to go to college without being segregated and discriminated against. They would create an organization as we know today as The Center for Independent Living. This organization would assist disabled residents with legal aid, housing, employment, and attendants to help them in their residents.
This movement spread throughout America, creating baby CIL's all over this nation. Disabled folk became visible, vocal, and political. This new, late 1970's-early 80's political movement lacked disabled people of color in leadership roles.
DAMO would try to correct this omission with its founders Gary Norris Gray and Leroy F. Moore Jr. in 1998-2002. This group would be a place where one could express all of their thoughts, dreams, and wishes, a place where they could create new political action and thoughts without being criticized or demeaned. A place where the Black/Brown point of view was expressed and explored with monthly meetings. DAMO also created an artistic arm called New Voice: Disabled Artists & Poets of Color.
DAMO along with other grass roots organizations across the country became the answer that the disabled movement refused to recognized or discuss. Black and other disabled people of color were invisible to the disabled movement yet an ever growing force, DAMO helped change that with poetry, song, and public speaking to the dominant disability community and the greater Black community.
In the San Francisco Bay area, DAMO released a new wave of disabled activists, a new set of hungry young disabled fighters for freedom, justice and equality that would not take no as an answer and not wait for the disabled community for assistance.
It is important that we document the work of Black disabled grassroots organizations....it is our Black disabled history.