Untold Narratives

African Americans Who Received Special Education Services and Succeeded Beyond Expectations

Edited by:
Shawn Anthony Robinson, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Published 2018

This edited book reflects a much needed area of scholarship as the voices of African American (AA) or Black students defined by various labels such as learning disability, blindness/visual impairment, cognitive development, speech or language impairment, and hearing impairment are rare within the scholarly literature. Students tagged with those identifiers within the Pk-20 academic system have not only been ignored, and discounted, but have also had their learning framed from a deficit perspective rather than a strength-based perspective. Moreover, it was uncommon to hear first person narratives about how AA students have understood their positions within the general education and special education systems.

Therefore, with a pervasive lack of knowledge when it comes to understanding the experiences of AA with disabilities, this book describes personal experiences, and challenges the idea that AA students with disabilities are substandard. While this book will emphasize successful narratives, it will also provide counter-narratives to demystify the myth that those with disabilities cannot succeed or obtain terminal degrees. Overall, this edited book is a much needed contribution to the scholarly literature and may help teachers across a wide array of academic disciplines in meeting the academic and social needs of AA students with disabilities.


Dr. Shawn Robinson’s collection of personal narratives raises critical questions about the U. S. public education system. Written by African Americans compartmentalized in special education programs because of actual or perceived disabilities, these stories will impel readers even tangentially affiliated with educational institutions to consider testing, placement, mainstreaming, retention and promotion, and other assessment policies that determine grade-level readiness. Thanks to Robinson, the perspectives of these graduates who surmounted barriers to more positive and accommodating learning environments now receive proper attention. ~ John Pruitt, University of Wisconsin-Rock County

With a bold vision, Dr. Shawn Anthony Robinson enters the discussion of Special Education with a collection of narratives that highlight the struggles and triumphs of marginalized students. In America, we have a long, contested history of “inclusion” of students of color and difference in our public, mainstream institutions. When these students are invited to the education table, they still must overcome persistent and pernicious barriers to true and equal educational opportunities. Consequently, students are left to “sink or swim” in oceans disparity and inequity. This collection of narratives and counter-narratives, confront the absence of adequate research and other empirical evidence of pedagogy and practice that would be essential to 21st Century progress in educational praxis. This volume represents one, important step towards adding new voices to the continuing struggle of meaningful inclusion. How might students of color and difference succeed in an education system that provides “no room to bloom? The authors address this challenge by exploring topics such as Aspirational Capital, Linguistic Capital, Familial Capital, Social Capital, Navigational Capital and Resistance Capital. The reader will be exposed to ideas that will help students “make a way out of no way” by working both within and against educational systems full of barriers and opportunities. Congratulations to Dr. Robinson and his colleagues as the content of this volume represents an important contribution to the extant literature. ~ Gregory A. Diggs , Denver, Colorado

Foreword: The Narrative Experiences of African Americans With Disabilities: A Call for Critical Reflection. Introduction: Untold Narratives: African Americans Who Received Special Education Services and Succeeded Beyond Expectations, Shawn Anthony Robinson. PART I: SETTING THE STAGE. Historical Policy Analysis of Educational Policies for the Differently Abled in America, Jody A. Fields and Kristie Roberts-Lewis. Structural Segregation, Disproportionate Representation, and Disabling Assumptions in Special Education: A Black Educator’s Narrative, Saran Stewart and David Kennedy. PART II: TRANSFORMATIVE FRAMEWORK: STORIES FROM AFRICAN-AMERICAN MEN. Accessing Special Education: The Lived Experience of a Black Male with Learning Disabilities, Amar Abbott. A Voice Within: How Private Speech Continues to Propel One Man to Academic Success, Russell Ewell. Insecurities of Special Education: What It’s Like to Be Black, Male, and Learning Disabled, Ronnie Nelson Sidney. II. PART III: TRANSFORMATIVE FRAMEWORK: STORIES FROM AFRICAN-AMERICAN WOMEN. It Can Be Done, Danyelle Cerillo. Otosclerosis: The Invisible Disease, Aunye Boone. Not About the Disability, But the Ability to Succeed, Oluwakemi Elufiede. PART IV: CULTURAL CAPITAL CLASSROOM ACTIVITY. Cultural Capital Classroom Activity. Afterword. About the Editor.


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