Shenell McClurkin Thompson – MA, CEPF, Founder and CEO, Brick by Brick Consulting NC, LLC
He was absolutely adorable. My college roommate had her first child less than two years after I had my first son. One of my most vivid memories was his fascination with commercials and playing call and response with the pastor on Sunday mornings.
It wasn’t until years later that I remember her using the words, “Autistic.” I had no context of what that really meant for him. For her. For them. Today, he is an adult. Almost 25 years old. He works a part-time job, but his earnings have to be monitored to make sure he doesn’t lose his Social Security Disability Income (SSDI). He lives with his parents and has no desire to leave home. He has privilege.
My friend and her husband are college educated, middle-income black parents. Their privilege allowed them to access some of the best academic programs for their son, although it meant uprooting their other children. His disability, while challenging, does not mirror the financial instability many people of color with disabilities face.
National Disability Institute released the study, “Financial Inequality: Disability, Race and Poverty in America,” highlighting the harsh realities for people of color living with disabilities. This study, like most others that delve into the disparities people of color face, paints a grim picture of economic success. Three key findings from the study are particularly daunting:
- The likelihood of a person of color with a disability, specifically African-American, to live in poverty as an adult rises to 37 percent;
- Nearly 25 percent of people of color with disabilities are unemployed;
- Only 13 percent of adults with disabilities are college graduates, but only nine percent of African-American with disabilities will graduate from college.
Sadly, the tools and resources necessary to help shift individuals born into poverty don’t work for many people of color. Disparities in the education system, healthcare, social justice, employment and housing leave people of color scavenging to find suitable tools to navigate through challenges of financial stability. Not only is it necessary to shift the way we create opportunities for people of color, we must dismantle the intentional ways that they are excluded. The study suggests:
- It is time to increase awareness among communities of color about the prevalence of disabilities and how they impact financial stability.
- Continue to address the racial wealth gap. We must acknowledge how individuals living with disabilities fare far worse and must be included in the conversations happening nationally.
- Integrating Financial Capability into systems designed to support individuals with disabilities.
Today, I have an eight-year-old nephew on the spectrum. I know more about the hurdles he will face, not only as a black male, but also living with a disability. I understand that while it is challenging and exhausting, his parents have to advocate for every academic support required to help him master reading by the time he reaches the third grade. I know that we will have to stand up in spaces and discuss the asset limits that jeopardize his ability to escape asset poverty in his adulthood. His inabilities should never create a double jeopardy. It is incumbent on me and other responsible citizens to call out a system that imprisons people with disabilities in poverty.
About Shenell McClurkin Thompson
Shenell McClurkin Thompson is the Founder and CEO of Brick by Brick Consulting NC, LLC. Brick by Brick facilitates open dialogue, while addressing implicit bias, racism, systems and barriers that perpetuate disparities in: education, healthcare, social justice and financial stability for households of color, women and other marginalized communities. She leads this work through racial equity and justice conversations, financial education and coaching, strategic planning, leadership development, grant writing and motivational speaking.
Shenell is a graduate of Webster University with a dual Master’s of Arts in Management and Human Resources Development. For the past 15 years, she was employed at Financial Pathways of the Piedmont as the Division Director of Assets and Opportunities. During her tenure, she served as a financial educator, certified credit counselor, housing counselor and financial coach, economic literacy coordinator for the local Individual Development Accounts curriculum. Shenell found her passion in asset building efforts to eliminate asset poverty, barriers to financial stability and social justice. She serves in several leadership roles within the Winston-Salem/ Forsyth County Asset Building Coalition, the North Carolina Asset Alliance, Southern Region Asset Building Coalition and Prosperity Now. She sounds a clarion alarm to organizations by encouraging them to identify and dismantle the systemic barriers and policies that negate the successful outcomes of those they serve.