Written by Jamie Roscoe

NH Leadership Series applies for many grants and seeks foundation support to sustain the program. Yemi and her family were gracious enough to share their story (see below) with the IOD and we appreciate their support.

When Yemi emigrated from Nigeria to NH in 2010 she couldn’t envision a full life for her son, Tunmi, who experiences a wide-range of disabilities including microcephaly, intellectual disability, ADHD, and behavior disorder. Emotional pain related to his disabilities and quality of life deeply affected Yemi and her husband, who wanted the best for their son, but didn’t know how to achieve it. Without support and guidance, Tunmi attended three different, non-inclusive schools in three years. “Our son lost his social skills from attending restrictive schools,” Yemi said. “We lived day-by-day and feared for his future. We needed help.”

Thankfully, in the spring of 2016, Yemi found the assistance she and her family so desperately needed. She attended a New Hampshire Leadership Series outreach session intended to recruit refugees, immigrants, and people of color into its already vibrant community of disability leaders and advocates. At the session, she discovered that the program had a proven track record of helping individuals with disabilities and parents/siblings of individuals with disabilities significantly improve academic, health, and social outcomes for themselves, their families, and the greater disability community. She submitted an application, was accepted, and began her life-changing journey a few months later.

During the first session, Yemi learned about the history of the disability movement in New Hampshire and the role parents played in closing Laconia State School, the New Hampshire state institution where people who were branded as “feebleminded” and a danger to society were banished to a life of isolation and total segregation. The parent who led the charge, Freda Smith, served as the session’s guest speaker. She provided a first-hand account of how negative perceptions of people with disabilities can lead to systemic injustice. “Freda’s speech changed the way I see my son,” Yemi said. “I started seeing him as a unique person with his own ability. The session gave me hope and planted a seed of advocacy for my child.”

In addition to education, the NH Leadership Series immediately linked Yemi to vital resources and empowered her to take an active role in her son’s academic and healthcare planning. She enrolled Tunmi in Medicaid, improving his access to health and support services, and scheduled meetings with representatives from his school district and community mental health provider. “My son now has a speech therapist that comes to the home every week and a case manager from NH Healthy Families,” Yemi explained. Currently, she is working with the school district to get Tunmi included in traditional classroom settings and obtaining a much-needed communication device to help with his speech delays.

Yemi still has a lot of work to do, but now she has the skills, confidence, and network of support to make her vision for Tumni a reality. Their family’s future is bright because of the New Hampshire Leadership Series, and Yemi plans to spread this light and hope to others. Like a true leader and advocate, she is looking forward to sharing her knowledge and skills with others in the immigrant, African-American community, helping to ensure that the program’s far-reaching impact flourishes for years to come.

I feel like I can breathe now. The NH Leadership Series gave me hope for the future and a bundle of knowledge that set me and my family free forever.