February is Black History Month and we are excited to celebrate amazing individuals with autism from the black community.
Here are a few!
Kalin Bennett: Division 1 Basketball Player
In 2019, Kalin Bennett was the first student-athlete with autism recruited by and awarded an NCAA Division 1 Basketball Scholarship by Kent State University.
After his autism diagnosis at a young age, Bennett was told that he may never be able to walk or talk. Despite this, he has excelled in sports, as well as in math and music.
Michael (Hot Mike) Buckholtz: Music Producer
In 1982, at 16, Michael Buckholtz started his career at a local TV affiliate, as the youngest station switcher at WGXA 24. He would go on to work as a Top 40 DJ, join MC Hammer’s record label, and receive recognition for his work on the multi-Diamond rated “Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em” album.
In 1989, Buckholtz moved to California to pursue his music career and joined MC Hammer’s record label, Bust-It Records. In 1991 he moved to Los Angeles and began working on soundtracks for television. And in 2007 he founded Sunlight International Management. He also established the Aid for Autistic Children Foundation and authored Autism Is My Universe.
Ronaldo Byrd: Artist
Ronaldo Byrd is a self-taught artist who has been compared to other artists such as Grandma Moses. Byrd began drawing and painting when he was only three years old and has developed over 200 characters. His work has been featured in newspapers, magazines, and more!
Byrd believes that everyone is beautiful and has something to offer the world.
Anita Cameron: Disability Rights Activist
As one of the original disability rights activists, Anita Cameron has been arrested over 100 times while protesting various disability rights issues ranging from wheelchair lifts on buses to expansion of home care. She even worked on the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Cameron currently serves as the director of minority outreach for the national disability rights organization Not Dead Yet.
Breanna Clark: Paralympic Athlete
Daughter of Olympic silver medalist Rosalyn Clark, Breanna Clark is a two-time Paralympic gold medalist athlete.
Diagnosed at four years old with autism, Clark is the first female US athlete with an intellectual disability to win a Paralympic medal. She took the Gold medal in the Women’s 400-meter at the Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.
Dr. Angel Durr: Ph.D. & AI Scientist, Entrepreneur, Speaker, Professor & Disability Advocate
Dr. Angel Durr is a first-generation college graduate, who earned her Ph.D. at 31 while raising her younger siblings. She received her autism diagnosis while working on her Ph.D.
Dr. Durr is a mother and the owner of DataReady DFW. DataReady DFW is a nonprofit organization focused on using strategic data, AI, and RPA tech to serve the needs of marginalized populations. She also is a Lecturer at the University of Nevada in the Analytics Online MBA Program.
Morenike Giwa-Onaiwu: Activist & Author
Morénike Giwa-Onaiwu is a global activist, author, and community leader passionate about human rights, justice, and inclusion. She is also a proud mother of six children.
As a disabled person of color, Giwa-Onaiwu is involved in various social justice advocacy areas, including neurodiversity, anti-HIV stigma, and racial/gender equity. She has spoken at the White House, the United Nations, and various conferences, receiving awards for her advocacy. Giwa-Onaiwu holds executive roles in national organizations and serves on federal committees, emphasizing her commitment to lifelong learning.
Lamar Hardwick: Pastor & Author
Lamar Hardwick, also known as “the autism pastor,” is the lead pastor at Tri-Cities Church in East Point, Georgia. He is the author of Epic Church and the best-selling I Am Strong: The Life and Journey of an Autistic Pastor. His writing has been published by various websites such as The Mighty, The Huffington Post, Key Ministry, and The Autistic Self Advocacy Network.
In 2014, at the age of 36, after years of struggling with social anxiety, sensory processing disorder, and a host of other significant issues, Hardwick was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
Hardwick now provides workshops, seminars, and consults with local churches and faith-based organizations on creating environments for people with autism. He also mentors teens and young adults on the autism spectrum.
John “Doomsday” Howard: MMA Fighter
John Howard is a mixed martial arts (MMA) competitor. Howard started as an electrician before pursuing his professional career as a fighter.
As a full-contact sport, MMA fighters are required to undergo regular medical screenings. During a standard neurological exam, Howard’s doctor noticed specific patterns from Howard’s childhood. This discovery led to Howard’s autism diagnosis.
Kris McElroy: Writer, Advocate, & Artist
Kris McElroy is an autistic, biracial, black, transgender man. He is a writer, artist, and advocate passionate about social justice issues and exploring race, disabilities, gender identity and sexuality, mental health, and trauma. McElroy is the proud author of several self-published books.
In his spare time, McElroy enjoys spending time with his wife and family.
Morgan Harper Nichols: Artist
Morgan Harper Nichols is a mixed media artist from Atlanta and is currently pursuing an MFA at Lindenwood University.
Diagnosed with autism, ADHD, and SPD (sensory processing disorder) at age 31, Nichols uses art as a form of communication. Her work explores themes of creating space to breathe and recognizing personal growth.
Nichols is also the creator of the app “Storyteller,” runs the online shop Garden24, authored the WSJ Bestseller All Along You Were Blooming, and serves as Vice President on the Board of Directors for the mental health organization TWLOHA.
Kambel Smith: Artist & Autisarian
Kambel Smith is an artist who primarily works in cardboard and foam board. He is known for creating intricate large-scale sculptures of historical buildings. Smith is able to gauge perspective and scale without any formal training or measuring skills.
Autisarian is Smith’s family’s way of referring to autism. “An Autisarian is a person born with superhuman abilities due to the condition called autism… The Autisarian symbol serves as a beacon of light for the growing wave of autistic superhumans.”
Angela Weddle: Artist
Angela Weddle is an internationally exhibiting artist with autism, cerebral palsy, and congenital right-hemisphere brain damage. Weddle is a savant who has mentored and taught students of all ages about poetry and art.
Weddle works in both digital and traditional media and seeks to create a sensory immersive experience with her art. She draws influence from her autism, cerebral palsy, synesthetic aspects of music, especially jazz, light, sound, rhythm, daily life, urban and natural landscapes, and perceptual and psychological experiences.
Armani Williams: NASCAR Driver
Armani Williams is a professional stock car driver who currently competes in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. He has also competed in the ARCA Menards Series.
Williams was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) at age two and didn’t speak his first word until he was three years old.
As a child, Williams loved toy cars and fell in love with the sport by watching NASCAR on television. He began racing go-karts when he was eight and attended a competitive go-karting school.
Not only is Williams one of the few African-American drivers in NASCAR, this 23-year-old is the first professional NASCAR driver openly diagnosed with ASD. Williams uses the sport to build awareness and draw support to individuals with autism.