In December 2021, Kenya Brown graduated from Community College of Philadelphia with her associate degree in Health Care Studies. When asked what inspired her to obtain her degree at 30, she said, “I wanted to improve my life.”
Kenya explained how difficult it has been to get hired because she has a disability. She says some employers don’t hire deaf people. She wants people to know that it doesn’t matter if she has a disability or not.
Kenya became deaf at 18 months old after having a high fever and traces of meningitis in her system which left her severely deaf while living in the Bahamas. At two and half years old, she received her first hearing aids. Without them, she can only hear loud noises.
Growing up, she says she didn’t have an interpreter until the 11th grade.
“I didn’t understand much about interpreters growing up,” Kenya said. “When I went to the doctor, they never suggested one. I didn’t realize that I could request one either. I’ve always wanted to be independent and on my own. But now I realize how helpful they are. It’s a blessing to have an interpreter.”
Despite not having an interpreter for most of her life, Kenya still thrived at everything she did. From dance competitions to basketball tournaments, she dominated the competition. She even says she was one of the fastest members on her track team.
“I’m a very motivated person – very assertive,” Kenya said. “I can’t sit and do nothing. I have to be active. I have to keep moving.”
That was exactly her mentality when she applied to the College back in 2013. However, she soon gave birth to her daughter and didn’t have anyone to watch her while she would be taking classes. She decided to wait for her daughter to get older and instead work and save money.
When she applied for the second time in 2018, she did some research and discovered that the College’s Center on Disability would provide resources to help her succeed. She says the Center helped her receive extensions for exams as well as connected her with interpreters for her classes, and even for group projects.
“The College’s Center on Disability is amazing,” Kenya said. “I’m so happy to have a college degree. I never thought I would make it. The Center helped empower me and now I know I can do anything on my own.”
Kenya currently works with students one-on-one as an intervener at the Overbrook School for the Blind. She is tasked with helping students gain access to environmental information, facilitating communication, and promoting overall social and emotional development.
Her next goal is to become a registered nurse. She is currently studying for the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) exam.
After she passes her NCLEX exam and earns her bachelor’s degree, Kenya is determined to obtain both a master’s degree and a PhD in nursing. She specifically wants to work with children.
“I don’t see a lot of deaf people working in the nursing field,” she said. “I want to encourage people with disabilities to pursue whatever they are passionate about. I want to prove that deaf people can do it. Deaf people can do anything.”
A poem written by Kenya titled I’m different but it’s ok, describes her journey as a person living with a disability and can be found below:
I am hard of hearing and it’s ok. I wasn’t born deaf,
I lost my hearing around 18 months,
It’s not my fault.
I wish I could hear everything,
Inside I was very disappointed,
I become hard of hearing.
I could use my voice but it might sound strange to you.
I was frustrated by the way I sound.
I have been through lots of identity struggles.
Later I learned sign language late around 4 years old,
Still frustrated by the way I sign.
Few years later I am getting better.
I have to accept me for who I am.
Can you see me for me and not my disability?
How much I need to see and listen,
With my eyes but not my ears.
I’m hard of hearing and it’s ok. I’m just like you, but in a different way.
I’ll need some help, so please be kind,
A little patience, if you don’t mind.
Face to face is the cure!
But hard of hearing are still human beings,
With dreams, desires and needs.
To belong, just like everyone else.