By Matthew Reeds
Black History Month is a time to reflect on our history, and activate our community for change. The precious stories of our past teach us valuable lessons that can be applied to today’s challenges.
One such story is that of my great uncle, Perry Benjamin Hall.
Hall had autism and grew up in the 1950s and 1960s– a time when autism was a very taboo subject. He was born and raised in Baltimore and was a product of the Baltimore City Public School System.
He attended Dunbar High School, but left school in the ninth grade. Hall was well known in the community, enjoyed reading, drawing, writing, and was very knowledgeable about Black history. In fact, he recorded our family’s history in various family archives.
Hall’s community and immediate family knew that he had a disability– however he was never properly diagnosed. We’ve made much progress since his time, but some artifacts of that generation are still present in the systemic challenges faced by the Black and autistic community today. The Reeds Fund is tackling these challenges. The Reeds Fund advances health-equity outcomes for individuals diagnosed with autism or sarcoidosis. To date, the fund has awarded over $3,000 in scholarships, donated over 300 hours of combined volunteer consultations to families with a family member who has autism, and the community events have attracted over 170 unique Baltimore City residents. However, even though these efforts are noble, autism is unfortunately not discussed in many households today. We still have much more work to do.
My family’s history with autism is Black history. Hall’s history is connected to my sister’s journey with autism. And Hall’s history is connected to my individual story as well. In his late 20’s and early 30’s he worked at Johns Hopkins Hospital in custodial services. Little did he know that in a short amount of time his great nephew, myself, would be a student at Johns Hopkins Carey Business School. Thanks to Hall, I am able to move his work forward.
Matthew Reeds is the founder and executive director of Reed’s Fund, an advocacy group that works to inform and support families affected by autism and sarcoidosis. To learn more about the work the fund does in the community, please visit us at reedsfund.org.