By Megan Sayles, AFRO Business Writer,
Report for America Corps Member,
Bowie State University (BSU) rising senior Paige Blake has a disability, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at her. When she was four years old, she was diagnosed with a rare form of spina bifida, a condition that affects the spine.
Because her condition is not physically apparent, Blake, like many others with invisible disabilities, was often met with skepticism from teachers as a child.
It wasn’t until the third grade that she received her own accommodations at school.
Nonetheless, Blake remained resilient. Her mother taught her how to stand up for herself and encouraged her to make her voice heard.
Blake’s combination of will and skill, which was instilled by her parents, shaped the trajectory of her life. She decided at a young age that not only would she become a doctor but she would also use her voice to advocate for other students with disabilities.
“Ever since I was younger, I told myself, ‘Well, if the doctors can’t find out what’s wrong with me, I’m going to find out myself,’” said Blake. “I actually think that because I have the condition I might be able to actually figure it out.”
Blake’s journey as a champion of students with disabilities began in 2016 when she was invited by the U.S. Department of Education to speak at a disability summit under President Obama’s White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans.
During the summit, she warned educators about the dangers of doubting disabilities and advised them to truly listen to students to determine what their needs are.
Soon after, Blake was called again to share her wisdom, but this time by the Congressional Black Caucus in Washington, D.C.
“I would always tell them, ‘We are the future, do not underestimate us. Just because some of us look different or our documents might say I have this and that, don’t underestimate us,’” said Blake.
Last year, when Blake started at BSU as a biology pre-med student, she joined the University System of Maryland Student Council (USMSC) and became the first undergraduate director of diversity, equity and inclusion.
She said it was humbling to be chosen for the role, and she jumped at the chance to be able to not only advocate for students with disabilities but for all students from diverse backgrounds.
At present, Blake is making history by being the first student to serve on the President’s Board of Advisors on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).
She’s been given a seat at the table alongside distinguished leaders, like CEO of the National Society of Black Engineers Janeen Uzzell and Norfolk State University President Javaune Adams-Gaston, to collaborate on a federal assistance plan that will enhance the infrastructure of HBCUs.
Although she may be the youngest person in the room, Blake is nothing but excited for the opportunity, and she is confident that they will make positive change for Black students.
“One thing I like to do when I’m serving on boards or in positions like this is I like to think about how what I say and do helps support students not only now in the present but in the future,” said Blake. “That’s what I’m really looking forward to.”
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