'Disability and mental health are not things we talk about in the Black culture'
By Louise Kinross
A year ago, Sherron and Clovis Grant were in Moscow with their son Isaiah (in photo above middle), now 23, who has autism. "There aren't any Black people in Moscow, so we stood out like a sore thumb," Clovis recalls. "We were in a park and my son was walking really close to another family. I was trying to slow him down, but he was still walking closely. The police pulled us over and asked for our ID. We didn't have our passports with us and it was a good thing our friends, who are Muscovites, interceded and spoke to them in Russian. That's one example where you're trying to live your life, but because of how people view a young Black man—they assume he must be up to no good."
In November, the Grants plan to start an information and support group for Black parents of children with disabilities in the Greater Toronto Area. Due to Covid-19, it will initially be held over Zoom.
We spoke about their experiences parenting Isaiah and their hopes for a support group.
BLOOM: What were the greatest challenges raising Isaiah?
Clovis Grant: The challenge of feeling alone. This was a first for our family and for our church, so there was a lot of ground to navigate. Whether you're from the continent of Africa or the Caribbean, disability and mental health are not things we talk about in the Black culture, and they're not things we know how to handle. We were educating our family and our friends and church and it got exhausting at times. We still feel we have to educate people.
Sherron Grant: If we're in the mall or a grocery store and your child has a hidden disability and acts up, Lord have mercy, you get the looks and the comments.
BLOOM: What were the greatest joys?
Clovis Grant: What it produced in us as a family. We were able to learn to persevere, and able to push our characters to places I don't think we would have gone otherwise. My natural tendency is to be an introvert, and it forced me to learn how to be a better advocate.
We became very good parents. We had to learn about things that a lot of parents take for granted, and carve out time for both of our sons specifically. I think our older son benefited a lot from that attention, and we did a lot of stuff together. Our older son got a master's in Social Work and a lot of that drive came because he had a brother who was his motivator. My wife's desire to be an educator came out of a desire to do more for kids like Isaiah. So the greatest joy is what it's produced in us as individuals and as a family.
BLOOM: How was racism impacted Isaiah and your family?
Clovis Grant: We've never had overt racism thrown at us. But because Isaiah is a young Black male and 6 foot 4, I dread the thought of how he's perceived, and what could result if he interacts with the wrong people at the wrong time. The views out there about young Black men are a constant, and when you hear of people with mental health challenges being shot by the police, and not being understood, that continues to be on our hearts and minds.
When the two of us are in a store, we look suspicious. My son has idiosyncrasies. He'll go to a bead store and he'll be touching the beads due to the sensory feel of them. Or he'll walk close to people and it scares them. I get it, and I try to be there to be a buffer and to explain to people 'You know he has autism.' I feel those stares looking at us.
Sherron Grant: When Isaiah was younger we had challenges at our church. Your child is acting up in service and that's not acceptable, and there are looks and stares and snide comments made. For a good amount of time we didn't bring Isaiah to church and Clovis and I took turns going.
BLOOM: Do you think racism has influenced the care Isaiah receives?
Sherron Grant: I don't believe I've experienced racism in getting Isaiah support. We're Caribbean descendants, but we did the majority of our education here. When Isaiah got diagnosed I went to the parent groups at Community Living and Autism Ontario and I listened and I learned. With my personality, I learned to ask questions and how to play the game. I learned the rules and I learned to do what I needed to do to get my son what he needed.
But we know there are families who are not as familiar with the school system here, or they don't know the language. They don't know how to ask questions, and what to ask. They may be railroaded into situations not knowing that they have a choice. They may not find out about funding.
BLOOM: Can you describe the type of group you'd like to start?
Sherron Grant: It will be a forum to share and vent, to ask questions and to not be judged. What would be different is we're all Black and we have those experiences. If someone feels they're experiencing covert racism, and their child's IEP is not being followed, or the child is being pushed into a behavioural class when they need a communication class, we as fellow parents can give advice and input and direction, and hold their hands if need be to teach them how to fight for their child's rights.
We will partner with different agencies so we can have some guest speakers.
Parents need support. They need to know others who look like them and think like them and have been there—have felt their pain, their rejection, their low—but you overcame. We want to help empower other parents.