Dedicated to Improving the Lives of Blind and Visually Impaired People

Black Excellence While Blind

by Jaime Rodriguez, RDPFS Intern

February is Black History Month, and as such, it is important to highlight Black Excellence. The term “Black Excellence” serves to “celebrate specific examples of high level of achievement, success, or ability demonstrated by an individual Black person or by Black people in general,” as defined in in What Is ‘Black Excellence’? Here are two notable people from the blind and visually impaired community:

American politician David Alexander Paterson lost his eyesight when he was three months old and contracted an ear infection that extended to his optic nerves. “However, David didn’t allow his visual impairment to prevent him from achieving his dreams.” Paterson went on to receive his undergraduate degree from Columbia University and his JD from Hofstra University. In 1985, he was elected to the New York State Senate, serving as Minority Leader from 2003 to 2006. Paterson became Lieutenant Governor of New York in 2007. In 2008, he became the first legally blind person to serve as a U.S. Governor and also the first black Governor of New York State. To learn more about the life and accomplishments of David Paterson, check out his biography on Ballotpedia.

Another person of note, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, a famous musician and jazz multi-instrumentalist, lost his ability to see when he was two years old. As a boy, Kirk learned to play several instruments and “fell in love with jazz music.” By the time he was 15, Kirk was playing saxophone professionally. He not only played the instrument, but also invented a triple saxophone he dubbed the “‘Triple Threat,’ made from three different models of saxophones.” Later, in the 1970s, Kirk became an activist, leading the “Jazz and People’s Movement,” and speaking at his concerts about controversial political topics, black history, and the civil rights movement. Although he suffered a stroke in 1975, becoming partially paralyzed, he modified his instruments and continued playing until he died in 1977. To learn more about the life and accomplishments of Rahsaan Roland Kirk, check out his biography on the Rahsaan Roland Kirk website.