KYEA: Educating, mentoring, and supporting youth with disabilities in KS
Kansas Youth Empowerment Academy Newsletter
Issue #53
September 2020
Welcome to our September newsletter! Does it look at little different? We have upgraded our look, and are actually pretty happy with the outcome! Change can be a good thing! We talked about this in our last issue and it is coming up again in this issue... change can make us think and it can oftentimes make things better. This issue is all about making change for the better. Racial injustice and inequality are a huge problem in our country and have been for a long time. We just couldn't ignore this fact, so, we have dedicated this issue to these topics. Our purpose is not to take sides or make this into a political issue (see disclaimer below). We see this as a social justice issue. Our hope is to present the experiences of people in our country, especially youth, and help encourage equality among EVERYONE. So, read on, and be open to learning!
Chalk drawing that says Together We Will Change the World
The backs of a group of 8 people of different races with their arms around each others shoulders
Kansas Youth Empowerment Academy logo


While the current COVID pandemic has presented some challenges to the way that we do things at KYEA, we are still very busy and still very much serving youth with disabilities in our state! We have multiple things going on. Check out our recent news below!
KSYLF 20 Year Reunion logo with Nothing Can Stop Us- Celebrating 20 Years of Building Leaders
The KSYLF 20-Year Online Reunion is coming! Registration Going Live Soon

We have received so many questions about the upcoming KS Youth Leadership Forum 20-Year Reunion... you guys are excited and so are we! We have been working on details and have updates for you. The 20-Year Reunion will be completely online and will be held on the weekends of September 26-27 and October 10-11. In order to attend, alumni just have to register, and we ask that you provide a $10 donation.

The theme for the reunion is "Nothing Can Stop Us! Celebrating 20 Years of Building Leaders." This reunion is a chance to celebrate the past 20 years of the KSYLF! Catch up with delegates from your year and meet other alumni from across the state. This is not just about reminiscing, though. We will have informational speakers and sessions on two topics: RELATIONSHIPS and INDEPENDENT LIVING. This is not a repeat of the KSYLF... this reunion is about gaining the tools to enhance the life that you’ve been building!

We are finishing up the online registration form right now, so it will go live next week. We will send out an email with the link and will also post on the KSYLF Alumni Facebook Page. So, be on the lookout for more details very soon! Get excited!!!
A view of the front of the KYEA office with empty walls. It says Help us fill these walls.
Seeking Youth and Alumni Artwork for KYEA Office! Help Us Decorate!

You might have already heard, but... we moved offices!!! We are in a whole new space, and we want to feel inspired and surrounded by our youth. So, we would like to line our office walls with artwork from you all! If you create art of any kind and are a youth with a disability (age 25 and below) or an alumni of any age from any of our programs, then we would love a piece of your art for our walls. This could include paintings, drawings, scrapbooking, chalk art, coloring pages, collage, graphic design, multi-media art, etc. If we can get it on our wall, we will take it! We won't be returning the pieces to you, though, so make sure that it is something that you are willing to give to KYEA.

We prefer to limit the art to one piece per youth/alumni in order to have a variety of artists. If you have created a piece of art that you think should go on our office wall, then contact us and let us know! We can discuss how to get the art from you. You can reach us at or 785-215-6655. We look forward to filling our walls with all of your creations! AND, we'll post pictures in future newsletters!

Please Remember...

The opinions and comments expressed by people and writers in this newsletter are solely the perspective of those specific individuals. They do not necessarily represent the opinion and philosophies of KYEA as an organization. This newsletter was put together with the goal of presenting the stories and individual experiences of our Kansas youth and people across our nation. Because there are so many races and ethnicities in America, there is no way that we would be able to highlight them all in one newsletter, but we have tried our best to have representation from a diverse group of people.
The feet of different people all pointing towards each other in a circle. The shoes and pants are all different colors.
Have you heard of intersectionality?

What in the world is that big word above? Well, intersectionality refers to the way in which many different marginalized (diverse and treated as not as important) groups- like people of different races, genders, social class, sexual orientation and identity, and people with disabilities- experience discrimination and inequality. In other words, if someone is different in some way, they often are not treated as equal as their peers who are white and male. So, when we talk about the connection between people with disabilities and people of color feeling like they are not equal or being discriminated against, this has a term to it... it's called intersectionality. Check out the awesome video above featuring advocate Keri Gray who works for the American Association of People with Disabilities. Keri explains perfectly why advocacy for multiple groups is so important.

Why You Should Embrace Diversity & Reject Discrimination
by Carrie Greenwood, Program Coordinator

DIVERSITY. DISCRIMINATION. How often do you think about these two words? Maybe you are someone who thinks about them all of the time because they affect you on a daily basis. Or, maybe you don’t think about them much until something comes up in the news or on Facebook that involves these topics. The truth is… these words are a huge part of our world, and EVERYONE should think deeply about how these words impact YOUR life. So, go ahead, take a few moments to think about those words and how they play a part in your everyday life… I’ll wait :).

At KYEA, we talk about diversity all the time. Obviously, our specialty and focus area is on people with disabilities, and this is a part of diversity. But, diversity includes so many aspects of a person: race, gender, sexual orientation and identity, economic status, upbringing and culture, personality, etc. I’ve said this a billion times before, but diversity is what makes our world and nation interesting. How boring would it be if we were all the same? But, think about this… are you accepting of all diversity? You should be.
Phillip stands next to a glass football trophy in front of a sign that says KC Chiefs Super Bowl Champions 2019

Spotlight On: Reaching Goals and Advocating for Equality

Phillip McGruder, Lawrence

by Dallas Hathaway, Faces Alumni and KYEA Board Member

When it comes to discussing race and equality, it can be difficult to understand what the issues are and how to address them appropriately. Phillip McGruder is an active member of his community who wants to educate people. At age 28, he has earned a college degree, is currently employed, and has a passion to make the world a better place for others.

When it comes to the topic of race, Phillip, who is African American, is no stranger to the experiences of racism. From a young age, he discovered what he felt were the benefits of being a white man. At one point during his childhood, he even told his mother that he wished he had been born white. After reading a Malcolm X biography at a young age, he learned a lot about the struggles of racism, and this taught him to love himself. In order to combat racism, you must “get those who are in power to acknowledge that racism exists,” he said. “You must start with people as individuals and, from there, they can build themselves up.”

Phillip also has the experience of being a person with a disability. He was diagnosed with Asperger’s at age 2. Growing up, he didn’t always feel included with his peers.

“I kind of felt socially isolated,” Phillip said. “People sometimes thought I was stupid and that I couldn’t hang with the regular crowd.”

Phillip described how people would not always talk with him about TV shows or hobbies they were interested in. He felt that this was because most people did not understand his diagnosis.

This all began to change when he started his college career. Phillip attended Kansas City Kansas Community College for a few years before transferring to the University of Kansas. From there, he made friends and was able to more openly discuss autism with his classmates. Phillip teamed up with a friend and created KU BAM, or Believe Autism Matters. The goal was to spread awareness about autism and make a positive impact for community members who had a similar diagnosis. Phillip graduated with a Bachelor of General Studies in Liberal Arts and Sciences with an emphasis in Sports Management.

Phillip is now employed as an Advocate at the Self-Advocate Coalition of Kansas (SACK). He helps individuals with intellectual/developmental disabilities find their voices and become more independent in their daily lives. He also works with individuals who are stakeholders to change policies and laws for people with disabilities.

“I love helping people,” Phillip said. “I want to help others who struggled like I did.”

Phillip continues his passion for sports by also working as a guest services representative for the Kansas City Chiefs. He helps guests to their seats and provides information to fans during their visit. He is known as the “hype man” before games and gets the crowd pumped up at the stadium.

I had a great time meeting Phillip and getting to learn more about his passions.

“You can do anything you put your mind to,” he said. “Be sure to help each other out when you can, and put aside your feelings.”
Personal Experience: KYEA Youth and Alumni
Speak Out on Race Injustice and Inequality
Hearing people's stories is the best way to understand those who are different from us. We reached out to many youth and alumni of a variety of racial backgrounds to ask them two questions: 1) Give examples of how you have experienced injustice in your life or being treated different as a person of color, and 2) What needs to change when it comes to racial injustice? How do you think we can make a more equal society? Below are the responses and personal experiences submitted to us from those youth/alumni who wanted their voice to be heard.
Madison Short
Madison Short
Some of the things where I have experienced racial injustice is getting treating really differently for being one of the few black people in my small town. Like, I was very loved, but also, there was a whole bunch of stuff going on in the background that I didn’t know about until someone brought it to my attention. I’ve been called the N-word. It’s not a fun thing; like, I didn’t choose to be the color that I am.

Some of the things that I think need to change for racial injustice is that people need to realize that the black lives movement, and all the other movements that are happening right now, are not about politics. It is about basic human rights.
Curtis Meadows
Curtis Meadows
I will just give you an example [of racial injustice]- as an African American walking in public with your hood on your head and somebody sees you wearing it, you might get stereotyped by them or pulled over by the cops for your skin color (thinking you stole it just because it’s a nice car).

[I believe that we can change things by] not discriminating based on identity, sex, or skin color. Everyone should have shelter, healthcare, education, food, and time to rest.
Ashlee Thao
Ashlee Thao
As far as racial injustice goes, in recent experience, since our current President has been calling this coronavirus the "Chinese virus," there has been a lot of hate crimes towards Asians lately, even if they aren't Chinese. As long as they look even remotely Chinese, they get targeted.

Two examples of this happened to people around me, one I actually experienced and one that I learned later through secondhand knowledge.

If our nation chose its leaders with a little more diligence, I wonder if we would see things like this happening.
Christian Roberson
Christian Roberson
I have had so many experiences with racial injustice in my life, I could write a book. There are two times that stick out. They both came in my teens. The first came to me just recently. It’s probably the most painful because the people involved, I still know.

As an activist, I would usually say burn the system down and leave it as my answer, but that’s not something that would explain change. It’s going to take everyone to make this change. Donating, protesting, educating, and listening are things anyone can do to bring the change our country desperately needs. Any of us with disabilities, even myself, can do all these things. Support your black brothers and sisters with disabilities. We need it now more than ever.
Taylor Boykin
Taylor Boykin
In my journey of life so far, I can say that I’ve not been treated differently because I am an African-American, but there have been several instances throughout my young adult life where I have been treated or looked at differently because of my disability. An example that comes to the forefront of my mind is my high school reunion that was last year. I was unable to go to it because the chosen location was not wheelchair accessible. Finding employment has been a very eye-opening experience as well.

My opinion is that, if we are to reach the other side of what the Black Lives Matter movement is fighting for, we must all remember to vote in November, and people of all races must continue to work together through the process even when the movement is no longer in the news cycle.
Vote button with red at the top and blue on the bottom and white stars
Many of our alumni have come to the same conclusion when writing these firsthand experiences for us... everyone should GET OUT AND VOTE! Justin Dart once said, “Vote as if your life depended on it, because it does!”


If you are a U.S. citizen who is 18 years old or older, then you qualify to vote. You can vote in person or through the mail. But, you must be registered.
If you are registered, then either send in your mail in ballot or go to the polls on NOVEMBER 3!

Make your voice heard!
Hands with different skin color making the shape of a heart

I Want People to Be Equal... how can I be part of the solution?
by Johnna Godinez, Program Assistant

You might think that the topics of racism and bias are controversial, but they are not for me. As a Latina, I live with them every day. In this article, my goal is to provide you with simple strategies that you can use on a daily basis to promote racial equity in this country.

1. First, what’s your bias?
2. Second, do your research
3. Do you have more privilege than others?
4. Heart learning
5. Practice open mindedness
6. Just love people for who they are
Other Perspectives on Being Part of the Solution

It's okay if you don't understand what it's like being a person of a different race than your own. Sometimes it's hard to think about what it might be like to be treated different because of your skin color. But, a lot of times it helps to hear from those who experience it. To learn from people who have lived it, watch these powerful videos below and really listen.
"I Am NOT Black, You are NOT White"
"I Am Not Your Asian Stereotype"
"Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man"
"What Being Hispanic and Latinx Means in the United States"
"Let's get to the root of racial injustice"
Real Examples: Leaders of Color in the
Disability Community of Kansas
by Elizabeth Wright, KSYLF Alumna '18 and Faces Alumna '20, 20 years old
Ranita Wilks
Ranita Wilks
Ranita Wilks was born and raised in Kansas City. She has a spinal cord injury and uses a manual wheelchair in order to do daily living activities. She has lived in Lawrence since 1995. For more than 20 years, Ranita has worked as an advocate for people with disabilities. In the past, she has worked to create mentoring and career development programs for youth with disabilities in Douglas County. Her current job is as a case manager and advocate for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Douglas, Jefferson, and Johnson counties.
Julia Connellis
Julia Connellis
Julia Connellis was born in New York and has lived in Topeka since 1998. Julia was born with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, which resulted in her going blind. Her other disabilities include: depression, anxiety, ADD, chronic pain, chronic fatigue, and she is immune compromised. Julia is the Executive Director of the Kansas Youth Empowerment Academy (KYEA). As director, she works with youth with disabilities, helping to empower them to be the best person and leader they can be.
Sandra Shopteese
Sandra Shopteese
Sandra Shopteese lives in Mayetta on the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation Reservation. She has multiple disabilities, including: Thyroid Disease/Graves Disease, obesity, depression, anxiety, and hypertension. Sandra currently works for the State of Kansas in child welfare as the Tribal Specialist. She has worked for the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation for the last seven years and has held several positions. Sandra has many other things to be proud of in her life. She is the first in her family to have a college degree, and actually has two of them.
Delano Thomas
Delano Thomas
Delano Thomas lives in Topeka and has Obsessive Compulsive Disability (OCD) and Anxiety. He currently works as a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor with the Kansas Department of Children and Families. Delano is very involved in his community. He is very proud to be a leader of color within our state. He feels that diversity is so important.
Alice Zhang
Alice Zhang
Alice Zhang was born in China, but came here in 2012 for graduate school where she obtained a degree in Applied Behavior Analysis. She lives in Lawrence and works at the KU Medical Center as an Assistant Professor in the occupational therapy department. Before that, Alice was a postdoctoral fellow. Alice works with kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and other developmental disabilities. "I like to be part of the change," Alice said.
Erica Rivera
Erica Rivera
Erica Rivera lives in Hutchinson. Her disabilities include anxiety, self-diagnosed ADHD, and she's a cancer survivor. Erika has worked at Prairie Independent Living Resource Center for 13 years. She is currently the Executive Director. Erica says leadership is “not just about me; it's about everyone.”
Jessica Moss
Jessica Moss
Jessica Moss lives in Parsons. She was born with Osteogenesis Imperfecta or brittle bones. Jessica considers herself a “knitter extraordinaire” and owns her own business. She has also served on various boards and councils over the years. Jessica describes herself as “very assertive, someone who speaks her mind, and who does not let people walk all over her.”

Community Power!
Highlighting helpful resources throughout the state

by Johnna Godinez, Program Assistant

In this month’s issue, we have shown multiple examples of advocacy and making one’s voice heard. So, it only seemed natural to choose the most spot-on disability advocacy group to feature in our September Community Power article. Another fun fact: the founder of this advocacy group for people with disabilities has a direct tie to the civil rights movement of the 1960’s. Have you heard of ADAPT?
Mike Oxford speaks into a microphone at an ADAPT event. He is wearing an ADAPT hat and shirt.
Have You Heard?
Opportunities in Kansas
The Self-Advocate Coalition of Kansas is having their annual conference... but it will be online! This free conference, titled "The Year of Adaptive Challenges," will take place on September 26.

The "Together We Can Learn Conference," coordinated by Families Together, is also going virtual! It will take place on September 12, but pre-recorded sessions will be available for two weeks. Sessions will include caregiver well-being, telehealth, transition, special education law, and more. Register

The University of Kansas is holding various events to celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. They are having a "Look Back, Look Forward" Panel on September 3. Also, Judy Heumann is coming to Kansas in October!!

Have you wondered what the difference is between ABLE Accounts and a Special Needs Trust? Get all of your questions answered during an upcoming online workshop on September 2.

The Disability Rights Center needs your help! They are planning their priorities for this next year and want to know the issues that Kansans are facing. Share your thoughts by completing their survey by August 31.
Opportunities on a National Level
The United States Postal Service has been experiencing drastic changes that have led to major delays in mail service. People around the country are experiencing weeks of delays in receiving mail-order prescriptions, medical equipment benefits checks, bills, notices, and other necessities they receive via mail. Has this affected you in any way? NCIL and AAPD are collecting stories, and they need yours!
One final thought... we hope that you have enjoyed reading this newsletter and that you learned something from it. We worked really hard to ensure that this would be an informative, well-rounded, and diverse newsletter. Please know that we did not intentionally leave out any group/ethnicity. We made every effort to have all of America represented in these articles with the resources and connections that we have. When we say race diversity, we are referring to ALL races. Equality should be achieved for ALL people!
A chalk board with the word feedback written on it and thought bubbles above feedback
Do you like the new look and layout of our newsletter?

What topics would you like to see in the future?
Thank you for reading our newsletter!
Look for our next issue in November!