When you first meet Michkeal and Samantha, it is clear that they are leaders. These two young adults are friendly, open, and excited to meet new people – perfect traits to help lead a group to empower others and connect people. The St. Louis Self-Advocates is a new group founded through the Arc this past year. Their mission:
“The St. Louis Self-Advocates are St. Louis area youth seeking to empower each other, to increase awareness about disability-related issues, and improve our community. Our members are St. Louis area residents between the ages of 14 and 29 who have a diagnosed disability. The group’s committees reflect the group’s goals and vision, including advocacy, quality, morale, and marketing.”
Michkeal Cross, the group’s president, was involved with the Arc’s Launch program when he was encouraged to join the Self-Advocates group. “My mother had encouraged me to do more than just work, to find ways to learn more things on my own,” said Michkeal. Through Launch, he’s expanded his skills and has had access to many new opportunities. When approached about the Self-Advocates group, Michkeal was hesitant at first. “For me, as a black man, you don’t see many people who look like me who have a voice in this world.” Michkeal realized, “It’s time for me to have my voice heard and be the voice of reason.” Not only did he join the organization, but he stepped up and became president.
Samantha Crow didn’t know much about the St. Louis Arc when her DDRB case manager suggested the Arc and the St. Louis Self-Advocates. Having just moved to the area, the Self-Advocates would help Samantha to meet peers. Samantha wants to learn how to budget her money and support others in learning those skills too. Joining the group as the financial wellness officer, she is now enrolled, alongside Arc staff members, in a financial wellness training program through the National Disability Institute. She has enjoyed the training, “I learned about budgeting, savings, and supports like food stamps, housing assistance, and financial aid,” said Samantha. She hopes she “can pass it forward to others in the group.”
Both Michkeal and Samantha are excited for the future of the group. “I hope I can support other self-advocates to be able to tell them just to be yourself,” says Michkeal. “My advice is just to be confident in yourself. I think the self-advocates can support them in that.” In addition, the group is planning an advocacy day to speak to Missouri legislatures about concerns around young people with disabilities. They are also excited to plan social activities such as a talent show to get to know each other and have fun.
Join the St. Louis Self-Advocates
The group is always looking for new members. The St. Louis Self-Advocates group meets every Thursday from 4:00 p.m. – 5:30 p.m. For more information about the group or to sign up, email Sharon Spurlock.