With an estimated one in five Americans directly touched by hearing loss — a common chronic condition that spans race, gender, age, and socioeconomic status — some icons in pop culture and beyond have experienced this challenge in their own lives.
As the nation celebrates Black History Month this February, take a look at these eight African American notables who triumphed over hearing impairment to bring their dreams to life.
Oscar-winning actress, comedienne, activist, writer, and The View moderator Goldberg cites longtime exposure to loud music for her hearing loss, according to published reports. The Sister Act and Ghost icon, who has collaborated with the Starkey Hearing Foundation, wears hearing aids and has advised others to take care of their hearing health.
As the NFL’s first legally deaf offensive player, Falcons fullback Coleman began tackling adversity at an early age — just 3 years old when he lost his hearing — to eventually not only make it in the NFL but win a Super Bowl with the Seahawks in 2014. He launched the nonprofit Derrick L. Coleman Jr. No Excuse Foundation to give back to hearing-impaired kids, teens, and adults in need.
The four-time Olympic gold medalist and retired WNBA great of Indiana Fever fame was born with a hearing loss, using the experience to help fuel her drive to win. “In the classroom, kids could make fun of me for being different,” wrote Catchings in a 2011 ESPN profile. “On the soccer field (my first sport) and eventually the basketball court, they couldn’t. I outworked them, plain and simple.”
Being the first African American to hold a Bachelor of Arts degree from Gallaudet University, the renowned school for deaf and hard-of-hearing students, is one of many firsts for Foster, who then earned two master’s degrees at other institutions and eventually launched more than 30 schools for the deaf in over a dozen African nations.
An alleged domestic-violence incident led to Berry’s hearing loss, but the Oscar-winning actress, activist, beauty-brand spokesperson, and X-Men megastar didn’t let that setback torpedo her goals. Berry, also a producer, has some 50 or so film and television acting roles under her belt and continues a robust career.
This Emmy- and Grammy-winning recording artist, tech visionary, producer, DJ, and designer is known worldwide for his Black Eyed Peas hits. Many may not know that the global entertainer experiences tinnitus, which he describes as a constant ringing in his ears.
After losing her hearing at age 8 and migrating to the United States from Jamaica with her mother at age 11, Gordon defied the naysayers and earlier experiences of discrimination to not only reportedly become the first deaf black female attorney but to help enforce the rights of the disabled as a lawyer in the federal executive branch under former Pres. Barack Obama.
New York Times best-selling author Briscoe was born with a hearing loss, but she never let it slow her down. The Money Can’t Buy Love and Big Girls Don’t Cry writer has sold more than 600,000 hardcover and paperback copies of her first novel,Sisters and Lovers – per a biography at bookreporter.com — and she gives back by helping “other writers develop the confidence to pursue their writing.”
DID YOU KNOW?
- Non-Hispanic African Americans “have the lowest prevalence of hearing loss among adults aged 20–69,” per the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.
- Some 53.3% of deaf people overall had jobs in 2017, per a 2019 report by the National Deaf Center, but only 44.8% of deaf African Americans are in the labor force.
- Since 1982 the nonprofit National Black Deaf Advocates — along with more than 30 local chapters — has worked with parents, professionals, organizations, and others to help ensure representation of deaf community members in public policy, leadership, economic opportunity, and more.