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Black and white photo of Barbara Jordan speaking at a podium with her left hand raised palm up

Lessons from Barbara Jordan

Jess Mansel

As part of my job at the MS Society, I work with the Experts by Experience network, an online group who share their first-hand experiences of MS. They work with me and other colleagues across the UK to shape and design the services our community needs.

For Black History Month I wanted to talk about someone who inspires our work. And make sure everyone remembers Barbara Jordan.

Who was Barbara Jordan?

Barbara Jordan was a gay, black woman with MS. She was a trail blazer. The first African American congresswoman from the South, she was a leader of the civil rights movement.

Most well-known for her truth and courage during the “Watergate” scandal, Jordan denounced President Nixon shortly before he resigned. But above all this she really saw herself as a teacher, educating and inspiring others.

The things I love most about Barbara Jordan are her unwavering values and fight for justice. And these are some of the things she taught me.

You can make change happen

In spite of slavery, segregation and civil war, Barbara always believed change was possible.

At a time when Black people could only rise so far and had to “know their place” she worked to change things that made life hard for her community. And she made sure they had the things they needed like financial assistance programs and help with employment. She was determined to create a better future for people.

Use your expert voice

Barbara said that although MS affected her in a number of ways, it didn’t affect her ability to know her own mind. MS didn’t stop her speaking up for what she believed in.

She spoke up for women, for the poor, for African-Americans. As a black woman growing up poor in Boston she had first-hand experience of the issues.

She was an expert by experience. From establishing a minimum wage law to helping end segregation in schools - her expert voice brought about the change her community really needed.

Realise you have power, and use it

In a lot of ways MS can make me feel powerless. Getting a diagnosis that turned my life upside down. Every time my body doesn’t work quite like I want it to. Or when I have to navigate a world that wasn’t built with me in mind. And having to shield from micro-aggressions and people who, deep-down, don’t see me as their equal.

“We must address and master the future together. It can be done if we restore the belief that we share a sense of community, that we share a common endeavour. It can be done.” - Barbara Jordan

I don’t always feel like someone who should have the word “Empowerment” in her job title. But Barbara Jordan shows us we can reclaim some of our power. We can be system changers just by sharing our first hand experiences.

We know what people like us need. And we can use our expert voices to create the change and the future we want to see. We need to do this together. As a community we have power in numbers, we’re a force, who inspire and empower each other.

Help make change happen

Will you share your experiences of MS to make a difference for everyone?

Join the Experts by Experience Network