Disability Justice Pioneer Stacey Park Milbern Dies at 33

Stacey Park Milbern.
Disability Visibility Project

Disability justice activist Stacey Park Milbern, a national leader in making the disability rights movement more inclusive of people of color and transgender and nonconforming gender identities, died on May 19, 2020, her 33rd birthday, of complications from surgery.

“She called out the mainstream disability movement for marginalizing people of color and nontraditional gender identities,” wrote the New York Times in its June 6 obituary.

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As her friend and fellow activist, Andraéa LaVant, told KQED, by simply being herself, Milbern “was centering intersectionality.” She had muscular dystrophy and came from a mixed-race family: Her father is white, and her mother is Korean. She identified as queer.

Disability Justice Movement

After beginning her activism as a teen in North Carolina, where she grew up, Milbern moved to the San Francisco Bay Area at age 24. She subsequently founded the Disability Justice Culture Club, a community for organizing and promoting Milbern’s vision of an inclusive disability justice movement.

Milbern became an outspoken activist on numerous issues, ranging from biases in the medical profession against people with disabilities to the outsized impact of police violence against marginalized communities.

In the fall of 2019, when the California utility company Pacific Gas & Electric shut down electricity to millions of residents in response to widespread wildfires, the Disability Justice Culture Club organized a mutual aid project called Power to Live. The project sought to ensure that people with disabilities who were affected by the wildfires continued to receive medical supplies, as well as access to generators and ice. More recently, the group became heavily involved in improving access to resources for homeless people during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Milbern was a board member of the WITH Foundation, a grant provider with a focus on providing accessible health care services for people with disabilities. In 2014, President Barack Obama named her as a member of the President’s Committee for People With Intellectual Disabilities.

‘Crip Camp’

Milbern was also the co-producer of Crip Camp: The Official Virtual Experience, the impact campaign for Netflix’s popular documentary, “Crip Camp.” The film tells the story of an upstate New York summer camp in the early 1970s that served as a launching pad for the then-burgeoning disability rights movement.

The documentary, which began streaming in April 2020 and was later nominated for an Oscar, featured longtime disability rights activist Judy Heumann. Heumann had co-founded the Center for Independent Living in Berkeley, California, where Milbern had started out years later as a director of programs.

“What a blow to lose Stacey when our communities need her leadership more than ever, and at a time when her strength, insight, and grit were receiving increased recognition outside of disability circles, giving her a greater platform to advance her life’s work,” the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF) said in a statement.

“We will not have the gift of learning where her charismatic leadership would have taken us. But let there be no doubt: What Stacey gave us, in a relatively short time, will continue benefiting others for years to come.”

Learn More About Stacey Milbern

Milbern earned her bachelor of arts degree in 2009 from Methodist University in North Carolina and an MBA in 2015 from Mills College at Northeastern University in California. She was also a blogger, a writer of poetry, and a public speaker. Two years after her death, on what would have been her 35th birthday, Google Doodle featured Milbern as part of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

"I want to leave a legacy of disabled people knowing we are powerful and beautiful because of who we are, not despite of it," Milbern once said.

Read an obituary for Stacey Park Milbern from the Disability Visibility Project, and watch videos of conversations and workshops featuring Milbern:

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