RespectAbility Receives Grant from Ford Foundation to Create Harriet Tubman Fellowships

headshots of Ming Canaday and Eddie Ellis with text: The First Cohort of the Harriet Tubman Fellow

The First Cohort of the Harriet Tubman Fellows: Ming Canaday and Eddie Ellis

Washington, Dec. 21 – RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for people with disabilities, is delighted to announce that the Ford Foundation awarded a grant, which has enabled RespectAbility to create and offer Harriet Tubman Fellowships to select participants in the National Leadership Program. Tubman acquired traumatic brain injury when a slave owner hit her with a heavy metal weight leading to epileptic seizures and hypersomnia. Her work, while living as an individual with a disability, to free slaves and then for women’s suffrage is one of the great stories of how people with disabilities can help make a nation stronger and better.

Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, published a groundbreaking op-ed in The New York Times called “Internships are Not a Privilege,” which discussed how the practice of requiring people to do unpaid internships before they get good policy jobs harms diversity efforts and discriminates against people who cannot afford to do them.

“We are thrilled to have this new transformative support,” said Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, president of RespectAbility. “Thanks to the Ford Foundation, we will be able to strengthen and diversify our National Leadership Program for young leaders with and without disabilities who are going into public policy, advocacy, journalism, public relations and other leadership roles. Previously, many people who wanted to participate in the program could not do so because while it offered free lunch and a transportation stipend, it was an unpaid program. Now we will be able to pay $15 an hour to many of the fellows who otherwise could not afford to do such a leadership program.”

The National Leadership Program has three cohorts of Fellows – in the fall, spring and summer – for a total of at least 24 Fellows. Eight will be Harriet Tubman Fellows.  Our National Leadership Program enables young leaders to gain critical skills, contacts and experiences necessary to be accepted into graduate school or go directly into careers in public policy, media or advocacy.

The Ford Foundation’s grant will enable RespectAbility to include more participants with multiple minority status and/or low-income candidates who cannot afford the nine weeks of unpaid training. Two to three Fellows each cohort will be awarded with the Harriet Tubman Fellowship, which is a paid Fellowship.

“With the paid fellowships, we will be able to do our part to overcome the unequal opportunities sometimes created by unpaid internships,” RespectAbility Board Chair Donn Weinberg said. “Having the resources to pay our Fellows will allow us to offer this opportunity to people who otherwise might not be able to afford to gain the skills and the connections they need to enter careers in public policy, media or advocacy. This will be a significant factor in fully realizing our goals for diversity, recruitment and attracting quality applicants.”

Today only 65 percent of people with disabilities graduate high school and only seven percent complete college. For those lucky few who do complete college, only 53 percent of graduates with disabilities are currently employed as opposed to 84 percent of graduates with no disability. As a program that is fully accessible for people with disabilities and offers full-time in-house job coaching, skills development, networking opportunities, assistive technology and personal care support, our program has been designed to alleviate this situation.

The grant also will enable RespectAbility to hire a personal care assistant or interpreters as needed by any Fellow participating in the National Leadership Program.

“Many people with disabilities are faced with choosing to have a personal care assistant at home to help with necessary supports such as getting up in the morning and using the facilities or having personal care support at work,” Mizrahi said. “This grant allows us to offer the Fellowship to individuals needing this on-the-job assistance, which often becomes cost prohibitive to individuals, at no cost to them.”

RespectAbility’s Treasurer, Cal Harris, and Board of Advisors members, Janie L. Jeffers and Randall Duchesneau, will help shape the Harriet Tubman Fellowship program. Harris and Jeffers each have major leadership roles in Washington. A C5-C6 quadriplegic from a spinal cord injury during gymnastics, Duchesneau currently is a consultant based in Philadelphia who previously served as RespectAbility’s first Director of the National Leadership Program.

RespectAbility’s National Leadership Program attracts college and graduate students as well as graduates with or without disabilities who wish to enter the disability advocacy field. The program offers hands-on work experiences and coaching over a period of at least nine weeks in a supportive environment. Fellows participating in the National Leadership Program learn public policy, advocacy and strategic communications techniques from top professionals through hands-on work. In addition, they gain leadership skills and develop a portfolio of contacts to help secure permanent employment.

“As Leadership Fellows gain skills and confidence via working on projects that enable RespectAbility to achieve our mission, we will help them evolve into stronger and even more articulate self-advocates and leaders – qualities that they will take with them into the workplace,” Mizrahi said.

Each Fellow receives opportunities to learn new skills, network and gain direct experience. In addition to hands-on work experiences, all Fellows participate in special presentations by guest speakers and intensive strategic communications workshops. Fellows are supervised by a training/fellows director, who works with our president, Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi; as well as our policy team, led by Philip Pauli; our communications team, led by Lauren Appelbaum; our faith inclusion team, led by Shelley Cohen; and our development team, led by Hillary Steen. Mizrahi has led numerous high level training programs in the past for White House and Congressional staff, media, campaign and nonprofit leaders.

RespectAbility welcomes the first cohort of the Harriet Tubman Fellows:

headshot of Eddie Ellis

Eddie Ellis

Eddie B. Ellis Jr. is a reentry advocate/consultant, trainer, mentor and motivational speaker. As a returning citizen with multiple disabilities and a person of color, Ellis’ experience provides invaluable insight and depth into his work that allows him to connect with and engage the community in which he serves. This week he published a major piece in The Washington Post: “I am one of the success stories from D.C.’s second-chance law for young offenders.” Ellis is the founder and CEO of OneBy1, an organization that works with communities and partners to provide youth development workshops and mentoring services to keep youth out of the corrections system and help those exiting the system stay out. Ellis also has written and published several resource guides offering service referrals, practical tips and inspiration to former offenders and parolees returning to the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. He works hard to ensure that individuals reentering society are well informed and sufficiently equipped to make better choices for themselves and that they are truly given a second chance.

headshot of Ming Canaday in front of a RespectAbility banner

Ming Canaday

Ming Canaday recently completed coursework for a master’s degree in the History of International Relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science. This week she published a first-person piece in Foreign Policy: “I Was Rescued from a Chinese Orphanage. My Friend Wasn’t.” During her time in Europe, Canaday traveled extensively on the continent and to the University of Cape Town in South Africa to complete her dissertation research on contemporary attitudes towards rising Chinese migration to that region. From 2009 to 2013, she earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Oregon, where she triple-majored in International Studies, Chinese, and Asian Studies. During her undergraduate career, Canaday spent time in China interning at Justice for All, a disability advocacy organization that serves individuals with disabilities as well as individuals with HIV/AIDs and Hepatitis B. After graduation, Canaday, who is a wheelchair user, pursued a certificate at the City University of New York in Disability Studies to better advocate for individuals with disabilities. She also completed a summer internship at Human Rights Watch, assisting with research on issues related to China’s policies toward people with physical or mental impairments.

National Leadership Program Director Sought
With the new funding, RespectAbility is recruiting for a full-time National Leadership Director for the Harriet Tubman Fellows and the National Leadership Program. To learn more and apply for this job and or our fellowships, visit our website. The National Leadership Program was founded with the support of The Stanford and Joan Alexander Foundation, which is still critical to the success of the program. Thanks to their generosity and that of others, more than 60 diverse young leaders have already graduated from the program.

For more information contact Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, President, RespectAbility at

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