Reverend Calvin and Disabled in Action

I would like to introduce one of my motivators. He’s my mentor and I look up to him. Reverend Calvin Peterson is the founder of the Atlanta-based organization, Disabled in Action. This non-profit organization was established in 1986.  The mission of Disabled in Action or DIA is to advocate, educate and empower people with disabilities living in poverty. DIA impacts families and caregivers with resources, information, advocacy support and training.

Reverend Peterson was born with severe cerebral palsy in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1948. Despite living a young life of being bullied and teased for not being able to walk, he pushed through like a champ. His mother was a resilient lady and she enrolled him into the first special education class for black children at C.W Hill Elementary School from 1954 to 1960. He graduated from 12th grade in 1967 from Booker T. Washington High School.

In 1968, Reverend Peterson formed the Advanced Association for the Physically Handicapped, Inc., or AAPH. At the time, Governor Lester Maddox declared AAPH a vital and needed organization for people in poverty with disabilities.  Reverend Calvin, which is what I like to call him, advocated with the state of Georgia to sponsor his college career. He became the first African American born with a disability to go to college outside of the state of Georgia. In 1978, he graduated from Long Island University. He then returned to Georgia to continue to open doors for people living in poverty with disabilities. Reverend Calvin was appointed to serve on the first handicapped task force for the City of Atlanta. He explained the urgent need for streets in low-income areas to have curb cuts at the beginning and at the end of each street, which conformed to the Architectural Barrier Act of 1968.

In 1979, he introduced a voter’s registration drive to the Atlanta City Council Human Resources Committee. In 1980, he became a member of Atlanta’s public transportation system (MARTA) Ad-Hoc Committee on Disabilities. Reverend Calvin then went on to create a cable show called “Let’s Plant a Seed,” a program created to illustrate to the community that people with disabilities are not limited because they are different. The program ran for 13 years and then in 1986, Disabled in Action was formed.

In 1988, Reverend Calvin was appointed by Dr. Lenora Fulani to be the national spokesperson for the New Alliance Party. Members of DIA protested, calling for the city of Atlanta to build ramps in public buildings. In 1992, Governor Zell Miller appointed Reverend Calvin as DIA representative to the consumer advisory board for Georgia Medical Assistance. He was also appointed to serve on the governor’s council on developmental disabilities. Disabled in Action questioned policies and created policy changes that opened funding in impoverished communities where funding was previously overlooked and denied. To top it off, an oral documentary of Reverend Calvin’s life and the work of Disabled in Action Inc was accepted by the Smithsonian Institute’s African American department.

In 2015, the Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies at the University of Georgia established the Reverend Calvin Peterson and Disabled in Action Atlanta collection.  The collection includes correspondence, press releases, news clippings, brochures, flyers, photographs, DVDs, and other materials that documented Reverend Calvin and Disabled in Action’s advocacy and activism.

Over the past few years, Reverend Calvin has taught me so much about living a purposeful life. Always wearing the biggest and most excited smile, he motivates and tells me how proud he is of me every chance he gets.

I am proud to share that I am now an active board member of Disabled In Action. I attend board meetings with my parents and give my input on suggestions. I only see things getting better for the disabled community. I’m so happy to be a part of it all.

In addition, I was cast as “young Calvin” in his first play, which is based on his book and life story called “Nothing is Impossible.” My mother, father and I are three of seven hosts for DIA’s monthly parent, caregiver and family support group which currently meets via Zoom.

About Morgan Steward: Morgan is an honorary police officer for the Covington Georgia Police Department. He uses the Stretto Power Wheelchair for mobility. Morgan is an active member in his community and enjoys helping others. Click here to learn more about Morgan.