Judy Heumann

Unafraid, unbowed, and unapologetic: The life and legacy of Judy Heumann

By Darren Walker, President – Ford Foundation

Judy Heumann taught me—and the world—a 75-year lesson in the power of humanity and dignity. She taught us how to live and lead with it, how to fight for it, how to embody and represent it fully and completely.

Judy’s time with us was defined by joy, purpose, and consequence—not despite the fact that she had a disability but because, as she famously declared, “I never wished I didn’t.” She was unafraid, unbowed, and unapologetic. She demanded respect for the rights of her community and marshaled a movement to secure them.

When I first met Judy, I had much to learn, far more than I knew. She was among the courageous advocates who, in 2014, rightly called me out for the Ford Foundation’s omission of people with disabilities from our strategy to address inequalities of all kinds—an unintended, but damning, embarrassing reification of the very inequalities we aspired to disrupt and dismantle.

The way Judy engaged then was both remarkable and remarkably characteristic. I remember her justifiable frustration, vividly, but also her grace and her kindness. Indeed, she was far more generous than I had any right to expect, ultimately agreeing to give her time, testimony, and tenacity as a Ford Foundation Senior Fellow, and bringing insight and nuance to our institution’s approach to one of the most significant (and ongoing) civil rights and human rights issues of our time.

Judy was at once relentless and compassionate, full of urgency and full of patience—a transcendent figure. She was somehow capable of recognizing the best, even in those of us unaware of our ignorance, focused always on our potential for transformation.  Read more…