During his childhood, Anderson’s mother was a cook in downtown Chicago and his father was a building custodian in the city’s public school system. Living in a predominately black community on the South Side and sharing a house with his younger sister and grandmothers, Anderson became deaf at the age of 7 after a severe bout of pneumonia. “Becoming deaf was a blessing,” Anderson said.
“Because of my deafness, coupled with my African-American heritage, I encountered barriers and obstacles during my life’s journey, but along with adversity came opportunities.”
He also learned that these opportunities meant hard work. “When we encounter obstacles to our goals because a door to opportunity is closed or does not open, we must not give up our hopes and dreams. We must be persistent in our search until we find a door of opportunity that opens for us,” he said.
Anderson began college as the only deaf student on a campus of 12,000 students at Northern Illinois University (NIU), where he encountered bias and discrimination due to his deafness and his race. Like other black male students at NIU, Anderson was not given the option to live in a dorm on campus; he commuted to NIU from an apartment in a nearby town. Anderson also didn’t have a sign language interpreter at NIU.
Once his academic advisor discovered that Anderson was deaf and did not have clear and readily understandable speech, he discouraged him from pursuing his goal of becoming a physical education (PE) teacher, since all PE majors were expected to attain at least a grade of “C” in public speaking prior to their junior year. By chance, a faculty member at NIU took an interest in Anderson’s situation and gained permission from Gallaudet to administer its admissions exam to him in her office.
The next semester, Anderson transferred to Gallaudet. “It was my first experience seeing deaf people with advanced degrees who were working in professional positions as administrators and professors,” he recalled. “My eyes were opened wide.” Anderson excelled at Gallaudet, both academically and personally.
He changed his major to psychology, and he became involved in campus life. He joined the Student Body Government, wrote for The Buff and Blue student newspaper, and became a star on the basketball and track teams, earning him a place in the Gallaudet University Athletics Hall of Fame.
After graduating from Gallaudet, Anderson earned his master’s degree from the University of Arizona and a doctorate from New York University (NYU). While a student at NYU, Anderson met his future wife, Karen. They have two children – a daughter, Danielle, and a son, Jamaal – and two grandchildren.
Over the past four decades, Anderson’s storied career has contributed greatly to the well-being of deaf Americans. After serving for two years as a vocational rehabilitation counselor in Detroit, he joined the Deafness Research and Training Center at NYU, where he became coordinator of the referral and counseling center that provided community service and advocacy to deaf residents in New York City.
In his next job with LaGuardia Community College of the City University of New York, Anderson helped establish a continuing education program to benefit deaf adults interested in returning to school and/or obtaining college degrees. In 2015, the program celebrated its 40th anniversary.
But it has been with the University of Arkansas that Anderson has perhaps had his greatest influence. He has worked to support professional service providers in assisting consumers’ goals to lead fulfilling and productive lives, and as a professor inspiring and preparing undergraduate and graduate students for careers in diverse professional fields working with deaf people.
In 1982, he began a 26-year career as director of training at the university’s Rehabilitation Research and Training Center for Persons Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing in Little Rock. He was also a professor in the University’s Department of Rehabilitation, Human Resources, and Communication Disorders, and coordinator of the Master’s Degree Program in Rehabilitation Counseling With Persons Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing.
Since 2008, Anderson has been an associate professor in the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s Interpreter Education Program within the Department of Counseling, Rehabilitation, and Adult Education.
Anderson served on the Gallaudet Board of Trustees from 1989 to 2005, his last 11 years as chair. When he stepped down, his fellow trustees passed a resolution praising him for bringing to the board, “a broad understanding of issues in higher education, dedication to addressing diversity issues, commitment to strengthening undergraduate education, excellence in research and scholarship, outstanding leadership qualities, and strong ties with constituencies both on and off-campus.”
Anderson was appointed by U.S. President George W. Bush as a member of the National Council of Disability from 2002 to 2005, and he has served as chair of the State Rehabilitation Council for Arkansas Rehabilitation Services and as a member of the editorial review board for the American Annals of the Deaf and the Journal of Interpretation. Today, Anderson is on the board of directors of the National Black Deaf Advocates and is newsletter editor for the Arkansas Association of the Deaf.
Anderson has written numerous articles for professional journals and books. He wrote and published a book and DVD, Still, I Rise: The Enduring Legacy of Black Deaf Arkansans Before and After Integration, and he is among the 200 African Americans included in Vernon Farmer and Evelyn Shephard-Wynn’s four-volume book series, Voices of Historical and Contemporary Black American Pioneers, published in 2012.
The contributions made by Anderson over the past four decades have earned him much recognition. His awards include the Alice Cogswell Award for valuable service on behalf of deaf people by the Gallaudet University Alumni Association, the Lifetime Achievement Award and the Linwood Smith Humanitarian Award by the National Black Deaf Advocates, induction into the American Athletic Association of the Deaf Hall of Fame and the National Hall of Fame for Persons with Disabilities, and the Frederick C. Schreiber Leadership Award by the National Association of the Deaf.
Article reprinted with permission from Gallaudet University.