This document traces the history of the National Association of Multicultural Rehabilitation Concerns (NAMRC) from its predecessor, the National Council of Non-White Rehabilitation Workers (NCNWRW) of the National Rehabilitation Association (NRA) in 1969, to the establishment of NAMRC as a division of NRA in 1992, to its activities and developments as a division of NRA in the subsequent thirty plus years of its existence. Throughout its history two themes have been constant; maintaining a presence of the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) rehabilitation community and the issues they represent within the larger rehabilitation community and the promotion of equity and excellence in the rehabilitation needs of persons with disabilities from culturally diverse communities. Education, advocacy, and professional development have consistently been key activities in the implementation of these two themes.
CNWRW: The Roots of our Association
The Council of Non-White Rehabilitation Workers (CNWRW) was established by the National Rehabilitation Association (NRA) in response to a concern expressed by BIPOC members about a lack of meaningful involvement in the affairs of the Association (NRA). At the 1969 National Rehabilitation Association annual conference in New York City, nine BIPOC members of the NRA came forward and petitioned the conference Delegate Assembly for change. Members of that delegation included Vernon Hawkins, a rehabilitation administrator from Washington DC, Henry Williams, a mental health professional from New York and subsequent presidential appointee to the National Council on the Handicapped, George Ayers, rehabilitation scholar and subsequent president of Chicago State University, Jose Rodriguez who gained national prominence in the rehabilitation of Latino persons, and Beth Anderson who became the first Black female president of NRA in 1978. Among its noted 14 Points, were such issues as minority involvement in the formation of the Association’s legislative issues, a greater minority presence in NRA staffing, a Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) presence in each of the NRA regions, a greater presence in annual conference programming, a presence on the NRA Board of Directors and an increased presence in the rehabilitation community at large.
Pursuant to the petition, some of the more notable changes were the formal establishment of the Council of Non-White Rehabilitation Workers as an entity within NRA, the establishment of a permanent position on the NRA Board of Directors for the Council, the recognition of Regional Councils in each of the NRA regions, and a Council training track and luncheon at the annual NRA conference. As a body, the former members of the Council also established a separate non-profit organization independent of NRA, named the National Association of Non-White Rehabilitation Workers (NANWRW). It was this independent entity that was later given seats on the Council on Rehabilitation Education (CORE) and Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification (CRCC).
In addition to its impact on NRA, the CNWRW’s influence is seen in the establishment of the first Historically Black College and University (HBCU) Rehabilitation Research and Training Center at Howard University, inclusion of Section 21 (of the 1992 Rehabilitation Act Amendments) and its focus on minority rehabilitation issues within the National Rehabilitation Act, and the inclusion of BIPOC professionals on the peer review teams for Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) and National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) Grants. The Council’s presence at the annual conference and position on the NRA Board continued until NAMRC, as a Division of NRA, was established in 1992.
The formal establishment of the new NAMRC division of NRA took place in 1992 at the National Rehabilitation Association annual conference in Orlando, Florida, when Joyce Keener, current Council representative on the NRA board, and other Council members, petitioned NRA at the delegate assembly to establish NAMRC as a new division of NRA and abolish the Council of Non-White Rehabilitation Workers. Although the new NAMRC division was built on the progress of the Council and carried forth its core values and central themes, it differed from its predecessor in several important ways:
As a formal division of NRA, NAMRC carried forth all the rights and privileges of all NRA divisions; including the ability to collect dues, formalize its structure, be represented on the NRA board of directors, hold national conferences, and establish local state chapters.
The name change was also significant; while the Council focused on the composition of the membership, (i.e., Non-Whites), the new Division focus was on the issues, (i.e., multicultural rehabilitation concerns).
These two thrusts have been instrumental in shaping the NAMRC division and its evolution since 1992, and annual conferences have been a fundamental part of the Division’s identity since its inception. The initial mission of NAMRC, established in 1992 read:
"The National Association of Multicultural Rehabilitation Concerns is committed to support and actively champion concerns that effect the rehabilitation needs and services to multicultural persons with disabilities; to create an understanding of the impact of cultural insensitivity, to ensure the provision of equitable and quality services, to promote professional development and certification of creditable cultural awareness and education programs; and, to educate, propose and support legislation which addresses the needs of multicultural persons with disabilities and their communities."
That mission statement existed until 2008, when under the leadership of President Dr. Chandra Donnell Carey a “Mission Committee” was formed to develop a new mission statement for the organization. The board adopted the committee’s recommendation for what has become the current NAMRC mission:
"The National Association of Multicultural Rehabilitation Concerns is a professional association of dedicated individuals, whose mission is promoting cultural diversity and disability through advocacy for excellence and equity in rehabilitation research, education and practice."
Many of the elements of the original mission, e.g., professional development, education and awareness, and advocacy, including legislative advocacy, are found in NAMRC’s bylaws as objectives under its current mission.
The Growth of NAMRC State Chapters
With the identification of NAMRC as a division, state chapters of this division began to emerge all over the country. Michigan, which originally began in 1983 as a state chapter under the Council of Non-White Rehabilitation Workers, later became the first state chapter of the new NAMRC division in 1992. L. Robert (Bob) McConnell served as its founder and first president. In the 1990’s, other chapters were initiated in Arkansas, Alabama, Georgia, Wisconsin, and Mississippi. Later, others were added in Washington DC, Missouri, Ohio, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Oklahoma, resulting in a total of 13 states that have had local chapters. Chapters flourished during the 1990’s and early to mid-2010; currently, most state chapter members have focused their energies at the national level.
State NAMRC chapters’ activities have mirrored those occurring at the national level, namely training conferences and workshops, offering of scholarship programs, and engagement with the state chapters of the National Rehabilitation Association. State NAMRC chapters have also served as hosts on multiple occasions with past NAMRC national conferences occurring in Alabama, Arkansas, Michigan, Oklahoma, and Illinois. Several state chapters’ leaders have later become national NAMRC Presidents, including past Presidents, Tom Bridges (Michigan), Carl Flowers (Illinois), Tyra Hawkins (Alabama), and Michell Temple (Georgia).
NAMRC Annual Conference
National conferences have been held in locations all over the country, including Las Vegas, Detroit, San Antonio, Memphis, Atlanta, Little Rock, New Orleans, St. Louis, Chicago, Oklahoma City, and Charlotte among others.
The first annual conference of NAMRC, held in 1993 in Las Vegas, and named Summit 1, was convened by Joyce Keener, former Council of Non-White Rehabilitation Workers Representative on the NRA Board and a past Michigan NAMRC chapter president, and Thomas Bridges, the first NAMRC national president. The conference was entitled “A Merging of Educators and Practitioners for the Development of Multicultural Implementation Strategies.” The conference centered around five Issue Workshops: Cross Cultural Counseling Techniques, 1992 Rehabilitation Act Amendments, Education of The Multicultural Community, Networking of Multicultural Professionals, and Equity and Quality Service Delivery. The first- and second-day keynote speakers for the first conference were Dr. Bobbie Atkins, noted multicultural researcher and educator, and Dr. L. Robert McConnell, Michigan chapter founder and first president.
The second national conference, Summit II was convened in 1994 and was also significant in the Division’s development as it launched the foundations for the first NAMRC strategic plan. All conference attendees were engaged in a SWOT analysis process, identifying Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) for NAMRC. Some of the initial strengths identified were the diversity of skills of the membership, the opportunity for networking, mentorship, and development, and the commitment of the membership.
Opportunities included the emerging significance of the “diversity” theme and changing demographics of the country, opportunities for consultation and mentorship, and the emphasis within the Rehabilitation Act on minority issues. Some of the potential threats identified were competing NRA divisions and backlash to the multicultural and diversity movement. Weaknesses highlighted limited involvement of the other minority groups outside of African Americans, limited involvement of persons with disabilities, the limited number of local chapters, and lack of knowledge about the organization and publicity surrounding the conference. Ultimately, the input from the conference resulted in the establishment, in 1995, of five Strategic Goals: (1) Organization Development, (2) Professional Development, (3) Advocacy and Education, (4) Recruitment into Rehabilitation, and (5) Partnerships and Coalition Building.
Over the succeeding years, NAMRC conferences transitioned from a central issue focus to that of multiple conference workshops around a given theme title for the conference. In every case, workshops were to be linked to a multicultural theme. The focus of the annual conference was to share current information, provide a venue for networking and mentoring, provide opportunity, especially for minority professionals and emerging student scholars, to present their work and ideas, and provide an opportunity for recognition through the awards program for professional achievement and service to the organization. The conferences always offer Continuing Education credits and have maintained a focus on quality and relevance to multicultural issues. A high level of student attendance and involvement has also been a characteristic of the annual conferences.
NAMRC Awards and Scholarship Programs
The initial NAMRC Awards program, as a part of the annual conference, started in the year 2001, to recognize the achievements of members. The awards program began with three awards named after persons who had been instrumental in the organization’s early development: Joyce Keener (Meritorious Service) who was the convener of the first national conference, Dr. Bobbie Atkins (Research) the conference’s first keynote speaker and a researcher whose seminal work or rehabilitation differential outcomes based on race altered the course of rehabilitation practices, and Dr. Sylvia Walker (Education), director of the first Rehabilitation Research and Training Center operated at an HBCU, Howard University. Dr. Walker was also a major conference sponsor who initiated the practice of bringing graduate students to the conference. Later awards were added for Lifetime Achievement, (Virgie Winston-Smith), Practitioner (T.K. Bridges), Student (Silvio Sean Reyes), Organization (Felicia Hunter), and the last award, established in 2007, the Pioneer and Leadership Award (Vernon Hawkins). A unique award, the Torch Award, was offered first in 2014, to symbolize someone or some entity, who had “carried the torch” by going over and beyond the call of duty overtime on behalf of the organization. Its first recipients were Cindy Mundis and Stacie Robertson, who both served for extended terms as president and past president respectively. It is a non-competitive award that is given by the organization on selective occasions.
In 2003, the Association established a student scholarship award program (Dr. L. Robert McConnell and Dr. Eddie Glenn-Bryant Scholarship) for minority undergraduate or graduate student members who were pursuing a degree in rehabilitation or a related area. It is named after the two board members who established the award. Recipients are given a cash award at the annual conference and asked to provide a brief speech at the Awards Luncheon on a topical issue in multicultural rehabilitation. The program was consistent with the organization’s mission of supporting and encouraging students of Color to enter the field of rehabilitation. Since its inception, over fifteen individuals have become scholarship recipients.
The preface to the NAMRC Awards Program Application reads: “The NAMRC awards program was established to acknowledge exemplary performance of members of the Association in support of the organization or its mission.” Through the year 2023, well over 100 people have achieved recognition through the awards and scholarship programs.
Based on the Association's Bylaws, NAMRC Presidents are elected for a two-year term, and make a six-year commitment in leadership to the organization, serving two years as President-Elect, two years as President, and two years as Immediate Past President. Since its inception, until 2023, 16 different persons, representing 12 different states have held this national office. Those individuals are:
Ms. Joyce Keener--Michigan, Convener 1st National Conference
Mr. Thomas Bridges--Michigan (1993-1994)
Mr. Otha Washington--Washington DC (1995-1996)
Dr. Renee Middleton--Alabama (1997-1998)
Dr. Eddie Glenn--Illinois (1999-2000)
Dr. Carl Flowers--Illinois (2001-2002)
Ms. Tyra Hawkins--Alabama (2003-2004)
Dr. Paul Leung--Texas (2005-2006)
Dr. Chandra Donnell Carey--Michigan (2007-2008)
Dr. Stacie Robertson--Illinois (2009-2010)
Dr. Mona Robinson--Ohio (2011)
Ms. Cindy Mundis--Pennsylvania (2012-2014)
Dr. Robin Washington--Illinois (2015-2016)
Ms. Valyncia Wilson--Oklahoma (2017-2018)
Dr. Michell Temple--Georgia (2019-2020)
Dr. Robin Dock--North Carolina (2021)
Dr. Keisha Grayson Rogers--North Carolina (2022-2024)
Expanding Rehabilitation Influence
Consistent with its mission, NAMRC has sought to expand its influence within the parent organization (NRA) and throughout the larger rehabilitation network. Over its history, NAMRC has been the feeder for future NRA Presidents, beginning with Bettie Shaw Henderson in 1998, followed by L. Robert McConnell in 2001, Carl Flowers in 2007, Mary Anne Joseph in 2019, and Deanna Henderson in 2020. In addition, NAMRC members have been active on NRA committees, co-led the annual Governmental Affairs conference, and held joint conferences with other divisions, served on the Board Executive Committee (Joyce Keener, served as a Council Representative on the NRA Executive Committee in 1992 and Dr. L’Tanya Fish, the NAMRC Board Liaison serves in that capacity in 2023), acted as Board Parliamentarian, assisted in development of an equity statement for the NRA Board, and provided board training on non-profit organizations. In addition, it was the collaboration of NAMRC members Carl Flowers (then NRA President) and L. Robert McConnell (former NRA President) that resulted in the establishment, in 2004, of the NRA Dr. Sylvia Walker Multicultural Award after her death.
Over the years, NAMRC has also established a presence with affiliated rehabilitation organizations, including the Council on Rehabilitation Education (CORE), the National Council of Rehabilitation Educators (NCRE), and the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification (CRCC) among others. NAMRC was first appointed to the CORE Commission on Standards and Accreditation in 1995 and was represented by Dr. Eddie Glenn-Bryant. Dr. Brenda (Cartwright) Taft succeeded her from 2003-2011 and was instrumental in gaining recognition of HBCU’s rehabilitation counseling training programs and in helping to define diverse populations in the CORE standards manual.
After her tenure as NAMRC President, in 2010, Dr. Stacie Robertson became an official representative for NAMRC on the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification, serving from 2011-2014, helping to keep multicultural and diversity issues before that body. In 2010, when NCRE led a dialogue of a “mega conference” of rehabilitation organizations, NAMRC was invited in the person of Dr. L. Robert McConnell to be a part of those discussions.
Dr. Brenda Taft also served until 2010 on the CRCC Ethics Committee and later on the CRCC Code Revision Task Force. In 2014, Dr. Taft recommended Dr. L’Tanya Fish to serve on the CRCC Code Revision Task Force. Their input resulted in major revisions to the 2010 and 2016 Code to infuse multicultural considerations throughout the Code of Ethics for Rehabilitation Counselors.
In 2020, Drs. Michell Temple and L’Tanya Fish, members of NAMRC, submitted a proposal to the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification to update its renewal requirements to include evidence of multicultural counseling competency training. NAMRC wanted the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification to validate the criticality of multicultural counseling competencies and provide leadership to other certifying bodies to establish similar provisions. Unfortunately, this proposal was rejected by the CRCC accrediting body; however, many suggestions were included in the new 2023 Code of Professional Ethics for Rehabilitation Counselors.
As arguments for a single, unified rehabilitation professional organization have continued off and on since the early 2000s, NAMRC has maintained a presence in those “unification” discussions and continues to “have a seat at this table.” Similarly, as rehabilitation counseling organizations have come together as a collaborative body under the heading of the Vocational Rehabilitation Counseling Coalition (VRCC), NAMRC has been invited to be involved and has maintained a presence as of the date of this writing (November 2023). NAMRC’s agenda in this coalition is to make sure that issues of collaboration and cooperation are inclusive of the needs of multicultural persons with disabilities and the professionals who serve them.
The future history of NAMRC is in the hands of its members to be written. NAMRC’s continued influence on the larger rehabilitation agenda, paying homage to its mission, and ultimately improving the lives of persons with disabilities from diverse cultures should be the drivers of its best tomorrow.
Author/Editorial Recognition from Dr. L. Robert McConnell
The creation of the NAMRC History document was truly a group effort in the NAMRC tradition. My thanks go first and generally to the larger NAMRC body over time; each of whom helped shape this history and create the vibrant organization we have become. Secondly, to our current President Dr. Keisha G. Rogers, who recognized the need to fully capture our history and made the request for the development of this document. Next, and more specifically I am grateful to members of the Legislative and Governance Committee (Webb, Smith, Wilson, McConnell, Rapant, Temple, and Peterson) under the leadership of Dr. L’Tanya Fish, who gave the initial draft its first review, also, to my reliable readers and thorough critiques, Dr. Brenda Taft and Dr. Eddie Glenn-Bryant whose input was invaluable, and lastly, to my partner in this publication, Dr. Kelsey Webb, who had the unenviable task of integrating everyone’s input into a cohesive document that was compatible with appropriate publication guidelines. Thank you each for who you are and what you do.
~L. Robert McConnell