*A pilónis an artisanal mortar and pestle hand-crafted and utilized by her native indigenous Taíno ancestors, and legacy of authentic Puerto Rican cuisine. She owns a small collection of pilones.
In April of 2014, within a year living in Georgia, Brenda Liz (Bren) Muñoz met Stacey Ramirez, former Director for Individual and Family Support Services at the Center for Leadership in Disability (CLD), School of Public Health at Georgia, and currently the new State Director for The ARC of Georgia. It was a powerful kindred connection, and two weeks later they were working on a medical textbook chapter on cultural and linguistic competence and life span services, opportunities and supports for individuals, families and communities living with intellectual and developmental disabilities edited by renowned author and developmental pediatrician Dr. Leslie Rubin and et al.
New to metro Atlanta, she discovered a community of progressive like-minded professionals at CLD, lead by Dr. Daniel Crimmins, and faculty mentors Dr. Emily Cook Graybill, Dr. Stephen Truscott, Akilah Heggs, Mark Curtis Crenshaw and Stacey whom informed and guided her passion for access, cultural diversity, cultural and linguistic competence, educational policy and practice, lifespan services, opportunities and supports for diverse individuals, families and communities, and civil and human rights and social justice.
In October of that year, she went on to publish an e-article on autism spectrum disorders (ASD), and special education services in La Respuesta, an alternative electronic-based media outlet with focus on the Boricua, the Puerto Rican Diasporas living in the United States. Last November, she attended her first Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD) in Washington, D.C. conference as a GaLEND Family Fellow/Trainee and met María Isabel Frangenberg, then the new Diversity and Inclusion Policy Fellow working on the initial stages of the Diversity and Inclusion Blueprint/Toolkit, a project she was ecstatic to learn of and eager to support.
This summer in June, Bren participated of the inaugural Georgetown University National Center for Cultural Competence (NCCC) Leadership Academy in Santa Fe, New Mexico with focus on intellectual and disabilities, on a full scholarship. A month later she co-presented with her NCCC faculty mentor Mathew (Mat) McCollough at the National Council on Developmental Disabilities (NCDD) conference in Reno, Nevada on a teach back panel on lessons learned at the leadership academy, and how these can be implemented within the development disabilities (DD) networks.
During this last year, Bren has sat at her kitchen table to mash-up her personal and professional lives -with pilón in hand- as parent to her nonverbal son living with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), a new wife, community leader, and a freelance bilingual, multicultural professional with a part-time position working with families with children with disabilities and special health care needs. In addition to a second academic term as a GaLEND trainee, and a active and engaged appointed council member with the Georgia Council Developmental Disabilities (GCDD), plus a membership in a handful of other local, regional and national organizations.
Next on her journey is working as the new Administration on Intellectual and Development Disabilities (AIDD) Diversity Fellow focused on Latino Community Practice at CLD. In that role she will lead by convening a cadre of Hispanic/Latino professionals, stakeholders and families to co-create a local consortium to best meet the needs of Spanish-speaking individuals, families and communities in metro Atlanta. At the same time, inform, network, collaborate and ultimately transform systems of care in its inequities in policies and practices.
In tandem, she will continue to co-facilitate with Dr. Graybill, her lead faculty mentor, seminars and workshops on the intersection of cultural diversity and disabilities as part of undergraduate, graduate and GaLEND courses and state-wide conferences, inclusive of the Georgia Association of Positive Behavior Supports and the Autism Plan of Georgia.
Bren intends to support the Georgia DD network as their English <> Spanish cultural broker, interpreter and translator, and seeks to become a champion for the all related to diversity and inclusion for as long as she has the opportunity to do so.
How does she mash-up it all together? Her secret is a simple recipe of salsa y control** and rhythm and resistance.
**Bren listens to world music nonstop and dances when no one is watching.Bren is an amateur ethnomusicologist who has traveled to Mexico, Colombia, Brazil and her native Puerto Rico in her pursuit to experience live music genres, and immerses herself in the country’s art and culture scene. She dreams of travels to musical bastions and enclaves in Cuba, France, Peru, Chile, Jamaica, Nigeria, Cape Verde and New Zealand - to name few.
~Written by Brenda Liz Muñoz, Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities