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Meet the Divas

At Divas in the City, we understand the beauty and challenges of being both a Black woman and a woman with a disability.  With a small percentage of black female and disability media representation, we want to highlight authentic and unapologetic women and their storylines that resonate with everyday people.

 

About a year ago, we had a nationwide casting call for Black women with disabilities who are bosses in their cities. 

 

We go over 50 submission and we have selected five women who are fearlessly taking their city by storm.  We are proud to introduce, Zazel O'Garra, Karneshia Shantel, Natalia Mendez, Karen Gasperini, and Keri Gray.

 

These are the Divas in the City!!!

Meet the Divas

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Zazel O'Garra

Zazel-Chavah O’Garra is the founder and Artistic Director of ZCO/DANCEPROJECT, a physically integrated dance company whose goal is to create performances that are witty, soulful, intelligent, powerful and intriguing. ZCODP seeks to encourage the integration and inclusion of people with disabilities in dance and in society, to present new, exciting, challenging, and inspiring contemporary dance performances to the widest possible audience.

A native New Yorker, Zazel attended the University of Michigan and Empire State College where she received a Bachelor of Arts in dance performance. A Presidential Arts Scholar, she performed with Mark Dendy Dance Company and Alvin Ailey Wksp II, as well as performing Off-Broadway and in numerous musical theatre stage productions in the U.S. and abroad. She has also served as movement coach for “As the World Turns”. As a professional model, she has appeared on two Essence Magazine covers and several other print and runway jobs. She also appeared in national, regional commercial industrials and supplied voice overs for a number of  ads.

In December 2003, Zazel discovered that she had meningioma, a benign brain tumor, which proceeded to paralyze her right side and resulted in a slight speech impediment and cognitive loss. After receiving extensive treatment at the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation (East Orange, NJ) and New York University Rusk Medical Center, Zazel was able to overcome the speech impediment, cognitive loss, and paralysis.

Consciously deciding to make best use of this debilitating circumstance, Zazel transitioned into teaching dance as a healing form to the disabled and non-disabled alike, continuing to share her infectiously positive and fun spirit with others. Her objective is to give those with disabilities a vehicle for self-expression, help them build a sense of self-esteem and self-reliance, and provide them with opportunities for community recognition and acclaim. She is also passionate about raising public awareness about the challenges facing and the gifts offered by those with disabilities.

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Karneshia Shantel

Karneshia Shantel is a Mississippi native and a University of Mississippi graduate who currently resides in Birmingham, AL. She's into entrepreneurship, modeling, advocacy, writing, and nail artistry. This only scratches the surface of the many crowns that she wear. She works to promote inclusivity in the media through fashion, entertainment, and advocacy.

 

Karneshia has been featured in publications such as The DailyMail, Right This Minute, Sheen Magazine, Ipush Magazine, B-Metro Magazine, Birmingham Times, Voyage ATL, and much more. Her main passion is showing just how much representation matters by being that representation for and with people with disabilities. She not only hope to inspire but influence others to live their most authentic life.
 

More recently, she works to help make entertainment spaces for accessible so that people with disabilities can go out to events and not feel like an afterthought but feel included in the planning stages. She want people with disabilities to feel like they are welcomed and belong in those spaces to enjoy live events.

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Natalia Mendez

Natalia Mendez is Founder and Executive Director of Women on Wheels, a non-profit organization that educates and empowers women with spinal cord injuries. She is currently Vice President of the United Spinal Association’s New York City Chapter and has over 14 years experience working as a Youth Advocate for children with disabilities at the Bronx Independent Living Center. She also serves as a peer mentor for the newly injured, and has a deep passion for promoting awareness and inclusivity for people of all abilities, especially women. In her free time she loves to travel and attend music festivals.

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Karen Gasperini

Karen A. Gasperini is a children's author, model and speaker. She has been telling stories to children for many years. She just recently started to publish her stories for all to enjoy. Her series "Arianna's Magic Boots," are all based on her daughter Arianna and herself from their experience as a child. Her daughter, Arianna has the condition, rare genetic disorder called Beals syndrome. They also have severe scoliosis, anxiety, asthma, and club feet. Karen has been spreading awareness about her disability to help everyone understand we're all special in some way and you should never let anyone or anything stop you from shining. "Always Believe in yourself."

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Keri Gray

Keri Gray is a cancer survivor, entrepreneur, speaker, and facilitator. She is the CEO of the Keri Gray Consulting Group, where they strive to create professional communities of understanding through disability and racial justice education. She is also founder of the National Alliance of Melanin Disabled Advocates (the NAMED Advocates), which creates spaces for disabled leaders of color and BIPOC allies to gather, learn, connect, and grow around racial and disability justice.

 

Through her various roles, Keri has recruited approximately 4,000 professionals for over 100 organizations and Fortune 500 companies. She has also designed and managed programs for over 1,000 professionals that has helped participants secure competitive employment, identify transferable skills, build an influential network, and gain notable opportunities.

 

Keri’s work has been featured in Teen Vogue, the New York TimesPeople MagazineTime MagazinePBS NewsHourMadamenoire, and the Diet Coke campaign #Unlabeled.

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