Honoring Stacey Park Milbern and her dream for a more inclusive world
“There is no reason for us to feel shame for who we are. We were born into this world exactly as we are. We are who we were meant to be.”
— Stacey Park Milbern
Stacey Park Milbern was a Korean-American, queer, disability justice activist. A dynamic leader, she advocated for people of color and trans and gender-expansive individuals to be included in the mainstream disability justice movement. On her 33rd birthday, May 19, 2020, Stacey passed away. But her message and vision for a more inclusive world lives on through her close friend and business partner, Andraéa LaVant.
Before Stacey’s passing, she and Andraéa started their dream collaboration with Google’s Brand Accessibility team to drive a lasting cultural shift toward a more accessible world — a partnership that is still going strong. On her 35th birthday, Google is paying homage to Stacey on its homepage with a vibrant Google Doodle — created by guest illustrator Art Twink in collaboration with Andraéa and Stacey’s family.
Celebrating the disability revolution Stacey led
Interviewer: What does disability justice mean to you? Stacey Park Milbern: There's this kind of growing framework about looking at the ways disability connects with other issues. And when we're really, really able to stretch it out to like, what do people need to be who they are, creating a world where everybody can really participate in, disability justice really pushes that forward. Andraéa LaVant: Stacey Milbern, she was a huge dreamer in championing justice for those that are often left on the margin. Art Twink: She was proudly all of her identities, Korean American, disabled, queer, and that these things do not exist without each other. Andraéa LaVant: She was incredibly funny, incredibly loving, but also very fierce, and that's what made her the amazing activist and friend that she was. Andraéa LaVant: Hi, my name is Andraea LaVant. I am a dear friend of Stacey Milbern and a consultant for the Google Doodle, celebrating Stacey's 35th birthday. Stacey Park Milbern: My name is Stacey Milbern. I study political science, and I've always been really interested in social justice issues. Andraéa LaVant: Stacey started in disability related work when she was very young in the state of North Carolina. She actually worked to pass a law to ensure that disability history is taught in schools. Andraéa LaVant: She had a blog, you know, active on social media platforms, working to educate non-disabled, and disabled people alike, that we need one another to survive. Art Twink: As a disabled, queer, Bengali American artist I wanted the artwork to celebrate Stacey's complexity by simply representing her. Art Twink: Hi, I'm Art Twink. I am an artist and illustrator from Northern California, and I'm the guest artist for the Google Doodle celebrating Stacey Milbern's 35th birthday. Art Twink: For the process, I started with sketches of Stacey, a lot of studies of Stacey. She had this like light pink, her favorite color, pair of plastic rimmed glasses. And I also asked Andraea for little tidbits about Stacey. And one of my favorite was that she was always putting on lipstick, like really, truly a fashion icon. Andraéa LaVant: So, interestingly, Stacey and I met formally online. I knew of her for many years, with her being a pioneer around disability justice and intersectionalities, which centers the experiences of disabled queer, Black, Indigenous, people of color who often are experiencing intersecting forms of oppression. And as a Korean American woman, her heritage was incredibly important to her and we clicked as disabled women of color and us learning from one another. Art Twink: Visually for this doodle I wanted things that were important to Stacey. To be shown through metaphorical representation in the art, the house that she lived in she brought together disabled people for the Disability Justice Culture Club. So the doodle shows a little party of disabled people with Stacey in the foreground having facilitated this amazing community. And outside her house, she had an orange tree, and oranges are such a symbol of life and community for everyone. Andraéa LaVant: Stacey really stood for love, for belonging, for disabled communities in particular. Us seeing and embracing ourselves. And the fact that Global Accessibility Awareness Day is also her birthday, and the same time as Asian and Pacific Islander American Heritage Month, I mean, kismet, divine timing. I know that she would be so excited. And when people see this Doodle, I hope that in seeing Stacey, people will see themselves embracing who they are in whatever communities that they're a part of. Art Twink: When people see this Doodle, I really hope they think about how we are a whole person made up of all these identities. Her Korean American identity, queer identity, her disabled identity, they cannot be separated. And by making things as accessible as possible to everybody, we live in a way that honors Stacey. (gentle music)
Stacey’s close friend Andraéa LaVant is a Black disabled woman and the founder and president of LaVant Consulting. She helps us remember Stacey by sharing how she challenged the way the world views and values disabled people.
Stacey was committed to grassroots activism. She firmly believed that we need to save ourselves, but that didn’t come from a sad place. She emphasized that what we do for our community should be created by the community, because no one else knows our needs like we do. Self-identifying as “your everyday queer Korean girl from the South,” Stacey truly uplifted intersectionality and connected those of us who often felt so siloed.
The Disability Justice Culture Club (DJCC) was the epitome of all she stood for when it came to multiply marginalized communities. Stacey’s home in East Oakland, CA, was the club’s center and gathering place for the disabled queer and/or BIPOC community. It was a safe space where people could come live and convene without apology. In response to the pandemic, DJCC provided for the community — making masks, building hand sanitizer kits, and fundraising for those in need of ventilators.
I also worked with Stacey on Crip Camp. We were co-impact producers on the Netflix documentary and, among many other initiatives, created a virtual camp experience that extended the movie experience by connecting disabled people and sharing their journeys to activism. Initially, we planned Crip Camp Virtual to be 8 weeks long, with hopes of 500 attendees. Beyond our wildest imagination, our attempt to broaden the impact of the film evolved into a new disability revolution. Crip Camp Virtual grew to be a 16-week camp that hosted an incredible range of guest speakers and nearly 10,000 attendees from around the world. Now an Oscar-nominated, award-winning documentary, Crip Camp has brought our disability community to the center stage of the world.
From teaming with executive producer and former President Barack Obama on Crip Camp to walking the red carpet at the Oscars, Stacey would be floored and in awe of what we’ve achieved.
Remembering Stacey’s dreams
“Stacey wasn’t just about centering disability, but the intersectional experiences of disabled people of color, queer and gender-nonconforming people, and indigenous people of color.”
Stacey was the most fierce, genuine, and loving frontline activist and biggest dreamer I’ve ever known. But more than her dreams, what motivated me most was her staunch belief that these dreams would become realities. In fact, it was these dreams that led us to Google. It wasn’t about charity or employment outcomes. Google truly believed in a systematic cultural shift and its role in partnering with the community to make the world more accessible.
When Stacey and I met with KR Liu, head of Brand Accessibility, we left feeling like the sky was the limit. We appreciated KR’s experiences as a queer disabled woman herself. We could easily envision opportunities for lasting change.
The night before Stacey went into the hospital for the surgery she didn’t recover from, she was dreaming about the possibilities of the future partnership with Google. Our list of “what ifs” from that night informed our proposal and served as the launchpad for LaVant Consulting’s partnership with Google that remains to this day.
An ongoing commitment to making the world more accessible
“We’re never done creating the world we need.”
— Stacey Park Milbern
With accessibility written into Google’s core mission statement, we’re using the power of technology and our reach to co-create a world where people with disabilities can thrive. We’re honored to partner with and for empowering disability justice activists like Stacey Park Milbern and Andraéa LaVant.