Dante Chrystal was born on August 5th, 1989. Dante describes his upbringing as tumultuous because he was constantly displaced from his family due to his parent’s inability to properly care for him. By age 4, Dante found a home that was secure. However, he endured many struggles being the only African American in his new family and not having a father figure in his life. Dante felt abandoned and frustrated, especially because he was unable to see his birth brothers and sisters. As a child, Dante had difficulty expressing his discontent to his new family. This led to various behavioral problems, which resulted in many visits to the hospital for treatment. Dante recalls many experiences of being abused and neglected, similar to the horror stories that many of us hear of residents in developmental centers.
Dante joined Community Access Unlimited when he was 18 years old. During this time, Dante had a change of heart. In order to heal from his traumatic experiences as a child, he chose helping others as an outlet for his lingering despair. Dante explained, “…because of what I went through, I became attune to the suffering around me, such as bullying and police brutality, and as a result, I became empathetic. I really take the time to observe what is going on around me”.
This newfound attitude is what led Dante to his current position as a Self-Advocacy Field Coordinator for the New American Movement. At first, Dante was unsure if he would fit in with the movement. He credits his desire to explore this realm of community life to attending conference workshops at the 2012 Reinventing Quality Conference in Baltimore, MD. Dante had the opportunity to ask questions and engage in dialogue with many other attendees and subsequently, recognized that he could help himself and others through advocacy.
In particular, Dante is adamant about changing society’s perception of the disability community. Like many advocates, Dante believes, “we’re all the same, just different abilities”. Furthermore, Dante hopes to see remaining developmental centers closed across the nation. It upsets him to know that people with disabilities are still subjected to harsh treatment with many staff escaping the consequences. In closing, Dante expressed his excitement for future advocacy projects by explaining, “Advocacy allows me to use my strength to strengthen others. Right now, advocates need to round up their supporters and work hard to remove these ongoing issues in the United States”.