An impassioned speaker and activist, Gerald “Jerry” Lee Covell was well known at Gallaudet for his involvement in campus politics and extracurricular activities. He was tagged as the protesting students’ “spiritual leader” due to his fire-and-brimstone speaking style.

He had just completed an unsuccessful bid for the leadership of the Student Body Government with running mate Bridgetta Bourne when the DPN protest took place. The two naturally took their places alongside incoming SBG president Greg Hlibok and outgoing SBG president Tim Rarus as one of the four student leaders.

Update 2013

Covell was born in Spokane, Washington, in 1965 to deaf parents. His maternal grandmother and uncle are also deaf. He attended the Washington State School for the Deaf in Vancouver from 1970 to 1972.

He then spent the remainder of his school days attending various public schools with deaf programs. During the last two years of his schooling, he attended the Texas School for the Deaf in Austin and then graduated from Maryland School for the Deaf in Frederick in 1984.

Jerry entered Gallaudet University in 1984, where he received his bachelor of arts degree in American government, completed in December 1988 (received diploma in 1989). He completed his master of arts degree in government and political science from the University of Maryland in 1996.

Life experience and struggles in both the hearing and deaf communities instilled in Jerry strong convictions. He recognized both the rights and responsibilities of deaf people as citizens and that they are members of a unique and viable culture.

His commitment to equality of access and treatment for all deaf people has been exemplified, not only during the peaceful and successful protest at Gallaudet University in 1988 but also through working with state legislatures, agencies, organizations, and other walks of life throughout his career.

He has drafted, found sponsors, testified for, and successfully lobbied for numerous pieces of legislation that ensure equality, respect, independence, and accessibility for all individuals with hearing loss in Missouri and Illinois.

Jerry is currently the coordinator of the Interpreter Preparation Program at MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Illinois. He is often invited to give deaf-related presentations and continues to have a direct impact on the lives of deaf people by providing individualized advocacy.

He lives in Springfield, Illinois, and is the father of two deaf children.

In His Own Words

People have always asked why I became a leader or how the Deaf President Now protest has affected my life. These are two of the most difficult questions for me to answer because it cannot be easily put into words. I believed that my people were ready to take charge of their own lives, and I let that be known!

Becoming a DPN leader was not my choice or decision but rather the choice and the decision of the students who wanted me to represent them. That question can be answered better by them.

DPN has profoundly and significantly affected my life.

It made me more committed to serve my people. It made me more determined to have America and the public accept and respect deaf people, allow deaf people to control their destiny, and preserve the beauty, tradition, and values of our culture and language.

The ultimate goal is to see deaf people empower themselves and know their rights, resulting in necessary changes in all walks of life. My life is still affected today because we are not satisfied! Therefore, I am still pushing, teaching, fighting, lobbying, and looking for the day that I, along with millions of deaf people, can proudly say, “PAH! I AM EQUAL AT LAST! PAH!!”

We made a huge and explosive impact in March 1988, one so tremendous that the ripple effect is still very much alive and visible today. I am proud and honored to have been part of DPN, and so should everyone involved. It is something we all should remember and cherish. It brought us together and renewed our spirits.

My thoughts after DPN:

People use the words “Deaf movement” to describe DPN. It is understandable why such terms are used; however, I would not label the revolution at Gallaudet the “Deaf movement.”

DPN generated much pride, empowerment, and feelings of “can do” attitude in the deaf community. It created profound changes within the deaf community and increased public awareness of deafness that have not happened in the past prior to DPN. All kinds of dreams, hopes, desires, and expectations surged as a result of DPN.

This can be interpreted as a movement; however, many necessary changes have yet to be made. Therefore, it should not be considered a movement. The Deaf President Now focused only on Gallaudet University and the students’ demands: a deaf president, the removal of Spilman as chair of the Board of Trustees, a 51% majority of deaf people on the Board of Trustees, and no reprisals against those involved. We accomplished all of that at Gallaudet.

Many of the dreams, hopes, desires, and expectations of deaf people were not met at the end of DPN and still have not been met today. However, progress has been made since DPN. Very slow and incremental changes!

Do we have to wait years before we can feel equal? Respected? Have full accessibility? That is unacceptable as we will continue to pass along inequality and oppression to our deaf children of tomorrow!

Why not have a real Deaf movement. Show the nation the power of the deaf community, Deaf Power! Teach the nation the pride we have in our culture. Deaf and Proud! Let us begin a deaf movement. Our deaf children of tomorrow deserve better!

“A house divided against itself cannot stand” – Abraham Lincoln.

“United we stand, divided we fall” – Missouri State Motto.

These words hold powerful meanings, especially to a community as diverse as ours. Deaf people, regardless of hearing loss, communication modes, or cultural identity, share one common bond – a fight against communication barriers so thoughtlessly created by the larger non-deaf society.

I cannot overemphasize the importance that we all need to work together. It was done at Gallaudet during the Deaf President Now movement. It still can be done today.

The fight to obtain accessibility, equality, opportunity and respect for ALL individuals with a hearing loss should be used nationally within the deaf community and should not detract from the unique diversity that exists in our community. The diversity within the deaf community can be divisive only when we are unwilling to compromise, which leads to recognition, services, and programs that benefit some but not all.

Deaf President Now: Profiles and viewpoints

Bridgetta Bourne-Firl Student Activist Jerry Covell Student Activist Greg Hlibok Student Activist Tim Rarus Student Activist Phil Bravin Board Member Elisabeth Zinser Hearing Presidential Candidate Jane Spilman Board chairperson President's Council on Deafness Special Advisory Group Jerry C. Lee Former President Dr. I. King Jordan...

National Deaf Life Museum

Resource Type: History

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