Cookie Brand’s commitment to supporting deaf youth and unlocking their potential knows no boundaries, traversing both oceans and time.
Hailing from a large, seven-generation-strong deaf family, Brand is the newest profile in the #DeafSuccess video series by the National Deaf Center on Postsecondary Outcomes. Featuring firsthand accounts from deaf Americans, #DeafSuccess videos show deaf youth the wide variety of paths adulthood can take and seek to empower them to have high expectations for the future.
The Role of Families and School Counselors
In her #DeafSuccess story, the school counselor for deaf and hard of hearing children reflects on her worldly experiences, including her time working at the Kerugoya School for the Deaf in Kenya, and how school counselors, parents, teachers, and social workers all working collaboratively can guide deaf youth to reach their innate potential and ultimately thrive.
Brand explains that, having grown up in the US and spent time abroad with the Peace Corps in Kenya, she understands that school and family support significantly influence deaf youth success. This is what led her to become a school counselor.
“Based on my experiences growing up — and recognizing that home life and that nature versus nurture type of thing impacts the way kids learn — helped me realize counseling was what I really wanted to do,” said Brand in her profile.
However, Brand also explains that not all resources and materials are culturally appropriate and available in a range of languages. She emphasizes the importance of recognizing multiculturalism in the process.
"Multicultural competency training is quite beneficial for school counselors so they can understand the various needs of the students and to meet parents where they are," said Brand in her profile.
Some Black, indigenous, and parents of color find it difficult to trust school counselors who are predominantly white. Developing relationships with families means better outcomes for deaf youth.
“By making sure parents have basic necessities and support, school counselors develop a warm and supportive relationship and trust with parents," she said.
Advice for Building Leadership Skills
With adequate family and school support, deaf youth have the potential to create a positive impact on their local communities after high school. Brand's advice to deaf youth and their parents is to connect and volunteer with local organizations to develop leadership skills and find deaf role models through networking.
"By volunteering and sharing your skills, you gain rich experiences, leadership skills and a mentor. Networking is quite important. Also, try to see different perspectives. There can be two, three, or more perspectives on a single topic. This will help you grow as a person and a leader," Brand advises. "There are also various programs like the Deaf Mentor program, Hands and Voices, and local and national non-profit organizations that support deaf youth. Connect also with culturally deaf organizations, such as Asian Deaf Associations, National Hispanic Latino Association of the Deaf, and National Black Deaf Advocates."
Her final words of wisdom to deaf youth? Practice self-love and self-care: "Life will always throw some sort of challenges and with self-love and respect for yourself, the challenges will seem easier."
Deaf Success is Self Empowerment
In defining “deaf success,” she looks to American Sign Language for inspiration, observing that the sign for the English word “success” is parallel to the sign for “achievement.”
"Some people define success as having a lot of money, or a car, or having 1,000 followers on social media, or winning a video game. All of your achievements—no matter how small or big—are your own successes. Celebrate and cherish the little things. That’s self empowerment,” she says.
Brand’s video release is timed with a live, online panel hosted by NDC on Sept. 29 where families of deaf youth nationwide have an opportunity to connect with each other, share their experiences, and get advice.
The National Deaf Center’s #DeafSuccess videos are used by educators, vocational rehabilitation counselors, disability services professionals, parents, and anyone seeking to empower deaf youth and young adults to succeed after high school.
They feature trained professionals who reflect the vibrant diversity of the deaf community, experience, and identity. Research shows role models, mentors, and high expectations for the future positively influence deaf youth and can help reduce gaps in their education and employment.