Several months into his recovery from a mild stroke, D.C. Council member Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7) recently doubled down on his assertion that Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) and others have erroneously and unfairly underestimated his cognitive abilities.      

In his latest statement, Gray, 80, stood in solidarity with other stroke survivors who face discrimination in the workplace and other realms of public life because of communication challenges that spark doubts about their capabilities. 

Formerly having served as D.C. mayor and chair of the council, Gray also vowed to embark on a crusade that guarantees stroke survivors receive reasonable accommodations in the workplace and protection under the Human Rights Act. “As chair of the newly formed Committee on Hospital and Health Equity, I will explore whether we have done enough in the District to codify and protect these rights,” Gray said Monday. 

“There will always be new frontiers to blaze in pursuit of equity,” he continued.  “As well, issues that were seemingly settled sometimes require revisiting. Throughout my career, I have advocated for the rights of individuals who are often overlooked or taken advantage of. This chapter of my career will be no different.”

Earlier in January, Gray unsuccessfully argued before the council that Mendelson violated the Human Rights Act when he removed him from the helm of the Committee on Health. The former council chairman made a motion, which he put before the body, but only had the support of D.C. Council members Janeese Lewis George (D-Ward 4) and Trayon White (D-Ward 8).

Shortly before the committee reassignments in December, Gray submitted a letter to the council saying that his doctors cleared him for work and related activities. Mendelson went on to change Gray’s committee assignment, after, what he described as, concerns he and others on the council had about their eldest colleague’s recovery.

Mendelson, speaking to the Informer earlier this month, argued that the Human Rights Act doesn’t apply to decisions about committee assignments because it’s not a matter of an employer-employee relationship. He added that though Gray’s doctors cleared him to work, they suggested they limit his work hours.

Though stroke rehabilitation differs from person to person, experts say that performance in the realms of mobility, speech and strength can significantly improve within a year to 18 months. Cognition is most likely to improve within the first three months of recovery, as that’s the period when the brain is actively attempting to repair itself.

After his mild stroke in late 2021, Gray spent much of last year engaging in physical therapy and speech therapy.

Despite his progress, Gray continues to experience challenges verbally communicating. In his recent letter, he said a staff member will accompany him while conducting council business to read his remarks. He also expressed plans to temporarily communicate through written statements.

Gray’s staff has spent several weeks communicating with constituents to allay concerns about his health. Following his committee reassignment, residents, politicians and community organizers took to social media to support the political veteran and echo his concerns about human rights violations.

Gray has also found a supporter in Bishop Paula Clark, a stroke survivor hailing from Hillcrest who’s faced hurdles similar to the Ward 7 council member.

In early 2021, Clark moved to Chicago to serve a senior role in the Episcopal Church that places her before more than 120 congregations in Illinois, from Chicago to Peoria. Shortly after her move to the Windy City, Clark suffered a stroke that altered her speech and, for a brief moment, compelled some insecurity about her ability to speak before 25,000 Episcopalians.

The Ward 7 native, who is also mother of WI Managing Editor Micha Green, said through it all, she continues to soldier on, using her stroke and subsequent recovery as an opportunity to grow stronger and more resilient. She said Gray will do the same in an environment where people have a surface-level understanding of what people with differing abilities can accomplish.

“We come out of these difficulties sounding differently but we’re stronger, intuitive and more reflective having gone through these trials,” Clark said. “Because we’re uninformed about people’s disabilities, we make erroneous assumptions that are hurtful. That’s why people need to give Council member Gray the benefit of the doubt and see what he’s made of.”