Early Leaders: Darcus Nims
Darcus Nims recalls that as a child she was excluded from the fun trips her siblings took with her aunt. “She would never take me because of my disability, and I used to cry and stuff.” Her mother assured Darcus that someday she would show everybody what she could do. Several decades later, Darcus received the national Victorian Award for Achievement from President George H.W. Bush at a White House luncheon. The award recognized her for overcoming overwhelming challenges in her life. At the next family picnic, “my mom brought my pictures from Washington, D.C.” “She said, ‘See? I told you she was going to be special. She got to see the President.’"
Darcus was born in 1957. Growing up in Indianapolis, she faced low expectations from the educational system. She wanted to learn math skills and to learn how to type, but teachers informed her those skills were for "regular" people. She was told she needed to leave school at the age of 18 and was sent to sheltered workshops at three different agencies. “Nobody never asked me what I wanted to do, if I wanted to go to the workshop.” She recounts that a social worker was among those who underestimated her. Darcus pushed back. “I showed her that I took care of my mom, I took care of my niece. I went to my meetings. I kept my group going. I worked."
“I showed her that I took care of my mom, I took care of my niece. I kept my group going. I worked."
These personal experiences with injustice led her to become an effective self-advocate for people with intellectual disabilities. In 1990, she and other self-advocates founded the statewide organization, Self-Advocates of Indiana (SAI). She was tireless in her efforts, despite sometimes-discouraging results. "They [people in power] say they're listening and they say that they're going to help us and they're going to do things for us to make it better for people with disability and stuff, but it seems like it goes in one ear out that ear." When SAI couldn’t get bathrooms in an Indianapolis park open for their annual picnic, she called the Governor’s office. The bathrooms were opened.
Darcus served on the Back Home in Indiana Alliance Steering Committee. She was an advocate for affordable, accessible housing, and wanted to share with others what she had learned after her Indianapolis home was extensively damaged by a fire. An unscrupulous contractor took advantage of her family, taking savings she needed for medical expenses.
"a great role model, teacher, and trainer”
Darcus was a graduate of the Indiana Governor’s Council for People with Disabilities’ first Partners in Policymaking class, a program established in 1991. In 2006, she was the first person to receive the Council’s Community Spirit Award.
Darcus was proud of being a role model for her niece with a disability. Darcus observed that, although many inequalities remained, things were a lot better for her neice, who learned to speak for herself earlier in life. Darcus died in 2008. Betty Williams said the passing of her long-time colleague marked not only the loss of a good friend, but of “a great role model, teacher and trainer.”
Darcus’ legacy lives on; One of Indiana’s self-advocate leaders is recognized annually with the Darcus Nims Self-Advocate of the Year award.