STEPS by Kei-Che’s Bio: STEPS is an acronym for Songs To Enhance People Signing, founded by Ms. Kei-Che, Black Deaf woman/mother/Teacher of the Deaf/Doula/Aspiring Midwife. She is the first Black and Deaf alumni from One Million Black Women: Black in Business Initiative. Hailing from the Midwest, Ms. Kei-Che graduated from the University of Northern Iowa, majoring in Public Health with an emphasis in Women’s Health. She is most passionate about bridging the gap between Deaf and hearing communities by equipping all with American Sign Language, from birth throughout their lifespan.
She was formally introduced to American Sign Language as a senior in high school in Tucson, Arizona. It was then when she noticed the beauty of ASL but she didn’t realize what an impact it would make in her life. In “deaf culture,” you must receive a deaf sign name from someone who is deaf. A young boy in her class assigned her “cute/smile” in ASL with a “K.”
In 2014, she received the cochlear implant. Within six months, her bilateral hearing loss had decreased resulting in total deafness in her right ear. Kei-Che is bimodal. She wears a Resound hearing aid in her left ear and hybrid cochlear in her right. Knowing that one day she may lose all of her hearing, Kei-Che continues to amplify Black Deaf culture.
STEPS Mission: To showcase the evolution and enhancement of people learning American Sign language through gospel, contemporary, pop, and hip hop music. We embody rhythm and passion through creative use of American Sign Language (ASL), music and dance.
STEPS Vision: To bridge the gap between the Deaf and hearing communities by bringing Black ASL to the world through music enjoyment. We provide education (Deaf Education consultation) to all in regards to layers of being marginalized, navigating micro aggressions, miscommunication and stereotypes. We aspire to break barriers by learning, encouraging, rebuilding confidence, and celebrating each other’s languages.
In the Beginning, There was the WORD. Kei-Che was born with a bilateral sensorineural hearing loss. However, she wasn’t diagnosed until she was seven, 2nd grade. Her gift as a child was that she mastered the art of lipreading. Through exchange of nearly a dozen pairs of hearing aids and advocacy, Kei-Che was able to find pride with being Deaf as an adult. In college, she self taught herself to sign. In 2015, she became implanted with the hybrid cochlear in her right ear. The process embarked on continues to be a spiritual journey, the evolution of the STEPS by Kei-Che.
On any given day, Kei-Che would prefer working with the youth tirelessly. Her goal is to INSPIRE them and deepen the roots of having HOPE, JOY, and LOVE.
“I am Deaf. Of course I want to work with Deaf children. I didn’t have that. I want them to have me and know that I will always be a resource to them and there to support. I want to equip hearing students with ASL skills and Deaf Education/ BlackDeaf Culture. I plan to curate strong relationships within both communities. Through collaboration with other BlackDeaf pioneers and those needing representation, we will shift the culture and NORMALIZE/MAINSTREAM AMERICAN SIGN LANGUAGE among all populations.” -Ms.Kei-Che
- Black & Brown, Deaf/Hard of Hearing & hearing/CODAs
- Bridging the gap, fulfilling the need, racial disparities, intersectionality, enlightenment
- All inclusive! All are welcome! All ages, backgrounds and walks of life
- Mentorships: Serves 30-50 youth in 1hr workshops, Serves over 500 youth annually within after school programs, 50 adult virtual workshops annually
- Speaking Engagements/Goal: 6/yr with families
- BlackDeafStudentsMatter Movement: Sold over 300 shirts
- ASL performances: 2/yr
- Deaf and Hard of Hearing Birthday Parties: 5/yr
- Awards: The Best Message from Oakland’s BlackJoyParade
Hey Kei-Che I have a few questions for you, so we can learn more about your journey and how people can help you.
Being Deaf has not been an excuse for you to stop moving forward. What are some of the amazing things you have done in your life?
I believe I can do anything. My self expectations are high to produce results. I truly love who I am and what I do, which makes it easier to advocate for language access, interpreters, and Deaf Education. I spend the majority of my time educating others how to interact with me and other Deaf folks. “Deaf” with a big D connects us to culture. BlackDeaf (spelled out as one word) connects us to Black Deaf people. It is the concept that we are whole, as one, and in fact, not separated in two categories. As a mother to 2 CODAs, Teacher of the Deaf in Oakland, Doula, aspiring midwife I have a vision, faith, and grit to overcome whatever I find along my path.
Tell us what kind of obstacles you face, while on your journey and how did you overcome them.
Accessibility/Advocacy: I had to learn that I deserved to learn ASL, to have access to interpreters, and to have fellowship with the BlackDeaf community. From birth, God has given me that right. Accommodations: I embraced that these are required tools and I need not to be ashamed to ask for them. Accepting this and learning how to advocate for what I need is a lifelong journey.
Rejection: I learned how to empower myself by turning denial into acceptance. Being told that I couldn’t, motivated me to grow.
Tell us about your business and what got you started on your business journey and what do you love most about it.
STEPS journey: I was driving to work, listening to “Angel of Mine” by Monica. I began to envision signed lyrics paired with written lyrics. I wanted to see the artist and interpreter reinforcing the artist’s expressions. So I pitched the idea to a group of students in an after school program. We started learning poems and songs in American Sign Language. That evolved to quarterly showcases when we would gather the community to witness a shift of culture. Later, I spent 5 years targeting after school programs in Black and Brown communities. We now offer virtual and in person mentoring workshops, speaking engagements, birthday parties facilitation, ASL Live performances and more. https://stepsbykeiche.com/asl-workshops
What I love most: The evolution of the process, being nervous and excited at the same time, learning the songs lyrics and figuring out what signs I want to use for songs, sharing my passion with others, connecting with families, I’m truly best to have found my passion and to be living out my dreams.
What are your current projects and do you have anything new in the pipeline?
STEPS Lyrical Song Catalog
- It is a dream of mine to create a virtual lyrical song catalog, partnering with major music streaming platforms. We want everyone to experience music and entertainment in real time with cultural representation and BlackDeaf Education. This would include signed lyrics, not just written. I’m the Black Deaf woman spearheading these efforts to partner with talented BlackDeaf artists/ performers/ and interpreters. It’s important to financially invest within these communities. As a Teacher of Deaf, connection with youth through college with language access to Black American Sign Language, this lyrical song catalog with be a resource to them.
STEPS Community Events
- For 7 years, annual showcases were hosted around the Cedar Valley (Waterloo/Cedar Falls), Iowa, by STEPS. This evolution led us to wanting to bring Black representation to American Sign Language to the world. I have a knack for bringing people together in fellowship and engaging them with “signing vocabulary.” This is an accessibility tool used to shift the culture in our communities. Partnerships/Sponsorships/Networks are key to sustaining these efforts. By combining forces, our community can shift the culture by curating and embracing inclusive e. Funds raised for this event will be used to defray the cost of services to families right here in the Cedar Valley.
STEPS Merchandise & Apparel?
- “Black Deaf Students Matter” was curated in Oakland, CA where I was working as a Teacher of the Deaf (K-2nd). The intersectionality and disparities grew louder and inspired a movement to demand access. Black and Brown students need priority access to American Sign Language, BlackDeaf culture, and interpreters. Some perceive BlackDeaf as one word, embodying that we are whole as one and not separated. Too often do Black/Brown Deaf children fall through the cracks. Thankfully I had a host of advocates before becoming one myself. I’m committed to being the change. All merchandise and apparel amplifies “#BlackDeafStudentsMatter.” We challenge the person reading and representing our brand to dive deeper in these conversations with intentions.
How do you balance your juggling act, between home life, business, and your own joy, to keep your stress level down?
Thankfully, I work from home mostly, which allows me to create my schedule and be flexible and take care of myself before investing in the business. I’m a planner. I try my best to write things down and use Google Calendar. I give myself grace. I plan family vacations with my children. In general, I’m intentional about the work I accepted and align it with my mission. From there, I take breaks when I need them. (Mentally, physically, spiritually, etc.)
What would you say to someone with hearing challenges, that is finding it difficult to move forward?
Connect with me, let’s learn and build together. I would love to help you learn ASL. I’m here to support you, in whatever way you’re willing to allow me to. Embrace yourself. YOU ARE WORTH IT!
In what ways can someone support you on this journey?
Join the movement by following us and engaging with us on Social Media, purchasing a “Black Deaf Students Matter” t-shirt, tell a friend about our programming, become a sponsor or partner, or consider making a donation. Send me an email if you’d like to discuss further ways to bridge the gap with STEPS by Kei-Che.
What advice do you have for others wanting to start a business journey?
DO IT!!! DO IT!!! DO IT!!! Don’t worry about all that it requires, just get started. The days and years add up. Bet on yourself.