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Memorial service planned for Friday for doctoral candidate Cheryl Spear
A memorial service for Cheryl Spear, doctoral candidate in Syracuse University’s School of Education and passionate advocate for disability, civil and human rights, will be held Friday, Jan. 20, at 6 p.m. in Hendricks Chapel.
The service will be fully accessible and all in the Syracuse University and greater Syracuse communities are welcome to join this celebration of Spear’s life and work.
Spear died Dec. 11, 2011, following a six-month battle with cancer. She overcame adversity and late-onset visual impairment to spend a great deal of her life opening doors within society and higher education for others. She will receive Syracuse University’s 2012 Martin Luther King Jr. Unsung Hero Award posthumously on Jan. 21 in recognition of her work.
Spear will be remembered for her humor, generosity, intellectual rigor, deep-rooted spirituality, dignity, loyalty and willingness to speak truth to power. Born in Harlem, she lived as a young adult in the Bay Area of California and maintained a wide circle of friends there. Her service to the board of W.O.M.A.N inc. (Women Organized to Make Abuse Nonexistent) is one example of her commitments.
Although she lost much of her physical vision at that time, her inner vision inspired all she touched, as did the competence and independence with which she navigated the world with the minuscule amount of sight she retained. In 1998, she obtained a bachelor’s degree in clinical psychology from Brooklyn College, where she led a student advocacy organization in compelling the college to address the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Spear earned a master’s degree at SU in cultural foundations of education and a certificate of advanced study in disability studies in 2003. In her early studies at SU, she received an African American Studies Fellowship and served as a graduate assistant at the Center on Human Policy. She was completing her Ph.D. at the time of her death.
Both in her employment and in student organizations, she advocated for people with disabilities. She was a founding member of the Beyond Compliance Coordinating Committee, a student disability advocacy organization, and of Students United for Visual Access Today, which creates community among students who are blind or have low vision and works to improve accessibility at the University and in the community. She participated in the first audio description at Syracuse Stage last April.
Spears’ Syracuse involvements outside the University included singing with the Syracuse Community Choir and serving on several boards of directors, always bringing people together across differences.
She is survived by her mother, Betty Robinson of Atlanta; her father, Onus Clark of Spartanburg, S.C.; nine siblings; and many close friends and extended family members.