Personal Story

Feature Issue on Engaging Communities Underrepresented in Disability Research

A Job to Finish


Ajani Lewis-McGhee is vice president of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Commission in Golden Valley, Minnesota. He also works at Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America.

My mom got me my first job. It was at a McDonald’s in Cincinnati, where she was working. She told them they had to hire me or she wasn’t going to work there anymore, so they hired me. I have a strong mom.

When we moved to Minnesota about eight years ago, I dressed up like I was going to an interview and walked up Nicollet Mall, collecting applications from Target, McDonald’s, Starbucks, and some other places. I printed resumes, filled out the applications, and turned them in. On some of them I mentioned my disability, some I did not. When I called and asked if they were still looking, they all said no.

At a conference, my mom heard about Lifeworks Services, Inc., and they said they had the perfect job for me. It was at Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America, and I’ve been working there now for several years. Because of my race and disability, there’s no way I would have gotten a good job like this, without that introduction. I work part time, shipping out supplies to our agents in the field.

A Black man, Black woman, and a white man sit at a conference table during a public meeting of a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) committee. All of them are wearing glasses.

Ajani Lewis-McGhee participates in a community meeting in Golden Valley, Minnesota.

I am also vice president of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Commission in Golden Valley (previously the Human Rights Commission). We meet regularly at City Hall, making official recommendations to elected officials about DEI issues.

I’m also involved with the Association of People Supporting Employment First (APSE). I go around and tell my story to different companies. I say, “We’re just like you. We get up in the morning and brush our teeth and do all the things you do. We just think differently.” Lately, I’ve been telling them that disability is the new way of working. I mean, this is the only group of people that will come to work every day for you.

We need a better system for people with disabilities, though. The federal cap they have on all of us means we can’t make over a certain amount or we lose our benefits, so there’s no incentive to work. None.

We also need better data about who is working. We need to know the percentages of people by race who are unemployed and employed.

In the future I want to run for office and eventually change the laws for disability. We started with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and I want to finish the job by fixing things so people can work and still get their benefits. We need to get more people with disabilities on boards, city councils, and on the news. Representation is important.