Parnell Diggs (D-SC-7) – Bio

Parnell Diggs Congressional Candidate South Carolina District 7

Parnell Diggs (D-SC-7)

BIOGRAPHY OF PARNELL DIGGS (emailed from Campaign)

Parnell Diggs was among the initial generation of Braille reading students to enter first grade in the public schools of Charlotte, North Carolina. It was 1975, and the President of the United States had just signed into law the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (known today as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act “IDEA”), the landmark legislation guaranteeing all disabled children the right to an appropriate, public education.

Diggs had been born blind due to detached retinas, and two things were absolutely certain. First, public school officials in Charlotte at the time did not want to admit Diggs into a classroom with sighted children; and second, they had no choice if the school system was to qualify for public funding. Further complicating the matter was the fact that Bill and Nancy Diggs simply refused to accept the kind of limitations for their son that society ordinarily placed on blind children.

Young Diggs did not disappoint. He unequivocally demonstrated that he could acquire the skills of reading, writing, and arithmetic alongside his sighted peers. But Diggs always looked forward to the end of the school day. In the yards, woods, and streets of his childhood, he climbed trees, rode bikes, shot B-B guns, and played quarterback on the neighborhood Pop Warner football team after his family relocated to Columbia, South Carolina.

He taught his younger brother, Holland, the fundamentals of playing first base, how to step out of the batter’s box until he was ready for the pitch, and how to wrestle. Holland was sighted, and he taught “Parnelli” (his family called him Parnelli) about the kinds of things in life that we learn from observing others: like how to dance, shrug his shoulders, and give the “thumbs up” sign. They remained close until Holland’s untimely death in 2005. He was thirty-three.

In high school, Diggs participated on the varsity wrestling team, made the South Carolina Honors All-State Chorus; and while his friends were earning spending cash bagging groceries, Diggs was earning good money singing and playing the guitar in Columbia area restaurants.

In 1989, Diggs met Kenneth Jernigan and Donald Capps, two great leaders who had dedicated a lifetime of service to their blind brothers and sisters. Jernigan and Capps shared a message of promise and achievement for the blind and talked about how the blind could accomplish more through collective action. Diggs quickly embraced their line of reasoning.

It wasn’t long before Diggs knew that the full integration of the blind into society would be his life’s work; and though he was busy double majoring in Political Science and Religious Studies, working, and maintaining a social calendar, it seemed to Diggs that the best way to help himself as a blind person was to become a member of the National Federation of the Blind.

In 1991, Diggs was invited to participate in a leadership seminar, where he received intense instruction from the President of the National Federation of the Blind, Dr. Marc Maurer. Diggs was heavily influenced by Maurer’s leadership style and has put much of what he learned into practice in carrying out his own leadership responsibilities since that time.

It was also in 1991 that Diggs attended his first National Federation of the Blind Convention during the week of July 4. Before arriving in New Orleans that summer, Diggs had read Floyd Matson’s “Walking Alone and Marching Together” (the 1100-page history of the organized blind movement in the United States) in its entirety and any other related materials he could find.

Diggs was learning that other blind people thought as he did: that blind people could exceed society’s expectations. But the key to full integration was acceptance by society into the places where sighted people lived and worked. In short, Diggs came to know that complete social acceptance of the blind lies where training and opportunity meet.

By the summer of 1992, Diggs had completed his first year of law school and was working as a law clerk at the South Carolina Office of Appellate Defense, the state agency responsible for handling criminal appeals and post-conviction relief applications for indigent defendants.

At the Office of Appellate Defense, Diggs acquired the skills of legal research and oral argument and learned to interact with clients within the facilities of the South Carolina Department of Corrections. Walking into the Edisto Unit of the Broad River Correctional Institution was perhaps the most memorable experience for Diggs during his time at Appellate Defense.

This was where they housed Death Row inmates in the early 90’s recalls Diggs. “There is nothing like walking through five or six sets of heavy metal electronic doors with each set slamming behind you as you move deeper into the facility, and there is never more than one set of doors open at a time. It created the feeling that any attempt to escape would be futile.”

Diggs accepted a position as a law clerk in a private firm in 1993 and continued to hold this position after he was hired as a page in the South Carolina Senate. At one point in 1994, Diggs was juggling his final semester of law school with two part-time jobs, and he was a newlywed. Diggs had married Kimberly Dawn Gossett (his high school sweetheart) on May 22, 1993.

He relocated to Myrtle Beach South Carolina in 1995 when he accepted a fulltime position with the South Carolina Commission for the Blind. Diggs was given the responsibility of administering rehabilitation programs for the agency in a four-county area. In 1997, at the age of twenty-eight, he opened a private law practice in Myrtle Beach and remains in practice today.

Diggs was elected to the National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina Board of Directors in 1992 and was reelected in 1994, 1996, and 1998. He was appointed by Governor Jim Hodges to the Governing Board of the South Carolina Commission for the Blind in 1999 and again in 2002 and was twice confirmed by the State Senate.

The appointment made Diggs the only individual ever to have been a client, an employee, and a member of the Governing Board of the South Carolina Commission for the Blind. In 2000, Donald Capps announced that he would not seek reelection and recommended that Diggs be elected President of the National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina.

Diggs was elected unanimously and has held the presidency ever since. In 2007, the nation’s blind community elected Diggs to the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind. As a private practicioner, Diggs has argued before the United States Court of Appeals in the 4th and 8th Circuits and has represented some 300 clients in federal administrative proceedings.

While Diggs is no longer playing requests in local restaurants, music continues to be an important part of his life. Diggs plans to sing first tenor with the Carolina Master Chorale in Europe this June. Diggs sang the role of Remendado in the Carolina Master Chorale’s production of Georges Bizet’s opera, “Carmen”, in June of 2006.

The Diggses have one son, Jordan, born on January 12, 2000. As he pondered his son’s future, Diggs made the following observation.

“Jordan will be told that he is less fortunate than other children are because his dad is blind—but thanks to the National Federation of the Blind he won’t believe it. Blindness is not a tragedy. With proper training and opportunity, blindness can be reduced to the level of a mere physical nuisance. I am determined that this is the message of blindness that my son will hear most.”

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