Advocate, problem-solver and aspiring filmmaker
Samuel Habib is a catalyst for change in his community
Samuel Habib couldn’t access the student section to sit with his friends during Concord High School basketball games, so he worked with school administrators to develop a solution.
The city’s downtown was a maze of inaccessible entry ways and difficult-to-navigate routes, so he made a film illustrating those challenges. Memorial Field, where the high school’s football team plays its home games, could have better wheelchair accessibility – and Habib is on the case.
If there’s a problem that needs solving, Samuel Habib is the person you want on your team.
Habib, a Concord High School graduate, college student, aspiring filmmaker, Red Sox and NASCAR fan and music lover, has cerebral palsy — and is keenly aware of the cultural and systematic barriers that make inclusion a challenge, so he set out to do something about it.
“I became involved in self-advocacy because it is important,” Habib said. “It is important because I need to advocate for myself and other people with disabilities.”
Habib, the subject of the film, “Including Samuel,” an award-winning documentary created by his father, filmmaker Dan Habib released in 2007, comes by his persistence naturally. While he may have been influenced by the documentary, which chronicles the family’s efforts to include Samuel in every facet of their lives, his parents say he was born with an innate confidence that motivates him.
“Samuel has a belief in himself, and that he has every right to belong in all aspects of society – as much as people who don’t have cerebral palsy or are in a wheelchair or have other challenges,” Dan Habib, who is also Project Director of the Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire said. “I think that Sam seemed to have been born with a sense of resilience and self-confidence that’s been with him his whole life. I like to think (his mother) Betsy (McNamara) and I have supported and cultivated that, but it’s his natural way of being.”
He also credits Samuel’s family, friends and the larger Concord community with supporting that strong sense of self, but his mother also points to a fiery side of the 18-year-old that comes with sometimes being underestimated.
“I would like to think that Dan and I have helped to teach both of our boys about being an advocate for justice in our society, but Samuel also understands that people tend to dismiss him or expect less from him because he has a disability, and it makes him angry,” McNamara said. “Anger is a great fuel for advocacy, as long as there is room for laughter and fun along the way. Samuel laughs a lot; he has a great sense of humor. I believe it is that combination of toughness and sense of fun that makes him persistent.”
When Samuel was young, Dan had an opportunity to speak with Bob Williams – commissioner for the Administration on Developmental Disabilities (ADD), an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under President Bill Clinton. He asked Williams, who also has cerebral palsy, how he might help Samuel become a strong adult.
“He said to give him choices at every juncture,” Dan Habib said. “So we did.”
The result is a confident 18-year-old who has an interest in helping himself and others when the need arises.
“I’m advocating for more accessibility at my high school,” Samuel Habib said through an assistive communication device. “I couldn’t sit with my friends in the stands at the basketball games, so I emailed the principal and the athletic director and told them I couldn’t get up to the student section at the basketball games and I asked them to move the student section down to the court.”
It worked, and provided the 18-year-old with an early victory. Recently, he’s turned his attention to football season.
“The city owns the football stands and there is not much room for wheelchairs,” he said. “And even in the accessible seats my chair blocks the aisle for everyone else, so I can’t sit with my friends.”
He testified before the Concord City Council, asking them to rebuild the bleachers and make them “truly accessible.”
“Everyone in our community should be able to get into the bleachers and enjoy the game,” he said. “I won’t give up until the football stands are really wheelchair accessible. You have to work hard. Go to City Hall meetings. Call your representatives. Get help from your friends and family. Talk about change.”
It wasn’t the first time Habib took a look at accessibility and inclusion. In 2017, he made a short film, available on YouTube, “Rolling Through Downtown Concord.” It’s a first-person perspective of what it’s like to move in and around the city center, showing both improvements and challenges.
“I mounted a GoPro on my wheelchair and filmed with it,” he said. “I wrote and recorded my own narration to match the edited version of the video footage. I also interviewed some people in Concord, including Mayor Jim Bouley, Developer Steve Duprey, and Cindy Robertson from the Disability Rights Center.”
And while challenges may still exist, Samuel is equipped to face them, Dan Habib said. It’s a trait his parents have seen since birth.
“It feels like the sum total of so many things that Samuel has done is his greatest accomplishment,” McNamara, said. “Doing well in school when he so often does not feel well or is sick, creating meaningful friendships when he is literally not able to access so many of the things his friends can, and always wanting to learn and grow when he has to work through so many medical issues and therapies and it would be easy to give up. I’m amazed by this kid pretty much every day.”
Last spring, Samuel went to the prom with his friend Anita at the Grappone Center and graduated high school in June. This summer, he worked at New Sky productions in Nashua — a video production company.
“I learned about editing and video production,” he said. “I also helped promote their in-house studio by creating videos for their social media.”
He’s since been accepted to the New Hampshire Technical Institute, where he takes a communication course. He is also enrolled in the New Hampshire Leadership series at the Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire, and he is taking two classes at Concord High School — Social Movements and Career Communications.
“He’s the most positive and resilient person I’ve ever met,” Dan Habib said. “And he’s got an amazing sense of humor. Teachers tell us they knew how sharp he was when they would make jokes that would go over the other kids’ heads and he’d laugh. He loves to tell stories and travel. He has an incredible ability to look for the positive in almost every situation — something we can all learn from.”