21 Shades leaders Roxanne Hoke Chandler, Melissa Jones Elow, Terri James Solomon, and Jessica Avila, winners of the 2021 Support Group of the Year Award.

In 1998, when Roxanne Hoke-Chandler had a daughter, Faith, with Down syndrome, she decided immediately that her top priority would be advocating for her. Roxanne worked tirelessly to secure the best healthcare and support services for Faith so that she would have the brightest future possible. More than two decades later, Roxanne has become a champion not only for her daughter but for countless others individuals with Down syndrome and their families of African heritage and the underserved around the country. 

In 2010, Roxanne founded 21 Shades as “an inclusive support group for families of African heritage in Massachusetts who love someone with Down syndrome,” thoughtfully choosing a group name designed to be welcoming to ALL families of color – Black, African, Haitian and more. In the intervening years, Roxanne spearheaded 21 Shades’ growth, co-hosting potluck dinners, Annual Conference Diversity breakfasts and Summer Family Picnics on Castle Island, connecting families from diverse backgrounds to ensure that they feel welcomed and supported in the Down syndrome and MDSC communities. (In 2020, Roxanne also founded 21+ Shades to better support families within 21 Shades whose child is 21 years or older.)

While helping parents’ secure a bright future for their children, Roxanne also secured 21 Shades’ future by recruiting and training three other remarkable women to join the 21 Shades leadership team — Melissa Jones Elow, Terri James Solomon, and Jessica Avila. Together, their work has provided support around assistive technology, self-care, monthly support meetings, and education, including about the Covid-19 pandemic. They have organized Black History Month and Father’s Day events, and mobilized a top team for the MDSC Buddy Walk.

Today, the proof of 21 Shades’ success goes well beyond the dozens of families in Massachusetts who have joined and been supported by the community that Roxanne, Melissa, Terri and Jessica built. 

At MDSC’s Annual Conference in 2021, these four remarkable women were honored with MDSC’s annual Support Group of the Year award. And, if as they say, “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” it speaks volumes that numerous Down syndrome organizations around the country continue to reach out to replicate MDSC’s 21 Shades model so that they too can foster a more inclusive, equitable and welcoming community.