Ajani AJ Murray – Starting with Imagination

AJani AJ Murray , a Black male with short haircut & facial hair seated in a wheelchair. He wears black & white print baggie pants with a blue long sleeve hoodie with words printed in black: "Young, gifted, black and disabled."

Pursuing your passion can take you down a road filled with all sorts of obstacles. Ajani “AJ” Murray knew from an early age that he wanted to act. his first school was television which he studied intently.

His latest role is in Best Summer Ever, screening at SxSW later this month

Hear how television and movies provided much more than entertainment for him and his family. His methods for navigating the obstacles along his journey and how he’s making his own place in an industry that isn’t always welcoming. In each case, imagination was at the start.

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Transcript

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Ajani AJ Murray:

Our friend that we have in common, Cheryl green, told me about you and I’ve been listening to your podcast and I love it! It’s so dope and fresh. I’m kind of a Geek so I watch like a lot of PBS and I listen to NPR and so it reminds me of like radio documentaries. I particularly enjoyed when you were talking to Leroy about the Black History especially from the disabled perspective. I did something like that on my Insta Gram and some of my friends were like keep it coming AJ. So now you’re a resource.

Ajani Jerard Murray, a lot of people call me AJ.

TR:

And me, I’m Thomas Reid
producer and host of this podcast.

I usually reserve the opening of the episode for me to
tell you a bit about what this podcast is all about,
but as you’ll see in a minute, AJ is a media connoisseur,
so I was like man, everyone needs to hear his review.

I like to let new listeners know that here,
we bring you compelling people impacted by all degrees of blindness and disability,
told in a way that sounds

Audio: AJ “Dope” “Fresh”

And I do always hope Reid My Mind Radio can be a

Audio: AJ, “Resource”

For anyone especially those adjusting to vision loss.

And with that said, let’s do this!

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Theme

Audio: Tom Joyner show…

AJ:
I became a big fan of radio because of Tom Joyner. We went to one of his Sky shows in Atlanta and it was at Greenbrier Mall. It was the whole cast and we listened to the S.O.S Ban. From that point for about 2 or 3 years I did a mock radio show.

TR:

A youngster at the time, AJ study the format of the now retired
Tom Joyner, host of the number 1 nationally syndicated urban
(that’s code for Black) morning radio Show.
AJ created his own show which he put on for his family.

AJ:

To make a long story short as I told you earlier I can really talk and go on long.

[TR in conversation with AJ:]
Laughing…

AJ:

I kind of sort of gave up on going into radio because I realized that in mainstream FM radio you don’t really program your own shows. You’re basically playing the same music and also to get to where I really wanted to be and the kind of radio that I would do is something that you have to be in the game for years and years for, like a Tom Joyner.

TR:

AJ knew his true passion.

AJ:

I’m a huge, huge fan of the screen big and small. From the time I was a very little kid I was always just enamored by the screen . I grew up on three camera sitcoms; Cosby Show, A Different World, Facts of Life, Different Strokes. As I got older there was the Fresh Prince era, the TGIF era, the Martin era, the WB era. My love for television in the very beginning was the sitcom.

TR:

Of course, there’s the big screen.

AJ:

My mom loves film. When it came to film she wasn’t really restrictive on what we could watch. Now we couldn’t watch everything, there were certain films I couldn’t watch but like it was 1989 I remember actually going to see Do the Right Thing. I had to of course cover up my eyes during the Mookie ice scene.

[TR in conversation with AJ:]
Laughs…

AJ:

TR:

Shout out to Rosie Perez!
If you don’t know the scene let’s just say Ice cubes are for more than chilling your lemonade on a hot summer day.

AJ:

I appreciated that several years later.

TR:

Now, I’m from the era where parents let you ride in the front seat with no seatbelts,
where you were encouraged to leave the house and explore so
I cannot judge.
[TR in conversation with AJ:]

You know the movie Death Wish? Charles Bronson. I saw that at 6 and nobody cared (laughs) and nobody cared.

Audio: Scene from Death Wish: Knock at door and unsuspecting woman says she’ll anser it. She asks who is at the door and the intruder replies he’s delivering her groceries…

TR:

Don’t open it! He’s lying!

(exhale)

Fortunately, there’s a lot of good that can come from family movie outings.

AJ:

That’s one of the ways we connected as a family.

[TR in conversation with AJ:]
Very cool. So it was the whole family going?

AJ:
My mom and my two sisters. In my house it’s three women and me.

We’re all very very close. That’s one of the ways we bonded. Sometimes we’d listen to classical music or something really peaceful because I grew up in a very peaceful household.

TR:

Television & movies can also initiate conversations about all sorts of topics and
even ways to explore culture.

Just be careful about that last one there, we know Hollywood doesn’t always get culture right. (Ahem!)

AJ:

I always had this dream of being an actor. It was something that was always looming in the back of my mind. It was always in my spirit, but I didn’t know how to physically make the connection. I couldn’t necessarily afford acting classes at the time and I wasn’t in high school at the time to be a part of an acting club.

TR:

Financial accessibility, we don’t often talk about that in our conversations around access.

AJ, made use of what was in his reach.

AJ:

The screen was my classroom! Anything I could get my hands on or watch or any old interview s. I really appreciate actors that do interviews like I stay stuck on the Biography channel, on Actor’s Studio. Any time there was a documentary series about behind the scenes I’m all over it!

TR:

Screens bring their own access challenges.

AJ:

when I watched re-runs of television in the 50’s and 60’s even like 20 years ago, 30 years ago, they always had like a voice over guy read everything. One of the things I always laughed at is like watching re-runs of the old Andy Griffith show. the announcer says it’s the Andy Griffin Show, starring Andy Griffin and I always laughed because I’m like didn’t he just say it’s the Andy Griffin Show.

But I realize he said that because he was reading the opening credits. Everything was announced. it really helps me as a visually impaired person.

[TR in conversation with AJ:]

People think Blindness is an on or off, so you see everything or you don’t. I know that there are real specific challenges for people with low vision when it comes to that.

AJ:

I’m glad you brought that up. There could be things that I can see one day and the very next day I won’t be able to see. I look like I can see and so people they start laughing or they think you’re lying or they think you’re not looking hard enough. I’m like I can’t see this.

Even when I’m in my power chair I would rather like walk behind someone so it could be like a human guide.

TR:

AJ’s vision loss is related to his Cerebral Palsy or CP.
It impacts all four limbs so as he described to me, he needs physical assistance with most things.

Most things physical that is…

AJ:

If I was watching Happy Days or Laverne and Shirley or Three’s Company or All in the Family I would create a character, none of it is written down because I’m not able to physically write.

If I was watching Three’s Company, if Jack and Larry were going down to the Regal Beagle well I was too. If I was watching Law and order , no I couldn’t be a detective but I could help Jack McCoy as one of his assistant DA’s. I just made myself a part of the cast.

TR:

AJ’s imagination was open.

His opportunity to hit the stage came in high school.

AJ:

I had such a ball in high school. It was such an atmosphere of like were going to support you and you’re a part of us. My favorite drama teacher his name was Dr. McMichen. I was thanking him for making sure the stages had ramps and I was included in on all the trips.
He let me know, you are a part of this club and a part of these plays and it’s because you are good not because you are in a chair. And that made me feel so good.

TR:

following high school he continued working on his craft by attending workshops and finding a community of other actors.

AJ:

I would say over the last three and a half years I’ve gotten the opportunity to be on screen.

the first thing I booked when I got my agent was, we did an episode of Drunk History. And that comes on Comedy Central. That episode was actually about 504Act. That’s kind of the precursor to the ADA.

Then I was able to do an episode of ABC’s Speechless. I played a character named Charlie.

I was able to do an independent film called Bardo Blues. It’s an interesting very nonlinear artsy film that talks about depression and bipolar. I play the neighbor to the lead.

Audio clip from film…

TR:

His latest role is Best Summer Ever, A Musical.
It takes place in a high school.

AJ:

It’s a romantic story and all kinds of teenage angst ensues. I play the older brother so I’m not involved in the teenage angst but I do sing in the film.

TR:

The film consists of a cast of over
60 disabled actors as well as those without disabilities.
It’s being screened at South by South West on March 14.

You can also see AJ in Becoming bulletproof.
Every year, actors with and without disabilities meet at
Zeno Mountain Farm to write, produce, and star in original short films.

Audio clip from film…

AJ is the focal point of the doc.

AJ:

I also did a documentary, it’s called Take A Look At This heart. So I talk about my experience around my sexuality and dating. So it’s an ensemble so It’s not just me. I believe that’s now streaming on Amazon.

TR:

AJ’s getting some roles and definitely
making a name for himself by judging film festivals, hosting events yet
he found himself in a dark place.

AJ:
Heavy dark! Like I was really, really down.

I was on a walk with my mom. I was in California at the time and it was a beautiful sunny day. It came to me, instead of being down about not getting auditions or you know nobody’s calling or you’re having a hard time with employment; why don’t you write what you want to see?

TR:

By now you can tell AJ puts a lot of thought into what is on the screen,
big or little. So of course he would do the same for his script.

AJ:

A lot of characters that we see it’s either one person with a disability and I’m not saying you don’t ever see it, typically they don’t have any friends. To my experience I have a bunch of friends with disabilities. Not just CP, but all kinds of disabilities.

I just want to lend my voice to reflect that on screen.

TR:

Think Living Single, Friends or the Big Chill…

AJ:

These group of friends, People with disabilities in a more adult context. All with different types of disabilities like CP, like me. He also works. Then you have another character who has CP they walk with a gate. Another character she has a traumatic brain injury and she’s very athletic…

[TR in conversation with AJ:]
And may I lobby for a Blind guy who likes audio and…

AJ:

If we get picked up brother I’ll write you in a couple of episodes.
[TR in conversation with AJ:]
There you go man, there you go!

TR:

Alright, fine, it’s not about me.

In order to physically write his words, thoughts and ideas AJ has a very special writing partner.

AJ:
My mom helps me a lot with a lot of stuff behind the scenes. We’re actually working on a book and that’s going to be out sometime soon and we do public speaking.

TR:

The latter is done under the name, I Push You Talk. What a powerful statement.

Pursuing your passion can really be hard.
There are always reasons to throw in the towel or change course.
Legitimate reasons that wouldn’t in anyway classify someone as a quitter.

For example…

AJ:

Just because you perform in school, that doesn’t mean that it’s going to translate to the screen or you’re going to have this career.

TR:

There’s also the physical pain that comes with his CP.

AJ:

I’ve been in pain since my early teens to pre-teens. As I’ve gotten older sciatic pain and nerve pain over the years have like sort of advanced to like more of a chronic level as far as nerve pain.

My love for everything that I experience and everything that I’m going to and want to experience has to be bigger than my pain.

[TR in conversation with AJ:]

You don’t probably see people with disabilities in many of these films that you are watching.

AJ:

That’s a hundred percent accurate.

[TR in conversation with AJ:]

So it doesn’t sound like that dissuades you.

AJ:

I didn’t necessarily have this as a child but with the combination of my mother speaking to me and my imagination, I just had this sense that it was put inside of me so I’m supposed to be doing what I’m doing.

There’s people of faith in my family so I do have spiritual background. With all those things combined because of my atmosphere, I’m the man you’re interviewing today.

Audio: AJ Scratch… Ladies singing “AJ” while beat rides under…

TR:

That’s Mr. Ajani Jerard Murray.
Actor, Writer, Speaker, Consultant and soon to be Author Producer &…


AJ:
Things sort of have this way of coming back around full circle. I’ve gotten into podcasts and I want to start a podcast and I want to do it with a group of people like a morning radio show. Sometimes my dreams are very big and lofty, but I have a lot of faith and I believe it could happen.

TR:

It really does all start with imagination.
And it continues with that determination, persistence and faith.

AJ, brother, thank you for letting me share your story!
And you know what’s up, you are officially a member of the Reid My Mind Radio Family.

You can reach AJ via social media at:
Twitter – @GotNextAJ
Instagram: @AjaniAJMurray
Ajani Murray on Facebook

You can catch both
Becoming Bulletproof and Take a Look at this Heart
streaming on Amazon.
For those with that prime membership it’s included.
Unfortunately they don’t have Audio Description, however Becoming Bulletproof does at it included on the DVD.

Best Summer Ever is screening at South By South West so if you’re hanging out there go check it out.

I’ll have links over at Reid My Mind.com to AJ’s social media and more including a web series on YouTube.

I hope you enjoyed getting to know AJ as much as I have. I look forward to continuing our conversations and I have a feeling based on his thoughtful insight that you’re going to hear from him again in this space.

If you agree that what we’re planting here on the podcast can provide some nourishment or maybe a sweet treat, please share it with others.

Ya dig!

If you want to help it grow a bit, you can even go on over to Apple podcast and leave a rating (5 stars, a review would be pretty cool too!

Please, , do not apply water to the podcast, that will not help it grow at all!

Reid My Mind Radio is available wherever you get your particular flavor of podcasts. Remember links and Transcripts are at ReidMyMind.com.
That’s R to the E I D
Audio: Slick Rick, “D, and that’s me in the place to be!”

TR:
Llike my last name.

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Outro

Peace!

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