Archive for the ‘Black History’ Category

Disability Representation – Same Goal Different Strategy

Wednesday, April 24th, 2019

Titled Disability Representation, this collage includes scenes from ; Forrest Gump, Rain Man, Ray, Wait Until Dark and The Rear Window; All movies with a disabled character played by a non disabled actor.
If you think about portrayals of people with disabilities on the screen, movies and television, chances are extremely high that the actor was not disabled. At least two recent projects have sparked this conversation including “The Upside” and “In the Dark”.

The latter series on the CW Network caused the National Federation of the Blind to launch their #LetUsPlayUs Campaign.

In this episode we learn why representation matters from:

Plus, “Blind Face” is that really a thing? I had to speak on it.

Consider this the beginning of RMM Radio’s exploration of Disability Representation in Media.

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Transcript

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TR:

What’s up RMMRadio Family?
It’s me, T.Reid, host and producer of this here podcast.
This is your place to hear stories and profiles of compelling people impacted by all degrees of vision loss and disability. And yes, occasionally I throw some of my own experiences in there pairing those words and music and sound design.

Today, I want to jump right into it. We have a lot to cover.
So…

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Theme Music

Audio:
* Rain Man – Dustin Hoffman

TR:

Each of these clips, are from movies featuring a main protagonist with a disability.

Audio:
* Forrest Gump – Tom Hanks

Yet, each starring actor does not have a disability.

Audio:
* Ray – Jamie Foxx

TR:

It’s not a new issue

* Audio: The Rear Window

A scene from The Rear Window with Jimmy Stewart, in 1954

* Audio: Wait Until Dark

And Audrey Hepburn portraying a Blind woman in 1967’s Wait Until Dark.

Audio: “The Upside” trailer

TR:

Most recently, Kevin Hart and Brian Cranston star in The Upside.

Cranston, known most for his lead role in “Breaking Bad plays a wealthy quadriplegic who hires a former criminal, played by Hart, to be his caregiver.

With fewer than 2 percent of characters in movies being a person with a disability, well it’s understandable that the disability community took to social media to express their disapproval.

Cranston’s reply?

According to a BBC report he said;
“If I, as a straight, older person, and I’m wealthy, I’m very fortunate, does that mean I can’t play a person who is not wealthy? Does that
mean I can’t play a homosexual?”

In fairness, he does agree that there should be “more opportunities” for actors with disabilities.

I guess just not those that he’s slated to play

Audio: “In the Dark” trailer

TR:

In the Dark is the new television show on the CW Network that stars Perry Mattfeld as a blind woman who is the only witness to her friend’s murder.

Perry herself is not Blind.

The NFB, National Federation of the Blind, believes this is not acceptable. The organization which says they have 50 thousand members in all 50 states including DC and Puerto Rico, began a campaign called #LetUsPlayUs.

I reached out to NFB’s Director of Public Relations, Chris Danielsen, to learn a bit more on what sparked the protest.

CD:

We’ve been concerned for some time that there are not opportunities for and roles for Blind actors. I know we passed a resolution at our National Convention in 2018 on this topic and I think we had passed one even before that.

Fast forward a little bit to early 2019 and the CW Network began heavily promoting its new series “In the Dark”. CW was asked why a Blind actress was not cast in this role and they really made excuses for not casting a Blind actor in the lead role of Murphy in their show.

TR:

According to TheWarp.com:
Nicky Weinstock, an executive producer for the show said:
“We went about searching for a blind actor immediately, and looked allover”

That included 29 different organizations for the blind where he said they were hoping to find the lead actor.

NFB’s Chris Danielsen had this to say about that.

CD:

We were not one of those organizations by the way.
And then they kind of said but we do have a blind writer, and a Blind Consultant and we do have a another Blind actress in a supporting role

They made those sound like compensations for not having cast a Blind person in the lead role.

TR:

You have to wonder, what do they really know about what it really means to be Blind.
Especially when you hear that same CW Executive Nicky Weinstock describe Mattfield as accurately portraying a blind person based on the committment she demonstrated after acquiring a cane and using it around her apartment for weeks.

CD:

This could be really tone deaf publicity on their part, but it’s pretty typical of the behavior that we see from the entertainment industry. There have been literally dozens of films and television shows about Blind people and in none of them that we’ve been able to find, was a Blind person actually cast in a lead or recurring role.
CD:

We felt that this is the right time to really respond to what the CW has said and done but also to this type of behavior that is just recurrent in the entertainment industry. And for that reason we launched our Let Us Play Us Campaign.

[TR in conversation with CD:]

Tell me what is exactly the objective of #LetUsPlayUs?

CD:

The immediate objective is to have the CW reconsider its decision to cast a sighted person in the lead role.

Given that they have really sought in a very discouraging way to justify their decision not to cast a Blind actor in the role, we feel like the only way they can really make it right at this point is to simply re-cast and re-think the show.

TR:

The showed debuted on Thursday April 4, 2019.

It doesn’t look as though this demand is going to be met.

There is time however, to expand the conversation about representation.

CD:

We have found over the years that a lot of the portrayals of Blind people are very inaccurate and often even offensive.

We want to engage in a dialog with the entertainment industry and talk about why it is that Blind actors are not cast. Why there are such low expectations for Blind actors and performers. And how we can work together; the entertainment industry and the National Federation of the Blind to actually identify Blind actors, to develop their talent and to actually see them included in the future projects so that those projects have an authentic perspective on blindness.

TR:

Disability representation in media can be categorized in four groups of characters according to a white paper recently published by the Ford Foundation.

Disability Activist and Senior Fellow at the Ford Foundation, Judith E. Heumannn authored the paper titled; Road Map
for Inclusion Changing the Face of Disability in Media.

The four stereotypes:
* THE SUPER CRIP – think Daredevil
* THE VILLAIN -The James Bond Franchise is known for many.
* THE VICTIM
* The Innocent Fool

I’ll link to the report on this episode’s post over at ReidMyMind.com.

The show’s trailer, gives the initial impression that “In the Dark” may not be too interested in changing the paradigm.

Murphy, the main character is shown trying to hide under a glass table.

Audio: The above scene from the “In the Dark” trailer
In case you’re new here, Blind people know glass is transparent and they know how it feels.

And probably even more concerning, the trailer includes what appears to be the ol’ feel the face!
You know that all too popular scene in just about any movie or television show featuring someone who’s blind where the brilliant idea comes to the sighted person to have the Blind person feel their face so they could know what you look like.

Audio: “Hello”, Lionel Richie Music Video
— From the video, Music plays and a telephone rings…”Hello” says the Blind woman in the video.

TR:

Hey how are you doing? This is T.Reid from Reid My Mind Radio. May I speak to the creator of this music video please?

— From video: Lionel Richie sings “Hello”

TR:

Lionel?
Was this video your idea?

— From video: Lionel Richie sings “Hello Is it me you’re looking for?

TR:
Well yes, if you’re the creator of the video.

— From video: Lionel Richie sings “Cause I wonder where you are”

TR:

My brother, I’m in the future.

— From video: Lionel Richie sings “And I wonder what you do”

TR:
Well, I host a podcast, it’s sort of…

— From video: Lionel Richie sings “Are you somewhere feeling lonely”

TR:

Well now that you ask?

— From video: Lionel Richie sings “Is someone loving you”

TR

Hey bruh, that’s personal.

— From video: Lionel Richie sings as echo and fades out “Tell me…”
— Music continues…

TR:

Look man, on behalf of Blind people around the world who have been asked to feel somebodies face.
You know, that thing in your Hello video.

It’s 2019 I think we can end this stereotype.

It’s 2019 & the results are in, we’re over it!

— From video: Door shuts!

Blind woman says: ” I’ve wanted you to see it so many times, but I finally think it’s done.”

TR:

At least I guess we can be happy that in the actual scene from In the Dark, Murphy was resisting and even protested saying that’s something Blind people don’t do, but her friend insisted.

We later see it was needed to advance the plot. This was how she identified her friends body.

I personally would have suggested something like Microsoft Seeing AI which allows you to take a picture of someone and it will recognize them in future pics. But maybe that doesn’t work for the rest of the show.

But that’s just me. Everyone is different.

Not all Blind people use technology.

Like any other marginalized group, we don’t all act one way, we don’t think the same and we all have our own voices.

In fact, I tried to get some individuals with opposing opinions to share them on this episode but I didn’t get a response.

Not everyone believes this issue should garner as much attention from the NFB.

Some believe, the hiring of a Blind writer, consultant and additional cast member are steps in the right direction.
Therefore, demanding the network pull the show well that’s not a way to open a dialog.

Most of the discussion I thought was valuable, focused on strategy.
That’s always going to be a source of contention.

TR:

On April 2, 2019, the NFB protested outside of the CBS offices, owners of the CW Network, in New York City. .

CD:

We had well over 100 Blind people from five different states, at least, participating in the protest. We protested for two hours

We told the CW Executives who bothered to look out the window or listen, we don’t know for sure that any did. We told them that Blind face is just as unacceptable as Black face for example.

TR:

In addition to the protesting outside of CBS, NFB and others have taken to social media including Facebook and Twitter.

[TR in conversation with CD:]

So Chris let’s talk about something because I was going to go one way but now I have to switch it up. The social media campaign, and I’m gathering that the future consists of continuing with the hashtag… (#LetUsPlayUs). One of the things that tends to happen around this topic is that comparison to people of color. I’ve seen things where people are saying “Oh you don’t want white people playing other nationalities, ethnicities etc. Even though that happens and it still happens today.

CD:

Sure, sure.

[TR in conversation with CD:]

I think that’s almost like, defeating the purpose, but then also the one you just mentioned which was the comparison of Blind face to Black face. What is the NFB’s position on that because in social media I notice that the official NFB account kind of stayed away from that. And I was wondering if that was on purpose or if that was just a coincidence.

CD:

Well to be fair that comparison came up in the protest. It wasn’t intended so much as a comparison as kind of a play on words I think when it was originated.

We are a diverse organization. We have a makeup of membership that is racially diverse, ethnically diverse different sexual orientations and all of that. We respect all of that, all of that diversity. That said, we’re not focused so much on trying to make that comparison. That said we do see some commonality in the idea that we don’t, we don’t allow people anymore to sort of appropriate and sort of pose as others. It does still happen, but there are areas where it doesn’t happen anymore and doesn’t happen as much as it used to . But so far disability isn’t one of those areas.

There wouldn’t even be a thought at this point of having, really seriously, of having a man play a woman. Back in Shakespeare’s time it was common for woman to be played by men, typically young boys. You did have situations where it was considered appropriate to put on black makeup. So why are those things largely gone and why is it still appropriate and considered the norm in fact to have non-disabled people play the role of people with disabilities. It’s the norm and it’s rewarded . Think about how often we’ve seen Oscars awarded to people for doing this; Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino Daniel Day Lewis.

Audio: “And the winner is…” followed by each of the above winning Oscars.

TR:

Chris is right about that last part. Let’s take a look at some others who won in roles of someone with a disability.

Jack Nicholson, John Voight, Tom hanks, Ann Bancroft and Patty Duke both won for the Miracle Worker playing Annie Sullivan and Hellen Keller respectively.

And oh yes, my bad…
Audio: Jamie Foxx winning for Ray.

Does anything stand out to you about that list?
I’ll give you a second.

Audio: Jeopardy music

All but 1 are white.

Which brings me back to this idea of Blind Face.

That’s a made up term, it doesn’t have the history that is tied to how Black face was systematically used to dehumanize an entire race of people.

And it’s not gone.
.
Audio: Multiple news segments regarding Virginia Governor Ralph Northam & Black Face.

TR:
Even outside of medical schools in the 80’s.

Audio for below Two college girls suspended for Black Face
College campus frat parties still have it… sometimes they use different names but it’s the same. Parties where they dress like rappers. There was even a so called Gangster Halloween costume. And don’t get me started on other examples of appropriation.

Audio: About Redskins

Does it mean that those who used the term Blind face have the same intent?
I don’t believe that.

But what can we expect when this history isn’t taught, when people prefer to be color blind and refuse to have these conversations. Especially in this world of social media and the re-tweet.

There are valid and strong feelings in all marginalized groups. Something we all need to take into consideration.

CD:

We’re not Oscar bait. We’re people with real lives. We don’t exist so that actors can play us and feel good about themselves because they’ve supposedly experienced what we experience. Which of course they haven’t. That’s what’s really offensive.

I’m interested in your perspective too because you know we don’t want to make an offensive comparison. We want to be careful about that and at the same time the point that we’re trying to make is that there are situations where it’s no longer appropriate and the industry seems to understand that it’s inappropriate to have certain kinds of portrayals. Why is blindness and disability the exception to that.

[TR in conversation with CD:]

That’s where the difference of opinion definitely comes into play and I think the perspectives where you say that the industry understands that; I don’t think most people of color would say that the industry reflects their real lives.

CD:

Sure.

TR:

Remember those 4 stereotypes of disability in media?
* THE SUPER CRIP
* THE VILLAIN
* THE VICTIM
* The Innocent Fool

Black stereotypes have existed and continue to make up what we see in film today. Slightly modified versions of, well take your pick:
Sambo or the lazy happy go lucky Negro
Mandingo – the over sexed, big Black man
Mammy, subservient Black woman who’s nurturing ways usually focus on the white children
Jessabelle – over sexualized Black woman

So many films and television shows to this very day still have some version of these stereotypes.

In fact, as the years went by new stereotypes came into existence. The Welfare Queen, the criminal or thug and of course some of your favorite movies might star the magical Negro. who’s there to mysteriously make the white persons dreams come true.

Stereotypes also exist for Latinex, Asians and just think about the context of when you’d see a Native American on the screen.

So for those of us who are aware of this history in culture, hearing what can sound like an implication it no longer exists, well that can feel like all of that struggle and history is being erased.

With that said, let me make it as clear as I can, disability experiences deserve to be on the screen as much as any other human experience.

[TR in conversation with CD:]

You don’t have to make these comparisons.

CD:
Mm , hmm!

[TR in conversation with CD:]

There are comparisons that can be made. And the thing that I like to say is we can compare apples and oranges, they are both fruit…

CD:

Yeh, yeh, yeh. (In agreement)

[TR in conversation with CD:]
… but they are so different.

CD:

Yeh, certainly the intent is different. I would say that some portrayals of blindness have been specifically meant to put Blind people down, but some haven’t. There just profoundly mis-informed. So I totally agree with you, then in that sense it’s not an appropriate comparison. I think that’s why we have stayed away from the comparison on social media. We definitely don’t want to minimize the real pain that, that has caused, but sometimes the paper trail of disability does cause pain as well. Not the same kind, but the misconceptions out there are harmful to people with disabilities and they do trickle through.

TR:

Now we’re getting there!

Probably the strongest argument for increasing representation and the one that lots of people with disabilities feel on a regular basis.

Kristen Lopez:

There is so much mis-information out there about disability. Films are a gateway for us to learn about people and cultures different from ourselves.

TR:

This is Film Critic Kristen Lopez. She also writes reviews on new and classic films.
She has a much cooler way of saying it though.

Kristen Lopez:

Freelance Pop Culture Essayist, who writes a lot about representation in cinema, specifically gender and disability.

I’ve had so many embarrassing encounters with people. Unbreakable being a great example.

People who’ve seen the movie and they feel like that’s some sort of gateway into relating to me and it’s completely wrong.

TR:

Unbreakable, is the film starring Bruce Willis and Samuel Jackson whose character is a wheel chair user and has Brittle Bone Disorder, as does Kristen.

Kristen Lopez:

I refused to watch it because I didn’t think it was actually going to be a movie that represented me. And for a year solid when people heard I had Brittle Bone Disorder they were like oh have you seen Unbreakable? it’s great, you’d love it. And I was like, why would I love it. And they’re like because it’s about you.

I’m not a super hero or super villain

I was very indignant; no that’s not me. I actually never saw Unbreakable until two years ago and I thought it was fine. It didn’t offend me.

TR:

Dr. Adam Pottle, is an author and screenwriter in Saskatoon, Canada with
4 published books and two produced plays.

He himself is deaf.

He’s experienced firsthand how misperceptions and stereotypes find their way into common belief. Like this idea that Deaf people carry on conversations by reading lips.

As he explained to me via email.

(Note the change in sound when I am reading Adam’s words.)

Adam Pottle:

It’s not enough. Reading lips is fucking exhausting, and we don’t always get things right. We need visual confirmation, whether through Sign language or captioning.

I was bullied in school about my ability to read lips. Older kids would point to their lips and mouth out, “Hey deaf boy. Can you read this? Fuck you.”

TR:

The argument for representation is less about personal offense and more about the impact images have on society.

Kristen Lopez:

Movies have sold disability as this grand mystery. We are this enigma that unless the audience knows how to handle us their not going to be able to interact with us and I think that that’s very wrong.

It’s just important to get rid of the little things. We’re talking now about a time where politically people are talking about who’s entitled to what and who needs what. Do we need healthcare? Do we need the ADA at all?

I think a lot of that has to do with movies which fuel the dialectic, fuel the culture and presented disabled people which is entitled, spoiled and massively wealthy and doomed to die relatively young. The movies have sold us as a burden on society.

TR:

Interestingly enough, I read a review of The Kevin Hart and Brian Cranston film, The Upside titled;
“The Upside” is a good representation of life with disabilities.

I don’t know if this writer is disabled. It wasn’t mentioned.
But disability isn’t one size fits all. We can’t forget the intersections;
Gender, sexuality, …

And as Film Critic Kristen Lopez explains, it’s complicated.

Kristen Lopez:

As an adult, I’ve slowly grown to be like I do identify as white, but that’s only because my skin pigment is white. So I know most people, I tell them my last name is Lopez and they look at me and they’re like what the hell are you talking about. I don’t identify as Hispanic, but I do identify as Latino just because my father is.

Now as an adult as I’ve seen how white disabled narratives are it does bother me on that level as well because you know there are no movies with disabled people of color. There’s barely any movies about disabled women but disabled people of color is completely absent in these movies. That doesn’t even factor into people’s discussion of disability because they’ve never seen it.

TR:

Representation is more than who is on screen. It’s about who is producing directing, writing and in general influencing the overall message and feel of
the project.

Adam wants to add his voice to the conversation. Currently trying to make his way into the business. He’s an aspiring screenwriter with three horror scripts under his belt. He has a PhD in English literature, for which he studied how Deafness and disability are represented in Canadian literature.

Adam Pottle:

Because my scripts all feature Deaf and disabled characters in lead and supporting roles, it’s a bit difficult to get them produced, even if they’re well-received. I have one script, a horror story, that’s been selected by six different festivals that I hope to have made one day.

TR:

When it comes to inclusion of any form, the first reasons also known as excuses is often we can’t find “them”.

The CW, couldn’t find a Blind lead. Silicon Valley can’t find people of color in STEM, Corporations can’t find women executives.

Well, I have less than 600 Twitter followers and A Blind Black Man in the Poconos, Pennsylvania found a deaf white writer in Saskatoon, Canada.

(Laughing…)

So in the words of Mr. Biz Markie:
Audio: “C’mon, don’t give me that” from “Just A Friend”, BizMarkie

Adam Pottle:

The problem is systemic. The film industry is ableist to its core. It prefer stereotypical narratives. It doesn’t understand that Deaf and disabled people have rich lives with their own stories to tell. It prefers to look at us with pity and scorn. Recent examples include Me Before You, The Upside, Stronger, The Theory of Everything…

Notice these films all feature white actors, too. We don’t see Deaf and disabled Black characters, or Indigenous characters, or Asian characters. We don’t see LGBTQ2+ disabled characters.

Deaf and disabled people must be allowed to tell their own stories, from the ground up, as writers, directors, editors, photographers, producers, costume designers, and of course actors.

TR:

So #LetUsPlayUs, I’m with that. But can we let disability drive the conversation. Call out the many valuable reasons for representation and inclusion and rather than using the history of others as catch phrases use the lessons and honor those who paved the way.

I think we can agree the more marginalized you are in the society the lower your chances of seeing a real representation of yourself. Go ahead and think about the various marginalized communities. As you filter and each segment appears to have less and less representation not only in society but also on screen.

Just imagine if rather than re-booting movies and shows from the past, Hollywood start out by seeking multi marginalized Non Cisgender women of color with a story to tell.

As Adam Pottle points out.

Adam Pottle:

the first producer or major studio to truly recognize the potential of disabled filmmakers and disabled actors will experience a tremendous cultural and financial windfall. There are over a billion disabled people worldwide. We want to see ourselves onscreen. When we do that, disabled people will come out in droves, leading to changes in theatre spaces and screening options. In short, disabled people will change the way the world watches movies.

TR:

We’ve literally already started that process; Caption and Audio Description have already begun seeping into the mainstream.

So let’s continue.

By the way, the reviews of “In the Dark” are in & mixed. I started watching the premiere via the app but there’s no Audio Description. I don’t believe it’s offered by the network. One review had this to say:

“One thing In the Dark does get right is that the blind characters are completely in control. There’s a murder mystery at the center of it, but the real thrill is watching Murphy live such an imperfect, independent life. She goes out; she smokes cigarettes; she has sex—these are things we rarely see blind
characters do onscreen.

TR:

Seriously? Yawl need to go to a convention!

Apparently 80 percent of the writing staff is made up of women and several LGBTQ+ and blind writers and led by a female
showrunner.

And Calle Walton, the young lady who is Blind and part of the cast, said:

“When I lost my sight, I was devastated. I had to throw my acting dreams away. I thought there was no way I could become an actress now that I was blind. This experience has just been amazing:
getting me back on my feet, getting me back into my love for acting. I hope this really opens up the field and it makes it so blind people are getting looked at as characters that can play roles, instead of sighted people playing roles as blind people.”

Same goal, different strategy!

Shout out to :
Chris Danielsen , Director of Public Relations for the National Federation of the Blind.
You can find out more about them at NFB.org. And #LetUsPlayUs on social media including Twitter and Facebook.

Freelance Pop Culture Essayist, Kristen Lopez. You can find her work on line where she’s written for Rotten Tomatoes, Forbes.com and other outlets.
She has two podcasts;
Ticklish Business – all about classic movies before 1970
Citizen Dame – she’s joined by three other female film critics talking all about the latest entertainment news from a feminist lens
You can find Kristen on Twitter
@Journeys_Film

Dr. Adam Pottle is @AddyPottle on Twitter (Also spelled out)
His website is www.adampottle.com
He has a new book out now title Voice.
Where he explores the crucial role deafness has played in the growth of his imagination, and in doing so presents a unique perspective on
a writer’s development.

I think it’s clear that there’s a lot tied up in this topic of representation.

Consider this episode as just the opening of this discussion here on Reid My Mind Radio.

I hope to bring you more in the future which will include highlighting those behind the scenes as well as in front. I got my eye on some talented peeps.

You know there’s only one way to be sure you don’t miss an episode…

Subscribe!
Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcast, Stitcher, Tune In Radio or wherever you get podcasts.

You can always send me feedback or recommend a guest or topic all you have to do is hollaback!

We have the comments section on the blog, ReidMyMind.com.
The email; ReidMyMindRadio@gmail.com
The Reid My Mind Radio Feedback Line where you can leave a voice mail: 1 570-798-7343

I would really love voice messages that I can share on the podcast. If you don’t want to call, you can grab your smart phone and record a voice memo and email the finished recording to ReidMyMindRadio@gmail.com.

I’d love to hear and share the voices of those who are listening. If you want to send a message but don’t want it shared just say so and it’s all good.

I appreciate you listening and if you liked what you heard please rate and even review the show via Apple Podcast. And please, tell a friend to listen. Spread the love, man!

You can always visit www.ReidMyMind.com, that’s R to the E I D like my last name!

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Outro

Peace!

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We’ve Been Here: Black Disability History

Wednesday, February 27th, 2019

black background, red square with a yellow shadowing underneath and a green shadowing that one. Black fist coming up from the bottom, the words Black History Month over the squares with the word “disability” written through black and history in orange.

Courtesy of: Raven Reid


Happy Black History Month!

We begin this episode by honoring two historic Black Women of history. That’s followed by Leroy Moore Jr. of The Krip-Hop Nation. We talk a bit about the importance of including Black Disabled men and women in not only conversations about history but all aspects of society and culture.

We hear how he himself is contributing to that effort with his latest publication; The Krip Hop Nation Graphic Novel Volume 1.

Cover art for the Krip Hop Nation Graphic Novel

Courtesy of Krip-Hop Nation

Special Shout Outs:

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Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript


TR:

What’s up Reid My Mind Radio Family!
Welcome back to another episode.

If you’re new here, welcome! You’re among friends. My name is T.Reid host and producer of this here podcast.

Every two weeks I’m either bringing you stories about or profile of people impacted by blindness, low vision and disability. Occasionally, I bring you stories from my own experience as a man who became blind as an adult.

You can check out the last episode if you want to know more on that.

today we’re recognizing and saluting Black History Month.

That’s next up on Reid My Mind Radio !

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Theme Music…

Audio: “Like It Is” with Gil Noble featuring John Henrik Clarke

# Black Disability History
Gil Noble:
Black History Month as it’s called. From whence does it come? How old is it?

John Henrik Clark:
What we now call Black History Month formerly Negros History Month and I call Africana History month started around 1927 by Carter G. Woodson who had found the Association for the Study of Negro Life now the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, had found this organization in Chicago in 1915. He began the week in order to call special attention to the contributions that people of African descent made not only to America but the world.

TR:

That was renowned historian, the late great Dr. John Henrik Clark appearing on “Like It Is” with host Gil Noble. This was a
public affairs television program in New York City that focused on issues relevant to the African-American community.

I grew up watching this show with one of my personal all-time great Black mentors Mr. Reid, my Daddy.

Black History Month celebration unfortunately usually consists of the same references;
Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa parks and the usual version of the Civil Rights era.

One thing however that rarely gets attention; Black disability.

Today, we’re going to change that a bit.

I thought it was time we had our own celebration of Disabled Black History.

Let’s begin by , paying honor to two historic Black Americans that you should have heard of, but may not be aware of their disability.

Audio: African flute music…

Please welcome, Raven Reid!

Raven:
Harriet Tubman (1822–1913).

Ms. Tubman is best known as an abolitionist.

Risking her own life to help lead enslaved African people to freedom.

Since age 12, Ms. Tubman was disabled after a severe beating by her slave master.

As a result she experienced seizures from epilepsy as well as vision loss.

Yet, she tirelessly traveled back and forth through slave country multiple times via what became known as the underground railroad.

Audio: Flute fades out into a more modern sounding flute with accompanying instrumentation.

Fannie Lou Hamer (1917–1977)

Ms. Hamer was a civil rights activist who helped African-Americans register to vote.

She co-founded the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and was involved in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

Like many poor blacks at that time, she was sterilized without her knowledge or consent.

Ms. Hamer had polio as a child.

She protested in the face of heavy opposition and was beaten in a Mississippi jailhouse, which caused kidney damage and a limp.

She is known for saying, “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired!”

Ms. Harriet Tubman, Ms. Fannie Lou Hamer we honor you!

TR:

Once again, that was my baby girl, Raven Reid.

Thank you to Vilissa Thompson over at Ramp Your Voice.com. You should go on over there and check out the great articles on Black Disability History and more.

# Leroy: Black History Month

Audio: “Audio Call” Voice Over speech from iPhone

[TR in conversation with LM:]
Happy Black History Month brother.

LM:

Thank you. You too.

TR:

If you’ve been riding with RMM Radio for a while, you may remember Leroy Moore Jr. A disability activist, writer, author, artist and one of the founders of the Krip-Hop Nation.

The Krip-Hop Nation’s all about educating the media industry and the public about the talents, history, rights and marketability of Hip-Hop
artists and other musicians with disabilities.

It wouldn’t be right to have an episode on Black history from the disability perspective without Leroy.

Leroy schooled me on some noteworthy disabled Black people in history.

In addition to the many early Blues artist, he dropped a bit of science on Reverend Cecil Ivory.

LM:

I love his story!

He was a brother back in the 50’s and 60’s.

He organized his whole town to do this counter sit in. He was also an NAACP Chairman at the time.

TR:

Falling out a tree as a child, resulting in a broken back Ivory became a wheel chair user following an additional fall later in his life.

In 1960, Ivory organized a sit-in at a South Carolina lunch counter

LM:

And so he was sitting there and the cop told him he had to move. He said well I’m not taking up a seat because I have my own seat.

They took him to jail but couldn’t book him because the booking place was downstairs.

TR:

One of the few times that inaccessibility works in our favor.

LM:

The National Black Disability Coalition is putting together this whole exhibit around Black Disabled people in history. We’ve been working on it for the last two years.

TR:

The exhibit will include people like the Blind Jazz singer Al Hiddler who sang with Duke Ellington’s orchestra and later marched with Dr. King.

Soul singer Robert Winters and

Audio: “Check this out!” DMC from “Here we Go live at the Funhouse” Run-DMC

even one third of the legendary rap group Run-DMC

Audio: Run….(from King of Rock)
LM:
DMC

Audio: DMC… of the party. The D is for doing it all the time, the M is for the rhymes that are all mine. The C is for cool, cool as can be …
Run – and why you wear those glasses…

DMC – so I can see!

— The above is playing while TR talks over…

TR:
DMC wrote all about his experience with Depression and mental health disabilities.

Stories highlighting the contributions of people like Reverend Ivory and others when Leroy was attending grade school in the 1970’s were limited. In fact, that’s probably generous.

LM:

We just didn’t see nothing.

We just got so pissed! Me and two other Black Disabled men, boys at the time, wrote letters saying that there’s no Black Disabled nothing on TV, radio…

TR:

Those letters? Well, they aimed high!

LM:

Jesse Jackson, The Urban League, The NAACP

I knew back then that I had to do it outside of school because the school wasn’t offering anything. It started my quest to really learn about my history as a Black Disabled man.

[TR in conversation with LM:]
Did you ever hear back from any of those organizations that you wrote to?

LM:

Form letters saying dear such and such sorry there’s nothing out there.

We can’t do nothing for ya!

LM & TR laugh!

Audio: Flavor Flav “I can’t do nothing for yo man”

TR:

So Hip-Hop!

LM:

Now at 51 years old still doing this.

# Leroy Graphic Novel

He’s doing it alright. He’s the author of Black Disabled Art History 101,
Black Kripple Delivers Poetry & Lyrics

Now, hot off the press is
The Krip Hop Graphic Novel Volume 1 published by Poor Press.

LM:

Yeh, I’m so excited to have this come out.

TR:

Familiar enough with comic books and graphic novels Leroy recognized the lack of representation of Black Disabled Women characters.

LM:
You have Misty Knight that came out in 1975.

Came back to life in Luke Cage. For me, when comics “include” disabled characters they just include them. It’s a diversity kind of thing. I wanted to flip that and say no Krip Hop graphic novel tells you that disability has always been there in Hip-Hop. It’s not inclusion, we’ve been there.

TR:

The novel’s protagonist is a young Black Disabled girl who uses a wheelchair.

LM

This young lady from New York her mother tells her the stories about the old time in Hip-Hop in New York.

She gets more and more confident when she finds Krip-Hop on the internet.
TR:

Traveling through the city, the reader joins the young girl as she participates in various events.

LM:

Black Lives Matter protest, Open Mics…

TR:

As she continues to learn more about Krip-Hop her power increases.
That super power?

LM:

Her wheelchair turns into Hip-Hop.

[TR in conversation with LM:]

Now when you say her chair becomes Hip-Hop , so I’m like oh man, she got two turntables … laughs!

LM:
Yeh, definitely.

[TR in conversation with LM:]

That’s what it is? Laughs.

LM:

Yeh, laughs… She got two turntables , she’s scratching’ yep! She also has a spray can you know graffiti. She dances in the wheelchair, yeh!

[TR in conversation with LM:]
So you got all the elements?

TR:
For those outside of the culture, you may think rap music and Hip-Hop are synonymous. But they’re not.
Hip-Hop is made up of five elements;
1. DJaying – This is the genesis. There’s no rap, there’s no Hip-Hop without the DJ.
2. Emceeing – the rappers who controlled the microphone and the crowd.
3. Break Dancers – the original B boys & B girls… acrobatic floor moves, electric boogie or what some call popping’ and locking’… where folks were doing the moonwalk way before Michael Jackson.
4. Graffiti – Probably more difficult to explain if you never seen the amazing moving art murals on the 2 or 5 train for example, running from the Bronx to Brooklyn and other boroughs.

“I’m feeling very nostalgic right now!” BX stand up!

The story also includes other disabled characters like a sort of guardian angel for the protagonist, and some real Hip-Hop pioneers with disabilities.

There’s even a bit of time travel. And we meet Leroy himself.

LM:

As a little kid outside of the cipher..

TR:

Taking a page right out of Leroy’s personal history during the early days of the New York Hip Hop scene.

Traveling on a Greyhound bus from Connecticut to the Bronx to check out and maybe join the rap ciphers. Picture a circle of young rappers honing their rhyme skills. Each of them ready to take their turn to impress the other rappers with their latest lyrics or flow – that’s their cadence or rhyme pattern.

Now here comes a young Leroy

LM:
Kids used to see me coming with my walker. The kids would say ok, you can’t go into the cipher because you’re too cripple. So you’ll be our watch man for the police. Anytime I saw the police I used to shout “Po Po”. They used to scatter. Police used to see me and just like kick my walker because they were so pissed off.

TR:

No longer looking out for the police, but Leroy is still the Watch Man.

Now making sure those with disabilities aren’t relegated to the sideline.

When you think about that early experience, it gives you a sense of the depth of his love for the culture.

That appreciation of history explains why he chose to name the protagonist Roxanne, as in Roxanne Shante – probably the first female MC to gain real notoriety.

recalling Leroy’s grade school experience where the lack of Black Disabled representation sparked what became a lifelong mission to find Black Disabled ancestors, leads us to that very important, but often forgotten fifth element of Hip-Hop.

[TR in conversation with LM:]
It sounds like there may be knowledge of self built right in.

LM:
Yes, exactly! That’s the whole concept of the book because once she gets the confidence about herself then her powers get stronger.

# Leroy Krip Hop Update

Audio: Hip Hop don’t stop…

TR:

Like Hip-Hop Krip-Hop don’t stop.

Maybe this is Leroy’s super power. He continues working on letting the world know that people with disabilities have and will continue to represent the culture in every aspect.

Krip Hop Nation has two events coming up in 2019.

LM:

We’re having an all-women’s event here in Berkley at the Premium Cultural Center.

That’s going to happen on march 30th. We’re highlighting ADA 420. She’s a rapper from Detroit but she’s from the Bay area.

TR:

the event will include about 7 other artists representing a variety of art forms.

LM:
Dancers, singers, spiritual workers. So it’s going to be dope!

TR:
In addition to the event, The Krip Hop Nation is putting out a CD featuring women artists with disabilities.

[TR in conversation with LM:]

So Krip-Hop Nation is pretty active on the African continent, correct?

LM:

Yeh, thank you for bringing that up.

We’ve been really connecting to our African brothers and sisters for the last 10 years.

Krip-Hop went to South Africa in 2016 and we did a tour. We hit up like 8 cities in 4 weeks.

TR:

When it comes to all aspects of disability, we often assume that living in a developed nation brings the most opportunities and equality.

LM:

I’ve only been to South Africa. I’ve interviewed artists from all over Africa and it seems to me that America needs to catch up to African countries when it comes to supporting Black Disabled musicians. Especially physically disabled musicians.

[TR in conversation with LM:]
It seems as though America is comfortable at this time accepting musicians who are blind

We know Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Jose Feliciano and there’s the others.

LM:

You got the Blues with all the Blind artists.

[TR in conversation with LM:]
But even going back, it’s like when it comes to physical disabilities you don’t see you don’t see that. I’m trying to think who, did I ever see any artists with physical disabilities… at all!

LM:

Especially on the mainstream stage.

You got Bushwick Bill, the rapper who’s down with the Ghetto Boys

TR:

Of course it’s not until we’re off our call that I remember two well-known soul singers, Curtis Mayfield and Teddy Pendergrass who both acquired a disability after their initial success.

Audio: “Only You” Teddy Pendergrass & “Pusher Man” Curtis Mayfield

TR:

The Krip-Hop Nation continues to push forward and create platforms for artists with disabilities throughout the diaspora.

Like a festival scheduled for July 2019 featuring several disabled artists.

LM:

Artists from Uganda, Tanzania, the Congo. All coming here from Africa.

It’s happening in July. We’re doing a tour in the Bay area. We’re going to get a chance to talk about what’s going on in Africa around people with disabilities. Really collaborate.

One artist that’s coming from South Africa , he’s bringing a mayor of a town in South Africa. They want to see what Krip-Hop is doing They’re thing about doing an international arts festival in South Africa next year.

TR:

The Krip-Hop Nation Graphic Novel is currently available in print form. I’m hoping we’ll see a digital version in the future.

You should check out the first episode featuring Leroy talking about Krip-Hop Nation & a documentary about Joe Capers – another notable historic Black man. Capers owned and operated an early accessible analog recording studio where some of Oakland’s Hip-Hop and R&B artists recorded. People like The Digital Underground, Tony, ToniTone , EnVogue and MC Hammer.

Audio: “It’s Bigger than Hip Hop”, Dead Prez

TR:

As this episode comes to an end, so does Black History Month.

However, that doesn’t mean we can’t continue to highlight not only the accomplishments but also the issues currently and disproportionately impacting the Black Disabled community like;
access to healthcare
police brutality and the school to prison pipeline.

Once again a big shout out to Leroy Moore and the rest of the Krip Hop Nation. Thanks to;
Ramp Your Voice.com
Raven Reid
This episode included some beats from Chuki Music the link will be on the episode page.

There’s lots of clips and old episodes of Like It Is on Youtube including interviews with Malcolm X, Bob Marley and so many more.

Do you have a favorite historic black disabled person you think we should know about?

Want to recommend a topic or person for the show?

Hollaback…

We have the comments section on the blog, ReidMyMind.com.
The email; ReidMyMindRadio@gmail.com
The Reid My Mind Radio Feedback Line where you can leave a voice mail: 1 570-798-7343

I would really love voice messages that I can share on the podcast. If you don’t want to call, you can grab your smart phone and record a voice memo and email the finished recording to ReidMyMindRadio@gmail.com.

I’d love to hear and share the voices of those who are listening. If you want to send a message but don’t want it shared just say so and it’s all good.

You too can help make Black history…
Subscribe!
Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcast Sound Cloud, Stitcher, Tune In Radio or wherever you get podcasts.
Visit www.ReidMyMind.com

So there’s no confusion, that’s R to the E I D like my last name!

Peace!

Hide the transcript

Reid My Mind Radio – Music on My Mind

Wednesday, March 1st, 2017

This episode we travel in a different direction from the past. Different from the podcast, but a big part of my life and maybe yours… Music!

A collage of musicians including The Drifters, The Coasters and Gladys Knight!

A past guest to RMMRadio returns, but this time we’re getting his recommendations for  artists and songs you should listen to, investigate, re-visit…

And now it’s time for the classics…!

 

 

Resources

Reid My Mind Radio – Who is Joe Capers

Wednesday, February 15th, 2017
A picture of Joe Capers, an African American man seated on a couch staring into the camera with sunglasses!

Joe Capers

En Vogue, Tony Tony Tone and more musical artists from Oakland could help answer this question. In this  episode we meet two gentlemen creating a documentary that will help others do the same.

The second part of today’s podcast explores Hip Hop from two angles you may have not known existed.
* Krip Hop Nation, an international network for artists with disabilities.
* Hip Learning,  using the rap element of Hip Hop to help children learn science and more!

So stop what you’re doing
Prepare to hear the words they say
The only way to do it…
Press on the button that says Play!

… Oh snap, #Bars son!


Subscribe & Follow


Resources

  1. Alternative Minds
  2. Krip Hop Nation
  3. The Best of Krip-Hop Nation on CD Baby

4. Hip Learning

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:
What’s good family!
Happy Black History Month to everyone…
even if you don’t feel that’s something you celebrate or even really acknowledge.
The simple truth, if you are on this planet,
chances are great that you have been impacted by African American people. There’s so much from the world of invention, science and culture. An unfortunately, that’s not discussed during the other 11 months of the year.

Today’s episode includes a recent piece for Gatewave Radio that shows how sometimes people are like pieces in a puzzle. If one piece is missing, that full puzzle can never be complete.

Following the Gatewave piece you will hear more from two brothers who in their own way are expanding Black history. And ,  making sure we know, that includes people with disabilities.

Are You ready?
[Audio: “I know you’re gonna dig this!”]
[RMMRadio Intro]

[Audio Mix: “En Vogue, Tony Tony Tone, Digital Underground and MC Hammer!]
TR:
Today, the question, Who is Joe Capers?

In the 1980’s and 90’s  artist’s like , En Vogue,
Tony Tony Tony,
Digital Underground,
MC Hammer
all had a few things in common.
They all were based in Oakland,
each made their way to the top of the charts
and Joe Capers.

In order to find out who is Joe Capers,
I spoke with two gentlemen from California’s Bay Area.
First up, Leroy Moore, originally from the east coast, raised in Connecticut and New York City.

LM:
I’m an activist, journalist and author. I also started what’s called Krip-Hop Nation with a K. It’s an international network of musicians with disabilities. My disability is Cerebral Palsy. I had it since birth.

I found out about Joe Capers when I was doing radio. KpFA out here  in Berkley. They had a radio show about people with disabilities. Joe Capers was blind African American man here in Oakland in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. He had one of the first accessible home studios at that time.
TR:
That’s a full recording studio in the basement of his home. All sorts of Oakland artists from MC Hammer to En Vogue and others you may have never heard of recorded at Joe’s studio

Leroy learned of another person who could help further answer the question… who is joe capers?

Naru:
I got a call from Leroy one day, he said “Naru you knew Joe Capers?” I was like yeah Joe?

TR:
Meet Naru Kwina , an Oakland California  based artist and teacher. .

Naru:
Joe was just the coolest guy with the biggest smile.
Joe played the base, the drums the keyboards so he was a master musician.

TR in conversation with Naru:
Was Joe doing more of the production? Was he just kind of the studio owner? What was he actually doing?
***

Naru:
Listen brother! His studio was called “J-Jams Studio: Joe did everything.  He had his mix board in Braille. He recorded, he engineered he mixed, he produced. He did everything that you could every possibly do in the studio. And he had the greatest ear I have ever been around and I’ve  been doing music over 40 years of my life. If you had one note or one little thing off he knew and he would call you on it. You know because he was blind you thought you’d  get away with stuff.

TR:
Joe was a professional and  demanded that those  in his studio acted the same. Naru, who is also a rapper, and went by the name Quick back then, recalls the time when Joe instructed him to memorize his lyrics and not use written notes in the recording booth.

Naru:
I’m in the booth one day and I had my little paper… like nah he ain’t gonna know… [laughs] he was like bruh, I could hear the paper rattling in the booth. And he sent me home. He sent me home and told me not to come back until I knew my lyrics.

So he was really dedicated to the music and that dedication is still with me and when I started having my own studio and production I always said nope don’t come in here with no paper, learn your lyrics.
[Laughs] So I got that from Joe!

TR:
Learning more about Joe, Leroy was surprised others didn’t know him.

LM:
Oh my god, this man needs to be recognized in Oakland because he really changed the Oakland sound of Hip-Hop and Soul.

TR:
During that conversation between Naru and Leroy the idea was sparked.

Naru:
When I said you know somebody outta do a film about Joe, he [Leroy] said why don’t you do it. I said man, I’m not a film maker man… he said but  yeah you know people. Reluctantly, I took that upon myself.

TR:
there’s lots involved in the process.

Naru:
I just contacted people who had cameras, mics and I had to contact all the artists. I literally probably have  6 or 7 hours of interviews. Everybody from MC Hammer, Digital Underground, Dwayne Wiggins from Tony tony Tone and other people who just knew Joe on a personal level or recorded with Joe… who were closer with Joe. Some of the more interesting interviews are from people you would never heard about who Joe touched in a particular  way. I could just say that he’s still here with us because all the people he touched and how many people still  think about Joe.

TR:
What began as a 15 minute documentary about the career of Joe Capers has morphed into much more. Running his own studio known as J-Jams wasn’t solely a business venture. This was back in the error when recording music professionally required significant investment.
Large studios charged hundreds of dollars an hour for studio time.

Naru:
Joe was changing like between $20 or $25 an hour r. The quality of sound was on par with anything coming out of these big studios. Joe knew the music that we were doing.  He understood it better than some of the engineers who were  in these big studios who were used to . doing rock music or folk and country. Joe  understood the R&B  and the Hip-Hop… the need for that bottom.

TR:
While the music might be about that base, for Joe it included the chance to offer help and encouragement.

Naru:
He was also a teacher. He would take young kids off the street from time to time. Some people were actually living with him. He would teach young kids  to engineer. Pretty much gave at least  two people I know roofs over their heads until they got their act together. They might have been out doing some street business and he didn’t really want that.  So he was trying to teach people another way to make money and be successful.

LM:
Joe Capers taught newly blind people independent living skills.

TR:
Making a documentary takes a lot of patience and research. It also takes creativity. Not only in the traditional sense as in the filming and writing, but also in the approach to resolving real  challenges that inevitably arise.

In order to make up for a lack of video footage of Joe and artists in the recording studio, original animation is being incorporated into the film.

And I am pleased to report that plans are included for audio description, making the film more accessible to those with vision loss.
When complete the film will be distributed by way of local public television, online, film festivals and live screenings.
Events developed around the release of the film will include a live concert focusing on emerging artists including those with disabilities. The concert will be an annual event taking place in August. in Oakland, this now has significant meaning.

Naru:
I wouldn’t say we, I helped but Leroy was the most instrumental…

LM:
Every August is now Joe Capers month in Oakland. That’s the first  Black Disabled man that’s been recognized  by the city of Oakland.

TR:
Here’s how you can help contribute to the success of this film

Naru:***
I’m working on some more funding  right now that’s why  it’s slow going. Everything’s been like a labor of love  out of my pocket. And Leroy put some money in as well.

I have a nonprofit, it’s called Alternative Minds Foundation and so all our stuff is going through there with this film. It’s a 501-3C so everything is a tax write off for people who want to do that.

LM:
www.alternative-minds.com

Naru:
And just later on just telling people about it when it comes out. That’s probably the best way you could help spread the word.

TR:
It sounds like these two are the right   choice for telling Joe’s story.
Leroy, through his work with Krip Hop nation, an international network of musical artists including
rappers, dj’s, producers, dancers, spoken word artists and others, all with disability; have already presented an award in recognition of Joe’s contributions. This award was presented to his family in Georgia.

Naru who had a personal relationship with Joe, while not as familiar with blindness, did gain what some may see as a simple lesson, but in fact is one that advocates have spent a life time trying to convey.

Naru:
My understanding about a person who was blind  is very limited and probably very skewed. Being around Joe was very refreshing. He was just a regular person, did regular things. Loved to joke and laugh, play tricks on you  and all of that stuff. He was just like we say, a regular Oakland Cat!
[Laughter fades out]

TR:
This is Thomas Reid,

LM:
Oh my God, this man needs to be recognized.

for Gatewave Radio.
Audio for independent living!

[Audio: Taken from Rap Battle on MTV
“There’s no charity in a rap battle!”, Sway]

TR:
The first time I thought about Hip Hop and disability was just prior to me losing my sight.  It was the fall of 2003, I believe it was MTV2 who was airing a rap battle. One of the contestants included young rapper by the name of Blind Fury.  I remember thinking his opponent was corny. He got stuck on the blind and disregarded the fury.

Blind Fury by my account was indeed better and should have won that battle.  He was more lyrical,
had a method for finding out visual details about his opponents and  he had multiple flows.  I realized the perception of Blind Fury’s talent was based on his disability.

Why would blindness limit the ability to rap? It’s vocal, what’s the big deal.
Yes, battle rap might require the ability to quickly gain information about your opponent, but Blind Fury was making that happen too.

Eventually Blind Fury took his place in history with his success on  BET’s 106 and Park’s Friday Freestyle.

[Audio: From Wild Style… “South Bronx Subway Rap”, Grandmaster Caz ]

The truth is people with disabilities have been involved with hip hop since its origins.

Leroy prior to his interest in rap was into rock and heavy metal.

LM:
Ozzie Osbourne, Metallica, ZZ Top…
***

TR:
He was then introduced to Rapper’s Delight, from the Sugar hill Gang.

[Audio: rapper’s Delight, Sugar Hill Gang]

LM:
Back then you bought the record and tried to learn all the lyrics.

This is gonna be cool!

At that time I had a walker . So picture me  with my walker going to the subway to the Bronx. Here I am this skinny guy with a walker and everybody around me has muscles,  break dancing and all that stuff.
I was just a writer back then . I dabbled in poetry.  I always told myself that I want to get in the cypher
TR:
If you’re not familiar  with the ciphers,  rappers would get together to rhyme  with one another. A time to test your newly written verse or maybe freestyle. Picture a circle of rappers passing the imaginary microphone to one another. It’s a meticulous process. You wait your turn. And you better be ready because you are going to get instant feedback on your 16 bars, or your verse. This is the place where you truly hone your skills.
While the ciphers were often about seeing who had the better skills, these
groups of mainly African American and Latino young men attracted the attention of the police.
Becoming more familiar with Leroy’s presence, he was soon declared “The  Watch Man”.

LM:
Because you’re disabled  you can watch out for the cops. The cops won’t do nothing to you . When the cops came  I used to yell you know, “po po”  and they used to scatter.  They’d just leave me there with my walker  and the cops used to get so pissed off.

TR:
Leroy played his position . He listened to more and more music.

LM:
When Run-DMC came out and did “Walk this Way”  and mixed rock with rap I was like alright this is it!

TR:
[Audio: It’s Like That, Run-DMC]

Right before I was scheduled to speak with Leroy, I read an interview he did with Daryl McDaniel’s better known as DMC of Run-DMC fame.

Now, when I heard [It’s Like That] as a young teenager, I lost my  [Censored Beep] mind!

TR in conversation with Leroy:
What was that like meeting DMC?

LM:
Oh my God, you know, I told him I grew up with you… he’s like no no we grew  up together!
For me it’s one of the highlights of my journalism career.

I saw that DMC had a book out about his depression. I also knew that back in I think the late 80’s he had a voice disability. I was like ok, DMC needs to know about Krip-Hop.

TR:
And more people need to know about Krip Hop.

In general, people are uncomfortable with disability. They don’t understand what to say to a person, how to act, maybe there’s some fear of even thinking about disability…
You know what I’m talking about because chances are you experienced it from at least one side or both.

Leroy never did participate in any of those early Bronx ciphers, but Hip Hop did get into him.

One important aspect of art and culture, is seeing yourself represented on the screen, on the canvas or stage and in the music.

As a black disabled man, that doesn’t happen that often.

LM:
My father had a huge Blues record collection and of course as we know Blues artists were blind… like Blind Willie Johnson.
[Audio: “It’s Nobody’s Fault but Mine”, Blind Willie Johnson]

My father liked Robert Winters. Robert Winters had Polio  and walked with crutches…
[Audio: “Magic Man”, Robert Winters]

Wow,  there’s disabled Black  men that do music!

I think it played a really big part of where I am today with Krip-Hop.

This year is our 10th Anniversary and we have loose chapters…

TR:
These include countries within Africa, the UK, Germany and Spain.

[Audio: “Tales of the Krip-Hop”, Rob da Noize Temple]

With the network formed by Leroy and co-founder Keith Jones, the two being disabled activists, the focus continues to be on education and advocacy.

LM:
So we saw Krip-Hop as a way to bring awareness around the history of disabled musicians from the Blues to Hip-Hop and really educate and to push the Hip-Hop arena  around Ableism thinking around disability and to really say that disabled musicians have been here since the Blues.

TR:
Krip Hop Nation produces live events featuring all sorts of artists with disabilities including; dj’s, emcee’s, spoken word artist, dancers and more.
They have put out 4 CD’s including their latest.

LM:
Our 10th Anniversary CD just came out on CDBaby.com. It has Wonder Mike  from the Sugar Hill Gang, DMC from Run-DMC.

TR:
Two names you are probably familiar with, but some might be new…like;

George Tragic
[Audio: “Industry Epidemic”, George Tragic]

Wheelchair Sports Camp

[Audio: “Hard out Here for a Gimp”, Wheelchair Sports Camp]

Toni Hickman
[Audio: “Cripple Pretty”, Toni Hickman]

Rap music and hip hop culture ironically was birthed to some degree from
exclusion and isolation.
Young kids from the South Bronx who  didn’t have access to much
including instruments so turn tables and beat boxing became its  replacements.
Barred from the downtown discos and night clubs; the community centers and parks became their place to party.

[Audio: “This Can’t Be Life”, Prinz D]

Hip Hop is a culture that created an outlet for expression.
It’s common themes consist of stories about overcoming adversity,
rebelling against  oppression, yet the disability experience goes mainly unheard.

Obviously this isn’t exclusive to rap ,
but this music with its infectious beats and rhymes is perfectly suited for Communicating all types of information with
the intention of educating.
Whether changing commonly held beliefs or getting young students to recall all types of information.

[Audio: “Hip Science”, Naru Kwina]

That’s where Naru saw a way to use his love for hip hop and combine it with his love of teaching.

While working as an assistant teacher he had the challenge of trying to teach science to kindergartners.

Naru:
The kids were like “uh!”

At recess I heard them all outside, they were singing this song off the radio; the lyrics were horrible. [Laughs…]
But, man, they knew the whole song….
And a lightbulb went off like huh!…
If I could turn these lessons into music like that and get these kids excited I wonder if they would learn these lessons like they learned that song?

So I did a series of songs  about the body and gave them to my students, the CD’s to the parents  to take home and listen to and then we did some in class. I mean they caught it so fast, it was amazing.

And so I was just using it in class and people kept telling me you need to market  this… you need to do this you need to do  that…
I ended up applying for my first grant. It’s a grant called  the Creative Work Fund. It was a partnership with this organization called the African Scientific  Institute out here in Oakland. We got the grant. $35,000 grant. I was able to produce a play, the CD and pay a lot of people in my community as well to perform  and got other artist involved to  record with me. That’s about 10 years ago. I’m still doing it to this day. Outperforming , online sales. It became half of my career. I’m still an after school teacher but I do a lot of Hip Science. I enjoy it!

TR in conversation with Naru:
What was that reaction like from the other teachers? Were they cool with this or did you get any negative feedback from them?

Naru:
They were amazed. First of all I don’t think any of them knew I rapped. I don’t know why but I kind of kept that part of my life separate  from working with the children and never realized that was one of my strengths.
I should have been using it all along.
I never even thought it would be anything like that. I just wanted my kids to learn.

TR:
And it wasn’t just his kids that were learning.
Shortly after releasing the CD series he received a call from a company interested in the product.
Naru:
This company, it’s called Overbrook Entertainment and they wanted to buy [laughter] my whole business. I’m like what? I’m not selling my business. And it turns out that was Will Smith’s company. He was in town  in San Francisco  shooting the Pursuit of Happiness  and I don’t know how  he got my CD’s  but his kids were listening  to it. I never finished the negotiations because  they were talking about they wanted to have all the marketing … I wasn’t looking to sell. It was like  this  is my baby right here!

I was like wow, I know I’m doing something now if their trying to buy  my company man! [Laughs fade away…]

***

TR:
Doing something now, well that sounds like Naru’s default mode…
He creates music with his daughter who herself is a singer and rapper at the Oakland School for the Arts.

Naru:
Matter of fact, the first song she ever wrote with me  she was 3. It was called love is the thing It’s featured on Rosie O’Donnell Family is a Family documentary. We did a video for it and everything. It was real cool!

TR:
Over several summers, the two have written a book that’s now complete and he and his daughter are creating an accompanying soundtrack.

Naru:
It’s called Panela’s Journey. It’s a very fanciful tale of a young girl who’s struggling with her identity  in the world and  her place in the world and wondering why the world is the way it is. She seeks refuge in a fanciful place.
That  one should be coming out soon as well. We’re gonna have some augmented reality, apps that go along  with the book.

TR:
Continuing to put out his own music, his latest project should be out soon.

Naru:
Naru and Strong Soul and we are The Living Room Legends!

TR:
I have some links on the blog… Reid my mind .com if you want to check out more on both Leroy and Naru.

Salute to both of these brothers for the good work their doing, truly expanding the culture.

I don’t know about you but I feel like I have to start producing some    more content!

n that note, make sure you subscribe to this podcast.
Go to your podcast app of choice and search for Reid My Mind Radio… that’s R E I D.
You can also follow me on Sound Cloud soundcloud.com/t-Reid.

[Audio: RMMRadio Theme]
Thanks for listening.

Peace!

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Reid My Mind Radio: At the Intersection of Black and Blind

Wednesday, January 18th, 2017

Many would assume growing up blind in the 1950’s & 60’s had its challenges. What about growing up Black and Blind attending a segregated school for the blind?

Robert Lewis at work at the Radio Reading Network of Maryland

In this latest Reid My Mind Radio you hear from the Executive Director of the Radio Reading Network of Maryland, Robert Lewis.

We talk about;

  • Attending a segregated school for the blind
  • How being blind saved his life
  • Playing music with Stevie Wonder and much more.

Plus in the special podcast edition, we include some of his personal music suggestions for those times when you just need a lift!

 

Subscribe bit.ly/RMMRadioSubscribe

 

Press Play below to Listen now!

 

Transcript

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TR:Happy New Year!

I know some of us are not feeling that happy in 2017 and possibly longer. I don’t know like 4 years!
Well, as long as we’re not six feet under or my personal favorite stuffed into an ern sitting on a mantle… we’re good and we can make things happen.
We can fight…fight the power!
But first a new Gatewave piece I know you’re going to like and some extra immediately following!
Hit me!

[Audio: RMMRadio Theme Music]

 

TR:
Meet Robert Lewis, the Executive Director of the Radio Reading Network of Maryland. With over 35 years in the business, he is more than qualified to run the network. We’ll hear more on that, but it’s his life experiences that are truly compelling and offer a glimpse to what it was like growing up as an African American attending a segregated school for the blind.

 

RL:
I went to the Maryland School for the Blind, here in Baltimore Maryland. It was a wonderful place to go to school. I started there in 1954. It was a nice school but in the very beginning there was one side for the blacks and one side for the whites. And you were not allowed to sleep on the white campus . The two races went together for school but after that we would go our separate ways the first couple of years that I was there. That’s the way they had the whole setup.

Things were done to you or things were done that would not be tolerated today.

In the beginning they wouldn’t  buy Black kids Braille writers and things of that nature until like 50’s or more like in the 60’s. They started doing some things for Black kids that they didn’t do before and they would do them for the white kids.

You would be surprised what we had to deal with  in the 50’s and 60’s in a blind school.

 

TR:
The discrimination, limited social interactions, like at parties.

RL
As soon as we started to dance with one of the  white girls, the party was over. That party was ended!
They weren’t going to have that.

Society makes people prejudice. If they had left us alone it would never had happen, but because the teachers and because of the house parents and so forth  letting you know that you were black, who cared?
The students didn’t care!

The Lion’s Club used to come out and deal with us.
And at one time the Lion’s Club did not deal with Black kids.

 

TR:
the discrimination lead to varying degrees of abuse.

During a school Halloween party, a member of the Lions Club was responsible for guiding Robert to his chair.

 

RL:

He grabbed both my arms and walked me backwards to the chair.
I’m a 6 year old kid and this is a full grown man and he was squeezing my arms as hard as he could to try and make me cry and I said to myself he’s trying to hurt me but I’m not going to let him know that it hurt. So I didn’t and after he got me to the chair he pushed me down with a little bit of force. That was his way of saying well I don’t really like doing this or I don’t like Black people and I don’t like Black kids.

 

TR:
There was the even more abusive punishments dealt out by those charged with protecting and educating blind children.

 

RL:
Some of the Black kids were punished to the point that we had to stand out in the hall at night with no clothes on.
First we didn’t understand it but then we realized that the person that was doing that may have had a little problem on the side.

 

TR:
The discrimination continued as Robert traveled outside of the state competing with the school Wrestling team. He recalls, they couldn’t eat in restaurants.

 

RL:
We went to one restaurant and the lady said you got to eat as fast as you can so we can get you out of here before the owner comes  back because if he saw we had Black people here he would fire me!

 

TR:
In North Carolina, it was more than getting a meal.

 

RL:
Guys jumped out of the car and came over and they were going to beat us
all up.
We had no idea … What is this all about? Is it because we are blind; no, it’s  because you’re black and you’re blind!

 

TR:
Eventually, the segregation came to an end. The children lived together.

At first the parents were very upset about it and they didn’t really want it but  in order for the school to get money from the state, they had to integrate the school.

 

TR:
Remember, Robert described the time he spent at the Maryland School for the Blind as wonderful. Discrimination and racism were just a part of his school life.

We had a lot of terrible things that we dealt with but  we also had good things because we had a lot of white friends that we went to school with that would do anything in the world for us.

Maryland School for the Blind had one of the best wrestling and track teams in the country so we went all over the place.
We learned so much and we had so much fun as far as the students together.
We had a really good soul band good jazz band.
I grew up with the Beatles . I grew up with the platters. I grew up with Elvis Presley.
Some of the kids that were white, we learned their music and they learned ours.
I would come home and my sister would say here comes the little white boy!

 

TR:
In some sense, Robert really does straddle two identities. Not black and white, but rather black and blind.
The intersection of the two present a fully unique experience.

As a young African American growing up in Baltimore Maryland in the 1950’s and 60’s , Robert observed the events taking place in his neighborhood from a different perspective.

 

RL:
I heard one day when the police came out and they sicked the Shepard on the neighborhood and one guy named frank grabbed the dog around his neck and killed him.
You could hear in the wagon, you could hear the beating he was getting.

 

TR:
The wagon he refers to is the police patty wagon used to round up and transport suspects charged with criminal acts.
Robert says that the recent episodes of police brutality in cities like Baltimore aren’t new.

RL:

When they would beat the kids in the wagon, you could hear the wagon going up and down. if they wanted to find out  if you were telling the truth they would take a phone book and put it on top of your head and then hit it with a police stick. And there were no scars. What they would do is open the window.  they’d say you can tell us what we need to know or you can jump out the window. or take the beating.

 

TR:
Once , the additional identity of being blind could have possibly saved his life. As a young boy traveling in the car with his family, he recalls when an officer stopped his father for speeding.

 

RL:
the police was giving my father a ticket and I reached out to touch his gun and the policeman stepped back and drew his gun to shoot me. My father said oh please don’t shoot my son, he’s blind. And the policeman said oh he’s blind? So he took the bullets out of the gun and put it in my hand and let me play with it . He said, I’m not going to give you a ticket I’ll let you go this time. He said, but every day  for the next week I want you to buy your son an ice cream cone and every night for the rest of the week he’d come by the neighborhood and say did your father  buy you an ice cream?

 

TR:
By no means was Robert’s childhood full of violence.
residing on the school campus during the week, he returned home on weekends.

RL:
Man it was fun because I could come home and tell  them what I learned as far as in school, but then I could get on the roller skates and skate up and down the sidewalk and ride my two wheel bike. My grandfather was a mechanic, I had my hands inside automobiles. My mother would take me to the five and dime store and let me buy a toy. She treated me just like she did all of her other kids. My cousin Mack Lewis had a boxing gym in Baltimore. He was a very well-known manager of boxing. He would train Larry Middleton Vincent Pettway… some of the big time boxers. I would go over to the gym and listen to the guys box. I’d go around listening to musicians. I went over to the stable and rode the horses. I could honestly say I felt just like any kid that could see because I really think I had some angels looking out for me. I really enjoyed hearing things and dealing with things that I dealt with  you know in the neighborhood. Friday nights and Saturday nights was a great time because everybody had a good time. They had crab feasts. They’d walk up and down the street.

 

TR:{In conversation with Robert.}
So you were not at all isolated. You were definitely part of the community  it sounds like.

 

RL:
I was part of the community, yes!

 

TR:
Community, in his neighborhood, school and even activities that lead to lifelong passions like music.

 

RL:
I got my start playing marching band music. I played Sousaphone in the band. I played the Base Drum and from there I went to a complete drum kit. Being totally blind and a drummer, drummer’s completely different than other musicians. When you go and tell people you are blind and you play drums … I told one guy and he said I mean, I could see you playing the horn, but ain’t no way in the world I can see you playing the drum set cause you blind. How you gonna find the drums and the cymbals. I play an 18 piece drum kit! I’m a very good drummer.

I played with 15 and 18 piece bands.

I played with Stevie before.

 

TR:
So we’re clear, he’s talking about Stevie Wonder.

 

RL:
He came to the Maryland School for the Blind and we played  together.

 

TR:
Today, Robert is back on the campus of the Maryland School for the blind.
Not with the school, but rather in his job with the Maryland Radio Reading  Network, a radio reading service for the blind and others with print disabilities.

 

RL:
I started as a board operator and I’d go to work and people would whisper and say is he blind? This is a radio reading service but they had no blind people working there. I started as a board operator and moved up the ladder and I became the Executive Director.

 

TR :
Some of his responsibilities?

 

RL:
Fundraising, directing,   , setting up all the program, fire those that need to be fired or hire the people that need to be hired.

 

TR: {In conversation with Robert}
What would you say are the aspects of your specific experience  that have either helped or make your job more challenging?

 

RL:
The hardest thing is proving things to people. Proving what you can do.
If I ask someone for money and they’ll say to me well what do you do at the station? How do you know if you’re on the air or not? Or how do you know what time it is? And after a while, all of these stupid questions just get to you but, you can’t let people know they’re getting to you because they really don’t know. So you have to answer those questions as polite and as nice as you can do it. You have to be nice to people and after a while I wouldn’t say you get tired of being nice, sometimes you get tired of the way people talk down to you

I love my job and I like what I’m doing. If I sit home retired I’ll probably weigh a thousand pounds.  so I’m trying to avoid that  or find something else to do probably go into some music, but right now my whole job is what I do now with the radio station and part-time  stereo sales.

 

TR:
This is Thomas Reid
{James Brown’s “Say it Loud”
“Say it loud, I’m black”
Simultaneously…
RL:
Your Black and Blind…
James Brown’s “… And Proud!
{}

for Gatewave Radio…

Audio for Independent Living!

[Audio from : KRS1 “We’re not done” “We’re not Done”… “Check this out” from “You Must Learn”]

 

TR:The intersection between disability and race, gender and other identities is something I’d like to explore more.

It’s now part of my own life experience and with people with disabilities being the largest minority group, it’s probably an effective way to promote disability related issues.

If any of these apply to you and you have a story to share or know of someone who does, please send me an email…
ReidMyMindRadio@gmail.com.

It was a real pleasure speaking with Mr. Lewis and I hope to do so again. I can just imagine all of the other stories he could share.

In fact, there are more stories that were not included in the Gatewave piece.

Sometimes it’s hard to explain the level of ignorance people display in response to blindness or disability.

Some of the stories can be entertaining, but often they’re confusing. And as I like to say, you can’t make sense from nonsense.

As you heard in the end of the Gatewave  piece, Robert sells stereo equipment part time. After selling some equipment, he called the customer to check in with him two weeks after the sale.

 

RL:
He said, as long as you live please don’t ever call me. I said, don’t ever call you again? He said no, because I have to have eye surgery next week.

TR:
Ohhhhhh!

RL:
… and I know it’s only because I bought that equipment from you.

I said to him, did it rub off?
{laughing!!!}

He said please never, NEVER, never call me again!

I said, OK!

 

TR:

Recently I was reminded about someone who I knew for years, who didn’t say this to me but definitely treated me as if I were contagious!

And like Robert said…

 

RL:
Ok!

 

TR:

I wanted to end the conversation  on a positive note because we all know those haters are going to hate and ignorance is out here!

Plus it would only be right especially profiling someone who has been through all that he has and refers to his experience as wonderful. That’s an optimist folks!

I asked Mr. Lewis to give me some music recommendations. I thought I’d pass them on to the podcast listeners who enjoy a variety of music.

 

RL:
I don’t really listen to a lot of the new stuff.
If you’re a gospel person I consider the older gospel like Aretha Franklin or James Cleveland to be outstanding. If you really want to get into the going back into the world and listening to oldies but goodies and things of that nature think songs like “What’s to become of the broken hearted”. robins had some really good stuff out. “The Masters Call” It talks about a situation that a guy got involved with and was able to find god. When I’m really down if I want to hear something nice I listen to “Palisades Park” by Freddie Boom Boom  Canon which really is a very nice song to give you a little bit of upbeat or some things by gene Pitney  or things like that really will help you, inspire you music wise. Just getting a boost. Even down to Leslie Gore. I don’t mean songs like “It’s my party” but I mean really good songs that she did that were just outstanding; “Love and spoonful”. The Temptations had an unbelievable bunch of songs that really move me. I mean I love music. There’s so much music that that I really really enjoy. When you look at big bands sounds. I think one of the best instrumentals that I ever heard  in my life was Jimmy Smith’s “Mojo”. And only because no one plays an organ like Jimmy Smith. No one can move their hands and feet like he does; God bless the musician! He was unbelievable!
If you listen to that song and you listen to his right hand what he’s doing with his right hand is beyond what a musician can do. I enjoy so much of the old stuff. I mean Mandrill. I like a horn section. I love tower of Power. Ray Charles’ band moved media also have to put Jimi Hendrix in that line up. There’s so much harmony in some of the groups that came out of England. Crosby, Still, Nash &young. To me Cold Blood has an unbelievable band. They have Lydia Pense who sings for them. Oh my God that girl can sing!
James Brown’s band was fantastic. More so than his singing. His band was as tight as they come. But Ten Wheel Drive is also another tight band to listen to. And also Gail McCormick and Smith. They took the version of the Shirelle’s Baby it’s you. They have a horn section there that is fantastic. There’s nothing like 8 or 9 horns playing together like that . Like Tower Power does… My dream someday would be to play a song with Tower of Power or Ten Wheel Drive. These guys are tight!

 

TR:
Now before you go to your choice of music apps and begin listening to some of these suggestions, do yourself a favor and head over to your podcast app and subscribe to Reid My Mind Radio. It’s good for your mind, your body and your soul!

Peace!

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