Posts Tagged ‘Film’

Walking the Walk with Day Al-Mohamed

Wednesday, May 8th, 2019

Day Al-Mohamed and guide dog Gamma
Today is the right day to shine the spotlight on Day Al-mohamed. We’re focusing on her creative endeavors such as writing books, short stories, comic books and scripts. now she adds Film director and Producer to her list of credits. Hear how she began writing, learned to produce a documentary on the virtually unknown disabled Civil War soldiers known as the “Invalid Corps” and provided yours truly with some early inspiration in my adjustment to Blindness process.

Plus, she shares a story and piece of American and disability history that I guarantee you haven’t heard.

Listen

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript

Audio: Radio turning through different FM stations.

TR:
Rise and shine beautiful people.

Audio: Lovely Day, Bill Withers

You’re listening to WRMM better known as Reid My Mind Radio. I’m your host T.Reid.

If you just stumbled across this station while turning the dial on your virtual radio, welcome!
This is the place where you’ll find stories and profiles of compelling people impacted by blindness and disability. When I’m in the mood or have something of interest to share about my own experience I’ll serve that up to you with a bit of my sofrito if you will. My combination of spices!

Today’s episode is long overdue and that’s my bad.

But, as it turns out, it’s just the right Day to tell you a story!

Let’s go!

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Theme Music

Day:

“I’m a big advocate for doing whatever interests you because to be honest if you have a disability , disability is going to come into it whether you want it to or not.”

TR:

That’s Day Al Mohamed. She encompasses all of those things and more. An Advocate, someone pursuing her interests and a person with a disability.

Specifically on that last point, she’s a visually impaired guide dog user.

We’ll discuss her advocacy work of course, but there’s just something I find so cool about people pursuing their passion. for Day, that’s writing.

And just as she said, disability comes up!

Some of you may be familiar with Day from her time at the American Council of the Blind. But here’s something you may not know.

Day:

I think most people don’t realize even with a last name like Al-Mohamed they assume I’m American. I don’t have an accent when I speak English or anything like that. However, I was born and raised overseas in the Middle East in Bahrain. A small island just off the coast of Saudi Arabia. It’s like 15 miles across, it’s that small. I didn’t come to the US until I was 17.
[

It’s one of those things that people are like wow you’re actually a foreigner. Then I have to reveal the small cheat that my mother is American so … And then they go wow that must have been really rough for her because she’s an American and she went to this whole conservative like Middle Eastern country. And I’m like my mom was from Missouri so she went from conservative Mid West to conservative Mid-East. It was not that big of a change.

[TR in conversation with Day:]
Laughs… So did you go back to Missouri when you came back to the states?

Day:
I actually went to college there at the University of Missouri and stayed on there for law school as well. I think that’s kind of where I got my start with legislative issues and policy issues were actually there in the state.

TR:

Day was presented with An opportunity.

Following a discussion about sponsoring a bill around disability employment, a Missouri State Legislator decided:

Day:

“I should put my money where my mouth is, I should get a disabled intern. You know that’s what I should do just get a disabled intern.”

And so he just put out this call for a random disabled intern and I kind of randomly got it. When I showed up at his office he was like can you answer the phone can you talk to people. So he had no idea about the capacity of people with disabilities at all.

I think that’s kind of always stuck with me and I look for other people who kind of have that same walk the walk.

TR:

That sort of attitude can really pay off; for all involved.

Day:

And by the time I’m done he’s like “Hey I need you to write this up as an amendment for the floor Go, go, go

TR:

Ever since then, Day’s been moving.

Day:

you know when you get a job it kind of starts you down a path.
I ended up actually doing an internship at the US Senate in Ron Wyden’s office and so I ended up doing more policy work there.

Next I did law school and then I actually did some stuff with the Preparatory Commission for the International Criminal Court
before there ever was an ICC over at the Haig in Europe. They were trying to design an build it over at the UN up in New York and so I got a chance to spend a good part of summer there working with folks who were on the commission and it was amazing .

TR:

Then Day learned that the American Council of the Blind was looking for a Director of Advocacy and Legislative Affairs. This gabe her the chance to go to D.C and work on national policy.

Throughout her career, she’s worked on a wide range of topics.

Day:

social welfare, employment, technology, education.

I actually worked on Missouri’s conceal carry.

I kind of ended up falling into doing more disability but in general I’m a big advocate for doing whatever interests you because to be honest if you have a disability , disability is going to come into it whether you want it to or not.

I was with the American Psychological Association and for them I did do disability policy but I also did racial and ethnic minorities indigenous populations, some of there international development work. It was a nice mix in broad areas and I wanted to help them get started on creating an immigration portfolio because we were seeing a lot more activities in that rhelm and I think we had something to say.

[TR in conversation with Day:]
Do you have a special area that is very close to your heart?

Day:

It’s hard to say because I tend to fall in love with all sorts of different things. Which I guess in many ways means I’m a Lobbyist at heart. That word gets such a bad rap but honestly all it is is an advocate who gets paid.

You learn how Congress works and then you find people who are the experts or you find people with stories to tell and then basically you are connecting those pieces

TR:

Yes, the pieces are connecting! This advocate, is a storyteller.

[TR in conversation with Day:]

You can definiely talk that policy butI do want to get into the creative side.

I was looking on your website, DayAlMohamed.com, and you have a page that has different versions of your bio. What I thought was interesting was the policy stuff doesn’t come until the very end. The last two versions, the long version, but the other versions are really focused in on the creative endeavors, your writing. Am I reading into that too much? Is that your focus, do you really like to focus in that area?

Day:

I think part of it is (ahem!) I need to redo my website. Laughs!

[TR in conversation with Day:]
Laughs!

Day:

For anybody looking at DayAlMohamed.com I’m trying to get it to split. One is Day in Washinton which is where I cover all of my policy work and that’s where you’ll find some policy analysis and disability related stuff.
One of the things I’ve been doing , it’s almost 10 years now is writing fiction and in the last couple of years I’ve been doing more and more writing . I write fantasy and science fiction so we have books, short stories, a couple of comic book scripts, although it’s not fantasy and science fiction I recently put out a 30 minute film and I have 4 or 5 other short films as well. And so there’s been a lot more of the creative stuff.

It started out as something to do when I first came to Washington DC. My wife actually stayed back in Missouri to finish her degree and so if you’re away from your spouse for along period of time it gets kind of boring but it also gets kind of lonely so I signed up for a writing group. and started meeting with them.

I cannot laud enough the benefit of joining a group. You have other people who are striving for the same thing you’re doing. You have people who can kind of act as a sounding board for ideas, folks to critique. Having that kind of ability to have people to do that it only makes your writing better. I would say no good writing ever came out of a cave.

[TR in conversation with Day:]
So let me anticipate a question that someone would have when they hear that. Someone new adjusting to blindness would say well what about the fact that I’m blind and I’m assuming that wasn’t a blind writing group

Day:

It was not.

[TR in conversation with Day:]

How did that play. And you know, obviously this is something you’ve been doing for a long time but did that play into it in anyway?

Day:

Not as much as I thought it would. Really,..

[TR in conversation with Day:]
How did you think it would . And I’m sorry to cut you off but I want to get that…

Day:

No, no I think it’s a good one.

I think I worried that I wouldn’t be seen as a serious writer, which never happened. Or that they would question my capacity which also never happend. The group always made a point of meeting somehwere that was metro accessible. And we’re in the DC area so they were like well yeh not everybody drives and although at that time everybody else did drive they continued to make a point to only choose metro accessible areas. Even though I know that for a couple of metings it got very tough trying to find a location.

TR:

The benefits go beyond access.

Day:

There was one member who was a copy editing guru and oh my god the number of times she yelled at me about misplaced commas which you know with a screen reader is not necessarily the easiest thing to find when you put them in wrong and to go back and read to figure out where you got it. She was nice about it but she certainly still expected me to make sure I followed through on that .

That I had a strong story arc, character development. All the same kind of things. So realistically it end up with there not being any real difference blind or sighted.

[TR in conversation with Day:]
Nice, nice!

TR:

It was a nice experience for Day.

Unfortunately, she did mention how some people with disabilities reported negative experiences in other writing groups. That however, shouldn’t deter you.

Day:

I would encourage anybody, if you want to write go find a group and do it. Make a point of talking to other people about their ideas or ask them about their ideas. You can also find out about how other people have built things.

Find a group that meets regularly and a lot of things are like anything else they tel you. What you put into it is what you get out of it.

TR:

Ocasionally you may find the support going beyond notes on character development or punctuation. Llike the time day was feeling less than confident about her work.

Day:

“Oh my God I’m the biggest hack on the planet. I never want to write another word again.”
And she’s like we’re going to go out and drink some wine.

[TR in conversation with Day:]
That’s cool. That’s a nice supportive group.

I think for folks who are adjusting and new to it, it’s refreshing in a sense to know that it’s ok to have that doubt in the beginning. So you still were concerned about it but you went through with it. That’s a really important thing I think for people to grasp.

Day:

I think even if it’s a recent loss and it’s kind of tough and you’re struggling it’s a good excuse to get out . It’s a good excuse to start thinking of things you can do. What does it requirewell one is reading books so you can get an idea of what is out there and the second is trying to put your own thoughts down and whether that is personal journaling that you share with no one. Essays about your own transition or putting together fiction it’s all that same process.

I find it therapeutic but at the same time I look at it more professionally.

The more you do it the more you start finding other people like you.

TR:

Specifically other people like author of The Duff, Kody Keplinger, who’s book was made into a movie. She by the way is Blind.

Day:

Recently I had an essay that was published with one of the big Science Fiction magazines and the editor is Deaf Blind. I was like hey there’s more of us out there than you know once you start looking

TR:

Yet, it’s still a pretty big challenge to find us in the pages of books, screen plays and scripts.

Day:

I think one of the reasons I like science fiction is because it tends to be more future looking. A lot of it is very political. Things people don’t want to deal with today they’ll look at in Science Fiction.

One of the biggest problems with science fiction in general though is it
does not usually portray disability. If it does it portrays it very poorly. So basically, we don’t exist in the future. I have a huge pet peeve with that.

TR:

What would you expect then from a self described Lobbyist at heart – who uses stories to help advocate for those things that she’s passionate about.

Day:

So part of me is like I want to write it. You know we’re there. Not everything gets cured. That’s not how it works, that’s not how people work.

[TR in conversation with Day:]

Talk to me about any Sci-Fi films or books that reflect a positive image of disability. Are there any?

Day:

Ooh

There’s one book it’s actually book 2 in a series.

I think the first book is called The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. The second book is called The Broken Kingdom. It’s by N.K. Jemisin. The protagonist is actually blind.

It’s a fantasy setting. Most of the time when you think fantasy people think like Game of Thrones. They think swords and wizards, it’s very Eurocentric

what Jemesen did is she does this in a lot of her things
she actually builds fantasy that is not. Culturally a lot of it is more African than anything else. And I love that. I love it. I’m seeing parts of the world reflected and cultures you don’t normally see reflected, that you don’t normally think of as fantasy.

I think this last year Jemesen won the Hugo Award think about it as Science Fiction’s Oscars. She won it for the third year in a row. Nobody has ever won it three times.

TR:

Day’s love of writing goes beyond genre and form.

Day:

When I started writing I actually didn’t want to write novels I wanted to do film scripts. It requires a team so I wasn’t sure I could do that as a Blind person so I kind of slid in to doing the novels and the other writing.

I had built up enough cache that I felt secure in my writing and so I actually went to a couple of local film groups. DC Film Makers and I also visited Womens Film and Video. They meet every month and they do … we’re gonna doa movie. Who wants to do different roles. It was a chance to try and experiment a little bit.

I originally came out going I’m just going to be the writer. Guess what I can do writing, no big deal. So I started meeting some other folks doing that.

[TR in conversation with Day:]
Ok, so now, when you started that you said something so I think it revealed a little bit more…

(laughs)

Day:

Laughs…

]

[TR in conversation with Day:]
I’m peeling back some stuff here.

Day:

Here wwe go!

[TR in conversation with Day:]

You said that originally the intention there was to go for film.

Day:

Yes.

[TR in conversation with Day:]

Ok, so when you were younger was that the thing you kind of wanted to do?

Day:

As a kid, nah, I think it was still novels that were my thing. But when I first started writing in DC and I found that writing group the first stuff I submitted to them were scripts.

[TR in conversation with Day:]

Ok, I gotcha!

So when did the interest in film come into play?

Day:

I don’t know! I may have to think about that because I don’t know!

[TR in conversation with Day:]

And probably the reason that I’m asking, well number one, I’m interested.

I’m in this process now of kind of going back into events from my past sort of thing right, and then seeing where these interestsstarted and its just been interesting to me. So i ask everybody right now (laughing) I’m like do you know where your thing started from. (Fading out)

(Fading in) It’s a really cool thing because it’s like oh wait, I’m supposed to be doing this because I’ve always been interested in it. And that’s what that process kind of unveiled for me. I think it’s probably the same for a lot of people. I’m just letting you know, there’s something there. Which is great. Which means you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing.

Day:

I tend to like a lot of the writing so film, I like the short stories I really like doing the novella length work and I had a good time working on the two comics that I did. It was a lot of fun.

[TR in conversation with Day:]

Visual, it’s comics, but you wrote it.

[
Day:

I wrote it. I was partnered with some really good artists and the nice thing is generally in comics the decisions of what the art images are supposed to be is usually left to the artist.

TR:
Quick recap.

Day decided to pursue her interest; writing. Ultimately she was interested in writing for film, but she was uncertain how she could go about that being Blind.

Then she found her “in”. It’s specific to her, but the idea is universal.

She found a bridge or a means of getting her to her destination. In this case, writing films.

There can be multiple ways to create such a bridge. Sometimes it’s having someone close to you to share in the experience.

Day:

As the fun couple thing, my wife and I usually take turns a couple of times a year. We pick out something we want to do. She picked ballroom dancing one fall so a few years ago I said I want to do a film class and I want you to do it with me because I don’t think I can do it. There’s that as a Blind person I don’t know how it would work. I’m totally secure in writing one and I’ve been meeting with these other film groups so I have an idea how it works but I don’t know if I can actually do it. Getting cameras and all these other thingngs working well , so she said sure.

We signed up for a film classwith Adel Schmidt, who’s with Docs in progress – which is a documentary organization in Silver Springs. I’m just going to call her out by name because she was awesome. She’s like yeh, I’m not sure if you can either but let’s just go with it and see if we can figure it out.

[TR in conversation with Day:]
Nice!

Day:

She says you always start with the story.

It was like a 6 to 8 week class. You should have a one or two minute either short film or clip or trailer.

So you write out the narrative about what you want to say. You need to make sure it has a good narrative arc , it has rising tension and a climax. All the things you want in good writing. Then you record the whole thing.

Audibly reading the script. That helps give you the timing.

Then figuring out what images you want to slotin at what time.

So I know at 1 minute and 10 seconds where I say this I probably want an image of this. And being able to kind of almost wriggle this grid of what the film would look like.

And then you can go to either finding a way to record the film or finding images that already match that.

[TR in conversation with Day:]
So is that storyboarding?

Day:

Right, I guess you could say it kind of was storyboarding out the whole thing.

We figured out that would be a way that I could control what was happening when making the film. It’s not somebody else making it and then me going here are the images that I think and then if we did or didn’t get those what would be the next alternative. Let me see if that works Maybe I need to change the language and then slot in the images. We talked about would there be good transitions and how to do those. I’ll admit the transitions I had to rely on somebody else to figure out whether it looked really great or not. And then adding a layer of sound effects and then a layer of music on top of that. When I got done that’s what the trailer to The Invalid Corps is. And I used that for my Kickstarter video to fund making the 30 minute documentary.

At least now I know I have a way to make videos that this will work where I can say I control it. It’s mine because there was always that little bit of doubt that if I did it with somebody else oh yeh the the person who is sighted really made the film. With this one there was no question who made it.

Audio: Civil War Marching Drums…

TR:

The Civil War, is the setting for The story of the Invalid Corps.

Day:

My wife is the Archivist at the University of Maryland , University College she does all sorts of historical research and she often heard about them because there was this song and it ended up being real popular in the 1880’s but it really made fun of them. I’m like what is this Invalid Corps. So I started playing around on the internet and finding out more and a little bit more and then I’m like wait a minute, there’s a lot more to this.

Audio: The Invalid Corps (Song)

Day:

We hhear about how many amputations there were and how many injuries and how many deaths, but nobody ever stopped to ask what happened to those guys after they were injured or after they lost a limb.

TR:

Low on man power, rather than discharging injured soldiers, an all disabled regiment was created.

They did things like;

guard supply stations, trains and other property
Work in hospitals and prisons

Day:

They created 24 separate regiments.

[TR in conversation with Day:]
Confederate?

Day:

Union.

[TR in conversation with Day:]
Ok, good! Laughs.

Day:

They did a lot more than people give them credit
for.

It’s a pretty awesome story.

Audio: Snare drum: colonial marching…
So the year is 1684. The war has been going on for three years now. General Grant’s making his final push through Petersberg and on to Richmond to take them down at the end.

He pulls every soldier, every able bodied soldier out of the North and basically their all marching on to Richmond.

So he’s putting a lot of pressure on Robert E Lee. They can’t get out they can’t get supplies. In this kind of desperate attempt to break that siege Robert E Lee sends General Jubal Early, this Confederate General, he sends him North…”Cause as much trouble as you can”

Here’s the issue, because Grant had pulled everybody out there wasn’t really anybody to stop Early . So Early heads North through Virginia and rather than crossing at Harpers Fall he goes up and around through Maryland and then he comes down South towards DC — think of a reverse question mark.

Because there’s nobody there to stop him, he makes it all the way to Fort Stevens which is about 4 miles North of the Capital.

There’s nobody there except some clerks, some government officials, and this Invalid Corps.

You got these Invalid soldiers on the wallsof Fort Stevens and in front of the fort basically having to hold out against like 15,000 Confederate soldiers.

Until Grant suddenly realizes “Oh my God we’re about to lose the Capital! puts the entire Civs Corps on boats and sends them up river going as fast as they can to get to Washington before Early does.

These guys hold out for 24 hours until reinforcements arrive.

The thing is Abraham Lincoln was on the Ramparts of the Fort that day and they even took pot shots at him. They ended up shooting a soldier who was a few feet away from him. They could have taken down the Union or at least taken out the Presidency.

[TR in conversation with ES:]
Wow! That’s an awesome story!

Day:

I know!

History that’s kind of gotten lost and there’s some amazing things. One of the soldiers, he was assigned to the Provost Marshall’s Office, so people knew of him as a Provost Marshall soldier but He’d actually had a disability and was with the Invalid Corps and they just decided to put him there. He was one of the guys doing the detective work to figure out who assassinated Lincoln. So he helped with the hunt for John Wilkes Booth. So he’s like I know where he is. He was doing the tracking, but he was called back to Washington so if was a different unit that got the prestige of saying they caught him. Well, basically he died!

The soldiers who were supposed to guard the conspirators, all of them were Invalid Corps.

The only soldiers who were allowed to carry Lincoln’s caufinalso was that unit.

[TR in conversation with Day:]

Wow!

Day:

I know!

This piece of history, basically disability history that nobody has really researched or talked about.

TR:

A significant amount of research time went into creating this documentary. It’s not as though there are books available on the topic.

According to Day, there are a couple of people currently working on writing them now.

In the meantime, the documentary is done and ready for the festival circuit.

Day:

I want to give it a year where I’m sending to festivals and trying to look for places to screen it and after that I’ll look at finding ways that people purchase it.

It has both captioning and audio description.

The film was crowd funded Shout out to all of the amazing people who helped fund that.

As a part of supporting disability creativity sort of thing, I think there are maybe one or 2 exceptions and this is out of a couple of dozen.

Every single person who has worked on that film either has a disability or is a veteran.

It’s not like I asked flat out going do you have a disability because the 2 I don’t know about I didn’t really ask.

I wanted to make that a part of the way the film was made.

TR:

I get the sense that “walking that walk” and pursuing one’s intrests, aren’t just personal practices for Day. It appears to be a message she spreads.

I want a talk about your bucket list.

Number 1 that is so cool and scary at the same time. I said Oh my gosh. I don’t know if I would want to put out my bucket list because it kind of keeps you accountable because people are going to be watching it.

Day:

Right!

[TR in conversation with Day:]
Which is a great idea. And then I saw that you challenge people to put their own bucket list . I started reading that and I was like awh damn!

Day:
It’s accountability but it also gives a picture of who you are to other people and it encourages other people to go yeh, what do I want and where do I want to go.

You’re doing this thinking where you going back and looking where you started. I think a natural out growth of that is a bucket list looking forward.

[TR in conversation with Day:]

I never really considered doing one. I never really did, that’s something I’m going to take away and start thinking about.

Two things from your bucket list I found kind of interesting.

How are you doing with the guitar? You have an electric and an acoustic now?

Day:
Yeah, I do. I still only know like 6 chords.

[TR in conversation with Day:]
That’s not bad

Day:

It’s not bad but I still need to work a little bit more on it.It’s actually one of the very few things I do that I can say is just for me and only me. And one of the only things I find relaxing. I have a hard time whinding down.

[TR in conversation with Day:]

The reason I ask you that is I got me a guitar a couple of years ago also an electric. My daughter has an acoustic and I kind of took that and started playing and now I like the acoustic better. It’s more forgiving than the electric.
Similarly I find it very relaxing. I have to get back into it because I had a little carpel tunnel…

I do want to someday be able to play with some other folks. I think that would be cool.

Day:

Right!

[TR in conversation with Day:]
That might be on my bucket list.

Day:

You know when the best time to have and use a guitar, Christmas. If I could do 5 Christmas songs. they aren’t usually that complicated. Everybody knows a Christmas song. I have a whole year to come up with 5 songs. That means I need to learn one every other month.
I could do that that’s not terrible.

[TR in conversation with Day:]

I’m gonna have to checkup see how you’re doing. Laughs

Day:

Laughs I’m gonna be in so much trouble come Christmas.

[TR in conversation with Day:]

Now you have one on there number 5 and it says something about being a mentor /inspiration. I don’t think I told you that in 2006, that was my first PCB Conference.

Day:

Was it really?

[TR in conversation with Day:]

Pennsylvania Council of the Blind . That was the first time you were there.

Day:

I do not believe that man, when you rolled in with so much swagger. Come one. Seriously.

[TR in conversation with Day:]
Yeah, That’s just that New York thing!

Basically two years after losing my sight.We were a new chapter and I was one of the folks who started the chapter out here in this county. I just learned so much that week. You were a big , big part of that learning. You did a keynote at that banquet and it was all about whose in your audience.

Day:

Yeah!

[TR in conversation with Day:]
I know, I remember this. And so I really took a lot away from that.

Then later on in 2007, was my first time going to the ACB Legislative Seminar and once again there you were. You were talking about Eugenics and disability. And againI’m very new to disability at that point. So you truly opened my mind and inspired me to kind of dig deeper into what disability means and what it doesn’t mean. I think you should reconsider number 5

I think that this interview has been long overdue. You know I get a little nervous too. I look at certain people as inspiration and I usually don’t like to use the word but in this case it does apply.

Day:

Well thank you . That totally makes my night. Actually it totally makes my year. That’s kind of awesome!

[TR in conversation with Day:]
Laughs.

That’s along overdue thing I should have told you.

TR:

I truly mean that. It’s not only long over do that I share that story with her, but to also share Day’s story with the RMM Radio Family.

Thinking about it, this actually is the perfect time. This episode is a great follow up to the last; Disability Representation in Media

Day is telling stories including disability whether in the subject matter like the Invalid Corps, the inclusion of characters and of course making it all accessible.

And she’s continuing to inspire yours truly, this time not as much from a far.

Day:

So I got to ask, what are you thinking about writing?

[TR in conversation with Day]

(Breathes in deeply!) Laughs!

Day:

You hinted at it, you hinted at it! I’m not letting it go.

[TR in conversation with Day:]

Wow! You know what I always wanted to do. And this would be something that’s on my bucket list. That’s why I was interested in the documentary. I love documentaries. Like I love that.

I’m really just trying to figure out what that specific topic is what that story is that I want to tell. I do love stories, period.

Day:

Well awesome. You should totally do it.

TR:

Big shout out to Day Al-Mohamed.

[TR in conversation with Day:]

Day, I truly, truly appreciate this. Thank you so much it was a pleasure speaking with you.

Day:

Well, I am so glad you invited me to be on your show. I kind of love listening to it so I’m like look, look I’m on the podcast!

[TR in conversation with Day:]

Laughs!

TR:

How cool is that?

Does that make you want to pursue that thing you always wanted to do?

You too can find a way to take you from where you are today to where you want to be tomorrow. It may not be a direct connection, but remember, it’s not necessarily about the destination it’s all in the journey.

I hope this podcast can serve as a bridge for those adjusting to blindness and disability. Connecting this group of people with cool blind and disabled people. Exposing them to new ways of thinking about disability.

Since this conversation I’ve already been doing a lot more thinking about creating a documentary. I believe it’s something I could really do!

I’ll have to add that to my bucket list.

You can check out Day’s bucket list with over 150 items. Plus so much more about policy, writing and more.

Day:

My websites:
DayInWashington or DayAlMohamed.com
If you ran a search on Amazon you can find all my books and writings.
I still have a lot of fun on Twitter That’s my name @DayAlMohamed

TR:

Remember, if there’s a guest or a topic that you want to hear from or about let me know. Chances are if you’re interested so are others. Here’s how you can get in touch, but first, stay in the know, don’t miss a show.

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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.
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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.

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Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Outro

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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.

Listen

Resources

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!
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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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