Posts Tagged ‘Inspiration’

Charles Curtis Blackwell – Words of Meaning Empowerment & Inspiration

Wednesday, October 21st, 2020

A side Head shot of Charles Curtis Blackwell in a dark space leaning forward in thought with his pointer finger placed on his lip and the sunlight cascading across his face

Photo by Liz Moughon


Visual Artist, Writer and Poet Charles Curtis Blackwell, the subject of this year’s #Superfest2020 feature film God Given Talent shares stories of his life. We hear pivotal moments of influence including Jazz and school busing. Loss, Forgiveness, Purpose and of course Art!

His experience and approach to adjusting to vision loss is a must hear for anyone new to blindness. As evident in the episode, I too was inspired and hope this production, may I dare say, is a bit more artistic.

This episode is dedicated to the memory of one of my teachers; Sijo Abu Bakr. May We Remain!

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Transcript

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TR:

Audio: City soundscape merges into a nightclub atmosphere.

TR as on stage Host:

Greetings & Salutations brothers and sisters!
My name is Thomas Reid.

— Applause

Thank you, thank you very much!

Allow me to welcome you all to the Reid My Mind Lounge.!

— Jazz Music Begins

That’s right; today’s episode deserves an appropriate atmosphere.
I want you to sit back and really feel this one.
This was inspired. And y’all know I don’t use that word lightly.

Mr. Charles Curtis Blackwell is an artist. A visual artist, a writer, poet and definitely a story teller.

Where I come from, what he has to share, we call science or gems. Either way, he’s dropping it!
My hope is that you pick it up!

It all drops after the intro!

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Theme

TR:

Influence!

Music – Rahsan Roland Kirk, Volunteer Slavery

CC:
Have you ever heard of Rahsaan Roland Kirk?

Jazz horn player. He was more than that. Originally from Columbus but he wound up in Newark. He was totally Blind. He played three saxophones at the same time. He had them hooked together. He influenced a lot of Jazz musicians with this thing called circular breathing. In one nostril and out of the other. Their still blowing. You think they’re holding the note.

I caught him live before I lost my eyesight.

Kind of influenced me years later. I says ok well just do whatever.

Somebody said hey man how you do that? I’ve done some crazy stuff with the poetry. I just said hey man; I’m kind of like Rahsaan Roland Kirk you just got to get crazy on stage. Just go ahead you know get wild, you know (laughs)!

Music Begins… Jazz Track 9 from Charles Curtis Blackwell In Color

I liked Jazz at an early age. They crammed classical down our throats going from 6th grade to 7th grade. It was Mozart, Bach, Beethoven you know, so I got turned off. I tried to flunk the test. Wound up in music anyway. (Laughs) next semester I transferred back to art.

I was doing art before 5th grade. I remember the instructor she pointed out this drawing that I did. It had the whole class’s attention.

maybe because art it just came easy. I didn’t know I was taking it for granted.

Audio: Historic Radio News Broadcast

“the Supreme Court ruled in 1954, that pupils cannot be segregated by law on the basis of race.”

CC:

I was in a busing program. They bused us to this high school from this neighborhood in Sacramento. I was in 9th grade; I think I was around 13 or 14. They didn’t want us there.

The first day we got there, there were white folks with pickets. The end of the school year it turned into a racial riot; 14 people arrested one in the hospital and another one that was supposed to be in the hospital, he was Black, they arrested him instead, they didn’t send him to the hospital. One of the most scary days of my life. I was small man and I was scared man, these cats could fight.

My folks continued to make me go to the school. I didn’t really want to go. And it seemed like it wasn’t a day past some racial remark, I don’t know if you want me to mention those names on here you know. It really messed with me.

There was one incident. They had a policy; you could put the gloves on and have a boxing thing. Oh cool!

This guy kept messing with me. Shoving me into lockers, kicking me, but he always had his buddies with him. His name was Souza. He was a distance runner, He was up for championship.

This went from year to the next year. So I’m from the neighborhood, right. This year we had the same PE class. I told the coach I want to put the gloves on. The first coach his name was McFadden, he was ok. He spoke to me and said ok, we’ll call him in. I trusted McFadden. The other coach, he was a new coach. I didn’t know about him because he wasn’t there the day of the riot. The day of the riot the teachers, they weren’t breaking up the fights, they were yelling you damn Niggers! (Pause) These were teachers. You couldn’t trust nobody.

Coach called him.

Man I’m busy tucking my shirt in, tightening up my tennis shoes, I’m getting ready you know.

They say yegh Charles says that you’ve been harassing him, you did this and you did that.

No, no, no I didn’t!

The new coach he was sitting there, he jumped up and said you a such and such liar I saw you do it. Man, I was knocked off my feet.

They turned to Souza and said what is you ready? He says no, no I don’t want to…

I’m getting teed off. He don’t want to box with me. They say well do you want to apologize to Blackwell (laughs…). I ain’t want no apology. (Laughs…)
The dude apologized, the coach says ok Charles can you accept his apology. I did but I didn’t really want to. (Laughs….)

Audio: Sound of white school busing protests.

All this racism stuff and busing program stuff, I had poor self-esteem.

I was like a D student. My idea was like finish high school, get a job as a janitor and you know bang, that was it. I didn’t have no big aspirations.

I got into reading.

Audio: School bell ringing

We had to write like a newspaper article. And the way I learned how to write was from reading the San Francisco Chronicle. They had real good writers at that time. And so that’s how I kind of picked up on expository writing from reading the newspaper. I wrote an article for this class and you didn’t write this. Someone else wrote it. You know, this is not your style of writing, you didn’t write this. I got a low grade. I said eh whatever. Sometimes they give you a low grade realizing oh wow, what they’re really telling you is you got raw brute talent.

Music transition…

I used to sell the paper it was called the Sacramento Observer, it was a Black newspaper. William Lee, he was over the paper. So I called the paper and spoke to him and I said what if I write a story about these Black students graduating from this busing program. It wasn’t me it was the class ahead of me. They were graduating. He said yeh, write it and get it to us we’ll run it. I said ok. Paper comes out I open up the paper looked inside, looked on the back of the paper I said wow that’s funny they said they were going to run the article. So I called the newspaper, Secretary answered. I said yeh, this is Charles Blackwell, she says yes! I wrote this article they said they were going to run the article in the newspaper, she says yes. I said well I looked inside the paper and I didn’t see then I looked on the back of the paper and I didn’t see it. She said well did you look on the front page? (Laughing) I was knocked off my feet man! I never would have thought they would put the article on the front page. That was poor self-esteem. man I was just flabbergasted, I sold extra copies. I would go door to door selling the paper man, you know. (Laughs…)

Music Transition

I got to college my whole world started changing.

I was an art major. I was trained to do sketches. Funny, I was talking to you earlier about Rahsaan Roland Kirk. So I had a copy of Down Beat Magazine. We had to turn in a final drawing. Kind of like a shadow of the person you know it’s like super imposed, almost like shading. I did it with my 20/20 eyesight just looking at it and doing it. And the instructor said you used the Opaque projector that’s not right. I said no I didn’t use no Opaque projector; I just did it from a magazine. He downgraded me but he was telling me that’s how good my eyesight was.

TR:

Loss!

Audio: Sound of ocean waves continues with van driving…

CC:

I was staying in Santa Cruz for a little while. I was with some friends so we get in the van and go to the ocean. Stop at one place and we’d go further up. The waves were coming in. So they get out and they go down.

I’m in the van, I’m reading this book. A little while later I get out. I go down but I’m going the wrong way. I’m thinking this is the path. I made the mistake of allowing the terrain to half way carry me. There was this big rock, I was going fast and I said well I’ll just go jump and go over the rock. I was assuming it would be a slant. There was a cliff. I didn’t know.

— brief silence

Temporarily paralyzed on one side, concussion, internal bleeding. Broke one small bone. It was my finger. I don’t know how that happened.

Ah man, I just knew I was going to die.

By the grace of God here I am.

I was in the hospital for like a week, seven eight days, something like that. I don’t know man, next thing I know I’m up and going and I returned to my place in Santa Cruz. A few days later I headed back to Sacramento trying to regroup.

I got back in college a few months later.

Finished that semester. Christmas time man, we partied like crazy. I went to every party there was and the next thing you know I met this girl; I was in love man I wanted to get married.

Music – Cymbal crescendo followed by a cymbal crash and flute begins…
Track 6 from Charles Curtis Blackwell, In Color
The unspeakable artist
Yearning, in and out of the room
If we sit in a dark room too long
We will meet the who
In the form of a tormented scream
Examining who we really are

Cymbal crash

CC:

I’m driving, I left college and I’m headed home and I remember I’m at this intersection and the horns are honking behind me and I had to turn. I barely made it.

Audio continues from Track 6 from Charles Curtis Blackwell, In Color

Cymbal crash

And has fearless as we may be to ourselves
Those ghostly cries are all of us laid out in the dark

CC:

They’re doing all these tests, morning to night.
They call it an Edema – it’s where I hit and the fluid went to a state of rest and when it returned back into motion it left my macular pale. Macular Degeneration.

Audio continues from Track 6 from Charles Curtis Blackwell, In Color

But if we stay in a dark room for so long we could see all the colors of the rainbow
Which reside on the other side where tombstones, grave sights pilferage and sorrows dwell.

CC:

They told me there’s nothing we can do. it all comes down to God. That was the end man, I just gave up.

I just dropped out of college. I didn’t go sign out or nothing.

Audio from Track 6 from Charles Curtis Blackwell, In Color.

Magenta unwrapped, indigo unveiled and cobalt for all those chance given up when the soul gave chase to something of an eastern religion.
For residing in a dark room for so long can cause one to worship the form instead of the creator.

CC:

It was like what do we do to carry us through and it’s kind of bad but I was out drinking hook up with some friends get a beer. Somebody else would have some hard liquor. I was doing that too drinking wine.

Audio from Track 6 from Charles Curtis Blackwell, In Color.

Many hales for the blood we fear running through our veins
Flowing upward like the Nile to our heads
In the dark room so sacred yet so cold the skin can’t breathe it

This tranquil rite of passage
Oh woman can you hear me in absence of gender
Nothing but flesh crawling in the dark
Solitary confinement

CC:

The worse thing I think I did, I didn’t know how to be… (Phone connection failing…)
Can you hear me any better? 1, 2, 3… that’s better?
Ok, I’ll turn around then …

I was raised southern family, my folks from Mississippi.

The idea, if you’re going to be with this person you going to be married, you gotta be able to provide. You got to be this man. The male role.

It ain’t about the male role, the macho, the strong…
So that was a big mistake I made trying to push her away, put her at a distance. I was 20. We get taught certain things but we realize that’s not going to help you in terms of dealing with life.

All I remember man was being in the bedroom and crying day in and day out. I would never tell her that’s what I was doing, which was really bad

When life hits in such a manner what do you got to hold onto. Faith and trying to trust God and trying to believe.

Audio Cymbal crash

Might be somebody there that could help you build (hope) and (encourage you to live).
(Each emphasized with echo audio effect…)

Audio: Subway train on tracks

CC:

Wound up at some friends. They were having a pool party at some apartment complex.

Audio: Train comes to screeching stop.
Audio from Track1 Charles Curtis Blackwell, In Color

Pre De Term Mind! Mind! Pre Det term Mind!

CC:

I wound up sleeping at one person’s house, another house.

Had a fight with my Dad, he snatched the phone. I was a psychological mess.

This friend, his name was Ken, we had met on a bus. And we were talking, we discovered we were both born on the same day. He came and visited me while I lost my eye sight. He was from the Santa Cruz area.

It was getting to the point where I really got depressed. I mean real, real serious depressed. And then I just kind of disappeared. Nobody knew where I was. I wound up at the bus station. I went on to Santa Cruz and caught up with ken. I started a fight with the landlord. I was going crazy! I didn’t want to pay no rent. (Laughs) Really wasn’t going to make no sense.

I wound up sleeping on the beach. I got a cheap room at a hotel. Something like six dollars a night. I think I only had a hundred.

I would hang out at this book store and listen to people talking.

I was standing on the corner, people came by and said hey brother, do you know anything about Jesus. I says yeh, God and Jesus I know, what I need right now is food, shelter and clothing. And they said brother we got food, shelter and clothing. I said what? It was a Christian Commune. So I went and stayed with them.

They had me on the laundry detail. They had a second hand store. I was with this other guy, the only other brother and we would go and pickup refrigerators and stoves and other stuff. When I look back on it things moved kind of fast. January I’m losing my sight and going bizerk in the head, the crying and everything. Around August I had disappeared . The early part of September I wound up with this commune. From September til about January I had returned back to my folks in Sacramento.

It got me back into the swing of things not feeling like I’m going to be an invalid for the rest of my life.

Audio from Track1 Charles Curtis Blackwell, In Color

Y’all gonna hear from me… someday!

An older Smokey voice off mic repeats

Y’all gonna hear from me… someday!

But the Blue line escapes all the mental anguish, mental breakdown of knots tied up inside.
(fades out)

Music – Curtis Mayfield Back to the World

CC:

Curtis Mayfield had this song called Back to the World.

I leave the commune and now I’m back in the world. The world is not the same as the commune. People there are kind of helpful and everything. Now I’m back in the world and I didn’t know what to do.

Even though I got back into the swing of things I hadn’t really adjusted all the way.

Signed up with Voc Rehab. They ask if you need a cane. I use a cane now but at first I didn’t. There main thing was trying to make a person productive in terms of society, getting a job, being trained for some kind of work situation. Then they had another part of going to college.

It was the social worker. She was with the welfare department at that time. She was this white lady and her isms started coming out. I made the mistake of when I left town, disappeared, I was 21, I got a beer. I called her of all people, I said I’m not going to be here, I’m gone. Where you going? Well I’m busy drinking a beer. I was dismantled anyway. Some people they don’t understand that because there all emphasis is like get you ready to be productive in society. Well how you going to be productive when inside, you’re a wreck. They don’t comprehend it. She’s saying uh, last time I spoke to Charles he was busy getting drunk on the phone and he was going to do this, this and this. And I was just sitting there , I know it was God. I just sat there and let her run off at the mouth. Huh!

“Words that have meaning” – CC with Ambient effect

Then the guy from Voc Rehab, well you really don’t seem like you know what you want to do in life. And I said oh, ok. I was just agreeing because I was in a different place spiritually. A little time past and I called him and said hey I think I want to go to college.

If you can get me two C’s we’ll fund you to go to college. So I did summer school and got two B’s but I was trying to get two A’s.

They always shifted me, changed, got a different guy for Voc. Rehab. This guy was totally Blind, ok? Man, I go in to meet with the dude and we’re talking. I’m saying oh, this is going to be ok because he’s totally Blind, he can relate to my situation, being partly Blind you know. We’re sitting there talking for over an hour. He’s interviewing me and at the very end of the interview he says ok, boy!

Man he did it in such a manner, I was just shocked.

“Words can help you be empowered!” – CC with Ambient effect

My Dad wasn’t the best communicator. I got back home, I was angry. My Dad was waxing the car. My Dad had a Cadillac (laughs). Picked up a rag, what the heck wax the car, maybe that will help me. I told him what had happened and my Dad, like I said, he wasn’t a real good communicator but this was one time he said something.

He said, he’s testing you.

He’s testing me?

Yeh, he’s testing you.

And that’s all my Dad said.

I milked that counselor like crazy. every time they had something to offer I grabbed it. So we had to bring our grades in, well it looks like you got some A’s here and you got a B and an A and another A . He says well, what kind of help do you need? Well, we got cassette recorders and do you need more reader service, I says oh yeh, oh yeh!

I get out of college and I could have changed counselors but I’m like no I’m gonna stay with this dude because I know what’ he’s like. He was testing me and I’m reading him.

I get out, well congratulations Charles. You can’t go to graduate school, we don’t have no money. We got a training program here.

You could have a cafeteria in a federal building.

I went to Montana, I went to Seattle, Los Angeles trying to get a job. Couldn’t get a job. The reality hit me, being partly Blind, ain’t no opportunities. I signed up!

When almost two weeks or a month we’re sitting at this table. This white dude is sitting next to me. He’s much older than me. He was losing his eyesight. This other guy’s across from me, he was Mexican, fresh out of Soledad prison, but he was in the program too. The guy in charge of the program it was his cafeteria, the guy comes up and says Charlie my boy, you talk back to my employees you can’t remain here you understand that. And I said yes! Just automatically. The white dude sitting next to me said that was F’d up. He was in his 40’s. You know something was wrong. The Mexican fresh out of Soledad said Charles are you ok?

I come back to the world, I’m being all well love one another be real open, be kind to people. This is the racism of America. Even though I may change the world hadn’t changed. I had to deal with it some kind of way. That’s the horror of this country. This is it, this is what’s on the table.

The next day man, I scared the slop out of that man. I threatened that man like crazy man. (laugh) They called a meeting with another state official. The man had me, the guy I had threatened.

Alright Charles, he says he’s scared to be around you. Well just what the F do you want.

“Words that can help you be inspired” – CC with Ambient effect

I came up during the 60’s man. I was involved in the Black student Union, we got 9 out of 10 demands for Black Studies and here this joker gonna do something racist like this.

You know how we learn from people. My mind went back to this brother, his name was Amyl Palmer, he was head of the Black Student Union. The brother could deal, he was way older than me. I leaned back and said what you got to offer?

You want to go to graduate school? I said that sounds workable. (Laughs) So I went to grad school. (Laughs)

CC:

A buddy of mine wrote a poem. I like real conversations.

Real conversations can really help you in life. What is it that helped me, you know, having real conversations like words that have meaning. Words can help you be empowered. Words that can help you be inspired.

Music Begins…

CC:
You gotta deal with the race and then you got to deal with people’s ignorance toward disability even with Black folks.

You think they’re going to relate to your blindness.

You might know, Berkley is where the center for independent living started. They were filing law suits way back in the 70’s. You could be in Berkley it could be a totally different story as opposed to being in Oakland. You get to Oakland, you get people like; Hey, is you blind? (Laughs…) I’ll be waiting for a bus. Hey I’m trying to catch the bus … it’s right there don’t you see the sign? And I’m carrying a cane now. You try to say ok, let it teach me something, try to just grin and bear it, but if you’re trying to hurry up and get somewhere. Let’s say there’s two people at the bus stop. I ask somebody and they say something ridiculous like it’s right there just look at it. I just turn to the next person and say, excuse me can you tell me which bus… and they tell me. And then the other person goes, oh hey I didn’t know you blind. I just walk off and leave them alone. I do them cold but it’s like what can I say to the person?

Every once in a while a person says oh excuse me I’m very sorry. Ok, cool.

I walked in a business before, with a cane, I’m trying to figure out why are they paying so much attention to me but it’s not a friendly attention it’s almost like do they think I’m going to steal something.

One of the worse things I got … I got off a bus one day and the dude said yeh, man, you got that game down, carrying that cane pretending to be Blind. I had some cuss words, I didn’t say them out loud cause it was night time and I ain’t ready for no fight. It’s kind of what they call the Pre Antebellum South the days before Helen Keller. A lot of this society is still like that.

I’m a church going brother. I remember I was at this church a little over a year ago, this friend named Joyce and Leo, hey Charles we’re going to this other church, come on and go, I said ok. I’m sitting there participating in the worship and then the minister calls someone here need to accept Jesus. And this lady is sitting behind me, she ain’t said nothing to me, she hasn’t given me a friendly greeting or nothing. She poked me on my shoulder , you can go up now and accept Jesus. (Laughs) I’ve been sitting there participating in the service and it’s like, no communication she just automatically assumed oh you Blind you need Jesus.

Sometimes there are store front churches and then there’s a good ol’ store front church That kind of backward condemning. maybe the reason you lost your eyesight is because you did something bad. You sinned. God is punishing you. If a person is just losing their eyesight and a person comes along and tells him something like that, oh God man, they’re condemned to hell. It could take them years to get out of that.

I remember this lady, it was Kay Stewart she setup a program for the Blind students at the college. And she was very hip. White lady from Texas. A very, very nice lady. A matter of fact she knew the racist counselor at Voc. Rehab. She wasn’t too fond of him. She was always whatever I can do to help you here at the college, knowing you weren’t going to get all the help you needed from Voc. Rehab. So she would do these cultural programs. When I finished college she got in touch with me and she asked me to go on this outing. She wanted me to talk to this guy, a white guy, he was just losing his eyesight. He was condemning himself, you know, God this and God that. I said hey man that’s not it God is not a condemning God. You got to find out about the love of God.

I had a real good family doctor and he would talk to you. Not like today, they’re running you through like a number. He said you lost your eyesight, take your defect and use it as your asset. Man, that was a strong piece of wisdom. And I passed that on to this other guy.

You find Blind people man, they know the Bible, backwards forward, sideways and down. But do they know how to get out of that condemning. Do they know how to get to that place of being and inspiration to someone else and being inspired and being (forgiving.)
(Emphasized with a slight echo effect)

CC:

I used to listen to Martin Luther King and James Farmer, Fannie Lou Hamer you know.

I’m in college, when I could see good, I’m sitting in front of the library one day reading an article and a dude came up and sat down. It was Souza. And he apologized to me. And I’m looking at him like what. I don’t know whether to listen to him or grab him. He said that he was dating this girl that was Asian and she confronted him. He realized it was his father that instilled all this racism in him. And I was listening and I said wow man!

It was like a Martin Luther King story man.

This time it was real.

Audio Bridge

One of the greatest lessons I learned man, the minister told me, he said, “Never be ashamed to apologize. Be it 8 to 80.”

The lady that I pushed away, it was fourteen years later.

I called her I said, I just want to apologize. She said no you don’t owe me no apology. I says well hey everything in my life is falling apart, I was in a writing project and it collapsed, nothing’s going right and I’m trying to get my life right with God. So I just want to tell you that I’m very sorry I did what I did to you.

I heard her crying on the other end of the phone and I realized I did the right thing.

I realized that I hurt her and I didn’t know I did.

When we apologize it’s like something spiritual takes place on the inside. When we forgive something happens on the inside in a good way.

TR:

Purpose!

CC:

I went to the college with my cousin Anita and I just went over to hang out. So I ran into the friend she used to be a neighbor, her name was Pat. She was much older than me. “Hey Charles, I heard you lost your eyesight.” I says yeh. She was you know very courteous, she knew me. “Come go to class with me.” So I went to a class with her and it was African American Literature. Eugene Redmond was the instructor. He was saying some stuff that caught my attention. I still remember he was presenting this book called “Black Suicides”. I was listening because I was at that point a year before because I had lost my eyesight. By the grace of God it didn’t happen. Black people they say we don’t do this, but here’s a book called “Black Suicides.”. We don’t do it when in fact we do. I says oh wow, this cat is saying something.

“Graduate school!” – CC with Ambient effect

One of the best things I did is sign up , it was an independent study with Eugene Redmond. He was also the editor of the Henry Dumas collection. I don’t know if you heard of Henry Dumas, but Henry Dumas did this poem I still remember;

America!

If an eagle be imprisoned on the back of a coin and that coin is tossed into the sky

That coin may dwindle, that coin may spindle, but that eagle will never fly.

Henry Dumas was shot and killed by a New York subway cop.

Redmond became the editor of the collection. Redmond did a book called Drum Voices. It’s the history and development of African American poets going all the way back to slavery and coming on up to Hakim Muributu, Sonia Sanchez, Amir Baraka. He was always an encouragement and I got an A.

Years later I was having dinner with this brother he was a political person in Sacramento, Grandin Johnson, trying to push for affirmative action years ago. So he had brought Eugene Redmond to the college for a part of Black Studies. I told him yeh, Redmond, I took a class with him and he gave me an A. He looked at me and he said; (pause) Redmond, didn’t give out A’s. If you got an A man you must have been producing some serious work. I kind of hung my head and said well he liked my work. He said I’m telling you he didn’t give out A’s. You had to work to get an A. He really dropped a bomb on me.

I kept in touch with Eugene Redmond, he’s published me about six different times in Drum Voices Review and some other publications too.

Music begins… Slow piano riff moves into a cool Hip Hop groove.

I realized ok, God gave me this talent and with this talent he’s kind of helped raise me up from that bed of poor self-esteem. Lift me up and encouraged me and inspired me. And I have to take care of this talent. I have to nourish it, be kind to it, treat it right and try to use it.

I’m at this place now it’s called Youth Spirit Artworks in Berkley, working with homeless young adults in high school. I try to use stuff like ok, let’s write about the last time someone said to you I love you. The last time you were angry and you felt like you wanted to kill somebody. How you see the situation where the guy is beaten to death on the street and the cop put his knee on his neck. Let’s write about that. Let’s write about mercy. What does it mean for you to be merciful to someone else . And I’m trying to use writing to confront.

I really embrace the Black Live Matter because we fought for the demands for Black Studies apparently somebody was listening.

Audio: Prison door slams and continues with ambient sound of a prison.

I used to do writer’s workshops in prisons and I’d go in and try to be an inspiration and encouragement to those people locked up behind bars with this talent that God gave me.

I did a presentation at Folsom prison and this inmate he wasn’t sitting with his back to the wall. You had to pay attention to that. Other people sitting at the table. It might have been ten people. This one guy when it was over turned out he was a point man in Vietnam and he wiped out a whole family drunk. If it hadn’t been for Vietnam he wouldn’t have did what he did.

He says hey can I ask you a question? I said yeh, go right ahead. He says when you lost your eyesight did you lose your will to live?

Man, I was shocked by that question. I really didn’t want to answer his question, but you deal with inmates they’ll be real with you so it’s best to be real with them. It’ll protect you. I said yeh, I lost my will to live. He says hey brother, he took my hand and said I’m glad you made that decision to live because you’ve really been an inspiration here today. Man, that dude gave me a PhD.(Laughs) He stamped it on my forehead

I got to be like I said, an inspiration, encouragement. Be it if I’m at a prison, at a school, wherever it is try to take this talent, try to inspire, encourage someone to live.

Music ends

TR:

Art!

I started off being trained to do a sketch of you in a minute and a half. Hand and eye.

I can’t do that anymore. I can’t set something in front of me draw it make it look like realism. That’s out!

I had to take a different approach. When I got back into art I was a Sacramento County CETA Artist. CETA program that’s the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act, Jimmy Carter was president.

I was doing stuff that I knew from college because I had been out of art for about seven or eight years.

I did these large carrots, seven foot carrots (laughs). These were paintings. The middle of the carrot had another piece of canvas sewed on it was blue, called “This Carrot Got the Blues.”

I did these large pieces, I took styro foam balls and I stuffed them with Latex paint and then I painted a jet seal over that. It was Braille dots on canvas, it said “Do Not Touch”. And then another one said (laughing) “Read this with left hand only”

I was doing stuff that was workable for my blindness.

Music – Jazz drummer sol – off beat groove Track 9, Charles Curtis Blackwell, In Color

Allen Gordon he was the head of the Art department at one time at Cal State Sacramento. He introduced me to the NCA a group of Black artists from around the country. National Conference of Artists, Margaret Burrows out of Chicago, but even before that time he says oh you’re doing some African art. I says I ain’t took no classes. He said, it’s in you; line, shape, color, rhythm movement. I says oh wow! I’ve been doing more and more of that.

I cover the paper with oil pastels and then I come over it with water down acrylics doing line drawings of African masks on paper. or maybe drummers or jazz musicians on paper. Then I started doing African sculptures playing saxophones or playing a flute, playing a bass. African dancers. Using my blindness and doing abstracts. It might look like a Jazz drummer, a horn player, a dancer with all this abstract stuff you know,

line shape, rhythm color, movement. (Delayed effect on the groove of the beat.)

I’m using my blindness to create the art piece and get to my own originality.

Music ends!

I use my blindness in terms of writing. It’s not what you say, it’s what you don’t say.

Sometime I’m producing art, well I’ll stop and I’ll do some writing. So in a sense the art is influencing the writing.

I produce some writing, well let me set this down and I’ll produce some art. So the writing is influencing the art. Inspiring on the inside- give me some encouragement and inspiration.

I get tired of that well, I’ll go out here and catch a performance, theater play some jazz. I’ll go to an art gallery and see what they’re doing or go catch some poets. I might even sit there and don’t say nothing . I don’t even want to read I just want to you know listen to other people. Right now it ain’t happening. Truthfully I I’ve gotten depressed. Five months I’ve only finished one piece. I started about nine others and finished one. That ain’t saying nothing. I’m usually producing anywhere from one to three pieces a week. So that tells you this thing has hit me in such a manner and all I could do is relate to other people when they’re saying the same thing, feeling uninspired. It’s hard it’s really hard to deal with and I wish I knew some answers. Even I try to get to the spiritual place man I’m blocked on that too. I don’t know maybe you , hey you got some ideas tell me. (Laughs)

The sad part about it is I don’t have a computer and I use visual tech that enlarges print. And I spend a lot of time on that writing. In some ways I wish I had the hook up with the computer but I think I’d be lost.

I don’t take pride in it but I’m computer ignorant and I know I’m ignorant when you get one of these little five or six year olds in here and they know how to hit all the buttons and get everything just right. (Laughs) I know I’m out of the loop.

“Whatever you can do to drum up hope, do it!” – CC with Ambient effect

Music begins.

I never would have dreamed I’d be doing what I’m doing.
I’ve been published, locally nationally and internationally. I’ve had my artwork shown. Some people have my artwork in foreign countries. I’ve had theater plays produced.

Like my Grandmother used to say she said the Lord works in mysterious ways and has wonders to be performed. Maybe that would be my story. I look back on it I’m baffled.

I remember a lady was gonna date me, oh he ain’t got no job, he’s not doing this, he can’t do this. Somebody else said,

Music pauses

apparently you don’t know the brother. ..

My name is Charles Curtis Blackwell!

TR:

Well, it’s a privilege and honor to say Mr. Charles Curtis Blackwell,
It’s official! you Sir are a part of the Reid My Mind Radio family.

Music begins.

While Mr. Blackwell does not have a computer, he does have a Facebook page at Charles Curtis Blackwell. I’ll link to it on this episodes blog post.

I don’t know about you but I’ve been inspired. He said, his art influences his writing and his writing influences his art. That resonates with me. Inspiration from within.

If you’ve been inspired I hope you will let that influence you…

Subscribe wherever you get podcasts!
Transcripts & more are over at ReidMyMind.com. And yes, that’s R to the E I D
(Audio: “D and that’s me in the place to be” Slick Rick)

Like my last name.

Audio: Reid My Mind Outro

CC:
“Laughs, I was knocked off my feet man!”

TR:

Peace!

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Reid My MindRadio – Fears of a Blind Nomad

Wednesday, June 7th, 2017

Jim Paradiso at the Inca Ruins
When I heard about Jim Paradiso, I had to find out more. He’s a Blind Nomad… I had to hear his story. Turns out it’s so much more than that… he’s forcing you to challenge what you think is possible. That is, if you believe!

Take a listen and let me know; do you believe?

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:
What’s good fine people.

I have a lot to say about this episode so I’m just going to get right into it.

Well of course after the intro…

The best way to kick this one off…
[Audio: Been Around the World, Notorious BIG]
[Audio: RMMRadio Theme]

JP:
By the way what I’m about to tell you is true and I don’t give a damn if you believe it or not!

TR:
Any story that begins like that, well, you know it has to be good. whether it’s true or not, that’s for you to decide.

That voice you just heard is Jim Paradiso.
you can call Jim, a nomad!

A modern day nomad refers to people; often those with an online virtual business, where one’s income isn’t tied to a brick and mortar location.
Earning 60K for example and living outside of the US on various continents can really stretch that dollar.

That’s not exactly Jim’s situation. He’s been living a version of this lifestyle for over a year now and is currently in Loja, Ecuador.

According to Jim;

JP:
The adventure is the journey

TR:
With that said, let’s begin with the journey that lead Jim to Loha Ecuador.

JP:

I was talking to a friend, he was moving to Vilcabamba and I’d never heard of Vilcabamba and I said it sounds like a good name so I left to go to Vilcabamba. Which is a fifteen hour ride on a bus from. Manta to Vilcabamba. So it took me four weeks to get there.

I get into Cuenca and of course with me now I’m traveling alone for the first time. And I’m up in this Hostel, I said well OK, so I posted on FB { I’m in Cuenca, what’s there to do for a blind man traveling on his own?

TR:
Ok, , the fact that Jim is blind for most people probably makes the idea of him living a life as a nomad and traveling in unknown places, is maybe;
Very frightening?
Unbelievable?

Well, then let’s pause on the journey through Ecuador for a moment and hear what some may think is an unbelievable adventure of Jim’s vision loss
and the series of preceding events .

JP:
I had an aneurism Thirteen years ago on my left eye. And they tried to fix it and they screwed up the eye entirely. Then three years ago I woke up one morning and I had an aneurism in the other I. And I went through ocular injections and everything else that went with it and I had a bad reaction to the ocular injections which caused me to have a stroke.

so I was living with a girlfriend who decided she didn’t want to be with a blind man.

I ended up homeless. I was a month from being blind enough to qualify for Social Security. I was unemployed and Basically I was living on the couch of a motor home
that belong to a friend of mine who was in a retirement community.

So I get a phone call from my brother who was living in Ecuador and he said Well Linda is looking for a manager for a B&B would you like the job? I said, well what’s the pay. Room and board and fifty dollars a week.

Ok, I could be homeless in a motorhome in Florida or I could be homeless on a beach in Ecuador?
kind of a no brainer to me.

TR in conversation with JP:
and I’m sure fifty dollars is different in Ecuador than in Florida.

JP:
It doesn’t make any difference as long as you got food and shelter who cares about the rest of it. I live very inexpensively because that money doesn’t mean anything to me anymore.

I went for a pedicure because I couldn’t see my toe nails and I was catching them on my socks and when she cut the calluses off the bottom my feet so when I went for a walk on the beach I ended up getting third degree burns on the bottom of my feet.

I picked up a flesh eating bacteria and I had to be medivac the act from Ecuador to the United States after two operations down here and five days in the hospital.
The flesh eating bacteria that I picked up is usually fatal within seventy two hours and the only cure for it is amputation; actually they call it debridement which really is amputation. They have to remove all of the bacterial growth because it doubles in size every nine minutes.
Once I got back into the United States they put me in the teaching hospital in Shands of which this was the second case they had in fifty years of this particular virus. They amputated two toes and debride most of my foot and then they had to regrow it in an oxygen rich environment.

This took ten weeks and then they put me in a nursing home for a month. Rehab they call it but it actually was a nursing home.

While I was there I had an abscess on the back of my head so I went to the doctors when I had my foot looked at and they slants the abscess and said this isn’t right so they sent me to a Dermatologist.
Well when they slants it they gave me MRSA – which is another flesh eating bacteria. While I was at the doctor’s they said oh I don’t like these moles on your back let me have them biopsied. Well as it turned out I had skin cancer. They had to operate on my back and removed the skin cancer. Which I thought we were just going to remove a mole but they ended up doing 19 stitches on each side and trenched both sides of my back. Then they had to put me on different antibiotics in order to kill the MRSA they gave me and then when they removed that they discovered it was a tumor. Then they had to remove that. And that was in six months.

At that point I was afraid of dying.

When I finally got settled with Social Security Disability, I Flew back to Ecuador.

TR in conversation with JP:
Why?

JP:
Because my kids wanted to put me in a retirement villa.

TR in conversation with JP:
How many kids do you have?

JP:

Again that’s an odd story…

I have four kids but they’re not mine.
TR in conversation with JP:
Oh Ok!

JP:
My ex-wife’s two kids from her previous marriage.
And I have her ex-husband’s two kids from his previous marriage.

TR in conversation with JP:
OK that’s a new situation!

You have her ex-husband’s kids? (laughing!)

JP:
They all consider me dad and I was always there for them.

By the way, have you ever heard a story this ridiculous?

TR in conversation with JP:
so many people stories that I have heard of do have like one thing on top of the other you know but this flesh eating viruses and tumors, yeah… you’re winning!
– laughs!

TR:
Now, returning to Ecuador Jim met up with a friend.

JP:
He didn’t have any money and I said OK I need someone to travel with because blind people can’t travel alone!

Well I spent three weeks in the Andes and then two weeks in the Galapagos. Then we came back and we went up to Colombia – we spent three months in Colombia. Then we took a cruise and went from Cartagena through Panama, Costa Rica, Jamaica and Grand Cayman. And then circled around back and then went hiking in the mountains and Colombia

TR:
That friend Jim was traveling with was 42 and at the time Jim was 60.
Plus he was still recovering from flesh eating diseases,
multiple cancer surgeries and newly adjusting to blindness.

He learned a valuable lesson.

JP:

There are some things that are worse than traveling alone and that’s traveling with somebody else!

So at Christmas I flew back to Manta.
TR in conversation with JP:
So Jim can I ask you… you just
shared all of that … I mean you talked about a cruise and
flying to the Galapagos and stuff so you’re financing that on the Social Security?

JP:
Yeah!

TR in conversation with JP:
OK! And at this point you’re not paying rent or anything like that just traveling so you’re a Nomad.

JP:
Right, I’m a Nomad, I’m homeless.
I’m doing this on $1,127 a month.

So anyways when I got back to Manta I had infected my foot again and I had to stay off it for six weeks which drove me nuts.

So I was talking to a friend he was moving to Vilcabamba and I’d never heard of….

TR:
That brings us back to Jim’s journey.

When we left off, he was on his way to Vilcabamba
and stopped in a Hostel in Cuenca
where he posted the question

JP:
In Cuenca, what’s there to do for a blind man traveling on his own?

One guy suggested why don’t you head up to Ingaperka which is a Aztec ruin in the Andes which would be Eastern Ecuador.

TR:
So off he went to Ingaperka to find the ancient Inca Ruins.

Now if you’re thinking Jim is probably fluent in Spanish
or of course everyone speaks English,
well you’re wrong.
In fact, most people in the town of Ingaperka speak a dialect of the Incas.

JP:
The bus let me off in the middle of this town. I have no clue where I am I finally find somebody that speaks about four words of English.
And she asked me what I was doing and I say I was looking for the ruins. And she says ruins Cinco. I said Cinco kilometers. She says no Cinco minutos. I said where and she say aqui and pointed me to a road and so I walk up the road. I walk into this beautiful state park.

TR:
After receiving a tour of the ruins
well, it’s time for Jim to begin making his way to Vilcabamba.
He catches one bus to Cuenca and another to Loja.
Which is where he of course posts to Facebook:

JP:
What’s there to do for a blind man travelling alone through Loja?

Well this woman posts back well I have these two. English students who
are blind and would like to meet you. They’re sisters. So I meet them for coffee they come in on the arm of somebody crab walking because they don’t travel alone they’re in their thirty’s and they’ve been blind all their life.

They sit down and we’re talking and one of them looks at me and says who are you traveling with? I said nobody.

She Says Do you speak Spanish? I said no she said you can’t do that! I said yeah, I can!

TR:
By now you probably get the impression that the response, yes I can,
that’s something Jim is quite used to saying!

JP:
I’m here!
She takes me over to the elementary school which I’ll tell you is like a prison. Two meter high concrete walls surrounding it with broken bottles over the top of it and they’re all concrete bunkers and it’s just… it’s got mold it’s just… it’s a horrible place.

TR in conversation with JP:
Is that specifically just for blind children or is that…

JP:
Yes, it’s specifically for blind children. And there are residents there and there are day people that come from the city and this is the only blind school for elementary school children in the area. And she tells me that they don’t teach mobility there because they had to cut they cut their budget and the person they cut from the budget was the mobility trainer.

Now my experience with mobility training is I am blind
and I am mobile. There are my qualifications for the position… so now I’m the mobility trainer.

TR:
See what I mean by saying yes…
Jim not only said yes to teaching others who are blind to use the
white cane and more, but he has a pretty packed schedule.

JP:
I’m working four days a week from eleven to one at the elementary school. I work five days a week teaching conversational English at a college and I work two nights a week teaching mobility and technology at the high school.
I’m starting a nonprofit… We’ve got a doctor. Who is volunteering his time services to do prosthetic eyes on the kids that have missing eyes plus I have the Go Fund Me going…other than that I’m not really that busy!

TR:
That Go Fund me is a campaign to raise money to purchase white canes,
iPhones or iPads to provide children with GPS capabilities
in order to improve their mobility.

You can find more at:
http://GoFundMe.com/3noxfco

If you’re wondering what are the living conditions for a blind nomad
in Ecuador
Jim says his apartment in Ecuador
would probably rent for several thousand in New York City.

JP:
It’s the studio penthouse with a balcony view of the mountains. Glass all the way around its fully furnished. It has a hot tub, a walk in shower. The bathroom is ten by twenty and I pay $350 a month for it including utilities.

TR:
Jim’s a volunteer! He’s not paid for any of his work.
Well not in the traditional sense!

JP:
What I get from a kid who comes up and hugged me. You know – I’ve got children that actually… they don’t speak the language that I speak and they cannot express themselves on how much they really appreciate me.

I get people hugging me all the time. That’s what I get paid in!

While I still have work to do here I’m not leaving. It’s just different it’s a different lifestyle I found a place where they need me so I’m staying. When they don’t need me any more I’ll go somewhere else.
TR in conversation with JP:
How do you feel today about everything that happened? That whole crazy story you told me.

JP:
I will tell you something that you will very seldom hear from a blind person.

Going blind was the greatest opportunity of my life! Without that none of this would have happened. And that’s how I look at it.

TR:
And isn’t that what it boils down too!
How we choose to look at it!

Jim is actually looking for an assistant volunteer
to join him in Ecuador.
He needs help with some of those things he’s doing like
teaching mobility and technology.

He can provide room and board, but
the candidate needs to pay for their own travel.
Oh, yes, and the candidate must be blind.

Jim can be contacted directly through his Facebook page titled:
Blind Jim Can’t do That!
(Yeh, I can!)

I’m Thomas Reid
for Gatewave Radio,
[JP: I don’t give a damn if you Believe it or not ]
Audio for Independent Living.

TR:
I have never described myself as a journalist.
In fact, I make sure to say, I’m not.
I am a self-described Advocate who uses audio to make a point.
I don’t hide my opinion,
I choose the stories I want to tell and have a real solid perspective.
The idea of a journalist is that they supposedly don’t have that bias.
I don’t believe that at all!
However, A journalist would have done some real fact checking of Jim’s story.

They would have contacted various sources to try and confirm
his account of the events.

I am a New Yorker,
I instinctively don’t believe you!
It’s something I am really trying to rid myself of but it’s so ingrained in my being it’s really hard to separate.

I know there are some who will listen to this and not believe him.

Some will assume he has some residual vision – and say
that’s the reason he can do it.

Jim does have a bit of light perception which allows him
to see shadows out of a part of one eye.

Some will think it’s his nature.
Well, it’s probably fair to say Jim is something of an adventurer.
Before losing his sight he was a professional scuba diver diving throughout
the US and Caribbean.

That included salvage work for insurance companies, body recovery,
owning his own diving school and treasure diving in the Caribbean.

So here’s the thing…

I do believe Jim.

Jim is 100 percent telling the truth about the fears of a blind traveler.

Those fears are not just contained within the person who is blind.

You know that because as you were listening you felt uncomfortable.

You know you did.

I don’t care if you are sighted or
any degree of blind, you felt it!

I felt it! And feeling that way upset me.

I travel alone to different states but I had a fully planned itinerary.

Jim’s story made me challenge how I look at the world
and what I really believe is possible.

During our conversation a woman interrupted Jim and I asked him to explain what happened.

JP:
some woman just walked up to me and said You’re an inspiration to the people down here. I overheard your conversation.

I have people walking up to me on the street constantly doing that.

TR in conversation with JP:
How does that feel?

JP:
I don’t think I’m anything special.

I think everybody has it within themselves just that I choose to do that my question to people is Why don’t you choose to do it.

There are so many people out there that don’t want to leave their house and it bothers me.

TR in conversation with JP:
Why?

JP:
I’ve met so many blind people in my. Limited time being blind. And most of them tell me that they have limitations on everything they do.

You know they tell me it’s OK that you can do this but I can’t and then they give me a list of reasons why they can’t.

TR in conversation with JP:
What are some of those reasons?

JP:
Oh I could get hurt I could fall down. I could get lost.

So what’s the big deal you don’t think I get lost you don’t think I fall down you don’t think I get hurt?

TR:
I think it’s fair to acknowledge that the emotions behind these thoughts are real. But Fear you may have heard
is an acronym for False evidence appearing real.

You know what else is real!

Our perspective!
And we can actually control that!

JP:
I survived cancer. I’m blind. I survived the flesh eating bacteria What are you going to do to me that God hasn’t done already? It’s true! What fear do I have now. They told me I was going to die on three different occasions.

TR in conversation with JP:
you know you’re going to go at some point.

JP:
Right, we’re all gonna go some time!
I’d rather go out swinging then go out crying.

There is nothing holding you back but yourself.
I was at a Blind I Can meeting I can do is what they call it…

And they were talking about having an outing and they were talking about going out to lunch.

I mean, what is going to lunch proof for a blind person. Everybody eats!

They asked me what my idea of a good outing was…

There’s a place in Florida in Orlando called Machine Gun America. It’s automatic weapons… what the hell could possibly go wrong!

TR in conversation with JP:
Laughing!… I love it!

JP:

Make yourself feel alive.

You’re dead, nobody’s told you!

TR:
Jim, like many who lose their vision later in life, especially over the age of 55, never even had real mobility training.

JP:
My mobility training consisted of twenty minutes.

I learned everything on the internet and by myself reading books so when
they finally picked up my paperwork they put me through … they put me in front of a mobility trainer who told me that in familiar surroundings I was Ok, but I needed work in unfamiliar surroundings.

So I was hiking staying at an Echo lodge called Ukuku in Columbia it’s outside of Ibagué.

It’s a two kilometer hike up a mountain across three rivers. To get to this and the last river you crossed There’s a log and you got to balance on a log to cross the river.

Now do you know the proper caning technique for crossing a log bridge?

TR in conversation with JP:
Laughing… No I do not!

I think mine would be to straddle the log and then slowly go across. That would be my technique.
But that’s just me!

JP:

So I had to call back to the person who was in charge of the mobility training and I said, hey Tom what’s the proper caning techniques for crossing a log bridge?

TR in conversation with JP: To the avenue.
Oh my gosh! Did they have any advice for you?

JP:
Oh hell no.

TR:
But don’t get it twisted,
Jim isn’t some sort of blind Evel Knievel.
(If you’re younger than 40 Google him!

Jim is practical about his travel.

JP:
I have a theory. It’s really simple when I get to a town if I check into a Hostel I get the business card of the Hostel, put it in my wallet.

If I get really lost I take the business card and I give it to a cab driver and I ask the cab driver donde esta aqui… where is this? And he takes me there.

TR:
That practical advice goes beyond travel…

JP:
I’m trying to convince people that just because you have a problem doesn’t mean you can’t get your ass out and do something.

I listen to people tell me they can’t get a job. Well, go volunteer and get some experience!

TR:
I’m hoping to speak with Jim again.

And who knows maybe that will be in person, in Ecuador.

There are links on Reid My Mind.com to both the Go Fund Me and his Facebook page if you want to communicate directly with Jim.

I usually close with my reminder for you to subscribe to the podcast…

well today, I’m closing out with part of a favorite quote taken from Jim’s Facebook page.

Maybe someone will find it helpful… I think Jim may have.

Falling down is a part of life, getting back up is living.”

Peace

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Reid My Mind Radio: Meet Young Ant – First Female Rapper… who’s Blind

Wednesday, February 1st, 2017

Now way back in the days when hip-hop began
With Coke LaRock,Kool Herc, and then Bam
B-boys ran to the latest jam…
– “South Bronx”, KRS One, Boogie Down Productions

I’m Old enough to remember when people not of my generation thought rap music was a fad. They never thought it would become what it is today… a worldwide billion dollar, trend setting industry. I’m sure they never thought how this art form could end up being a bridge for a 19 year old young lady adjusting to her vision loss.

Picture of Antynette, "Young Ant" in graduation cap &gown! Split image with left side featuring Young Ant sporting a t-shirt reading "No Sight" followed by a image of an Eye with a slash running through it and beneath "No Fear". The right side image is of Young Ant with the reverse side of t-shirt reading "#Team Ant".

Young Ant, is spittin’ lyrics about her own experience adjusting to blindness. And I have a feeling that’s just the beginning… Come meet the young lady and rapper! Team Ant!!!

Hit Play below and act like you know!

 

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Transcript

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TReid:
What’s good everybody, back this week with another episode of Reid My Mind Radio and I’m very excited to bring you this latest piece produced for Gatewave .

You may think the title says it all, but there’s more…

Take a listen and I’ll be back with some thoughts.
[“Ladies First”, Queen Latifah]
[Reid My Mind Radio Musical Intro]

TReid:
Young Ant in the building!

YA:
Young Ant in the building!

Treid:
Uh Oh!

So the way I look at this; Antynette is the person, Young Ant is the rapper!

YA:
[Laugh!] Yeah, that’s right!

TReid:
Alright, so first who is Antynette?

YA:
Antynette is a young lady who has been through a lot in a little bit over a year and half and is trying to find her through it with adjusting and coping and in different techniques that I’m learning and trying to find different avenues of expressing how I’m feeling.

[Intro to “Count your Blessings” by Young Ant]

TReid:
Beautiful!
I lost my sight about 13 years ago. And so…

YA:
Really!

TReid:
Yeh so one of the things that I like to hear from people adjusting to blindness is that they don’t first start with who they are with the fact that they are blind. You said you are a young lady!
Now, tell me who’s Young Ant?

YA:
Well Young Ant is a motivational rapper!

TReid:

Maybe that’s not what you expected to hear from an upcoming rapper.

Or perhaps your image of what it means to be blind
makes it difficult to understand how this young lady
who lost her sight only a little over a year ago can talk about counting her blessings.

Well, we’re about to challenge your perception today of both
what it means to be blind and what it means to be a rap artist.

Antynette Walker, 19 years old, lost her sight in the middle of her senior year in high school.

Marsell:
Antynette was born prematurely and she had eye surgery done on her eyes at the age of 1 to correct her vision. They told me that her eyes will be just perfectly fine; in which they was over the years.

TReid:
This is Marsell Walker, Antoinette’s mother.

At 11 years old Antynette began losing her vision.
Living in Atlanta at the time Marsell began searching for a reason for her daughter’s vision loss.

Marsell:
We started taking her to different doctors, getting different tests run and no one could tell us a reason why this was happening to her eye. They just kept prescribing different glasses for her eyes and after the years went on we just started coping with her losing vision in her left eye at the age of 11.

TReid:
In 2015 Antoinette began experiencing complications in her right eye.
Still seeking that diagnosis, the family moved to Minneapolis where she was first being treated at the University of Minnesota.

marsell:

He really didn’t see any dramatic changes within her vision from when she started seeing him. And she was going in complaining about the blurriness and spottiness and these were the same symptoms and things that she was going through at the age of 11 when she lost her vision in her left eye.

He somewhat tried to make it feel like she was hallucinating and it was all in her head and she knew off hand that it wasn’t so she asked me to get a referral to a newer doctor which is at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester.

TReid:
Seen by Ophthalmologist’s, Neurologist and other specialists at the Mayo Clinic, doctors had a very different opinion from the original doctor at the University of Minnesota.

Marsell:
That’s when they did notice her vision was changing dramatically. And he couldn’t even figure out why that previous doctor would tell us he seen no changes.

TReid:
Despite all of the tests that came back negative and the eventual diagnosis of Optic Neuropathy

Marsell:
She woke up not being able to see anything and that point he asked for us to do Steroids with Antynette for about a week… it didn’t work!

TReid:
That day she woke up blind, was Christmas 2015!

TReid in conversation with Marsell:
I mean, you’re her mom, and you’re watching your daughter lose her sight.

Marsell:
Yeh!

TReid:
What was that like for you?

Marsell:
It was really, really stressful. I have always been that parent who where if something is wrong with your kids you find a way of fixing it.
Your kids feed off of your energy, so I had to keep being positive. I’ll go in my room I’ll cry, I won’t let her know I was crying. I’ll come back out and as if nothing happened, but you know I didn’t know what to do. I was just numb!

TReid:
This was her senior year in high school.
Antoinette should have been thinking about the prom, her future.
Now she had to return to school after Christmas break, to a whole new way of life.

TReid in conversation with Young Ant:
What was that first day of school like for you?

YA:
Well, it was hard. Everything was much louder, it was just harder to navigate through crowds and different hallways. It was so much anxiety the first day going back because it was just new way of life, new environment, everything was just all brand new.

TReid in conversation with Young Ant:
What was the reaction of your classmates?

YA:
Everyone was shocked. Everyone was surprised . People more so didn’t believe it because they were just like last time I saw you you were able to see now you’re blind. More people were stand offish kind of and some people were supportive because some people knew what I was going through and knew that it was gonna happen and because we were that close and we talked about it frequently. But some were rude. I think that was mainly because they didn’t know how to take it and they didn’t know what was a proper reaction.

TReid in conversation with Young Ant:
That’s a mature response from you in terms of how you responded to those people who were being , you know, negative.

YA:
There’s going to be some people that you know, they don’t know any better or their parents didn’t teach them any better so there gonna you know make fun or say things that are inappropriate, but you gotta just learn to ignore it. Some people are for you, some people are against you. Not everyone is gonna be on your side.

[Song: “Team Ant”, by Young Ant]

TReid:
On the same side; like on a team!

Team Ant! That’s the official name of Young Ant’s crew, her support system her family.
working with her throughout this new journey.

Team Ant consist of her Dad,Aldo…

Marsell
He’s focusing on making her greater. He’s there hands on. It’s her message, but he knows a lot about rap so he has a big input on her delivery.

TReid in conversation with Marsell:
And are you playing the role of manager/marketer? What’s your role?

Marsell:
I am “Momager”

TReid in conversation with Marsell:
Momager
, ok! {Laughs}

Marsell:
[Laughs] It’s a new word for me

TReid in conversation with Marsell
I like it!

Marsell:
Hooking up photo shoots and videos hooking up studio time and reaching out to different people to try and get her story out there. And her father is the one that comes and oversee everything and makes sure it sounds right.

TReid::
The oldest of 4 siblings, setting an example for them is really important to Antynette.
She’s working hard at improving all of her skills. That’s Braille, navigating with her white cane, independent living skills and learning to use a screen reader and computer.

Traditionally, One of the most important aspects of being a rapper is writing your own rhymes.
At least, if you want any true rap Aficionado to take you seriously.

I had to ask…

TReid in conversation with Young Ant:
Are you writing your own rhymes right now?

YA:
Yeh!

TReid in conversation with Young Ant:
You’re like yehhhh!

YA:
[Laughs]

TReid in conversation with Young Ant:
How do you feel about the writing? Does that mean something to you as opposed to having others write your rhymes?

YA:
Yeh, Because before I went blind I was a big writer. I wanted to be a novelist. I used to write short stories and poems and different things of that sort. So I feel like you know with me losing my sight it doesn’t mean that have to stop doing what I love doing. Now I have to be more repetitive when I’m writing the stuff so I can remember it.

TReid:
In any art form, early influences can help develop an artist’s own unique style.

YA:
My father is a rapper so I kind of grew up around music and rap music. Growing up around him, listening to him rap. Growing up in Atlanta, Georgia I just grew up listening to it. Artists like Biggie Smalls, Tupac and Run-DMC and you know Snoop Dogg

TReid in conversation with Young Ant:
Very nice!.
See, I made my kids, both of them, they had to learn some early Run-DMC… I’d make them learn the lyrics…

YA:
Laughs…

TReid in conversation with Young Ant:
For real! I ain’t joking!

YA:
Right, get to the roots!

TReid:
Based on the artists mentioned I’d say Young Ant has some knowledge of rap music’s pioneers. She likes lyricists, music with a message and showmanship.

YA:
I like to call myself a motivational rapper. I’m mainly aiming to inspire, to motivate, to let everyone know that no matter what you’re going through and no matter what happens that doesn’t mean that your life stops just because you’re diagnosed with a certain thing or something traumatic happens in your life. People in society tell you that you can no longer go on. You can be whatever you want to be and you can do whatever you want to do if you set your mind to it. All my music is positive and clean. You know fun, uplifting and motivational.

TReid:
She’s gearing up for some live performances later this year. Like the South by Southwest festival in Austin Texas and Coast to Coast in Atlanta.

TReid in conversation with Young Ant:
How do you navigate the stage?

YA:
Usually, I go on before to get a feel for the stage you know to see how big it is to see what I’m working with. And then you know once I get a feel for how big or small it is , I kind of just you know [exhale!] let loose!

TReid:
Young Ant is just getting started and open to collaborating with other artists.

YA:
I would love to do a song with Stevie Wonder. That’s like the top of my list.

TReid in conversation with Young Ant:
Hold on, you’re a Stevie fan too!

YA:
Whatttttt?

TReid in conversation with Young Ant:
You’ve always been a Stevie fan?
I love Stevie… yeh! Even before…

TReid in conversation with Young Ant:
Now I’m gonna test you. You’re talking to a real Stevie head right now. Tell me what you like. Give me a song.

YA:
[Sings Isn’t she lovely, isn’t she wonderful]

TReid in conversation with Young Ant:
Ok!

YA:
I like Superstitious! That’s that’s my jam!

TReid:
There’s definitely something wonderful about this young lady.
Maybe it’s the inner strength that shines through her words and personality.
The determination that’s helping her adjust to blindness and pursue her goals.
She has the courage to make her way in quite honestly what’s a male and able bodied dominated genre
in the entertainment industry
which by the way, has never been that open to disability.

Young Ant though has a team.

[Song: “Team Ant”, by Young Ant]

A support system that’s lead by the two people who love her most, mom and dad.

[Song: “Count your Blessing” by Young Ant]

That’s an asset whether adjusting to blindness or starting a music career.

To listen to this track called Count your Blessings go to Sound Cloud and follow her on social media.

Let them know Momager!

Marsell:
Young Ant, first blind female rapper. You can find her on YouTube as Young ANT. On Twitter , Sound Cloud, Instagram as YoungAnt1121. Her Facebook page is Team Ant.

I’m Thomas Reid…

[Audio YA: I kind of just you know, let loose!]

TReid:
For Gatewave Radio, Audio for Independent Living!

[Sound of Record rewind]
This is why I like producing this podcast.

As a father of two incredibly gifted, intelligent and beautiful young ladies I was drawn to this story.

I understand the value of speaking with someone who has walked in your shoes.

Graduating high school is the time when you look to a future hopefully full of opportunity
. For Young Ant and anyone faced with the loss of their sight or any disability for that matter,
it’s natural to think that the opportunity has faded away.

All it takes though, is a glimpse of chance or hope to peek through.

That could be a small success.

Young Ant is only one year into her adjustment process.
Honestly, to some extent I think that process is lifelong. Not like a life sentence, but rather like a commitment.
A commitment to living the best life possible;
seeing happiness not as a destination but a daily process.

Now, you know what’s not a daily process?
subscribing to this podcast, Reid My Mind Radio…
For real though! All it takes is a couple of steps;
go to your podcast app, search for Reid My Mind Radio… that’s R E I D
and then hit subscribe.

Then become a fan!
I ‘m talking about young ant, but feel free to become a fan of the podcast too!

Seriously, I hope you all heard the character, strength and maturity like I did and become a fan of both the young lady, Antynette and of course, the rapper Young Ant!

[Song Roxanne Shante: “Got the party people screaming… “Go on Girl.!”… from “Have a Nice Day”}
Reid My Mind Outro Music

TReid:
Peace!

Peace!

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