Posts Tagged ‘Low Vision’

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

Show the transcript

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!

Hide the transcript

The Making of Blind Leaders

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2019

Are leaders born or are they made?

The American Foundation for the Blind is seeking applicants who believe they have what it takes to learn how to become a leader.

Headshot of Megan Aragon
Megan Aragon is the Director of Knowledge Advancement Programs with AFB. Hear all about the Blind Leaders Development Program and how you can apply. Whether in the profit or nonprofit sector, leadership skills can help you reach your goals taking you to the next step in your career.

Megan’s own story of adjusting to vision loss exemplifies the ideas behind the Blind Leaders Development program. She provides some real insight on the adjustment process making this a must listen for anyone struggling to accept their own blindness.

Listen

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:

Welcome back to another episode of Reid My Mind Radio.
I’m Thomas Reid, host & producer of the podcast bringing you
compelling people impacted by all degrees of vision loss. That means from Low Vision to totally Blind.

As we’re in the midst of NDEAM or
National Disability Employment Awareness Month,
I’m happy to bring you an episode with this in mind.

Audio: Reid My Mind radio Intro Theme Music

My name is Megan Aragon. I am the Director of Knowledge Advancement Programs with American Foundation for the Blind.

TR:

Before Megan began directing and advancing all of that knowledge
she had to find her own way.

At 17, while studying hard in college, Megan began experiencing eye fatigue. She initially blamed it on all of the studying but soon began seeing what she describes as lights.

MA:

Eventually those lights started to fill in to a blind spot. I’d be driving and pedestrians and street signs would just sort of pop into my peripheral vision and I didn’t realize what was going on it was just like they were appearing out of nowhere.

TR:

A few months later Megan was diagnosed with Stargardt’s Macular Dystrophy.

Even though she had a diagnosis, Megan admits she didn’t deal with the changes.

MA:

At some point you can’t just say I’m not going to deal with it. You have to deal with it.

I think it was probably over the course of four or five months I went from perfect vision to Low Vision.

[TR in conversation with MA:]
So you weren’t using any aids, large print magnifiers…

MA:
No, and I had no clue of what was out there in terms of tools resources, options nothing because I was being so stubborn and really acting in denial. I didn’t even do any research. I was just like nope I’m going to do it the way I used to do it and how I’ve always done it and then eventually I couldn’t.

TR:

Megan was creative in hiding her blindness.

MA:

Before I started college had worked as a waitress. So I knew that job and I knew how it might be done without vision.

TR:

Waitressing with low vision meant maximizing her memory of;
first, the menu, including ingredients for each dish

Then there’s taking each person’s order at the table.

Plus she memorized each screen on the computer order input system.

That was all after getting passed the in store application process.

MA:

I end up sneaking a magnifier in and was like reading a question and hiding the magnifier and filling in the answer and pulling out the magnifier out and was hiding my vision loss but was able to pass a personality/math test.

[TR in conversation with MA:]

I’m sure you probably thought about it, but what do you think was the reason that you were trying to hide it or trying to pass?

MA:

I hadn’t come to terms with it so I had no idea how to tell anybody about it without seeming super awkward and feeling weird. I just wanted to have a normal life. I could potentially lose my job. It would risk what I had built.

I think it could have been a really great opportunity for me to learn and for everyone else to learn, but I still just didn’t have those tools in my toolbox.

[TR in conversation with MA:]

Well eventually you did.

MA:

It was a long time after the waiting tables thing.

TR:

It was after graduating college with a degree in Sociology.

She had a plan to get some work experience and then return to school for a Master’s degree.

But she had to have a conversation with herself in order to get to the root of what was holding her back.

MA:

You need to understand your vision loss. You need to communicate about it and you need to know what tools you need in order to be successful.

TR:

What she didn’t know at the time was she needed an example.
Fortunately, her Dad knew someone who suggested their local Lighthouse for the Blind.

MA:

I look them up, it’s like a manufacturing facility. And I said, I don’t want to work at a manufacturing plant, that’s not the type of work I want to do. I don’t know where to turn to . I ended up sending my resume over and interviewing with their Vice-President of Operations. He has a visual impairment. I think we spent two or three hours during that interview .

This guy has a vision impairment adjust like I do and he has his act together. He has a big job, he’s got it going on and he has vision loss just like I do, huh! Maybe I could have it going on. So finally the lights came on.

[TR in conversation with MA:]
So the lights came on at the Lighthouse!

TR& MA laugh…

MA:

I remember I got the call that they were going to give me a job and I was in the kitchen and got off the phone and started dancing around like oh my gosh it’s possible , like I could totally do this!

In my mind I hadn’t proved it to myself yet that I could be a good employee. That I had value to bring to the table. You know that (exhales) that I could do something more than waiting tables.

TR:

No shots at all to those waitressing,
Megan just needed to know she could be successful at something else.

That seems pretty obvious to those who see the ingenuity and persistence that went into first landing the waitress job, but Megan had to realize her own value.

Once denying her vision loss, now the Director of Knowledge Advancement Programs at American Foundation for the Blind.

MA:

Knowledge Advancement programs are focused on employment and developing ways to change the system that individuals go through that effects employments. Hiring practices of employers. general inclusion practices of employers. Policies and practices that affect employment of the blind and visually impaired individual. Helping to develop blind and visually impaired individuals so they’re ready to step into roles of leadership and employment.

TR:

Part of that last initiative is the Blind Leaders Development Program

MA:

This will be our kick-off year. Essentially, the Blind Leaders development program will take a group of 12 to 16 Blind and Visually Impaired individuals through a leadership development program for 12 months. The curriculum we’re using for this program is called the Leadership Challenge.

TR:

Based on 30 years of research, the heart of this curriculum is
the idea that leaders aren’t born. leadership can be taught.

MA:

There are 30 specific behaviors that are observable if someone demonstrates those behaviors then they’re more likely to be willingly followed by others. The theory is there are things you can do to be a better leader.

It’s a kick start. It’s meant to amplify someone’s career trajectory. We’re hoping to develop leadership capacity within individuals and see them achieve upward mobility.

[TR in conversation with MA:]

Give me an example of someone who would be right for this program. Jane Doe works, you fill in the blank, she does bla bla bla!

MA:

Sure, so Jane Doe could be working at a nonprofit agency, in the for profit sector, government sector. Is interested in developing her ability to be a better leader, engaging with her organization.

[TR in conversation with MA:]

What type of work would Jane Doe be doing. Does it matter? Could she be an Admin? Does she have to be already on the management track?

MA:

Yeah, she could be doing anything. Doesn’t have to be on the management track, but interested in doing something like that. Interested in achieving hire level of career and leadership responsibility.

TR:

Sounds like you or someone you know?

Here’s a bit more of what AFB is seeking from a candidate.

MA:

Someone that is going to take the learning the knowledge and the concepts that we discuss during the program and take that home and apply them and really engage.

TR:

Apply them at work and in community organizations by serving on committees, boards.

MA:

Someone that is willing to consider a variety of opinions and perspectives and is able to integrate those into new ways of thinking. Creative open mind set.

We also want to see someone that has the potential to be a productive participant. They are willing to make the commitments that are required to really get a lot out of this program.

TR:

Here’s how it will work.

All interested candidates will have to complete an application available online at AFB.org.

The yearlong program will kick-off with a two day leadership workshop just prior to the AFB Leadership Conference in March 2020.

MA:

Where they’ll dive really deeply into the leadership challenge text, the results of their leadership practices inventory which is a survey that measures the frequency of those 30 behaviors I mentioned before.

How often does a participant for example, follow through on commitments they make.
TR:

Such behaviors are said to be an indication of leadership ability.

In addition to setting their own goals for the program,
participants will rate their own abilities and the results will be compared
to answers provided by their peers and managers.

MA:

It’s both eye opening and affirming.

The rest of the year will be done virtually. Every other month there will be a webinar where we talk about soft skill development, interpersonal skills and those key skills that are so important for leadership development.

Communication, networking, things that a lot of times require the ability to read nonverbal cues. So how do you do that as a Blind individual. Techniques you can use to make sure you’re as effective or better as your sighted peers.

We’re also incorporating a professional coaching element to the program and a mentoring element to the program.

There will be 12 to 16 Blind and Visually Impaired established leaders that will participate in the program as well and help to mentor those participants.

TR:

On the off months where there is no webinar scheduled,
participants will meet individually with their coach and mentor.

Mentors will also need to complete an application.

Those selected will be paired with a mentee prior to them meeting
for the first time during the leadership workshop preceding the AFB Leadership Conference in March of 2020.

MA:

Pair based on interest, and goals, experiences. So that what the participant is hoping to achieve down the line will match with what’s going on with the mentors so that there’s alignment.

TR:

Megan’s own story of coming to terms with her vision loss exemplifies
the importance of mentors.

MA:

mentoring is such a powerful thing. It gives you a different perspective, a different way to look at your situation and say okay, I can approach this in another way. It also gives you hope, like I’m struggling with whatever my issue is right now but look at this other person whose either gone through something similar or has been there and done that.

TR:

Megan clearly understands the benefits and continues to have mentors in her life.

MA:

Two of which are not visually impaired individuals but all three are women. That’s been the main connecting piece there for me. Women that are successful and really wonderful role models.

[TR in conversation with MA:]
In a way you brought up diversity so I’m going to ask you in terms of the BLDP is there a plan in place? Is there consideration to make sure that the choices made are a diverse group?

MA:

Yeah absolutely! We’re collecting information from our applicants about their diversity and will take that into account as we select participants to make sure we have as diverse a group as possible. As representative a group as possible. And in the application all of this is explained. How we’ll keep all of the applicant’s information private and make sure that the selection process is as unbiased as possible. That is absolutely a commitment that AFB has made. The more perspectives we can bring to the table the better everyone will be. Especially if we’re very intentional about how we leverage that diversity and how we leverage the different perspectives. And this is one reason why that’s a criteria that we’re looking for – open mindness, the willingness to learn, the willingness to consider other perspectives because of how powerful that can be in the learning process.

TR:

Now, I know what you’re thinking.
As I mentioned in the beginning of this episode,
it’s National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

What about those struggling to gain employment?

Well, AFB is in the early phase of creating
pathways to competitive integrated employment.

MA:

The first phase is research and studies. The second phase will be testing our theories about how we can create those pathways and the kinds of jobs that we’re talking about. What we’re committing to is developing knowledge based work for Blind and Visually Impaired individuals. So this is probably using a computer. Probably requires a Bachelor’s Degree or some sort of specialized training and knowledge and would be work that requires creative thinking and problem solving. That’s where we’re hoping we can really move the needle as far as folks that don’t have a job who are interested in working in the knowledge based field.

TR:

I know there are real candidates right here in the Reid My Mind Radio Family both for Mentors and Mentees.

The application process closes on November 1, 2019.

Applicants will be notified of the results in mid-November.

Please let me encourage you to head on over to AFB.org and
look for that button that says Join the program or become a Mentor.

If you have additional questions about the program you can email Megan

MA:

M as in Megan.
Aragon (Spelled out)at AFB.org
MAragon@AFB.org

TR:

A big shout out to Megan Aragon.

There are a lot of people right now going through their own version of her story.

Trying to run away from the loss and convince themselves nothing has changed.

Hopefully those going through this can see Megan’s courage not only in
adjusting her perspective of vision loss but also in the way she shared it today.

She’s come a long way from hiding her magnifier.

And now that she’s no longer memorizing menus and order entry screens
but rather using access technology, she’s free to
keep on directing all of that knowledge over at AFB.

And hopefully come back on the podcast to discuss the inaugural year of the program.

I know this is the end of October and
National Disability Employment Awareness Month, but
we’re going to keep the conversation going into November.

There are many specific factors for those with disabilities to consider when seeking employment.

We have past episodes that deal with this subject specifically.

But so much of the employment process is universal.

Next time, I’m speaking with a Career Coach to hear more about how
that process has changed.

it’s no longer a passive process –
there’s methods that can really put the job seeker in control.

There’s only one way to make sure you don’t miss that…

Subscribe or follow the podcast where ever you listen;

Apple, Spotify, Google or your favorite podcast app.

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!

Hide the transcript

Sparking Success After Vision Loss

Wednesday, September 11th, 2019

Blindness, Low Vision any degree of significant vision loss occurs for different reasons. It impacts people from all walks of life at various ages.
My guest today, Susan Lichtenfels, President of the Pennsylvania Council of the Blind (PCB) says; “None of our experiences are ever the same, but they’re similar.”

Looking at people adjusting to vision loss, it’s apparent there are also similarities in making that a success.

Hear all about SPARK Saturday, an event sponsored by the Pennsylvania Council of the Blind to light the fire in anyone impacted by vision loss. Plus a look at how PCB can help you attend.

Listen

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:

Welcome back to another episode of Reid My Mind Radio. My name is Thomas Reid. Not only am I producer & host of this podcast, but I’m the target audience, a person adjusting to becoming Blind as an adult.

While I’m no longer new to blindness, I do think I would have appreciated having a podcast like this one during those early years.

In some ways I did. I was fortunate to have other people with all degrees of vision loss in my life. People who are Blind, living productive lives on their terms.

We’re going to get into a bit of that and how it can be of help to you or someone you know right now adjusting to vision loss from low vision to total blindness.

First let me drop this on you like…

Audio from opening music (Wow!)

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Intro Music

TR:

Early on in my adjustment I became involved in advocacy. It began locally and grew to state and national after helping to form a chapter of the Pennsylvania Council of the Blind or PCB in my county.

Attending my very first PCB state Conference & convention made a big impact on my life. It gave me the chance to meet people who both indirectly and directly taught me a lot about blindness. It was extremely important to my personal adjustment.

Today we’re going to take a look at some of what PCB has to offer those adjusting to, experiencing or impacted by blindness or vision loss; including an event that many of you may want to attend. Plus opportunities to help you do that.

Allow me to present a friend of mine to help guide you on this tour.

SL:

My name is Sue Lichtenfels and I am currently the President of PCB. But when I’m not wearing that hat I am a wife, I am an Advocate and I am a person with a disability, actually 2 disabilities. I am a mother of a soon to be 8 year old.

[TR in conversation with SL:]

8 years old already. Wow, I’ve known you for a while Sue.

Sl:

We started on the board at the same time. In 2007 we were elected and we started serving in 2008.

[TR in conversation with SL:]
And how long were you in PCB ?

Sl:

I only joined in 2005. We really are like right around the same… (laughs)

[TR in conversation with SL:]
Yeh! So was your first conference 2006 or 2005?

Sl:

My first conference as a member was 06.

[TR in conversation with SL:]
Yen, same with me!

TR:

We’re going to start with advocacy, but let me first be an advocate for this podcast.

Sue has agreed to come back on the podcast to share more of her story.

SL:

We’ll sit down and do another interview.

TR:

I’m just saying! It’s on the record now!

Self-advocacy is often a gateway to becoming an advocate for other. For Sue, it started in college.

SL:

No one’s there anymore to kind of be a buffer between you and your professors or the learning center that’s helping to adapt your materials in the format you can use.

#Goal Ball

TR:

While at the University of Pittsburg, Sue was introduced to the sport of Goal Ball which truly made an impression on her.

SL:

It’s a sport with three players on each team played on an indoor court and you kind of roll a ball the size of a basketball. It’s got bells in it and you roll it in a bowling motion and then you slide and use your body to block the ball from going beyond your team into the goal.

TR:

It may sound like just a game, but Sue grew up loving sports and always wanting to play and compete.

SL:

I was never allowed to. So when I found this sport, Goal Ball, I really , really loved it.

TR:

Sue became really good at the game. In fact, she played for the USA team in the World Championship in Canada.

SL:

And then I was in this car accident and lost the use of my legs.

TR:

This appears to be what really activated that inner advocate.

SL:

I had this opportunity to finally find a sport, find something I could be athletic and involved in so I wanted to do work and do advocacy get other kids that are mainstreamed the opportunity to be more involved in physical education and recreation.

TR:

Sue applied for and received a fellowship which enabled her to start a nonprofit.

SL:

Called Sports Vision, to create opportunities for children. I went out and spoke to Physical Education Teachers, IU teachers to advocate on behalf of getting children more involved in physical education.

[TR in conversation with SL:]
When you said that you weren’t allowed to was that a parental thing or was that a school thing where you weren’t allowed to participate in sports?

Sl:

I wasn’t allowed to participate in sports for fear that I would get hurt.

TR:

Children attending schools for the Blind had adaptive sports and recreational activities. Unfortunately, fear often caused children like Sue who were mainstreamed to be kept on the sidelines and excused from physical education and sports.

SL:

Fear was on the side of the parent who was afraid that their child was going to get hurt. The fear is also on the side of the district that doesn’t want to take a chance in getting sued because a child did get hurt.

[TR in conversation with SL:]
I got you, so it’s not like you had an advocate at school or at home kind of saying hey she wants to play sports, let her do it. So then you became that advocate in Sports Vision.

Sl:

Correct.

[TR in conversation with SL:]
Cool!

TR:

Also cool was when Sue brought her talent and persistence to the Pennsylvania Council of the Blind. Already familiar with running her own nonprofit and filling multiple roles, she took on many within the organization before her election to PCB President.

SL:

Fundraising, membership, awards, conference program and planning I’ve pretty much served on every committee or team within the organization.

Since 2010 I’ve been Editor of the PCB Advocate which is our quarterly newsletter. In 2007 I was elected to the board of PCB and been serving as a member of the board ever since.

# Challenges of Leading Membership Org.

Currently Sue is winding down the last months of her second and final term serving as PCB president.

Just the right time to ask her about the challenges of leading a member based advocacy organization.

First, challenges of the membership model itself.

SL:

Engagement.

When you’re a member based organization there is a micro way of thinking. You tend to gear your work towards the people that are in your organization. And we spend a lot of time offering ways to try and get our members more active when the reality of the situation is that our mission is to promote independence and opportunity for all who are Blind or visually impaired.

TR:

Second, advocacy

SL:

I think when many people hear the term advocacy they automatically associate it with legislative, policy those types of issues. They don’t recognize it for all the rest of the issues that need to be addressed that maybe aren’t necessarily achieved through writing a Legislator.

[TR in conversation with SL:]
Such as?

Sl:

Educating the public about the abilities of people that are Blind or visually impaired. The peer support that is necessary to take someone from not having any idea about what their own capabilities are and providing them with the ability to listen and offer them guidance.

That’s advocacy too.

TR:

So, how exactly does PCB offer support?

Here’s three ways.

Audio: One!

SL:

Peer discussion calls – these are organized usually around a specific topic. We have a conversation around issues such as travel when you’re Blind or visually impaired. We talk about our own experience , we share our stories and we provide a forum where we all learn from one another.

Audio: “Two!”

SL:

Peer Mentors – A lot of times the best way to cope with losing vision is to talk to someone who’s been there. None of our experiences are ever the same, but they’re similar.

TR:

Through their network which includes people who span all degrees of vision loss, from low vision to total blindness, PCB has something else to can offer…

SL:
Someone to talk to them on a one on one basis and provide them with guidance and advice and support.

Audio: “Three”

SL:
Local chapters – throughout the state we do have chapters who usually meet on a once a month basis and these are people who are blind or visually impaired who are more than willing and ready to welcome those who are new to vision loss and to really provide that connection and that one on one in person peer support.

TR:

While the local chapters are obviously specific to the state of Pennsylvania, “One and two” the discussion calls and peer mentors are all open to anyone experiencing vision loss.

SL:

Some of the specific advocacy discussions might be Pennsylvania specific but there’s a lot of information that we share that’s blindness and support related that isn’t geographically specific.

If you or someone you know is an individual who has vision loss and who’s vision loss has occurred within the last five years, I encourage you to apply for our Adjustment to Blindness First Timer Conference Scholarship.

TR:

This is a full scholarship! It covers your attendance for the weekend. That includes your registration, conference meals and activities, hotel…

SL:

And it will also cover ground transportation to and from the conference. To learn more about the scholarship, contact the PCB Office at 877617 – 7407 or send an email to Leadership@pcb1.org.

TR:

But that’s not it!

Maybe you’re thinking, Thomas, I’ve been Blind for more than 5 years and like you I believe the adjustment process is an ongoing thing and I really would love to attend. Are there any opportunities to help me get there!

Well, yes! PCB has some additional scholarships that you can check out on their web page at pcb1.org/conference

And then there’s also a $500 merit award available this year, specifically for those who are Blind or Visually Impaired and currently enrolled in a vocational or academic program.

SL:

Or some type of professional licensure.

We’re actually going to award three individuals stipends to attend the PCB Conference. So the top three finalists for the Merit Award will receive stipends to attend which will include the hotel, travel, conference registration and meals. Once folks get to the conference, those three individuals, we will announce who will win the grand prize of the $500 Merit Award.

TR:

That’s a great opportunity! I’d love to see it go to someone in the Reid My Mind Radio family.

Whether you, a family member or friend is adjusting to blindness or low vision; the PCB conference truly can be the experience that you need in your life right now.

SL:
But if you can’t make the entire weekend, and you can only pick one day to come and join us, I really encourage you not to miss our Saturday morning presentations. It’s going to be amazing!

TR:

It’s going to be hot!

It’s called SPARK Saturday because we’re bringing that heat!

[TR in conversation with SL:]

What about you? How has your involvement with PCB impacted you personally?

SL:

You know I’ve been involved at the leadership level and involved in the work of the organization for so long, I’ve gained so many skills. So I mean I’m a much more well-rounded person with regards to blindness skills but also skills that are work and project related.

TR:

The result of actually doing the work?

Sl:

I have a lot more confidence now in my abilities than I used to.

TR:

That confidence extends way pass the work.

Last year Sue decided to write and direct a play for PCB’s post banquet entertainment.

She cast it with her PCB peers.

SL:

It’s just such a fun time to rehearse with people. Really get to know people in that way where everyone is just kind of dropping their guard and letting you see the silliness, the fun. In the whole process of it such peer support we exchanged. I never would have had the confidence to do that. To write it and actually put it out there for people to kind of judge it. I wouldn’t have had the confidence to do that if I wasn’t a part of this organization.

TR:

Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to get a bit nostalgic!

Audio: Can’t Stop Won’t Stop PCB

You see, for several years, I served as PCB Conference Coordinator. I used to circulate conference information via audio. It was called “The Blast”. One of the things I did was conclude with the conference details… it went something like;

The 2019 PCB Conference will take place in Harrisburg, PA at the Crown Plaza located on South Second Street – just two blocks from the Amtrak and Greyhound station. (I told you it’s going to be accessible!)

The PCB room rate is;
94 dollars per night which is for a room with a king size bed.

(For the aristocrats among us!)

102 dollars for a room with two queen size beds.

(For the money savers or the very friendly!)

The festivities begin on October 17 and last through October 20, 2019.

For all the details visit pcb1.org/conference
Or you can pop over to this episode’s blog post at ReidMyMind.com for all the links.

If you want to reach out to Sue, well she’s not on Twitter, yet! She is however on Facebook if you can spell her name correctly, Susan Lichtenfels.

Every time I speak with Sue it leaves me with such a warm fuzzy feeling! She’s always so kind and patient especially with me as I often ask things at least twice.

TR:

What’s the qualifications for that again?

SL:

Oh my God, you’re gonna get kicked in the face, I swear to God!

TR:

Laughs… I want you to just say it!
SL:

My legs may not work but I might just give you a kick in the face!
(The two laugh together!)

Audio: Can’t stop, won’t stop PCB Conference!…

Audio: Explosion … Blast!

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Outro

TR:
Peace!

Hide the transcript

Reid My Mind Radio: On Music & Identity with Graham Norwood

Wednesday, June 20th, 2018

Full body picture of Graham in all denim in front of a brown wooden background with a white framed door.
“It’s been a long time coming…” and we’re finally here. Back with another episode and finally bringing you a request from a listener. NYC based Musician Graham Norwood spoke with me about his music, the process of becoming a part of the disability community and more. Plus hear some samples of his music and become a fan!

Listen

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:
Hello RMM Radio family.
I hope you all are doing well.
And I mean that with real sincerity.
I honestly miss you!
Before we get into this week’s episode I feel as though I should apologize. I’m truly committed to producing this show so when things get
reprioritized in my life I still want to make it happen.
Missing the last installment really bothered me but we’re back today with a new episode and a special one at that.
This one itself is long over do
Last year I received a request from a listener of RMM Radio asking me to interview a musician she followed on Instagram.
I know, it sounds like I am a private investigator for hire minus the fees. Actually, I think it’s pretty cool. She wanted to know more about this person and thought he would be a good fit for the podcast. She was correct and for that I send a sincere thanks.
It took some time for he and I to find some common ground in our schedules, but because it was a request, I couldn’t drop the ball on this one.
So here we go.
Audio: RMMRadio Intro
TR:
You’re listening to Graham Norwood, a New York City based musician.
He currently also serves as the Director of Foundations and
Corporate Relations for the Partnership for the Homeless a
New York City based nonprofit.
GN: I grew up a town called San Mateo which is about twenty miles south of San Francisco. I have a condition called L.C.A. Labor’s congenital amaurosis which is similar to R.P. Actually I thought I had R.P. my whole life until I had genetic testing a couple years ago and they said it was actually L.C.A.
TR:
LCA or Leber’s congenital amaurosis
has similarities to RP or retinitis pigmentosa and many
eye doctors consider it to be an early-onset form of RP.
Just like RP or retinitis pigmentosa,
LCA is a slowly progressive condition that
also has several forms, each with
different genetic causes.
As Graham experienced this all of his life it was his normal.
GN:
I honestly didn’t give it that much thought. All the schools I went to really kind of were willing to provide whatever accommodations were necessary but I don’t know I didn’t really need a ton of accommodations. Growing up my sight was a little bit better. I was able to kind of follow along okay, so wasn’t it wasn’t that big of a deal.
TR:
Music came pretty natural to Graham.
Starting with the piano around 7 or 8 years old, moving on to the guitar at 10.
He later realized he could sing and since then music was a central part of his life.
GN:
Music is kind of like a level playing field where whether you can see or not is pretty irrelevant. If you sound good then it’s not that big of a deal. I don’t think I was ever consciously aware of that but you know looking back that’s very true. I think I was able to meet and play with a lot of you know really pro level musicians and they were very accepting of me there was never any sort of like “well you’re blind you can’t do this.” That’s not always the case, I mean, there are certain professions in careers where even if you maybe do have a work around and people are still kind of suspicious and the joblessness rate in the blind and low vision community is seventy percent. It’s very hard for people with low vision to build careers for themselves and they deal with a lot of prejudice even just sort of unconscious bias they really don’t have a sense of what the technological adaptations are how people go about their lives they try to empathize and try to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. But if you don’t have the experience of being blind and figuring out the work arounds and having a good problem solving skills then you have you know your first thought is like “oh my God if I couldn’t see I couldn’t do anything.” So they don’t realize how adaptable people are and how they come up with ways to get around all that stuff and be successful in spite of the little vision
TR in conversation with GN:
Do you find that that was in all aspects of music? So do you get involved in the recording side of it as well?
GN:
You know, I honestly don’t really I’ve never really been that good with kind of recording myself. Certain programs like Reaper, an audio software program that’s pretty good and pretty accessible for low vision people, but I’ve honestly never gotten too far down that road I’ve always worked with other engineers. I really like the kind of studio atmosphere being able to focus in on the performance and having somebody else kind of worry about the engineering side of it.
TR in conversation with GN:
I am recording you through Reaper right now. (laughs)
GN:
(Laughs) Right on! Yeah it’s cool I just spent six months at Colorado Center for the blind and they showed me a little bit of how to use Reaper. And yeah it was cool. I did a little bit of recording on that it’s a pretty cool program.
TR:
The Colorado Center for the Blind is located south of Denver.
Taken from their website;
the center provides innovative teaching techniques and philosophy
that continues to have Far-reaching effects on
the lives of blind people, taking them to new heights of independence.
I was a little surprised to hear that he just returned from the center since he has experienced vision loss his entire life.
His explanation made total sense and gives a bit of insight into his character.
What sounds like the type of guy who will fix a perceived flaw.
GN:
There were certain things that I didn’t really learn when I was growing up. My domestic skills were pretty limited. I didn’t really know how to cook I didn’t really learn that much about like how to clean you know keep an apartment clean and things like that. I got to a point where I really wanted to learn those things. Colorado school teaches that stuff they also teach Braille, they teach mobility assistive technology. Some stuff I found more immediately useful than other things. I mean, I’ve had a cane training, I’m pretty mobile so the mobility stuff I felt like I had a pretty good handle on. Certainly, the home management stuff was really helpful to me and you know has made a pretty big difference.
TR in conversation with GN:
Did you have a lot of contact with other people who are visually growing up?
GN:
No I didn’t at all. That’s a good question because that was actually the thing I think that was most beneficial to me or made of the biggest impression when I did finally get the Colorado school. It was the first time really that I had been around a lot of other blind and vision people. It’s really only been in the last maybe five years maybe not even maybe four years, that I’ve kind of become much more involved and aware of that blind and low vision community and also the larger kind of people with disabilities community. When I was going up I was the only blind person I knew. I think in a lot of ways it was it was great for me in the sense of I never really thought of myself in those terms and I kind of when I would come to a situation where it would be harder for me to do something than a sighted person I would just sort of figure it out. I didn’t put any barriers or restrictions on myself in terms of what I could do. But I think what I didn’t get was it was the vision thing was something that I always kind of marginalised and I never really embraced it as a part of who I was. At the end of the day it’s a pretty big thing. It’s certainly not what defines me but it’s definitely a significant piece of that identity. And so I met some people maybe starting four or five years ago I started working as a grant writer at The National Organization on Disability and getting more and more interested in the sort of employment issues for people with disabilities. I met a few pretty cool blind people and the best advice I got actually was that you know you got to meet other cool blind people and you know see these other blind people that are doing really interesting stuff. So I found that very inspiring to start meeting other people in the community.
TR:
And that’s exactly what he did.
By volunteering with Team Sea to See.
GN:
S E A to S E E. It’s for kind of very successful business people who are also blind who are athletes and they’re taking part in this crazy bike race. Basically the world’s toughest bike race for blind people and then for sighted people riding tandems coast to coast in nine days. I’ve been helping them with fundraising we got funding from Google and the American Foundation for the Blind. Gatorades helping us out and some other pretty cool sponsors. And it’s basically to raise awareness of this godlessness issue. That’s kind of indicative of my transition over the past few years to really feeling more a part of the blind and low vision and people with disabilities community and wanting to be more involved in that. I think the biggest issue that people have, people with disabilities have, in a lot of ways is visibility and just getting out there. I don’t think people without disability see enough of that. One in six Americans has a disability I think something like one to two percent of the population this is low vision. It’s not like one in fifty people that you know are blind that’s not true for most of the population. People just don’t have a sense of how blind and low vision people or people with other disabilities can really thrive and succeed in and do amazing stuff. I’m much more aware of this idea now and I’m wanting to get the word out and just wanting to live my life in public as a low vision person so that other people can kind of be aware of you know the fact that they we’re out there and we’re doing awesome stuff and people can just sort of revise what they think is possible for people with disabilities.
TR in conversation with GN:
Was there any one thing that made you go that way? Was there something that occurred in your own experience?
GN:
I don’t think strictly so. I had a long term relationship and I think on a very practical level I went from living with this person for eight years to suddenly living on my own again for the first time in a long time. And I think you know on a very practical level that was a wake up call in terms of like the things that I took for granted that this woman helped me out with suddenly I had to do myself. Honestly, it was just maturing a little bit and realizing that I had been marginalizing this big component of my identity because I was so I was so paranoid of the idea that someone would just label me as like “oh the blind guy” you know and I never wanted to be that I wanted people to think of me more broadly and see the whole person as opposed to just the disability. That was something that I intuitively felt even from a very young age and so I just never wanted to make a big deal out of it and never want to be engaged with it and as I got a little bit older I think I realised that, I understood why I did it and I see you know the motivation behind feeling that way but ultimately I thought “this is kind of silly.” I need to own this more and be proud of who I am and you know not ignore this one thing but really embrace it and turn it into a positive. In addition to starting to work for the National Organization of Disability I went to National Federation of the blind, a national convention in Florida one year. I don’t know if you’ve ever been it was like completely overwhelming to me it was like twenty five hundred blind people in a convention center just like absolute chaos you know people like crashing into each other and just like (laughs). It was it was so overwhelming when I first got there. But then it really struck me because it was basically just a bunch of people who were like “you know what screw it like I this is who I am and this is this is how I get around and this is the way I live my life.” I hope this doesn’t come across the wrong way but one of the takeaways for me was you know blindness isn’t always elegant, right? Like you use a cane to feel what’s in front of you and you know sometimes you whack a trash can and it’s like super loud. But that’s what the cane supposed to do and that’s how you get around and it may not be the most aesthetically beautiful way but it’s how we operate. I think I also felt like maybe I had been I had been trying to minimize those kinds of situations but I was going to such great lengths to not have those situations that I wasn’t authentically being myself and you know being just a person with a visual impairment who is out in the world and being independent and so that was my other, I think, turning point was seeing so many other blind people just living their lives and doing their thing and and being proud of it and not ashamed of it. So that was another thing that happened around the time that I started working for a National Organization of Disability that just made me realize you know this is how it is and there’s nothing to be ashamed of there’s nothing to avoid. I came away thinking this is a really beautiful thing that I haven’t been authentic and I haven’t been embracing and I want to start being more more real about being a person with a visual impairment. I don’t think there was any real like turning point that brought me to that it was it was a slow process and I really kind of started by like dipping my toe in the water and starting to reach out individually do a couple in the vision people and then it built from there. Then you know I had these these moments where I was like oh I get this now and I want to be more apart of this.
TR in conversation with GN:
I know I met so many people with low vision who straddle that line. And I’m not saying that they need to make a decision and go one way but it sounds like what you chose was the best for you to continue on and be your authentic self and sometimes I don’t think that people necessarily make that their choice I don’t think they’re being really authentic. And you know I’m trying not to judge necessarily but I’m also just saying like I see them that they’re not doing everything that they can and they’re hoping they holding on are grasping on to something. Do you understand what I’m saying?
GN: Oh absolutely and it’s hard because especially you know like I said I was born and grew up with this. And I think it’s probably really hard if somebody has you know normal or relatively normal vision and then they have to navigate that transition. Because you know let’s face it there’s a lot of stigmatization out there and you don’t necessarily want to suddenly identify as being a, well I avoid the term disabled person I was always say person with a disability because like smoke alarms get disabled and people are still people whether they have a disability or not. But yeah I mean you know I think I’ll always probably straddle that line. But the important thing for me was was the realization that I could exist on both sides of it and I didn’t have to make a choice and when I want to I’m fully qualified to be part of the blind and low vision community and there’s nothing wrong with that and people except me there and I didn’t know if they would it and then I realize that they totally do. And if I want to just hang out with all of my sighted friends and I don’t want to talk about or think about blindness I can do that too. For the longest time I felt like I didn’t belong in either world and then eventually I realized that I belonged in both.
TR:
It’s pretty obvious that raising awareness of blindness and disability issues is a high priority for Graham. I can respect that.
Learning to self-identify as a person with a disability is a process.
It begins with real self-examination and truthfulness.
Based on those I have spoken to who have gone through the process, it appears it leads to a greater level of comfort in one’s own skin.
In a way, Graham’s relationship with music is mirroring his life.
He traditionally played a more supportive role as a musician.
Playing in bands and producing records for others.
He’s currently working on his own album and he hopes will
get picked up by a label and released later this year.
You can learn more about his upcoming album, show dates and more.
GN:
My website is just my name Graham Norwood Music dot com (spells out grahamnorwood.com ). Custom tracks up on there I put my upcoming gigs on there know we will be putting up some announcements about the album when it comes out later this year people can email me through that and that’s that’s probably the best way.
TR:
Producing this episode probably began sometime last summer. It took some time to actually reach Graham, then scheduling problems, then my back issues and more recently my other commitments.
With certain people I interview, I can’t help but think how effective it would be to have the opportunity to really hang out with the person and observe them in their environment.
I suspect I would have seen relationships between his day job,
his self-discovery and acceptance of his identity as a person with vision loss and his music of course.
I couldn’t help but hear some of my own story in Graham’s.
I always mention the impact attending the state conference of the Pennsylvania Council of the Blind had on my life.
While it wasn’t as large as the national conferences and conventions it was impactful.
Meeting the cool blind people who were living productive lives.
Observing their level of comfort in their own skin made me know it was possible that I too could attain that.
I’m reminded of hearing about these cool blind people from
prior guests on Reid My Mind Radio including Josh Miele, Chancey Fleet and more.
I know Using my white cane to navigate effectively may not look very smooth at times.
Occasionally, I might mess up but that’s ok. I get better. Most importantly I’m better at accepting when I get a bit thrown off.
Like I did with this podcast.
Just to let you know I have some episodes coming up in the next few weeks so please stay tuned.
Remember, 2BlindMics; the number 2 capital B, lind capital M, ics.
This is the show I co-host with my podcast partner Doctor Dre. It’s right down the block on your local podcast app. Give it a listen and feel free to let me know what you think good or bad. I’m interested in hearing from the RMMRadio listeners. We have a lot of interviews with some of the rap artists and others involved in the Yo MTV Raps experience.
I really do appreciate feedback. it’s the only real way to improve…
Even if it’s something I disagree with, I can decide to not do anything about it but at least I was informed.
Sort of like Graham making the decision to go to the Colorado center to improve his own skills. You have to respect that. We’re supposed to fix our flaws and become the best person we can be.
You can do the same by subscribing to this podcast – Reid My Mind Radio – remember that’s R E I D.
It’s available just about wherever you get podcasts plus Sound Cloud, Stitcher and Tune In Radio.
And I plan to talk to you soon!
Peace!
Audio: Graham:
Whether you can see or not is pretty irrelevant, if you sound good it’s not that big of a deal.

Hide the transcript

Reid My Mind Radio: Be Their Eyes?

Wednesday, March 30th, 2016

A picture of a Samsung phone in the middle of a corn field...Corny!

On my mind this week, an advertising campaign called #BeTheirEyes from Samsung. It’s taking place in Hong Kong. Samsung’s asking sighted individuals to take pictures of various monuments and describe them for people who are visually impaired…

Take a listen to my thoughts on this endeavor and let me know what you think about the campaign. Let’s chat about it in the comments.

 

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