Doing Your Thing With Disability: Marguerite Woods – Here I Am

A full body shot of marguerite Woods smiling brightly while waiting for a fresh protein drink order.  She is seated sideways on a black & Silver upholstered chaise lounge with her right elbow slightly leaning towards the rolled back of the lounge. Marguerite is dressed in white slacks and a black blouse with white panels along the yolk and sleeves, black sunshades, beaded mecklace, large  silver hoop earrings & bangle accessorizing her outfit and bald head.  Behind & off to her right side is, a small blonde wood bookcase with a painting of Bob Marley on the wall above.
Can I kick it? (Yes you can!)

Welcome to the kick off episode for the first season of 2022; Doing Your Thing with Disability!

In this series, we’re not talking about overcoming blindness, getting passed our disability, no, we’re going to hear from some awesome people who do the things they love to do and they’re doing it with their disability. That’s a whole different energy.

We begin with a Reid My Mind Radio alumni, Marguerite Woods, who’s all about energy. She was last on the podcast during the 2021 Flipping the Script on Audio Description season.

I just knew during that first conversation, I had to have her back on to discuss more of her experiences as an advocate, philosophy as it pertains to blindness and disability. Plus I wanted to hear more about her trip to India and all that meant to her.

In this episode we get into self-reflection, a kinder gentler advocacy, love of self and skin bleaching? You’re going to have to listen in…

Listen

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:

— Theme from Welcome back Kotter
— A hip hop drum loop…

Greetings, Reid My Mind Radio Family.

— from song, “Welcome Back!”

I feel like I’m home. Well, I am.

You know what I mean right?

That familiar place where you’re comfortable, your needs are being met and you feel loved and appreciated. That’s what I want you to feel when you rock with Reid My Mind Radio!

Let’s start this off right!
Can I kick it?

— “Yes you can”

Can I kick it?

— “Yes you can”

I’m excited to kick off this first season. If you caught the Black History Month bonus episode, you already know, this season is called Doing Your Thing with Disability. Now I know some of y’all may say that a bit differently as in Doing’ Your Thang with Disability! You should know, that indeed is the feeling behind the season. I chose not to formally name it that way because not everyone gets that energy right when saying it. If you do appreciate and respect that vibe, by all means feel free. If you do not or if you question whether you’re qualified to do so, well, don’t it’s cool, say it phonetically. Doing your thing with disability.

What I hope to deliver during this season are 4 episodes with varying examples of people pursuing different goals in their lives for a variety of reasons. We’re touching on Accessibility, entrepreneurship, music expression, self-discovery and more.

I encourage you to listen between the words.
(Filtered Voice:) Is that a thing?
Sort of like reading between the lines?

Throughout each episode, the energy is not about getting passed or overcoming, nah, that’s what they talk about over there…

The way we get down, right here, we’re doing it with disability – and to me that’s something to celebrate.

— Reid My Mind Theme Music

TR in Conversation with Marguerite:
This first season of Reid My Mind Radio in 2022 is all about doing your thing with disability. And I want to know, what does that mean to you?

Marguerite:
Wow. It to me, it means being my authentic self. And disability is just a part of my shell. And it’s a part of the filter that I’m experiencing this physical life through. And so I can’t escape that. So it’s a part of who I am. It’s just not all of who I am.

— Music begins, a mid tempo smooth jazzy Hip Hop beat.

TR:

Who she is? Well, this is Marguerite Woods.

Marguerite:

I am a woman, a black woman with many interests, and mainly, I am having an experience as a spiritual being in my humanity, and so the roles that come up for me are absolutely a mom, family member friend, a community person.

She, her are my pronouns. And I have on a suit jacket, I think it’s black and white, I have one little flower under it with little fringe around the top yoke.

I normally wear earrings, because I like them, I’m a little artsy, and they usually feel really creative to me. And I have on, dark shades.

I am black. I am bald. I am beautiful. And I am bold.

TR:

It’s been a while now that I’ve been incorporating image descriptions as part of the podcast.
I know there are some who may wonder why, it is a podcast after all.
A big part of that is identity for me. I want you to know as much about the people I’m presenting here on the podcast.
Truth is, sighted folks still get the opportunity to access this information via a nonvisual medium, because podcasts require an image to accompany the audio file.

But there’s more than identity in what we hear in an image description.

TR in Conversation with Marguerite:
Your outfit today, is there any particular reason that you wore what you wore?

Marguerite:
I decided deliberately to wear what I’m wearing. It feels comfortable. I think it looks good. And we talked about possibly video at the end. I wanted to project a certain image. I wanted to feel a certain way while doing the video. I feel very feminine. My outfit helps me to feel like that.

And the earrings are just an added touch that I really like, because I’m bald, I think that it highlights my frame.

TR:

Being intentional, goes beyond her wardrobe choices. Marguerite is thoughtful with her words. It’s one of the things that really stands out when first meeting her. It’s evident in the way she approaches each of the questions posed to her. Like…

TR in Conversation with Marguerite:

How do you identify with disability?

Marguerite 04:

Wow Thomas, that’s a loaded question, how do I identify with disabilities?
It’s been a progression of things and when where I am today is because of that progression.

So I don’t want this to sound flat or linear. I arrived here.
I’ve been toying with how do I talk about what we’ve been calling disabilities. And as I think about them my blindness and and others with a variety of different things. What I keep coming up with is this whole idea of diversity. We have diverse abilities.

my relationship is that whatever I’m dealing with, and in my case, it’s blindness, it’s given me an opportunity to explore the life that I’m living from a very different perspective, than I started out exploring life. living life, because I think of each of us as an explorer, or pioneer in our particular part of life.

TR:

That exploration can take her to foreign places, but much of it is within herself. In fact, she sees it as selfish.

Marguerite:

Everything that I experience, think about relate to is totally through my filters. And that in itself is selfish. But not in the way that I grew up thinking about the word selfish.

There’s no way to relate to life and be neutral, because I’m relating to it through my filters. And every other person is as well. And the best I can do with that is expand my filters, and expand the understanding, from having experiences with other folks.
TR:

If you prefer your ideas presented in a more concrete form, Marguerite offers a bit of a disability toolkit.

Marguerite:

in a practical way, the way I relate to disabilities is understanding that each one of us has to have an ideal of what we’d like to be able to do, where we find ourselves how we’d like to be able to manage whatever it is we’re trying to move through. And so, philosophy, some skills, some technology and some techniques, and absolutely some guidance in any way that you can find it to help you better do what it is you’re trying to do.

TR:

One of those skills that Marguerite has built over the years is advocacy. It goes back to her childhood growing up in Baltimore City, the area Marguerite describes as being designated for African Americans.

Marguerite:
There was a lot of feelings of just being done wrong, not being treated well. There was an energy of distrust, anger. But in the middle of all of that, I enjoyed the connection with family members and community members. And this sense of looking out for each other, a desire to move forward in a positive way, enjoying whatever life had to offer. And I felt that the elders in my community, were very interested in assuring that their children, and the younger people in the community were able to enjoy the things they felt they had not been able to.

— Music ends

And so the whole advocacy around that felt noble and it felt right to me.

TR:

That relationship with the community equipped Marguerite with a strong solid foundation.

Marguerite:

I grew up through the elementary and high school years, with all black teachers in the black community. And I could feel the desire for them to give us their best. And they wanted us to be sent into a world with our best doing our best.

I ended up in senior high school going to a predominantly white school on the other side of town. I deliberately chose that because I wanted to know what it felt like to have that experience. I was curious and interested,

When I did get to that senior high school, I felt like I was very well equipped, even though I began to hear stories that said we were marginalized, and that we were lacking.

TR:

Stories meant to weaken that foundation or penetrate her spirit.

Advocacy became more than a way to impact her community, it helped her realize things about herself.

Marguerite:

For me advocacy was about fighting for the underdog. And so it felt aggressive. And I thought it was very necessary and that there was a certain way that you had to go about it in order to gain the results that you were asking for.

It didn’t feel good in my spirit.

That anger and their venom and using it to ask for what you wanted. While it seemed to be effective, it was not a good space for me.

TR:

Over time, Marguerite came to realize that in the way she and
so many of us view advocacy, trained her to only consider what
was not working.

Marguerite:

it started to make sense to me that if that’s what you’re pointing out all the time, that’s all you’re setting yourself up to see. And so when things are coming, that are, what you do want, how will you recognize if all you’re focused on are the things that don’t work?

Sometimes the things that I’m wanting to experience, they reveal themselves in small ways.

The more that I’m open to understanding and realizing those smaller things, the momentum can pick up, but if I don’t recognize it, then how will I be able to enjoy it becoming larger in my space, in my experience for myself and for my community.

TR:

Yet only focusing on the things you want or those things that feel good can prove to be quite unfulfilling.

Marguerite:

I’ve got to own how I feel, and accept that as where I am. And recognize that I want to be in a space, that feels a lot better. But that causes me to have to identify, what is it that I’m asking for? And I’m telling you that that’s not been the easiest thing to do. Because even when I’m talking to people that I asked, What do you want, we even talk about what we want in the negative. I know most people can easily tell you what we don’t want, but ask them what they do want. It’s a very different conversation. And so that was not just a conversation for others. That was a conversation for myself, as well.

— Music begins, piano keys leading into a mid tempo smooth bouncy Hip Hop beat.

TR:

This really seems about knowing yourself. And there’s some real value in that.

Marguerite:

I’m getting to the space in the place where I have an opinion, I have a thought and it’s authentic.

You have a thought and an opinion and it is yours, no matter what I think about it, it is yours.

I do have the right to my opinions and my thoughts. And I want to be respected. So if I’m going to respect myself, I’ve got to respect you. Even if I don’t agree with you. I’ve got to respect that you have it. But that does not stop me from asking for what I want. That’s how you see it. And you can be very right. And I’m not telling you that you’re wrong. But I’m asking for what I want and what I need, which is a very different space.

I need to articulate and be really clear about what I’m asking for. So I have to keep asking, and keep defining and keep gaining the clarity.

I’m not recommending this as a way for anybody to go, I’m just merely trying to tell you what’s happening with me.

TR:

She really is on an exploration.

Her advocacy continues to have practical applications.
As the president of the At Large Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind in Maryland, she’s ready when necessary to respond to issues of particular concern to her community.

Marguerite:
We discovered that the state of Maryland was planning to discontinue bus transportation from Baltimore City. To the surrounding counties, for the most part, and they quietly were holding community meetings.

I was thinking about my community that I actually live in not just the blind community, but the community of Baltimore City, which is being affected. And I knew about a group that I been in connection with for many years, I would go there and talk to them.

TR:

The organization is called BDS healthy aging networks. Marguerite built a relationship with them over the years where she along with a group of members from her chapter would speak to the organization as a way to allow people to see into the community.

Marguerite:

I knew that they had gone virtual, I got in touch with the woman who runs it, Betsy Simon, and told her what I’d like to do. So she invited me to the call to share with the partners that met with her and the partners were different community agencies, city and state agencies, as well as community organizations and community leaders. And ask them to participate in the testimonies as well.

Well, I’m not exactly sure what happened. But that idea of dropping the bus service was discontinued.

TR:

There’s real power in organizing with those who share a mutual interest.

Marguerite continued attending the meetings of the network – which extends out to many different agencies and organizations. Their main mandate is advocating for older adults in the city.
They recently showed their ability to organize and get things done after the city made a failed attempt to help vaccinate older adults for Covid 19.

Marguerite:

One of the ladies in our group had been writing directly to the CVS is in the Walgreens saying, Look, we in Baltimore City want vaccinations and our officials are not helping us. Can you help us get vaccinated? So they were ignoring her letters and Walgreens somehow had these extra vaccinations, like 850 of them. They went to the Baltimore City Health Department and said, Listen, we’ve got these vaccinations. We can show up on Saturday with the pharmacists. You get the people.

This was on a Tuesday, the Health Department told them no, there’s no way we can do that. It’s not enough time.

They remembered the woman in our group who had been writing to them. They did shout it out to her. And she got in touch with Betsy Simon. And she sent a call out to everybody on her list. Can we do this? And so we said, yes.

TR:

With Some quick planning and putting people into action, they got it done.

Marguerite:

Advocacy, asking for what you want. And that’s what that woman did. She kept asking for what she wanted, in the midst of them saying, No, we can’t. And the health department did not help us, they said that they couldn’t do it. And after we did it, it showed that we could.

TR:

She continues showing up to Zoom calls. Reminding organizations to make sure their materials and information is getting to the low vision and blind community. She’s actually seeing progress in this area.

Again, the advocacy work teaches her things about herself and how that can benefit others.

Marguerite:

I think that the key for me is to take what I’ve been able to get in terms of training, philosophy and skills and so forth. And just come right back into my community and be a person in the community teaching from my example.

— Music Ends

If it helps the blind community, it’s helping the rest of the community as well. Those things are created and envisioned by the blind. And so we are contributors to what the society is and what it can become.

Music begins, a bouncy upbeat Hip Hop track.

TR:

Are you socially Reidsponsible?

— Sample from Blades of Glory:
“I don’t even know what that means.
No one knows what it means. But it’s provocative.”

TR:

It’s true, no one knows what it means, not even me, I just think it sounds cool!

Cool, like the Reid My Mind Radio Giveaway happening right now on Twitter.

We started in January on Facebook. Then moved to Instagram and during the month of March we’re focusing on the final platform, Twitter.
All you have to do to be entered into the drawing is like and retweet any of the posts I tweet out related to the Reid My Mind Radio Giveaway during the month of March.
So go on over and follow @tsreid and again, like and retweet any of the posts related to the giveaway.

Our social media manager, Annie, will gather all the names at the end of the month and we will draw a winner, which we’ll announce in April.

During the next episode in March, we’ll announce the winner of the Instagram contest.

Make sure you follow ReidMyMindRadio on Facebook and Instagram

Oh, wait, that’s being socially Reidsponsible!

Now, let’s get back to the episode!

— Music ends with a bouncing base drum echoing into silence.

TR in Conversation with Marguerite:
So during your first time on the podcast, you suddenly and quite nonchalantly dropped this thing about spending some time in India?

Can you share the story of how that came about? And what you actually did in India?

Marguerite:
I went to something in Baltimore called Blind industries and services in Maryland, which is a training facility for adults and older adults who want to gain skills and be able to manage blindness.

When I finished there, the director at the time sent me an email and in the subject, it said, only two days left.

TR:
She actually discovered and read the email the next day.

That’s when she found out she had one day left to apply to the International Institute for Social Entrepreneurs. It’s in Trivandrum, which is in the southernmost part of India.

Marguerite:

I got these thrill bumps all over me when I was reading it. It just filled me up.

You had to have it in, I think that day. I’m amazed at myself that I was able to do all that and I was able to submit it. And you know, they sent back and asked for some more information, I sent it to them.

And later on, they sent me a letter and told me that I was accepted and I was going to get a full scholarship to come there.

— Music begins, a dramatic introduction that feels like an eastern vibe that opens to a rhythmic electronic dance track.

TR:

Marguerite didn’t tell anyone about applying to the program.
That is until she received her acceptance letter.
p
Coincidentally, that good news arrived near her birthday. So when her family asked what she wanted to do, she was prepared.

Marguerite:

I want to go to an Indian restaurant.

When we sat down, we were talking and eating. And When they got to wishing me a happy birthday, I told them that I wanted to share something with them and told them that I would be going to India, and they were all shocked. They were like, Who are you going with? Who are these people? Bla bla bla.

Mind you, I’m totally blind at that point. I’m going alone , I don’t know the people, whether they met them online. And so they were like, oh, no, this, this, you’re not doing that. And they had all these what ifs, and no, they were really afraid for me. But something that I learned a while back and was able to practice is when you get an idea about something that you want to do, and, and you’re trusting that it feels good inside of you. That is not the time to share it. Because you’ve heard of dream killers. And they don’t even mean to be they were very good intentioned, but they will kill your dream before it gets off the ground.

TR:

Many of us have fallen victim to or have been a Dream Killer.

Perhaps one or two bodies.

Maybe you know some real serial killers. You know, those who just throw daggers at anyone with an idea or a plan to step out and try something new.

Chances are, they don’t mean to discourage. It’s more about a fear or lack of information on they’re part.

The point is, we need to protect our dreams, like they’re our babies.

Marguerite:

You can’t share it when it’s in it’s infancy, you got to let it mature. And so that’s what I did. And when it felt solid in me, and I’d worked out my own kinks about it and realize I had no fear and no reservations. So when they came with all that they had, it didn’t sway me because I had already worked it through, and I was solid and how I felt and so I let them go through what they needed to, as I continue to get myself prepared to go.

TR:

She received the news in July and left for India in January.

Marguerite:

I stayed there for a year came back in December. It was quite an experience.

I got to work with NGO’s, Non-Government Organizations. They’re sort of like our charitable organizations.

We worked with gay and lesbian organization.

In India, as you might imagine being a, quote unquote, third world country.
homosexuality is not something that is readily accepted.

With all of the challenges that we have here in the United States, the magnitude of it there is beyond the scope of what we can expect. It’s so dangerous. But these people are so adamant about being able to live their lives out loud, that they’re risking their lives for even just saying that they belong to an organization like that.

TR:

Wherever you go in the world, marginalized groups exist. The language and faces may appear to be different but underneath it all things look familiar.

Marguerite:
In India, lots of people wanted to bleach their skin.
— Music ends with a crescendo cymbal crash

TR in Conversation with Marguerite:
For the folks who haven’t seen, they may not necessarily know that the complexion of Indians are black.
I mean, some of them might not. Right?

Marguerite:
Yes. Yes, yes. Yes. And some of them are very dark in their complexion, and they want to be they want to be white. They want to be fair skin, it’s important to them, and so they do bleaching creams. I’ve heard of people who families would make these potions, so when the woman was pregnant, she would drink these potions that would help to ensure that her child would be fair when it was born.

TR in Conversation with Marguerite:
Oh, my goodness. Drinking it? Man, woof!

TR:

To get a sense of how much of an issue this is, Marguerite shares some description of a commercial on Indian television.

Marguerite:

It was a woman in a park, she’s walking with her boyfriend. She was darker complexion. And he was fair. And he sees a, another girl in the park. And she’s fair skinned. And so he drops the arm of his darker skin girlfriend. And he dances off with this fair skinned girlfriend. The darker girl is hurt and upset.
So she gets this cream, and she uses it for a prescribed period of time. And he sees her again, and she’s fair skinned now.
So he drops the other person, and now they’re happily ever after.

TR in Conversation with Marguerite:
This was a commercial?

Marguerite:
Yeah.
TR in Conversation with Marguerite:

On regular TV?

Marguerite 46:21

Yeah, yeah.

The idea was to go and fight against the companies that were making creams. And my thing was, well, before you can fight against the company that’s making the creams. I think we need to educate the people, let’s start with the children, because they were doing it with kids as well. And they were doing it with the boys as well as the girls. And so we went into the schools, and we were talking to them about melanin and for the schools that we went to none of them knew about melanin.

TR in Conversation with Marguerite:
Do you want to break that down a little bit? It’s well, just power of melanin.

Marguerite 47:21
Melanin is such a protective coating and that a lot of things can’t even happen without a melanin protection.

I remember, way back when I was much younger, hearing and reading about first the spaceships using the idea of melanin as a protective coating on some of their vessels.

Even here in this United States, even though we have it, there’s not a whole lot of talk about melanin and how powerful it is, and how wonderful it is.

TR:

You can tell people about Melanin, about a rich history where people who look like them weren’t colonized, robbed of their resources, but ultimately, it’s about self-love.

Marguerite:

My idea. And the group that I worked with, we felt like, it was just as important for individuals to decide that they wanted to embrace who they are, right where they are, and fall in love with that before, you can start telling a company not to sell bleaching creams.
Until people are educated and can find a way to feel good about themselves. It to me is a moot point. I don’t think you can do one without the other.

TR:

This problem isn’t at all unique to India. It was a bigger thing here in the states, several islands in the Caribbean including Jamaica and the Dominican Republic.

( FILTERED VOICE:) White supremacy is a hell of a drug!

— Music begins, an inspiring ambient track that grows as it progresses.

Marguerite:
We’re not supposed to be the same. And because one group is one way and another group is a different way, does not at all indicate that you are better than or less than the next group, although we use that as our vehicle to control and manipulate and because it has worked so well. It continues to happen that way. But we can’t just throw our hands up, we have to I think, continue to help people understand that it’s okay to embrace yourself where you are.

TR:

Embracing yourself as in the color of your skin whether you’re in India, Africa, the Caribbean or here in the states. The texture of your hair, your sexuality and yes your disability.

It’s what makes adjusting to disability so challenging for many. You may not even realize how you felt about disability and that can then impact how you feel about yourself.

Marguerite:

When I became blind, I realized that I had some very negative thoughts and feelings about blind individuals that I did not realize I had. I realized that when I saw a blind person, I felt something that I didn’t bother to identify. But what I did recognize was that I was glad it was not me. And that was with any disability, or anything that wasn’t held up as a beautiful thing, by the society norms, and that even meant, the color of my skin, the texture of my hair, all of that was a part of it. And those were feelings that were held inside in secret, depending on what company I was in. And so blindness exposed me not just to the blindness, but to the other beliefs that I was holding. And what I also discovered was that I could not really know what I was holding on to, unless I had an experience that brought it out. Because I tended to think that I was who I wanted to be not able to see who I actually was being.

As an adult, I had to find my way to that. I remember having to make a decision, a literal decision, that I wanted to live as a person with blindness. It was very different from living as a person with low vision. Total blindness was a totally different experience for me! And so I had to make a decision for me!

TR:

You know this isn’t about which level of visual acuity is more challenging, right?
it’s not a competition between disabilities, in fact, it has less to do with any external factor at all.

Not confronting the question was the source of anxiety.

Marguerite:

I just remember saying to myself, I have got to make a decision about how I want to be because
the anxiety was because I did not want to be blind. But I’m blind.

I really did know that the question for me to answer was, do you want to live as a blind person, and I realized I had not made up my mind, which also contributed to the panic attacks that I was having. I was scared to know what I really thought.

that was a very traumatic time for me. And I went through that solo, because I couldn’t talk to anybody about it. And I had tried to find a counselor at one point, but I couldn’t find counselors that knew blindness from the experience. And so I didn’t trust them enough to share that.

I had done enough spiritual practices during my life, that I use the tools that I gained. And I made a decision that I did want to live. So here I am.

TR in Conversation with Marguerite:

Here you are! (Chuckles)

Marguerite:

Here I am… Yes…. (chuckles)

— Music ends into momentary silence

— Music begins, a lively up beat R & B drum opening to a happy groove.

TR in Conversation with Marguerite:

That’s right, that’s right!

Marguerite:

Yeh! (Reflectively says) Here I am!

TR in Conversation with Marguerite:
Marguerite, because of all the things you do, to advocate, coming on a podcast to share and help others, doing your thing with disability. You Ms. Marguerite are an official member of the Reid My Mind Radio family.

You was already official but I don’t know, should I make more levels of officiality?
The two share in a silly laugh.

TR:

I truly respect and appreciate Marguerite for her honesty and sharing her wisdom and insight that I just know, will be of real value to many.

In fact, check out how generous she wanted to be when I asked her to share contact information.

Marguerite:

So you can call me you can call my mobile number which is 443-271-1668

TR in Conversation with Marguerite:
Marguerite! This is on the internet. Are you sure you want to put your number out there? Laughing…

Marguerite:
Oh no, no, I guess I don’t, I guess I don’t…

They can go to the NFB page NFBMD.org.

TR:
Orr go ahead and email her and tell her how much you appreciate her valuable perspective!
Marguerite:

MWoods719 at Gmail.

TR:

I don’t think there’s anyone I’d rather have kicked off this season with more than Ms. Marguerite Woods.

Did you listen between the words?

(Filtered Voice:) Dude, I really don’t think that’s a term.

She shared valuable ideas. Some were very practical like;
suggesting we create our toolkit to manage aspects of our lives.

And others were more philosophical like;
– exploring life through blindness and other identities…
– Choosing to think about and speak in terms of what we want.

That to me is so Powerful and honestly feels important for me where I am in my life right now.
You know, let me put that into practice right now.
I want you to share this episode with at least one other person. And let them know they can follow or subscribe to the podcast, just as you did, to make sure they don’t miss any episodes.
I want you to tell them, they can do that wherever they get podcasts.
Let them know they can find transcripts and more over at ReidMyMind.com.
And of course, make sure they know , that’s R to the E I D…
— (D! And that’s me in the place to be!, Slick Rick)

Marguerite:

Like his last name!

TR in conversation with Marguerite:
Ouu! I like that!
(The two laugh)

Audio: Reid My Mind Outro

Peace!

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