Posts Tagged ‘Representation’

Young Gifted Black & Disabled – Unmasking Masculinity

Wednesday, December 29th, 2021

On a dark and light orange background with water droplets, lays a white mask with the right eye whole cut out down to the nose. Starting on the outline of the nose is the word "Unmasking" in caps and below that is the word "Masculinity".

Only one way to conclude this first season of Young Gifted Black & Disabled. The original YGBD brothers;
Headshot of AJ Murray Co-producer, AJ Murray
D'arcee Charington - a dark skinned black man with blonde dreads and a black grey coat smiling at the camera. D’arcee Charington Neal
are back!

Our O.G’s join me to take the mask off masculinity and see what’s behind it race, sexuality, gender norms, the patriarchy and of course disability.

We considered releasing this as two separate episodes, but settled for one. Coming in at slightly over 43 minutes, longer than your average RMM Radio episode, we hope it sparks some conversation.

Content/Trigger Warning
This episode does contain adult language, references to sex and traumatic situations. Please be advised.

Reid My Mind Radio will return in the first quarter of 2022! Until then, please be sure to subscribe to the podcast on your favorite app, to assure you don’t miss an episode.

Wishing you all a very happy holiday season and a healthy and prosperous new year.

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Transcript

Show the transcript

— Music begins, a cymbal crash launches a calm ambient melody which leads to a smooth Hip Hop beat.

Siri:

Ready to send it?

TR in Conversation with AJ/D’arcee:
Yes.

Siri:

Ok, sent!

TR in Conversation with AJ/D’arcee:

Aaight, cool!

You don’t know about Black Siri?

D’arcee:

… No!

TR in Conversation with AJ/D’arcee:

Aaight, hold on, let me have Siri say something.

Hey Siri, what time is it?

Siri:

2:09 PM.

D’arcee:

Stop! (Extended so Pronounced, Stoooooop!)

(Thomas, D’arcee and AJ all laugh…)

TR in Conversation with AJ/D’arcee:

That’s the blackest it’s gonna get, but that’s Black Siri.

D’arcee:

Oh…. I’m dead….

TR in Conversation with AJ/D’arcee:

If you go into the Siri settings, it’s Voice 3.

D’arcee:

I’m about to change that shit right now! Woo hoo!
TR:
! that really is a thing y’all!
Apple added some additional voices for Siri.
And voice 3 is a Black Man.
That reaction you heard is common.
At least in my experience specifically among those who are Black.
The laughter, was excitement.
Maybe you’re thinking, why would a Black Siri voice matter?
Well, Black voices matter!
Secondly, , please go back to an earlier episode in this series featuring Lateef McCleod for a much more detailed explanation.

Simply put, voices matter, representation matters.
If it doesn’t to you perhaps you’ve always been represented.

If this is your first time here and you’re not familiar with my voice, I’m Thomas Reid, producer and host of this podcast.

You’re just in time for the final episode in the YGBD series or
Young Gifted Black & Disabled.
This all began with an episode I co-produced last year with
Mr. Ajani Jerod AKA AJ! ;
— Sample AJ from “AJ Scratch” Kurtis Blow

A Reid My Mind Radio family member and alumni.

And it seemed right to team up again to close the series.

Since that last production in 2020, AJ caught me up on some of his personal and career highlights in 2021.

Among several positive highlights in his acting career, AJ has a role in a film released this year, Best Summer ever, which garnered a fair amount of attention.

He’s working in a new position that gives him a chance to really flex his creative muscles and advance opportunities for people with disabilities.
And join me in congratulating AJ as a new homeowner!

TR:

Having a job or even better, a career,
providing shelter and safety for one’s family;
in the minds of men, these are a few things impacting how we define masculinity.

Before we get into it, I need to let you know,
we talk about some things that may not be appropriate for young listeners and possibly triggering for others including sexual content and trauma.
The conversation covers a range of emotions. Yeh, real men have those!

— Reid My Mind Radio Theme Music

TR in Conversation with AJ/D’arcee: 04:07
So let’s jump into it then, man. So you good AJ?

AJ:

Yeah, I’m good.

TR in Conversation with AJ/D’arcee: 04:07

We’ve all been here before. So we just gonna kind of keep it pushing. So brief intro. name, image description, D’arcee, do you wanna kick it off?

D’arcee:

Sure. So, my name is DRC Cherington Neil, I am a dark skin black man with purple dreads and a shaved head in various shades of purple. And I am currently sitting at my desk in my apartment, and I’m wearing a gray t shirt that says love is equal.

TR in conversation with AJ and D’arcee:

Professor Purple!

TR:
He’s an ABD Doctoral student, meaning all but dissertation or he’s almost done!

We could have went with a royal theme for this episode as AJ wore a purple shirt.

I figured it made sense to go with Black. Nahmean!

TR in Conversation with AJ/D’arcee:

so DRC, how do you sort of qualify masculinity?

D’arcee:
There you go starting with the life altering. I mean, if you had asked me that, like 10 years ago, I think my answer would be wildly different. Because I think, people, the answer to that question is literally dependent upon their own experiences. And I think so much of that experience is tied to age.

If you ask a 16 year old what’s masculinity, they gonna get you this bullshit answer about cars and sports and girls.

all sports ball is the same to me. I will say I don’t care about no cars, but my electric BMW begs to differ..

I honestly believe that being a queer person informs this more than being a straight person, y’all can tell me I’m wrong. But as a man who loves other men, it radically redefines your understanding of what it is to be masculine.

TR:

Woh! I can just imagine the reaction of some people to that statement. But I think if you’re going to explore the definition of masculinity then you have to be open minded and hear people out. No matter where it comes from.

D’arcee:
it’s like that whole phrase, we say, in the community, masc for masc, it’s the word masculine, M A S C.

It’s a toxic ass phrase, that basically means traditional masculinity need only apply.

People, expertly weaponize this phrase of masculinity, to mean “traditional” six pack, square jaw, scruff, kind of masculinity.
What you’re talking about is the flavor of masculinity. All forms of masculinity are value. And that includes trans masculinity too!
Folks want to try to come for me on my DMs I said what I said.

TR:
D’arcee can handle himself. But this is my house and I feel accountable and protective of my family. So be advised, you come for him you coming for me.

Too much? I’m trying to be a better man, my daughters help point out my toxic masculinity.

I hope that didn’t come across violent, but if you have issues that’s your problem. No need to share them.

AJ:

I guess when I think about masculinity, I think of strength in terms of not only physically or spiritually, being able to hold it down and always be accountable and always there to always ever serve.

If I can get into some stereotypes, when I think of masculinity, of course, I think of ego, being braggadocious. Being athletic, not having a job.

TR:

Well, AJ raised the issue of stereotypes, let’s just put them on the table.

AJ:

The negative stereotypes of black man is lazy. Good for nothing.
You get into the historical stereotypes like studs, Black man is in jail, or black men aren’t gonna take care of the kids.

D’arcee:

I think that people associate Black men with rage, gangs and violence.

A lot of people think of black men as being ultra conservative.
I don’t mean politically. Behaviorally, very inflexible. This is where black homophobia comes from.

A lot of it comes from black men. And the stereotype of inflexibility which, in turn gets translated into strength. In this weird, warped way.

There are some positive ones too. People think of black men as being stylish. They think of them as being very well dressed. But that comes with the side effect of they think of Black men as flashy.

AJ:

When you say that I think of that episode of Living Single, when Kyle, I think he was a mutual funds manager. This other brother really had issues with the twist of his hair. I thought that was a very good episode, because it shows the internal struggle
[between us and other black people.
]
Because it wasn’t the white bosses, it was the other brother on the team that told him to cut his hair.

D’arcee: 55:57

I’ve been in that situation. And it was extremely uncomfortable.

When I worked at the University of Maryland, I worked the front desk in the English department and the chair, this white woman she walked in. There were two black faculty standing in the doorway when she walked in.

It was the last day of school and I had just cut my hair.

I’ve had dreads for most of my adult life in various ways. And they had never really seen me without dreds , because that’s a years long process.
Oh, she said, you got your haircut? And I said, Yep, I did. And then she said, you look like a grown up now.

The black faculty in the door, were like, Oh, it’s a third rounder, she was like, what? Oh, come on, like, you guys know what I mean?

AJ: 57:07
Back in the day. I had longer hair. So I had braids, because I was trying to get my swag on and that way.

This one lady, she was a black woman. And she wasn’t necessarily talking to me, but I had heard the conversation and she was saying that her son also want to braid his hair. But she was like, I’m not gonna let him do that. She was talking about the gang Association and how, having hair like that was bad. And I don’t know if she didn’t notice, but I was like, I’m right in here. And I felt so sad. Because just because I have long hair, and I had these braids, but I’m a student. I’m respectful to you. I’m on the honor roll and I have braids, but you associated braids or longer hair with thuggery.

D’arcee: 58:24
You can’t be surprised you know, you invisible

TR:

That’s the thing, Black can make you invisible in many ways.

For example, shows like Friends or Seinfeld. They took place in New York City and there’s no interaction with Black people?

The way white store workers ignore Black people. I’m telling you, we even here, oh I didn’t see you.

If they do land eyes on you, sometimes it’s the stereotypes that are seen. So you’re followed in that store because they see a criminal.

Add disability and that introduces a new layer of stereotypes and invisibility that occurs within our own community as well.

AJ:
When I think of masculinity from societal speaking, maybe some stereotypes, I think, definitely non vulnerability, he can’t be vulnerable at all. You definitely can’t cry at all.

How many songs I heard…

— Audio quick mix of;
“- I Heard it through the grapevine”, Marvin Gaye;
“I know a man ain’t supposed to cry…”

“Tears of a Clown”, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles;
“Now if there’s a smile on my face, it’s only there trying to fool the public…”

“Ain’t to Proud to Beg”, Temptations;
“Now I heard a crying man, is half a man, with no sense of pride, If I have to cry…”

AJ:

I missed that meeting, because the brother cries all the time.

No sensitivity, you keep very serious things to yourself. He can’t show any weakness at all.

You kind of have to know everything and be the jack of all trades.

D’arcee:
Yeah, because Dude, don’t ask for help.

AJ:

If you have children, the males are definitely the disciplinarians.

D’arcee:
Is that true and black households? Because I would definitely not agree.

AJ:

Yeah, yeah. It was my mom, because my mother was the primary razor.

I just mean how many of y’all have heard? wait until your daddy gets home?

D’arcee:

I think that what you’re talking about is physical discipline because like my mother was not the person, my daddy did that

TR:

My mother occasionally used that line on me, but she was the physical disciplinarian while my Dad never raised a finger.

The threat meant I’d have to sit through a 45 minute lecture from my Dad. My sister and I would often debate whether we’d just prefer a beating.
And just in case you’re curious, when it comes to discipline, I ended up just like my Dad! And my girls not only appreciate it but I think they turned out great! Hash tag stop corporal punishment.

TR:

So far, we’ve been talking stereotypes about Black men.
But what does that look like in the real world when we add disability?

D’arcee:

This is exactly what my research is. I study like black culture, but what happens when you add disability to it?

When you talk about blackness disability together the association is so terrible. And it’s, it’s this right here. It’s the core of this right here, because people already associate negative things with blackness. And when you add disability on top of it, that just amplifies the feeling.

AJ:
I remember one time me and a partner who’s also disabled. We’re sitting outside because we got dropped off for the bus. So we were just hanging out, and it was on the sidewalk. This older lady is riding in her car. And she just gets out of her car and gives us hot wings. Hot wings and a Pepsi.

D’arcee:
AJ I completely understand what you’re talking about.
All of the work that I’m doing now it’s an amalgamation of all the experiences that I’ve had that are like this, because it just kept happening.
And I literally was like, why does this keep happening to me?

Obama was coming to our building. And I got really dressed up because they told us we had to. I was in the three piece suit.
[Says emphatically, while clapping his hand to stress the point.)

TR:

You know one of those days when you just sort of feel like, why did I even leave my house? For D’arcee, it began with the access bus driver’s back handed compliment, “You’re looking too sharp to be in that wheel chair. Really?

D’arcee:

I left work that day, went home, and went to the 7 Eleven. I wanted a gallon of milk and some honey nut cheerios, because that is the best cereal on planet Earth.

TR:

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D’arcee:

And grabbed a thing of White Castle burgers because they was calling my name.

TR in Conversation with AJ/D’arcee:
We gonna have to work on your diet, bro.

D’arcee:
this woman in front of me, she paid for her stuff. But she didn’t leave the store.

And she kept eyeballing me. And I was looking at her and she was looking at me and I was looking at her and she was looking at me.

I was like, right, so she didn’t want to get out the way.

I was trying to swipe my card and she moved my card out the way and just literally handed me a fistful of cash.

I didn’t know what to do. I’m in a three piece suit. Wearing my Fedora. My Houndstooth jacket, looking very DC policy.

I was like, Oh, thank you very much. But I’m good.

Then the door opens and this random man comes in. He’s like, Yo, did you pay for the man’s groceries?

So they had concocted this plan while I was going around the 7 Eleven picking up food. And I had been oblivious to all of it.

I swiped my card, got my groceries and left and didn’t say anything to her. And so she literally, she followed me outside. And then she was like, why don’t you take my money?

TR:

Charity, it’s often not for the so called recipient.
Once, someone accuse me of “blocking their blessing” because I refused their help.

I guess the real issue is often, how we’re perceived is ultimately out of our control.

D’arcee:

that was the reason I was talking about my suit. Because people literally don’t know how to conflate these two things together and everything to do with being a man.

AJ:

My mom actually knew an able bodied man, I think he was a comedian.
He got himself a wheelchair, and he would just sit downtown in the chair. His side hustle was he pretended to be disabled to earn cash. Chair

TR:
Ah yes, I’m reminded of the ol’ you’re faking your disability trope.

Another way we’re perceived by the public.

— Music begins, a thumping upbeat dance track.

D’arcee:

I will never forget. Oh, God, I was at a club.
I was there with my friend because she wanted to go.

I’m not big on clubs, but she dragged me there. It’s a dance club. fuck am I gonna do?

The club feels like it’s one of the worst places in the world. It’s a microcosm of every ableist fantasy on display at all times. If you not a ten, you’re not supposed to be in there. But like, people will bring you in there anyway, because they need entertainment.

TR:

Left alone while his friend goes off to dance with some guy,
D’arcee is approached by a woman.

D’arcee:

She was like, hey, and I was like, Yo, what’s up? And then she was like, she was like, Come on, let’s go to the dance floor.

TR:

D’arcee offers his hand, which she takes and pulls him in his wheelchair to the dance floor.

As they’re passing the bar, the bartender calls out to D’arcee.

Bartender:

Yo! Somebody paid for you to have this drink.

D’arcee:

Oh, wow, thanks. And I took the drink and got ready to drink it. And the girl was like, no. And she slapped a cup out my hand, knock the whole drink on the floor. And I was like, what.

She was like, I saw dudes put X in that. They just wanted to see how you would react.

That was issue number one, that people already knew that I was out of place in this location.

TR:

When they finally reach the dance floor, the woman is grabbing’ on D’arcee. Then she leans over and whispers in his ear.

D’arcee:

I want to make my boyfriend jealous.

Oh, wait, what? Wait.

her boyfriend was on the steps like mean muggin’ as fuck. And I was like nah, nah, nah, I’m not feeling this. And so I left her.

AAJ:
One time I was at this club and I wasn’t exactly in the exit but I was in that direction. So this lady it was a beautiful lady but this lady she’s headed out the club but she looks at me and stops before she leaves So she turns around, bends over and shakes it for me. I’m like, okay, which I’m not gonna lie. You know, I don’t know if this is wrong, but I appreciate it.

TR in Conversation with AJ/D’arcee:

Ain’t nothing wrong with appreciating that.

D’arcee:

I mean, but also why though?

AJ:
I think she assumed, this is something he doesn’t get,.

I was at this other club. It was this man and his girlfriend or his wife and we were dancing.

He turns her around. and he’s slapping her butt, for me.

TR & D’arcee together in a questioning voice….
“Thank you?”

— Slow Transition moving to a more serious vibe

D’arcee:
you can bleep all of this out to remove it all. I don’t want to be rude. But I also want to be real on this because people deserve it.

In the queer community, people associate masculinity in sexuality, and it causes real problems for me, because I have been in a number of situations where I’ll be hooking up with a dude. And then he will assume, because it’s like, you know, I’m a man, and you’re a man that we came here to fuck. So like, that’s what we’re doing
. So the thing is you don’t even ask my permission.

I’m still trying to decide if I want to call it assault, because I don’t know where it falls on the gradient.

We haven’t had any kind of discussions about what we were gonna do. I had at least five dudes do this to me.

TR in Conversation with AJ/D’arcee: 1:34:58

Wow!

D’arcee:

If you decided to keep all that I know people gonna be listening, they’re gonna be like, wait like, is he talking about rape?

I’m talking about consent, consensual, you know, hookup, or, you know, relationships we met to get it in and half the time.

TR in Conversation with AJ/D’arcee:
I feel like sisters would be like, bro, we this is what we experience. And so is that I don’t want to do like a disservice. You understand? I’m saying, and I’m not trying to tell you what your experiences at all. But man if we flipped it…

— Reverse slow Transition.

— Music Begins, a bouncy up-tempo, high energy Hip Hop beat!

“Forgive me Sir, but there’s something I’d like to ask you.”
“Yes.”
“Well, I don’t know how to say this so I’d better say it in the shortest way.”

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Now back to the episode. ———-

AJ
I’m not trying to say because of my disability and your disability is different. But sometimes, I wonder, do you think, the things that you explore and are open about, do you think you would have those same opportunities, if your disability was more significant?

I’m a person that wants to be very sexual. I wonder, like, if I were a little more mobile, like you are, like a transformer, what I have an easier time getting down?
Do you think people perceive you as sexier versus more of a person with a more significant disability?

D’arcee:
Sure. I will say, first of all, that I recognize this is a question of privilege. And I most certainly do have that privilege.

The fact that you and I both have cerebral palsy, we both know that it manifests so differently in every person’s body.

TR:

We could replace CP in this part of the conversation with vision loss, hearing loss or just Go ahead and insert your favorite disability.

There are restrictions and privileges that come with any degree of disability
no matter where you fall on the spectrum.

But that’s not necessarily how it’s always viewed.

D’arcee:

They say wheelchair users sit on the top of the hierarchy of pretty. And by wheelchair users, they really mean like paraplegics and you know, people who look otherwise quote, unquote, normal, but in a wheelchair,. For all intents and purposes, you basically are normal, which is that it’s such a horrible, insidious way of talking about somebody’s body, but people are doing this.

TR:

It starts early.

D’arcee:

in middle school, we talked about sex constantly. Just being disabled didn’t preclude me from that conversation. But it did put it in a different light, because they were all like I’m doing X and X. And X was such girl, even if they weren’t just complete full of shit.

But at the same time, there’s this extra added layer of like, but at least they could. Whereas you know, you can’t.

AJ:

In school, a lot of people thought I was down and cool,
But when it came to the discussion of sex,
anytime I wanted to be included in the conversation, they were shocked, like, AJ?

Like, what am I a patron saint?

I’m a teenager just like you guys, right? I want to just like yell, but people were shocked is if it’s something I’m not supposed to do.

D’arceee:

I remember one of the worst days ever.
This dude Mike. He was Like, why do you have Aliyah on the front of your binder?

To the whole class he was like, huh, we all know that if you do jerk off it ain’t nothing but air. And everybody was laughing.

AJ, to your point, people think that it’s fine to do it at your expense because you’re disabled. And they literally are like, Well, you’re not going to have sex anyway. Who cares if you’re a man who wants to, you’re not going to do it. So you know, it really doesn’t matter. This is why they exclude you from conversations.

TR:

Occasionally, you get a sense of what the conversations are like when you’re not there.

D’arcee:

I was playing Xbox Live with a bunch of gay men. It was like 12 of us in this group.
We were talking about the club. I was like how difficult it is to be in the gay club.

This dude named Ben, who is in Portland, Oregon , said, I’m gonna say what nobody else wants to say.
Nobody wants you in there. You’re not welcome in there.
Honestly, I would throw myself off a bridge. Living your life is terrible. If I saw you in the club I might give you my number, but if I did, he said it would be with it when the lights are out where no one can see it.
I was so mortified. And I literally, and there was 12 people on this call, and nobody stood up for me. Nobody.

AJ: 1:52:38

I’m sorry that’s really upsetting to me. And I’m stopping myself from crying because they’re just disgusting.

But that’s what a lot of people think about disability. Disability is tragic, disability is ugly. Disability is seen as unmasculine.

There’s a lot of physical things that I can’t do. For instance, I’m an older sibling. But in a lot of ways, because I need so much help. I feel like my sisters are older than me.

I can’t be the big brother than I want to be.

my mom was a single mom, so sometimes I felt like I couldn’t necessarily help cleaning up. I mean, I certainly know now that you know, I have to change things and the way I look at work is different from when I was little, but it was hard.

TR:

Those adjusting to blindness or disability in general can truly benefit from reexamining things in our lives that affect how we view ourselves. Our career, family roles and responsibilities, the formidable loss of a driver’s license for example.

Reinventing ourselves isn’t exclusively a masculine trait, This conversation has me wondering, what is?

AJ:

I have male friends but my closest friends that I have are female, my strongest connections.
I noticed, I’ll be a church and like men would be talking and joking. And so when I would come around, for some reason, conversations would stop

D’arcee:

Disability is for many people the personification of a nightmare.

If I’m just gonna be 100 honest about it, I think that the bottom line is that most men feel uncomfortable. Because, men are not socialized to be caregivers. Men are not socialized to be emotional. Dealing with a person with a disability, you have to embody a level of empathy.

Men are socialized differently than women. Women are socialized to not seek their own pleasure. Men are.
TR:

We’re in a very new time today, men are encouraged to seek therapy. Expressing emotions and discussing feelings isn’t as frowned upon today. Yes, there are still a bunch of proud cavemen out there, but there’s been some real progress compared generations like my own, Generation X and those before me like Boomers.

AJ:

I’ve heard so many stories about men from that generation. I just feel bad. Yes, they were mean and harsh. But then also, could you imagine, like, the weight and the unpeacefulness, , the chaos that’s in your heart and brain because you have to carry this anger. If you are a black man, you had to deal with being belittled and berated as a black man being called boy.

it’s so it’s like, not you can express that anger, though. But the only way you’re going to is because of the mask would be we thought, you know, be either put my hands on my wife, or beat my children.

D’arcee:

look at these white people trying to tell me that like critical race theory, and like horrible and terrible, and
every single time like somebody tries to tell me that like slavery was a million years ago. It’s not that big a deal. I literally turn around and say my grandfather, my dad’s dad saw men hanging in trees in Alabama when he was six years old on his way to school. That is not the Civil War.

TR:

That socialization starts as a child.
How we as a society raise our children.

D’arcee:

I saw a tweet where somebody wrote, his four year old son came to him and said Daddy, I told the girl in elementary school that I liked her. And she said, she didn’t like me back. And he was like, What do I do? And he was crying. And the dad said, well, I think you know what to do.

The sun responded and said, Yeah, I know, try and try again. The dad said, No, that is not what you do. He said, she told you what the answer is, so you respect her wishes.

TR:

Wait, what?
Isn’t that what we’ve been taught?

AJ:

I think with men and I know myself sometimes there’s been a little bit confusion, because no doubt if a woman says no, that is true.

I hear stories all the time, even in terms of the Obamas, if you listen to their story, Mrs. Obama was like the boss, over a team or whatever. But remember that she did say, she didn’t say no. But then he was like, he was so doggone persistent.

When I say that, I’m not saying you just get a free pass, just to like, be aggressive. And don’t listen to the woman.

Persistence has shown, you do land a woman if you’re persistent.

D’arcee:

Women aren’t to be landed.

AJ:

I didn’t mean it like that.

D’arcee:

And I’m not talking about you specifically, in general men typically believe that it’s a conquest. If you want to talk about the route of masculinity it’s a conquest.

AJ:

That sort of takes the whole idea and the premise of the chase.

I even heard women say, it is the man’s job to chase. I don’t want to chase the man.

They want aggressive men. I’m not talking about rape or violation, but I’m just talking about the nuance.

D’arcee:

all of this comes down to the idea of what people think of as natural, which is, men pay for dates. Women get dressed up, women look good for the man. That’s your natural. And people are starting to undo all of that.

I honestly believe that if the internet was around in our parents, most of them would not be together.

TR in Conversation with AJ/D’arcee:

When I say natural, though, I’m going back even further. Go back to Hunter Gatherer.

D’arcee:

Yes, it’s primal.

Every time I hear that argument, I think, but that’s American. The argument behind that comes from Adam and Eve. And the question of subservience and the idea that man said in the beginning, that he was going to lord over Eve and that she is one of his ribs.

TR:

Perhaps the behaviors are learned.

D’arcee:

we have to teach boys about the patriarchy, we have to teach boys that the entire history of the world. And the way that it runs now is built upon the desires and the whims of men.

AJ:

I would just say we can open up masculinity, to include being vulnerable, we can open up masculinity, to include expressing your feelings.

D’arcee:

So we really do need to undo this whole argument from the beginning. And I’m not saying that like, that means that oh my god, gender norms fall by the wayside. But the whole points are bullshit to begin with.

TR:

Thinking about gender norms brings me back to some of the stereotypes we discussed earlier.

In fact, we get back to the issue raised by AJ.

AJ:

I have a lot of friends ,when it comes to like dating or actually, you know, getting down with somebody. It’s a no, and I’m wondering if now it could just be my fault. It had nothing to do with disability.

For instance, I really liked this person. I would call her because I know that she was getting off work, and on her way to the train.

One time when I called her I was like,

I’m calling you, because I know you just got off work. I just wanted to talk to you while you waiting on the train? She goes, Oh, isn’t that precious? And I’m like, precious.

AJ:

I saw Tiffany Haddish in a stand up.

She was like, I started sleeping with this dude, he had a disability. She said, Don’t sleep on disability because he was really working it. Something I just appreciate it so much, because there was nothing timid about them screwing. It was like we’re having sex and I’m slapping your booty. And I’m a disabled man. And at the end, she was like, disabled people want sex too.

TR in Conversation with AJ/D’arcee:
So here’s what we got to start. You said slapping your booty change that shit to slap in that ass and let’s see what happens bro. We gonna start there.

AJ:

I happen to be friends and very close with women.

A lot of women, including my friends, had been violated. And so that’s always been in the back of my mind.

I think I’m so concerned that maybe I go to the extreme, because I’m always worried about being a gentleman and making sure that women are comfortable around me.

TR in Conversation with AJ/D’arcee: 2:39:04
that starting point for you is just like whoa.

That doesn’t even need to be in your mind in terms of being someone that’s gonna assault.

You have so much room to play with because you’re nowhere near that. but it has nothing to do with in terms of your level of confidence and what you put out.

D’arcee:

AJ, people don’t call me adorable. I don’t present myself that way.

If she said oh, how precious is because she misunderstood your intent. As a person who literally studies rhetoric, that’s the work of art. rhetoric. It’s intent.

Attractiveness, they say is only half about looks. The other half of it is actually psychological. Because I know that I have been very attracted to people that are not pretty. And what makes me attracted to them? Oh my god, I love their personality.

AJ:

one time, I met this girl and let’s just say she was very energetic towards men.

She was in my drama class. It came up in conversation that I never been kissed. Okay, so she said that she would do it.

And so weeks go by and my friend just checked in and like, you haven’t kissed AJ. And she was like, oh, I don’t want to corrupt him.

And I was like, I can be corrupted!
Somebody was saying people look at me as someone that’s very gentlemanly, very nice. But I’m not typically the person they want to get down with.

D’arcee:

Even if she did, that’s not the vibe that you want to begin with.

if you want people to take you more seriously, then you kind of have to present yourself in a space.
It’s not aggression, it’s assertiveness. And there’s a difference. I think men actually find that that line is very difficult. Because people assume that they’re being assertive when they’re actually being aggressive.
It’s a hard line to learn to know.

But I would say that when it works, it works really well.

I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the show Sex Education. AJ?

AJ:

yeah, I need to get caught up …

D’arcee:

You need to get to Season Two. Because Season Two and season three. There’s a character in a wheelchair with cerebral palsy that they introduce, and he’s fantastic. And yeah, he talks about this.

TR in Conversation with AJ/D’arcee:

D’arcee, real quick, though, because you mentioned that character. Does he come to an understanding whatever it is?

D’arcee:

He does.

— Clip from “In Living Color” “The Adventures of Handi Man”

Boy in wheel chair:
“You saved the day. The physically challenged have been needing a hero and you’re it. Thank you Handi Man”

Handi Man:

“That’s ok son. And remember , never under estimate the powers of the handicapped”

TR in conversation with AJ/D’arcee:

Has there ever been anyone or are there people out there who have sort of defined disabled masculinity or be a role model of sorts for that, coming up in life?

D’arcee:

Up until Game of Thrones, the answer to this would have been no.
Peter Dinklage changed that.

prior to Game of Thrones, he said, he told his agent don’t even bring me roles that feature little people. I’m not interested.

People frequently forget that he was a love interest in the show, Nip Tuck for a season and a half. He was a series regular. He was romancing the main character’s wife. And they were having a whole ass affair on the show. And it was juicy and scandalous.

I remember the husband and it was like, You’re cheating with him.

You want to talk about masculinity and the idea of like men, being in charge and taking charge. It’s Peter Dinklage and Game of Thrones.

He wields power and influence, in a way that most people in the show do not.

TR:

But Peter Dinklage isn’t Black

In a perfect world, that shouldn’t matter. And sorry to break this to you, we’re in a far from perfect world where race and the color of your skin matters in every aspect of life. Education, the justice system, health care and more. I didn’t create the system, I’m just seeing it for what it is.

AJ:

When I was younger and coming up, no, the only influences that I had in, in real life were able bodied men.

In terms of acting and my trajectory, I look at people like Darryl Chill. Darryl chills been holding it down. For a while. he was a stage regular, I think, for seven seasons on NCIS New Orleans. He also had his own sitcom. Here’s a brother, who’s doing his thing. And so I look up to him in terms of my career, but in my real life, to be honest, the examples of disability that I can honestly look to, in my real life that are disabled, are you Tom and D’arcee, because you’re holding it down and doing your thing.

TR in Conversation with AJ/D’arcee:

Okay. And you know, I never know what’s gonna make the show but that part right there is definitely gonna make the show.

TR & D’arcee share a laugh.

AJ:

Seriously, brothers don’t get enough props.

Tom has been just like a brother to me. A mentor. He’s opened up a world to me. A world that I can have access to. I’m encountering things for the first time. His doors always open and in terms of you D’arcee, I mean, look at what you’re doing, like the jobs you have. You are disabled brother, getting your PhD.

Professor Purple.

I look up to the other influences like Leroy.

TR:

Once again, Leroy Moore.

That could be the drinking game of YGBD. Take a shot when you hear his name.

What are the implications of not seeing yourself represented in the media?

It can start with one’s own imagination.

D’arcee:

When I was a child I’ve always had like, way too much of an overactive imagination, if that’s not evident to people.

My brother and I, we used to do it as children, we called the Dreamland, we would just stare at the ceiling and makeup random movies

I used to have this persona in my head. When it was a man, it was always like this person who was non disabled.

I don’t do that anymore. Something clicked in my head when I was like, 27 or 28. And I was like, no, no, no, no, no, no, this isn’t right.

AJ:

even when I would imagine being an actor, it’s like, it was somebody else though. Like it was a different person.

I just recently made a conscious effort anytime that I imagine. No, it’s actually me. And if I’m gonna imagine being in roles I actually put myself into. So even though it was my dream, it was always somebody else.

I never discussed this with anybody else. I was doing the same thing. But I felt weird to admit that.

D’arcee:

Thomas, do you think this is weird?

TR in Conversation with AJ/D’arcee: 3:03:58
I don’t think this is weird. In fact, I think there’s a lot of stuff in terms of the idea of visualization. And these are the books that talk about this idea that the idea of moving yourself into someone else right that Kobe Bryant used to envision himself as the snake, the mambo.

A lot of athletes do this, like become that person. I kind of see that in what you’re talking about, I think is dope.

That’s a perfect way to sort of bring this to an end.

That’s what we need, you mentioned all this stuff in terms of the media and all of that, but like, you know, we do have some control. Making content, where we’re in those roles. Maybe at first it’s on a smaller level, but showing that, that this is wanted, that people would check this out. And people are interested in this.

D’arcee:

this making me feel like I need to make an Instagram just be like, Oh, not enough black wheelchair users.

TR in Conversation with AJ/D’arcee: 3:05:21
Do it! Professor purple, B!

D’arcee:

I just want something to exist in the world. I just keep envisioning, because I remember what it felt like. I’m trying really hard not to cry, because I remember what it felt like, when I was 12. And how horrible. It just felt like you’re just totally by yourself all the time. You just feel so isolated. And I’m like, Oh my God, if somebody could get up on Instagram, and see a black wheelchair user, with some dope ass clothes, like, Oh my God, my life would change. My life would change because little kids can see it and be like, Oh my God, that’s me. I want that haircut. I want that sweater, with that haircut and those jeans. So I can go to school next week. And look, fly, and people can stop talking shit about me to some girl and be like, You know what, actually, though? He is cute.
AJ:

if you don’t see yourself in any other ways, besides the people that love you, you feel like you do not matter. And you don’t count. You feel invisible. You feel like you don’t count. Yeh!

TR:

Not only do you count and matter, but you’re beautiful, you’re Young, Gifted, Black & Disabled!

— Airhorn

Yeah. So that’s a good place to stop. I appreciate y’all so much.

TR:

A big shout out to my O G YGBD brothers, Co-Producer, AJ Murray;

AJ:

I’m on Twitter @GotNextAJ and Facebook and Instagram it’s AJ Murray.

Professor Purple himself, D’arcee Charington Neal;

D’arcee:

I’m on Twitter @DrChairington. Dr. And then Chair, C H A I R I N G T O N

TR in Conversation with AJ/D’arcee:

Instagram coming soon.

D’arcee:

I mean I’m on Instagram I just never use it.
@DRKaiyne

Bigup The 2021 YGBD crew, Blind Girl Magic herself, Jeanetta Price, brother Lateef McCleod, sister Alika, AKA the real Toni Hickman. Special shout out to Leroy Moore (drink!). It’s not a coincidence that your name comes up so often in these discussions. Salutes to you and all those who have and continue to let it be known, Black disabled people have been and continue to be out here doing our thing!

That’s it for 2021 y’all.
Let me know how you felt about the podcast this year. Do you like the format, did you notice anything you like or don’t. I’d love to know.
We will return in the first quarter of 2022. But make sure you’re subscribed because you never know, I may drop something in the feed.

Allow me to wish you all a very happy, healthy and prosperous new year.
Audio: Reid My Mind Outro

Peace & Love Fam!

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Young Gifted Black & Disabled

Wednesday, October 7th, 2020

A white background with black silhouettes.  The text: Young Gifted Black descends while the font is increasing in size. the words are colored Red Black &Green respectively.  Centered on the next line reads & On the left is a man in a wheelchair, next is a blind man holding a white cane, in the middle is a woman with two crutches, next is a woman in a wheelchair, and last is a woman missing a leg with crutches. Below are the shadows of the silhouettes with "disabled" in bright golden letters hovering over it.

People with disabilities make up 20 to 25 percent of the population. It’s considered the largest minority. No so called race, ethnic group or age is excluded. Even within the extremely low representation in the media, Black people with disabilities are seldom seen.

This episode, a co-production with Ajani AJ Murray is our attempt to open this conversation.

Earlier this summer, AJ and I invited Author, Blogger Rasheera Dopson and Doctoral Student D’Arcee Charington to join us on a Zoom call to discuss the Black Disabled experience from their individual perspectives. The result, a non-apologetic discussion about representation in the media, acceptance in the Black community and Black Disabled pride… – “Young Gifted Black & Disabled”

For me personally, 2 out of 4 ain’t bad!

Shout out to AJ who’s also co-hosting this episode – a first for this podcast.

Salutes Chadwick Bozeman!

Listen

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript

Audio: Scene from “Black Panther” “In Salute to Chadwick Bozeman

Black Panther:

I am not ready to be without you.

Black Panther’s Father:

A man who has not prepared his children for his own death has failed as a father. Have I ever failed you?

Black Panther:

Never.

TR:

What’s up Reid My Mind Radio Family. Greetings to anyone joining for the first time. My name is Thomas Reid your host & producer. Welcome to the podcast!

Well, when it comes to this particular episode, I’m only one half of the host and production team. You heard my co-host when he was here on the podcast earlier this year. In fact, I liked his opening so much, let’s run it back!

Audio: AJ Episode intro

Ajani AJ Murray:

Our friend that we have in common, Cheryl green, told me about you …

Music begins “Nautilus”

and I’ve been listening to your podcast and I love it! It’s so dope and fresh. I’m kind of a Geek so I watch like a lot of PBS and I listen to NPR and so it reminds me of like radio documentaries. I particularly enjoyed when you were talking to Leroy about the Black History especially from the disabled perspective. I did something like that on my Insta Gram and some of my friends were like keep it coming AJ. So now you’re a resource.

Ajani Jerard Murray, a lot of people call me AJ.

TR:

But first, uh, hit me with the intro!

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Theme Music

TR:

AJ, welcome back my brother!

AJ:

Thanks for inviting me to be on the other side of the mic.

Why don’t we get right to it and I’ll introduce our guests.

Ladies first of course!

Audio: Ladies First, Queen Latifah

AJ:

My friend also living here in Atlanta Rasheera Dopson.

Rasheera:

Hi everyone! I’m really excited to be on this podcast with you guys today.

AJ:

And then we have another friend of mine from Washington DC, his name is D’Arcee.

D’Arcee:

D’Arcee Charington Neal. I currently live in Columbus Ohio. I am a second year Doctoral Student at the Ohio State University.

Music begins… “Young Gifted & Black” Donny Hathaway

TR:

What exactly do our guests have in common?

AJ:

They’re all Young Gifted, Black and Disabled!

Music Stops

Music Begins… Hip Hop Beat

Rasheera:

I am an author, Blogger, Disability Advocate. Owner of a nonprofit organization, The Dopson Foundation and the Beauty with a Twist Brand. two organizations dedicated to creating spaces of inclusion for women with disabilities. Being the founder of those two organizations that gives me a lot of space to be able to reach other minority women with disabilities.

AJ:

And D’Arcee

D’Arcee:

I am a second year Doctoral student at the Ohio State University and I do a lot of work at the intersection of Black identity and Disability specifically focusing through the lens of popular culture. A lot of my work has taken me working with major corporations, a bunch of nonprofits, some government agencies. Now I’m doing it for academia.

Rasheera:

So I was born with two rare diseases called Goldenhar Syndrome and the other one is called VADER Syndrome. Both of my syndromes have similar types of birth defects. One is considered a facial difference so when most people see me you notice that my face is asymmetrical. I was born without a right ear or right jaw bone. So I kind of fall in between the rare disease chronic illness and a disability intersectionality. .

I’m always real specific when I say that because you have a lot of people who have rare diseases who may not have a disability or you may have people with disabilities who don’t have chronic illness. So to say the least my childhood experience with disability was very complicated

TR:

That really is a good point. SO many people think disability and therefore unhealthy, sick. The two don’t necessarily always go hand in hand.

Rasheera:

I’m very grateful. I grew up in a single parent household with my mom. She was my fighter and advocate. The reason that I’m able to speak, to walk, to is because I had a lot of work done.

One out of twenty five thousand people have my condition. So really I didn’t meet another individual like myself until I was 25 years old.

A lot of moments of isolation and just kind of living on survival mode.

D’Arcee:

I just wanted to add, so I mean I saw you on video before all of this and I just think you’re absolutely gorgeous and never would have even thought about any of that.

Rasheera:

Ah,thank you! (Giggles)

D’Arcee:

I was like wait? What? I didn’t see none of that on camera, wait, … huh?

TR:

AJ:

D’Arcee has CP or Cerebral Palsy.

D’Arcee:

My parents are together They’ve been married for 35 years this year. Neither one of them really knew anything about disability or the idea of what to do with a disabled child. I didn’t get diagnosed until I was 2 because at 18 months I hadn’t gotten up off the floor yet and they were really concerned about it. When they took me to the doctor he diagnosed me with CP. My mother said she left the doctor’s office went outside sat on the curb and cried.

She was upset because she thought all her hopes and dreams of a child doing stuff was gone. (pause) Clearly she was wrong!

Music Ends…

Audio: “Message” … From Don’t Be A Menace While Drinking Juice in Da Hood

AJ:

The message is about false expectations inaccurate beliefs or misperceptions.

TR:

Most parent’s do the best they can with what they have. Older now, D’Arcee has taken the time to have conversations with his parents.

D’Arcee

And one of the things we talked about was Ableism. My parents were not familiar with the terminology. They were doing things that were progressive that they didn’t even know. I cooked, I cleaned. It wasn’t a question of like if you cooked but it was a question of like when are you going to. My bedroom was always on the second floor and we always lived in a house with steps and I never had one of them little contraptions that people be putting on the banister where you just sit in and it takes you up the step. Look that was a genie wish machine that I saw in movies and TV because if I wanted to get to my bedroom I had to crawl up the steps.

TR:

I’m sure that can be an uncomfortable image for some. What we see is so highly based on what we believe to be true. It reminds me of when people see me or another Blind person walking with our cane. For the unaware, it appears that the cane and therefore the person is crashing into things. What they don’t realize is that we’re independently accessing information in a way that works for us.

AJ:
Disability is complex.
For example, I need help with just about everything except, using a remote control.
Some people have more mobility than others. And that’s ok.

D’Arcee:

Inside the house there was no expectation for me to have to be anything other than who I was. When you leave the door, the bar of expectation just goes so low.

My parents never talked about the difference. They didn’t prepare me for the Ableism that was going to come in middle school, in high school in college and looking for a job. I had to find all of that out by hand.

TR:

Rasheera also shared some reflections on how she too wasn’t prepared for what was to come in the real world.

Rasheera:

I felt like I wasn’t properly prepared to be a disabled woman. In my household I was just Sheera and we goin’ treat Sheera like everybody else. Then when I got to school I’m thinking I’m a Black woman and people are looking at me like, hmm you’re a Disabled Black woman and there’s a difference. I felt like I had to learn the hard way. I’m 29 and I’m finally starting to get this thing. And it has nothing to do with you it has really everything to do with the system that was created not for people like you.

D’Arcee:

People just assume that if you say the word disability it immediately translates to less than, without them knowing anything about symptoms or anything. People are just immediately like ok, well clearly you’re special needs, clearly you belong in the class with other people with intellectual disabilities. Not to say that’s any better or worse, but it’s a different type of class and it’s a complete segregation from regular education.

AJ:

Societies low expectations come in different forms.

D’Arcee:

I lived in an all-white neighborhood in North Carolina so people would just come up to you and be like “oh, oh my God, where were you shot?” … was the number one question I would get from like the age of 9 through like 17 because people just equate and this is a really specific experience for wheel chair users only because the narrative that people have of chair users and Black people is criminality.

TR:

D’Arcee went on to site shows like Oz & Cops which help spread that narrative.

AJ:

I feel like if we took a few more minutes we’d come up with some other examples from film and television.

TR:

We began the conversation by asking each of our guests to share the specific type of media they consumed growing up.

AJ:

First up, Rasheera.

Rasheera:

I’m a writer! So when I was in elementary school I thought I was going to be the next Toni Morrison. You could not tell me that…

The rest of the panel jumps in with positive encouragement. “You still can be” You’re still young” “Hold up”

AJ:

Black love is not just about romantic love, it’s also lifting one another in support.

TR:

Facts!

Rasheera:

She didn’t publish her first book until she was 40 and I’m 29 and I just published my first so it’s still Goal!

I grew up in a predominantly white school. My sister and I were really the only two Black kids in the entire school so it wasn’t until 11th grade in high school that I actually got exposed to African American literature. The Toni Morrison’s, Alice Walker’s , The Zora Neal Hurston. I’m just like oh, these people sound just like me!

TR:

That’s connecting with the voices of Black women authors.

AJ:

The full story of the black experience hasn’t been written yet.
There are plenty more chapters yet to be explored.

Rasheera:

As I’ve gotten older, even though I look to those mediums and those platforms such as the books and even Essence magazine being a girl and looking through all the pages and the different fashion things, I get a little sad. I never saw anyone like me. I never saw a girl with disabilities in Essence magazine. Struggling with low self-esteem growing up I think it had a lot to do with the fact that I was reading Essence magazine, Ebony magazine Jet magazine reading the stories of Toni Morrison and hearing the Black struggle but I never read about the disability struggle.

It Matters, it really does.

D’Arcee

My family is a movie family. We have been addicted to films. I can vividly recall as an 8, 9 year old spending many an hour re-alphabetizing my mom’s thousand VHS tape collection. No lie and each tape had like five movies on it. We loved movies growing up . My mom was really into horror films which is hilarious because she’s super religious. She’s an Evangelist now.

Music… church organ

D’Arcee:

It’s one thing to not see yourself. It’s another thing to not be thought of.

These days when I watch TV and Netflix and stuff I see disability. I see it quite a lot, but I feel like there are disabilities that are sexy. I don’t even mean attractive, I mean that there hot in the media because people find it to be easy to access and it works really good for a story plot. So if I had to pick one that would be Autism.

TR:

Let’s be very clear, because you know how things get misconstrued, in no way is D’Arcee or your hosts in support of pitting disabilities against one another. This isn’t about any sort of perceived hierarchy within the disability community.

AJ:
This is about disability representation in the media. And it really is true, representation matters!
Right now Autism has the spotlight in the media.

D’Arcee:

It’s super popular right now. You see white Autistics everywhere. When I was growing up we were watching movies it was so funny because anytime you would see a Black person like and I mean any time you would see Black people that were like off to the side or just like a spec person we would get so excited.

[
Blade, was my shit!

AJ:

Another question for the panel was to recall their first time seeing disability represented in the media.

TR:

Says below with live version…

TR in conversation with panelists:

And specifically Black disability.
,
Panelists: long pause… Delay… breaths…

Rasheera:

Man, … (laughs)

D’Arcee:

I gotta think about it! Um!

AJ:

Um!

Rasheera:

I think when I read about Haben Girma. The Deaf Blind lawyer.

D’Arcee:

Haben (correcting pronunciation), that’s my friend Haben. Haben Girma, yeh!

Rasheera:

That says a lot because it’s present day.

D’Arcee:

Yeh, right, that’s like last year.

Group: Wow… laughs

Rasheera:

Um, so no!

Rasheera:

I could count on my hand and I even use my whole hand for how many Black disable people I’ve met.

D’Arcee

I mean I know quite a few, like in real life.

[TR in conversation with D’Arcee:]

As a child did you know them?

D’Arcee:

As a … no, no!

My friend Angel was the first Black Disabled person, this is going to sound terrible but, the first Black Disabled person that was actually doing shit!

AJ:

Does that sound terrible to you?

TR:

I think it’s about people who have aspirations and goals. Many people I’ve spoken to for the podcast have said to me, I was looking for or I found, you know, the cool Blind people. I don’t think it’s specific to the goal or level of education, , but rather it’s about someone striving to accomplish something.

D’Arcee:

I had gotten an internship at NASA.

NASA forgot that they hired disabled folk, three of us. They forgot that we needed housing and they put everybody else in an apartment complex that was like 20 miles away and it didn’t have any accessible rooms so the University of Maryland had to come through at the last minute and give us some dorm rooms to live in and Angel just happened to be my next door neighbor. I saw her and I was like wait a minute, Black Disabled woman and then she was like yeh, I’m a Doctoral student and I’m finishing my PhD in Gender and Women Studies.
Wow! It was so beyond what I even thought was possible. And that sounds so terrible.

AJ:

What’s terrible is that even in 2020 we’re struggling to think of Black Disabled people in the media.

D’Arcee:

I know lots of Black folk but I can’t think of any with an actual disability that’s been … I’m sorry Denzel Washington, The Bone Collector. Which is the only one I can think of off the top of my head.

AJ in Conversation with Panel:

I don’t know if anyone would remember the show “Malcolm in the Middle”. He had a friend, I don’t remember what his disability was but he was in a chair and he was kind of an A-hole. That was the first person that I can remember that was Black and Disabled.

Rasheera:

You know, now that you mention that AJ, I thought about Jimmy from Degrassi. And I guess he didn’t really come to mind because the first two seasons Jimmy wasn’t in a wheelchair, but I guess the third season didn’t he get shot or something.

D’Arcee:

Yeh, he got shot!

AJ:

I knew someone would come up with an example of this trope.

TR:

And that’s a Canadian show isn’t it?
TR:

These tropes aren’t limited to the US.

AJ:
TR:

Also, I’m pretty certain in all of the examples mentioned, they weren’t played by a person with an actual disability.

AJ in conversation with panel:

It seems like we can’t get any real stories about real people with disabilities in movies, but if you’re an able body actor and you play somebody with a disability you may get an Oscar.

D’Arcee:

I would be remised if I didn’t at least bring up the fact that Netflix does seem to be trying to do it. I’m trying to be generous.
So I love the show Sex Education. I think it is one of the best shows to come out in a long time. It’s a comedy, a British comedy. In season two they introduce a character with a disability. So the actor himself is actually disabled which I thought was great.
TR :

But!

AJ

Wait for it!

D’Arcee:

Unfortunately he wasn’t Black so I can’t get everything that I want.

AJ:

D’Arcee mentioned Blade earlier. Not a movie that I think most people associate with disability.

TR:

I know I didn’t but, when he broke it down!

First, the ADA defines a person with a disability as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity.

D’Arcee:

He’s a half vampire half human being. He basically has some weird combination of Sickle Cell and an auto immune disorder. I see it as a rare disease. He was working with huh, wait for it, a Black woman who was also a Phlebotomist. She develops an immuno therapy that he inhales via an inhaler that allows him to function.

TR:

I told you, when he breaks it down for you!

D’Arcee:

It affected me so deeply. I saw that movie and I was just like this is a disabled Black dude who is a super hero who is saving people and he’s Black A F with his Barber who makes his weapons with his Camaro car with the high rims. It was a marriage of like blackness and disability unlike anything I’d ever seen before.

Black Disabled people have already been there but they’re not being discussed that way. Storm is a Black Disabled woman. If she were a real person she has the same chromosomal disorder as a person with Down Syndrome. She just shoots lightning bolts out her eyes. She would be covered under the ADA. Technically.

AJ:

Do you think Wesley ever thought about the character in that way?

TR:

I doubt it, but I’m going to re-examine Nino Brown.
TR:

AJ:

Shout out New Jack City!

What up Pookie!

D’Arcee:

I thought it was brilliant but people don’t give Wesley Snipes props. People keep thinking that Dead Pool was the first rated R comic book movie, it’s not! That belongs to Blade.

Audio From Blade:
Blade: You people better wake up!

Rasheera:

Even the new Harriet Tubman movie, come on people didn’t give credence to the fact that she was a Disabled woman. Okay, she was spiritual and she had visions, but she had probably a form of Epilepsy…

D’Arcee:

She definitely did.

Rasheera:

that caused her to have seizures. That is a disability and the fact that she freed thousands of slaves, I was like give that woman her props as a Disabled Black woman.

Audio: Martin Lawrence in standup performance.

“Handicapped people have good parking spaces… (fades)

Rasheera:

It was some time last year , Martin Lawrence, he had put an old clip of him doing standup comedy. Of course he was playing somebody who had some developmental delays. He had the arm twisted and was doing the things like he was making fun of a person. He had thousands of comments on there. This is the issue I have with the Black community, we still endorse people who have created content that sheds a negative light on people with disabilities.

TR:

Rasheera gave an example of how there seems to be more push back from the white community towards those felt to be disrespectful…

AJ:

It’s one thing to have a comedian, for example, perform and perpetuate a negative image. It’s another level of pain or hurt that comes from the general public who argues for that sort of content.

Rasheera:

When I point it out… This lady she commented, she was like you guys are too sensitive. I was like you know, no we’re not too sensitive we understand that was like the early 90’s so you know people just didn’t know or did they care? We really have to go back and say you know that wasn’t okay that you made a whole stand up production making fun of a person with a developmental disability and we still laugh at that. It’s not cool!

AJ:

Too sensitive?

Not really when you consider history and experience.

Rasheera:

Whenever we have a person in our family who’s “Disabled” you know, we’ll call him slow or special. That’s Uncle Ray Ray we keep him in the back corner and we won’t tell the family that he exists.

Historically when we’re dealing with certain levels of pain and trauma we do use things such as comedy and music to provide relief to that. I don’t know if it’s justifiable but I do think it needs to be brought to the surface like okay maybe we do need to peel back why is it that we still think it’s okay to hide our relatives with disabilities. Why is it still like such a level of shame in our community when it comes to disability?

D’Arcee:

This is what my work centers on in academia – what I am trying to coin Afro Fantasm. This idea that Black Disabled people within the Black community exists as living ghosts. We exist and folks know we exist, they do not acknowledge the disabled part of the identity as opposed to the Black part. I had someone recently tell me, one of my friends recently tell me; well disability isn’t race. He said I just think you’re making something out of nothing and you’re creating something that does not exist. I said it most certainly is.

AJ:

How do you think that would make you feel?

TR:
If necessary, make the larger identity relevant to you.

D’Arcee:

Why do you seem to think that just because Black people are disabled we don’t need to do things culturally that still read as Black? All my disabled female friends they constantly complain about how nail salons are not accessible. As a wheelchair user I still need to go to the Locktician to do my Dred’s. Me being in a wheelchair does not stop me from having to do that because as a Black person I don’t want to look busted! Or ashy or like any ‘ol kind of way because that’s already assumed that’s how we’re going to look anyway when we come out of the house.

Music… Let the Church Say Amen

D’Arcee:

Church is the center piece of African American identity and yet I don’t know of most Black churches that will use interpreters. They don’t bring cart services, they don’t provide hymns in Braille. It is not a conception that even crosses into people’s minds and so therefore I call it Afro Fantasm. You exist but only in the barest spectral sense to other Black people

Audio: Scene from “Blackish”
Takes place in a Black Church. The pastor speaking from the pulpit.

We will now offer prayers for our community. Everybody knows somebody broke into Shante’s car and stole her last good hearing aid. Shante we’re all praying for you. Pause, Pause… Shante, (spoken slowly and deliberately) we are all praying for you. Ahuh, ahuh! Church agrees!

TR:

CART services is an acronym for Computer Assisted Real Time Translation.

AJ:

Real time captioning.

D’Arcee:

if we actually were to go beyond that and to start looking at the actual physical embodiment of disability, folks shut down.

Rasheera you were saying why does the Black community continue to laugh at Martin Lawrence’s jokes? So the answer as horrible as it is but it’s the truth, people can come on my Twitter and check me if they want to, you don’t see us as people. Bottom line point blank period with a t, we are not people in your minds. We are uh huh, interestingly enough, three fifths of a person.

Music Ends with a low base and then bass fades out

Rasheera:

When you call them on that point it’s just like oh well you’re taking away from the Black cause.

How am I taking away from the Black cause when really all I’m trying to show you is the full spectrum of the Black narrative.

AJ in conversation with panel:

This is a part of my Black experience. I wonder and I’m just putting this out there, I’m not saying this is concrete, but I wonder if it has a lot to do with the fact that disability is something that needs to be healed.

D’Arcee:

Absolutely. You don’t want to say its physical I will.
TR:

In case anyone is getting this twisted and thinks a pass is being given to others and saying Black people are more Ablest?

D’Arcee:

That is not what we’re doing.

What I need to specify is that while it is true that the Black community often does not do things to support people with disabilities. The flip side of that coin is that it’s because of systemic racism that we can’t. Most of the time. I will say yes it happens sometimes, yeh there are assholes everywhere, but the reality is I firmly believe that Black people are not out here (laughs) being villains to Disabled people on purpose.

TR:

Systemic racism in the form of redlining for example.

AJ:

Too often small business owners of color are unable to access capital to afford retrofitting existing buildings to make them accessible.

D’Arcee:

I will say that yes, while I go to Barber Shops and you see steps and I’ll be like Lord Jesus, the flip side of that is the people in there have always helped me. They will stop cutting hair to come outside to do what they have to do so I can get into the shop.

TR:

Black Love?

AJ:

Black Love!

But we definitely shouldn’t have to do all that!

Rasheera:

[
We just haven’t had the bandwidth within our community without the barriers of systemic oppression to allow us to have acceptance for everybody.
]
So if you guys make stuff more accessible, and wealth is equally distributed in our community, half these conversations we wouldn’t even be having.

AJ:

I had to ask our panelists how do they see Black Disability moving into the mainstream?

D’Arcee:

Somebody needs to sit Shonda Rhimes and Kenya Barris down and say you’ve done a lot for Black people but now you need to purposely put Disabled folks in big ways. And that’s only part of the issue because quite frankly the other part of the issue is that there aren’t enough actors. If Kenya Barris and Shonda Rhimes create a show and they want to put a Black Disabled person front and center, if they want them to be the next Olivia Pope they have to be ready to take it.

AJ:

Is the question about the number or the level of experience?

D’Arcee:

I love Peter Dinklage, oh my God he’s fabulous. But he is the only one. These acting studios need to stop trippin’ and they need to let people with disabilities straight up in because that’s the only way. I want a wheelchair using peter Dinklage. I want a person in a wheelchair who is respected.

Rasheera:

That’s one of the reasons why I decided I want to go into Public Health. At the end of the day we can talk about how the spaces are needed, but actually we need more people with disabilities to occupy those spaces.

Music begins, Young Gifted & Black, Donny Hathaway

When you get to the very core of it, we have to begin to empower the disability community. Letting them know, you can go to college. You can get a Master’s degree. You can go into any career field that you want and maybe we have to find ways to strategize so you can get the type of accommodation.

Music morphs into a Remix of Young Gifted & Black… Young Gifted Black & Disabled!

AJ:

We need more opportunities. The wealth of talent is there. You just have to want to see it.

Rasheera:

Empower disable people, especially disabled Black people.

Before I ever knew I was disabled I knew I was Black first. I was very fortunate that my family raised me to know everything about my people. We weren’t just descendants from slaves.

I identify as a Disabled person, a woman and a Black woman at that. I take a lot of pride in that. Even somedays when its hard and I’m just like man, I’m the only one in the room.

It’s a lot of pressure, but it’s also a place of fulfillment and joy where you’re able to pull from those different life experiences.

D’Arcee:

I was just thinking of the Morpheus quote from The Matrix Reloaded, which I recently saw. When he was in Zion, when he was talking to everyone trying to calm them down and what he said is; what I remember most is after a century of struggle I remember that which matters most.

Audio from Matrix Reloaded: “We are still here!” Crowd roars in applause!

That resonates so deeply with who I am as a person.

The more I learn about Disabled History and the more I learn about Black history and how they intersect, it just makes me even prouder to be the type of person that I am and to be able to do what I do.

I am the only wheelchair user in the graduate department of several hundred students. I’m in the number one school for English in the United States. I have a complete full ride for this degree, they paid me to come there.

TR:

He’s not flexin’ on y’all!

D’Arcee:

It’s a question of knowing your worth. When it comes to Black Disabled people, we exist in this space that people think of as double deficit. You start off from a negative place. As a Black Disabled person you are the bottom of the bottom, if you believe that you are.

I think the only way that people don’t fall into the trap is by having a support system of people who are constantly telling you that this is not true.

AJ:

That support system can be your family, friends but I think what I heard here today is the overall community can step it up.

TR:

Shout out to Rasheera who you can find on …

Rasheera:

Insta Gram, Twitter, Facebook, Linked In – just type in Rasheera Dopson. R A S H E E R A Or Beauty with a twist.

TR:

And D’Arcee!

D’Arcee:

My Twitter handle is DRChairington. Charington but spelled like a chair, as I’m a wheelchair user. Oh, it’s Dr. Chairington, I’ll take that too!

TR:

It’s official, you both are part of the Reid My Mind Radio Family!

Brother AJ, you already know, you ‘ve been down with the Rmm family for a minute.

Thanks for co-hosting & producing this episode with me.

AJ:

Thanks Tom, let’s do it again!

TR:

I’m not sure what I can let out but AJ’s always doing something, you know Acting up somewhere! He’s @GotNextAJ on Twitter and Ajani AJ Murray everywhere else.

What do you think about the format, the topic anything?
Let me know at ReidMyMindRadio@gmail.com or on Twitter @tsreid.

When it comes to the Black Disability experience, there’s so much more to talk about. I think you can expect more right here on Reid My Mind Radio. Sounds like something you don’t want to miss out on?
Subscribe wherever you get podcasts!
Remember 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

Peace!

AJ: Laughs!

Hide the transcript

Ajani AJ Murray – Starting with Imagination

Wednesday, March 4th, 2020

AJani AJ Murray , a Black male with short haircut & facial hair seated in a wheelchair. He wears black & white print baggie pants with a blue long sleeve hoodie with words printed in black: "Young, gifted, black and disabled."

Pursuing your passion can take you down a road filled with all sorts of obstacles. Ajani “AJ” Murray knew from an early age that he wanted to act. his first school was television which he studied intently.

His latest role is in Best Summer Ever, screening at SxSW later this month

Hear how television and movies provided much more than entertainment for him and his family. His methods for navigating the obstacles along his journey and how he’s making his own place in an industry that isn’t always welcoming. In each case, imagination was at the start.

Listen

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript


Ajani AJ Murray:

Our friend that we have in common, Cheryl green, told me about you and I’ve been listening to your podcast and I love it! It’s so dope and fresh. I’m kind of a Geek so I watch like a lot of PBS and I listen to NPR and so it reminds me of like radio documentaries. I particularly enjoyed when you were talking to Leroy about the Black History especially from the disabled perspective. I did something like that on my Insta Gram and some of my friends were like keep it coming AJ. So now you’re a resource.

Ajani Jerard Murray, a lot of people call me AJ.

TR:

And me, I’m Thomas Reid
producer and host of this podcast.

I usually reserve the opening of the episode for me to
tell you a bit about what this podcast is all about,
but as you’ll see in a minute, AJ is a media connoisseur,
so I was like man, everyone needs to hear his review.

I like to let new listeners know that here,
we bring you compelling people impacted by all degrees of blindness and disability,
told in a way that sounds

Audio: AJ “Dope” “Fresh”

And I do always hope Reid My Mind Radio can be a

Audio: AJ, “Resource”

For anyone especially those adjusting to vision loss.

And with that said, let’s do this!

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Theme

Audio: Tom Joyner show…

AJ:
I became a big fan of radio because of Tom Joyner. We went to one of his Sky shows in Atlanta and it was at Greenbrier Mall. It was the whole cast and we listened to the S.O.S Ban. From that point for about 2 or 3 years I did a mock radio show.

TR:

A youngster at the time, AJ study the format of the now retired
Tom Joyner, host of the number 1 nationally syndicated urban
(that’s code for Black) morning radio Show.
AJ created his own show which he put on for his family.

AJ:

To make a long story short as I told you earlier I can really talk and go on long.

[TR in conversation with AJ:]
Laughing…

AJ:

I kind of sort of gave up on going into radio because I realized that in mainstream FM radio you don’t really program your own shows. You’re basically playing the same music and also to get to where I really wanted to be and the kind of radio that I would do is something that you have to be in the game for years and years for, like a Tom Joyner.

TR:

AJ knew his true passion.

AJ:

I’m a huge, huge fan of the screen big and small. From the time I was a very little kid I was always just enamored by the screen . I grew up on three camera sitcoms; Cosby Show, A Different World, Facts of Life, Different Strokes. As I got older there was the Fresh Prince era, the TGIF era, the Martin era, the WB era. My love for television in the very beginning was the sitcom.

TR:

Of course, there’s the big screen.

AJ:

My mom loves film. When it came to film she wasn’t really restrictive on what we could watch. Now we couldn’t watch everything, there were certain films I couldn’t watch but like it was 1989 I remember actually going to see Do the Right Thing. I had to of course cover up my eyes during the Mookie ice scene.

[TR in conversation with AJ:]
Laughs…

AJ:

TR:

Shout out to Rosie Perez!
If you don’t know the scene let’s just say Ice cubes are for more than chilling your lemonade on a hot summer day.

AJ:

I appreciated that several years later.

TR:

Now, I’m from the era where parents let you ride in the front seat with no seatbelts,
where you were encouraged to leave the house and explore so
I cannot judge.
[TR in conversation with AJ:]

You know the movie Death Wish? Charles Bronson. I saw that at 6 and nobody cared (laughs) and nobody cared.

Audio: Scene from Death Wish: Knock at door and unsuspecting woman says she’ll anser it. She asks who is at the door and the intruder replies he’s delivering her groceries…

TR:

Don’t open it! He’s lying!

(exhale)

Fortunately, there’s a lot of good that can come from family movie outings.

AJ:

That’s one of the ways we connected as a family.

[TR in conversation with AJ:]
Very cool. So it was the whole family going?

AJ:
My mom and my two sisters. In my house it’s three women and me.

We’re all very very close. That’s one of the ways we bonded. Sometimes we’d listen to classical music or something really peaceful because I grew up in a very peaceful household.

TR:

Television & movies can also initiate conversations about all sorts of topics and
even ways to explore culture.

Just be careful about that last one there, we know Hollywood doesn’t always get culture right. (Ahem!)

AJ:

I always had this dream of being an actor. It was something that was always looming in the back of my mind. It was always in my spirit, but I didn’t know how to physically make the connection. I couldn’t necessarily afford acting classes at the time and I wasn’t in high school at the time to be a part of an acting club.

TR:

Financial accessibility, we don’t often talk about that in our conversations around access.

AJ, made use of what was in his reach.

AJ:

The screen was my classroom! Anything I could get my hands on or watch or any old interview s. I really appreciate actors that do interviews like I stay stuck on the Biography channel, on Actor’s Studio. Any time there was a documentary series about behind the scenes I’m all over it!

TR:

Screens bring their own access challenges.

AJ:

when I watched re-runs of television in the 50’s and 60’s even like 20 years ago, 30 years ago, they always had like a voice over guy read everything. One of the things I always laughed at is like watching re-runs of the old Andy Griffith show. the announcer says it’s the Andy Griffin Show, starring Andy Griffin and I always laughed because I’m like didn’t he just say it’s the Andy Griffin Show.

But I realize he said that because he was reading the opening credits. Everything was announced. it really helps me as a visually impaired person.

[TR in conversation with AJ:]

People think Blindness is an on or off, so you see everything or you don’t. I know that there are real specific challenges for people with low vision when it comes to that.

AJ:

I’m glad you brought that up. There could be things that I can see one day and the very next day I won’t be able to see. I look like I can see and so people they start laughing or they think you’re lying or they think you’re not looking hard enough. I’m like I can’t see this.

Even when I’m in my power chair I would rather like walk behind someone so it could be like a human guide.

TR:

AJ’s vision loss is related to his Cerebral Palsy or CP.
It impacts all four limbs so as he described to me, he needs physical assistance with most things.

Most things physical that is…

AJ:

If I was watching Happy Days or Laverne and Shirley or Three’s Company or All in the Family I would create a character, none of it is written down because I’m not able to physically write.

If I was watching Three’s Company, if Jack and Larry were going down to the Regal Beagle well I was too. If I was watching Law and order , no I couldn’t be a detective but I could help Jack McCoy as one of his assistant DA’s. I just made myself a part of the cast.

TR:

AJ’s imagination was open.

His opportunity to hit the stage came in high school.

AJ:

I had such a ball in high school. It was such an atmosphere of like were going to support you and you’re a part of us. My favorite drama teacher his name was Dr. McMichen. I was thanking him for making sure the stages had ramps and I was included in on all the trips.
He let me know, you are a part of this club and a part of these plays and it’s because you are good not because you are in a chair. And that made me feel so good.

TR:

following high school he continued working on his craft by attending workshops and finding a community of other actors.

AJ:

I would say over the last three and a half years I’ve gotten the opportunity to be on screen.

the first thing I booked when I got my agent was, we did an episode of Drunk History. And that comes on Comedy Central. That episode was actually about 504Act. That’s kind of the precursor to the ADA.

Then I was able to do an episode of ABC’s Speechless. I played a character named Charlie.

I was able to do an independent film called Bardo Blues. It’s an interesting very nonlinear artsy film that talks about depression and bipolar. I play the neighbor to the lead.

Audio clip from film…

TR:

His latest role is Best Summer Ever, A Musical.
It takes place in a high school.

AJ:

It’s a romantic story and all kinds of teenage angst ensues. I play the older brother so I’m not involved in the teenage angst but I do sing in the film.

TR:

The film consists of a cast of over
60 disabled actors as well as those without disabilities.
It’s being screened at South by South West on March 14.

You can also see AJ in Becoming bulletproof.
Every year, actors with and without disabilities meet at
Zeno Mountain Farm to write, produce, and star in original short films.

Audio clip from film…

AJ is the focal point of the doc.

AJ:

I also did a documentary, it’s called Take A Look At This heart. So I talk about my experience around my sexuality and dating. So it’s an ensemble so It’s not just me. I believe that’s now streaming on Amazon.

TR:

AJ’s getting some roles and definitely
making a name for himself by judging film festivals, hosting events yet
he found himself in a dark place.

AJ:
Heavy dark! Like I was really, really down.

I was on a walk with my mom. I was in California at the time and it was a beautiful sunny day. It came to me, instead of being down about not getting auditions or you know nobody’s calling or you’re having a hard time with employment; why don’t you write what you want to see?

TR:

By now you can tell AJ puts a lot of thought into what is on the screen,
big or little. So of course he would do the same for his script.

AJ:

A lot of characters that we see it’s either one person with a disability and I’m not saying you don’t ever see it, typically they don’t have any friends. To my experience I have a bunch of friends with disabilities. Not just CP, but all kinds of disabilities.

I just want to lend my voice to reflect that on screen.

TR:

Think Living Single, Friends or the Big Chill…

AJ:

These group of friends, People with disabilities in a more adult context. All with different types of disabilities like CP, like me. He also works. Then you have another character who has CP they walk with a gate. Another character she has a traumatic brain injury and she’s very athletic…

[TR in conversation with AJ:]
And may I lobby for a Blind guy who likes audio and…

AJ:

If we get picked up brother I’ll write you in a couple of episodes.
[TR in conversation with AJ:]
There you go man, there you go!

TR:

Alright, fine, it’s not about me.

In order to physically write his words, thoughts and ideas AJ has a very special writing partner.

AJ:
My mom helps me a lot with a lot of stuff behind the scenes. We’re actually working on a book and that’s going to be out sometime soon and we do public speaking.

TR:

The latter is done under the name, I Push You Talk. What a powerful statement.

Pursuing your passion can really be hard.
There are always reasons to throw in the towel or change course.
Legitimate reasons that wouldn’t in anyway classify someone as a quitter.

For example…

AJ:

Just because you perform in school, that doesn’t mean that it’s going to translate to the screen or you’re going to have this career.

TR:

There’s also the physical pain that comes with his CP.

AJ:

I’ve been in pain since my early teens to pre-teens. As I’ve gotten older sciatic pain and nerve pain over the years have like sort of advanced to like more of a chronic level as far as nerve pain.

My love for everything that I experience and everything that I’m going to and want to experience has to be bigger than my pain.

[TR in conversation with AJ:]

You don’t probably see people with disabilities in many of these films that you are watching.

AJ:

That’s a hundred percent accurate.

[TR in conversation with AJ:]

So it doesn’t sound like that dissuades you.

AJ:

I didn’t necessarily have this as a child but with the combination of my mother speaking to me and my imagination, I just had this sense that it was put inside of me so I’m supposed to be doing what I’m doing.

There’s people of faith in my family so I do have spiritual background. With all those things combined because of my atmosphere, I’m the man you’re interviewing today.

Audio: AJ Scratch… Ladies singing “AJ” while beat rides under…

TR:

That’s Mr. Ajani Jerard Murray.
Actor, Writer, Speaker, Consultant and soon to be Author Producer &…


AJ:
Things sort of have this way of coming back around full circle. I’ve gotten into podcasts and I want to start a podcast and I want to do it with a group of people like a morning radio show. Sometimes my dreams are very big and lofty, but I have a lot of faith and I believe it could happen.

TR:

It really does all start with imagination.
And it continues with that determination, persistence and faith.

AJ, brother, thank you for letting me share your story!
And you know what’s up, you are officially a member of the Reid My Mind Radio Family.

You can reach AJ via social media at:
Twitter – @GotNextAJ
Instagram: @AjaniAJMurray
Ajani Murray on Facebook

You can catch both
Becoming Bulletproof and Take a Look at this Heart
streaming on Amazon.
For those with that prime membership it’s included.
Unfortunately they don’t have Audio Description, however Becoming Bulletproof does at it included on the DVD.

Best Summer Ever is screening at South By South West so if you’re hanging out there go check it out.

I’ll have links over at Reid My Mind.com to AJ’s social media and more including a web series on YouTube.

I hope you enjoyed getting to know AJ as much as I have. I look forward to continuing our conversations and I have a feeling based on his thoughtful insight that you’re going to hear from him again in this space.

If you agree that what we’re planting here on the podcast can provide some nourishment or maybe a sweet treat, please share it with others.

Ya dig!

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Audio: Slick Rick, “D, and that’s me in the place to be!”

TR:
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Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Outro

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Joe Strechay: When Preparation Meets Opportunity

Wednesday, December 4th, 2019
A picture of Joe Strechay with his cane in hand, standing in conversation on the set of See.

Image Courtesy of Apple

An RMM Radio O.G (Original Guest) is back! Joe Strechay, former Director of the Bureau Blindness & Visual Services of Pennsylvania and Blindness Consultant tells us all about his work on the new series See from Apple TV Plus. Yes, he found himself hanging out with See cast members like stars Jason Momoa and the legendary Alfre Woodard, but the job required some real sacrifices.

Jason Momoa as Baba Voss stares out past the camera. His eyes are white, face is scarred. See from Apple TV Plus

Image Courtesy of Apple

We dive in to see exactly how the events from his past lead him to being the right man for the job. Let’s just say he has a particular set of skills!

But his adjustment to blindness wasn’t all glitter.

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Transcript

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TR:

What’s up Reid My Mind Radio Family!

Welcome bac to the podcast.

First time here? Cool. Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Thomas Reid host and producer of this podcast. This is the place to be if you want to hear from compelling people impacted by all degrees of blindness or disability in general. They all share one thing in common; their dope!

Not because they’re doing anything magical. No, their human. In fact, many of them have been where you may find yourself right now.

If you’re uncomfortable with those words, blind, disability, that’s ok for now. But take a listen to how comfortable my guests are with these words at their current place in their life journey.

Your journey will be different, but you’re definitely on one. And the R double M Radio family and I are here for you.

I think there’s only one way to bring on this one; lights, camera, action!

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Intro

Scene from See…

TR:

This is a scene from the premiere episode of the new series called See available on Apple TV Plus.

Audio: Scene includes Audio Description Narration

TR:

yes, there’s audio description.

Here’s the synopsis from the opening scene

Audio Describer: Following the outbreak of a deadly virus in the 21st Century, the Earth’s human population was reduced to less than 2 million humans who survived all emerged Blind. Now centuries later the idea of vision exists only as a myth. To even speak of it is considered heresy.

TR:

Well RMM Radio you should be proud because in a six, well three, degrees of separation sort of way you are each connected to this new series. No, not because you yourself may be blind, but because one of our family members are let’s say, associated with the production of the show.

JS:

I’m Joe Strechay, I’m a Blindness Consultant for Apple TV Plus’s See, which is a streaming television show. And I’m also a Blindness Consultant out in the world outside of that working with organizations around blindness.

TR:

That’s right, our brother is back! He’s and O.G. in the R double M R Family.

Audio: Air horn

I couldn’t let 2019 end without discussing See and the role Joe played in its production. And even more in tune with this podcast is looking at his life path and how embracing his blindness helped his journey.

[TR in conversation with JS:]

Why don’t you catch up the family, because you’re part of the Reid My Mind Radio family big time!

JS:.

Definitely!

My favorite podcast around blindness! You heard that, favorite one!

Audio: Joe singing “Radio”

Last time you heard from me I was the Director of Blindness & Visual Services for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, overseeing the services for people who are Blind or Low Vision. I’d been working in the entertainment field part time over the last years.

TR:

That includes working with writers of the shows like Royal Pains, The OA on Netflix and of course Marvel’s Daredevil.

Audio: Clip from Daredevil episode.

While working as the Director of BBVS Joe was presented with an opportunity.

JS:

Apple TV Plus’s See Production in their infancy days reached out to me to see about working on the show. I had an interview first with the creator of the show Steven Knight and Jenno Topping who’s the president of Chernin Entertainment one of the studios involved. I think one of the Executive Producers involved was on the line as well. And then I had to do a Skype interview with Francis Lawrence who’s an Executive producer and the Director for episodes one through three. Once I cleared Francis I was able to land the position. We kind of talked about it and I talked to the production staff and it sounded like it was full time. And I’m like I’m going to have to leave my place of employment.

TR:/

His responsibilities first began with part time work. Consulting on scripts and exchanging ideas via a secured platform and conference calls in the evenings.

A day or two after his final day at the Bureau

JS:
I flew to British Columbia to officially start my full time job.

TR:

So what exactly does a Blindness Consultant do in the making of a series like See?
Audio: available on Apple TV Plus.

There’s the pre-production work like reviewing scripts and providing input…

JS:

We prep’ d for almost two months in person. We worked with a movement director like a choreographer type person and a team of choreographers.

I have lists of these little aspects of blindness that most people don’t know about. You’ll see more and more of that in the scripts I would say four through eight and maybe most people won’t notice them, but they’re in there.

Walking through some of the set pieces and saying oh, I think I would do this. Meeting with the set dressing department who puts out the objects that are set out in the space. Where I would put stuff, how I organize things.

Ideas for props. Even the weight of the props. How they might use that prop. Kind of help create the world with this amazing creative team.

TR:

A world, Joe points out is not of blindness.

JS:

It’s a Science fiction world probably somewhere between now and 100 or 200 years from now somewhere in there, a viral apocalypse happens. Kills off the majority of the population of earth. There are just a few million people left on earth and then those individuals emerge blind. Our show takes place centuries after that where civilizations have built out different environments.

It’s not a world of blindness, it’s a world of See really.

TR:

Definitely not a real world and therefore not a true depiction of how Blind people live. But representation matters. You know, sometimes you just have to take a stand!

JS:

There were definitely times. We did a lot of exploration around these people and making them different, each group different. Even differentiating the posture of people for their environment and like how they do things. There were times when I was yeh, I don’t think we’re gonna do that!.

TR:

Yet the science fiction format is known for exploring social and cultural issues.

JS

Our show battles with Ableism purposely at times.

TR:

Specifically, exploring, what happens when a set of twins are born with the ability to see in a world where everyone is blind

JS:

What people with vision might think versus people who are Blind. In a world where everyone else is Blind. Seeing that battle, seeing where people who are Blind are better at some things and people with vision are less than. I love that aspect. Everyone has different skills.

TR:

Multiple members of the cast are actually Blind or Low Vision. Again, representation matters.

JS:

One of the things I was really proud of in our background and some of our actors had other disabilities. We have background who are Deaf or Hard of hearing, a gentleman with Cerebral Palsy, all kinds of different disabilities. Our show embraces that. We want to make sure people have opportunities. These were talented interesting people that we could include in our show. There are people with other disabilities that you’ll never know that are within the show and even behind the scenes in production. It’s not because of their disability, it’s because they’re talented individuals.

TR:

As the majority of See’s characters are Blind, Joe is working closely with each. This includes the show’s lead, Jason Momoa.

Audio: Scene from see featuring Baba Voss played by Jason Momoa.

JS:

He’s super nice. He has a big heart and he brings so much consideration, energy, enthusiasm ideas. I’ve never met someone so creative. He sees things in the scenes. Most actors they see their role and their part in the scene, but he sees the whole scene at many times like where other actors are and what kind of story you can show with the angle. He’s directed.

TR:

Directed, co-wrote and starred in Road to Paloma a 2014 Drama thriller.

Also starring in the series is the 4 time Emmy Award Winning Alfre Woodard.

Audio: Scene from See featuring Paris, played by Alfre Woodard.

JS:

She taught me so much and continues to. Brings so much to our show and just as a person is an amazing friend as well.

That’s the thing I didn’t just make professional relationships it’s like so much bonding. We spent like six weeks at least in remote areas if not like 10.

TR:

That’s Joe with the cast of See

Audio: available on Apple TV Plus.

JS:

So Nesta Cooper, Archie (Madekwe), Mojean Aria, Hera Hilmar and all of them became my friends.

We spent time in an isolated area in British Columbia which is in Vancouver Island. There was a pub at our hotel and pretty much was the only place you could eat or drink! We’d have like an hour and forty five minute ride to set and back each day, so long days. You’d go to the pub and hangout.

[TR in conversation with JS:]

Now you’re there full time so you’re living there while you’re working. Were you the only Blind person there?

JS:

Yeh, at first I was the representative of Blindness originally, working through the setup of the show in person. I was there for 9 months originally and then another month for re-shoots. I became part of the Blindness community in Vancouver in British Columbia. The community really invited me in. I started going to audio described theater in the area. There was an international Goal Ball tournament I went to. I went to this organization’s Blind Beginnings events. Met with CNIB, the Canadian National Institute for the Blind and the Blind Sports Association of British Columbia and Canada. They were fantastic. Going to fundraisers for different groups and going to see the Blind Hockey team practice. They actually started becoming part of our background in our show.

TR:

Away from home for about 10 months, eventually Joe moved into an apartment after spending about three months in a hotel.

JS:

Right next door they had one of the best breakfast or lunch places . I met a couple of people out at this Ramen shop in the neighborhood who work there. I was eating Ramen and having a beer and we just started chatting. We became really good friends. Charlotte and Sebastian. My wife hung out with her too when we came in. I met so many people in the community. I was definitely in the community doing things. Going snow shoeing with friends.

[TR in conversation with JS:]

Laughing…

Ok, so I kind of want to move this to your career. And what you just talked about I think is probably an important aspect, especially from what I know about you. Networking, but really I don’t want to just call it networking because I feel like you’re a relationship guy. How important has that been in your career? Like that aspect of your personality.

JS:
You know throughout my career I moved up and down the East Coast to places where I didn’t know anyone at all.

I literally make an effort to go out places and sometimes it’s tiring you know, you worked all day, but that’s how you meet people. That’s how you become part of the community. That Ramen shop I went to a lot, I love that Ramen shop. they know me by name there(laughing). I also stick out, I have long hair, a beard and white cane so…

[TR in conversation with JS:]

Laughing…

JS:

But it has been important. I’m careful to ask people about what they do, their life, what they want to do. The same stuff we do in career counseling. That’s a great thing about blindness, I don’t judge a book by its cover. I just met someone and I talk to them . For the better or worse and typically for the better. Once in a while I get screamed at from some random person for no reason but you know everyone’s dealing with something.

TR:

Whether it’s moving to Florida for his Master’s degree or West Virginia where he ended up meeting his wife;

JS:

I meet people, I get to know them, maybe exchange information. If we click as friends or if I can help them I’m always willing to help people and connect people.

Yeh, I’m a relationship guy for sure!

TR:

Looking back, we can see signs of Joe’s interest and early preparation for a career in the entertainment industry.

JS:

I love television and movies. In high school I worked my four years at a video store, a VHS store.

TR:

For those too young to recall, A video store is like having a bunch of Netflix’s oh wait my bad, Apple TV Plus, in stores in every community. Rather than opening an app and making your selection, you’d have to leave your house and get to the store. You’d search the shelves for the movie that you wanted. If it’s there cool, take it to the front desk and pay to borrow that for a day. Now hurry home and watch it but don’t forget to bring it back the next day or you’ll have to pay additional fees.

Whew! Hooray for technology!

JS:

In college I never thought about working in film really, but I took a film and literature class. I enjoyed it.

TR:

His studies included the portrayal of minority characters as well as gender roles in film.

After receiving his Communications and Public Relations degree hhe went out into the world.
JS:

Worked in Public Relations right after school but I didn’t fall in love with the product side of it. I’m mission oriented I want to see things succeed.

TR:

Joe even came pretty close to landing the coveted job of a NBC Page.

JS:

I made it out of they said 10,000 or so. Six people on a panel interview with four people interviewing us. And it was like Valedictorian of Howard University, Valedictorian of another or a guy who worked on 20/20 already. Legally Blind since 19 and I had that opportunity to be part of that six.

I didn’t have all the skills I should have had to be successful at that point. I learned from it too.

TR:

Audio: I have a certain set of skills…Scene from “Taken”.

Joe’s particular set of skills include his Master’s degree in Orientation & Mobility.

But skills are only a part of what it takes.

JS:

When I had the opportunity to work with entertainment programs a little bit at American Foundation for the Blind and then more so with Netflix’s Marvel’s Daredevil which I did outside of my work at AFB. I had to complete all of my duties plus all my work so I was travelling all over the country, using New York City as my home base. There’s a lot of sacrifice.

TR:

Sacrifice is leaving a comfortable position and putting yourself out there for possible disappointment.

JS:

I’ve been offered other entertainment opportunities for movies. They want you to leave and be full time for like 2, 3 months at the most. To leave a full time position to go do that is a gamble. It was a big decision. My wife Jen and I discussed it and weighed the options. I sought advice from friends I worked with on other productions. When it came down to it, it just seemed like a unique opportunity. A game changer to impact the world but also they were committed to hiring actors that were Blind and Low Vision as well and wanted me to help with that. Making sure that there was accessibility and figuring out what that was. I never had that opportunity. I worked on other shows but it always just involved the portrayal of blindness, scripts some set advising and props s but this was a full time doing all that and so much more. We were figuring out what my role was as we went. It just kept expanding.

[TR in conversation with JS:]
How important was Apple? Was that a big factor in you making the decision to leave BBVS and go there?

JS:

It was a huge factor. When you throw the name Apple out in our community, the blindness community the disability community, it is like the gold standard.

Since 2009 and the third generation iPhone and even right before that with the Nano iPod where it had Voice Over embedded into it. It changed the game in accessibility. I have multiple Apple TV’s in my home, my Apple keyboard on the table here, Air Pods, iPhone 11 pro here and a iPod Touch over there so when Apple was connected to it I’m like this is going to be something!

TR:

When it comes to Joe’s real motivation, I think it’s pretty clear to see!

JS:

I’m very passionate about the portrayal of blindness in entertainment. I wrote an article about how disability is portrayed for AFB Access World years ago even before my time on Marvel’s Daredevil

Our show shows people as heroes, villains, good guys, bad guys, warriors, lovers. Things that you don’t typically see people who are Blind doing. Living their lives in a community cooking, building all kinds of things like that. That means something to me.

TR:

Did you catch that?

Audio: Rewinding Tape Deck

JS: “Things that you don’t see Blind people typically doing”

[TR in conversation with JS:]
Now you’re on set, working side by side with the Director? That’s pretty cool man! Explain that.

JS:

We had been talking and meeting a little bit. I gave him some ideas and suggestions. He wanted to make sure the world brought some reality of blindness as well and there’s interesting ideas that most people wouldn’t notice. And he’s like I want you next to me at every shot! It was unreal. I learned so much from all the directors, Francis, Lucas and Steven and Fred and Sally and all these amazing directors. They’re all so different and preparing in different ways and how they manage the set and each shot is different. So I learned a lot about how they setup things and their process and how to give input.

As the season goes on there were scenes that have no individuals who are Blind in it that I have input on that made it into the show. It wasn’t just the blindness that I was helping with.

[TR in conversation with JS:]
Are you interested in directing? (Laughs) You’re standing right next to the director man, like you’re already getting all this info.

JS:

You know I could see co-directing with someone.

[TR in conversation with JS:]
Now I know you have your YouTube channel so is this your preparation for being in front of the camera? (Laughs…)
Are we going to see you in See? (Laughs…)

JS:

I had a cameo or two . It hit the editing room floor – some of the scenes got cut. And it wasn’t because of my work. Who knows maybe in season 2.

TR:

Do you hear that optimism? That belief in anything is possible? Don’t get it twisted, that’s a process. Joe wasn’t always feeling that way. Like when he was 19 and diagnosed legally blind.

[TR in conversation with JS:]

If you could go back to some of that initial reaction. What would you tell yourself, your 19 year old self now?

JS:

When I first lost my vision I went through depression and I got counseling. They helped me guide through and understand that blindness and disability is not to end my life or anything. It changes and it changed how I viewed life. I would say embrace all of it.

It would be introducing myself to successful people who are Blind or Low Vision. Go someplace and learn how to use a white cane and learn the skills of independence as a person who is Blind.

People are always going to tell you what you can and can’t do as a person with a disability as a person who is Blind. They like to say no or you can’t do this. Don’t let them say no. During our show most of the things that you see people who are Blind do, I did as well. To figure out or feel. Climbing cliffs, hiking through different areas all kinds of different things that you see , I’ve done.

My buddy Dan Shotz, the show runner will tell you like early on people were like uh, I don’t think he should be doing that. I’m like, are the characters who are Blind doing this, then I’m going to do it. They embraced it. Dan pushed it and really allowed me to put myself out there and show them how we can do things. And if I didn’t have the expertise you know Erik Weihenmayer sent videos about climbing that I shared with Jason Momoa. I reached out to people such as T.Reid, Thomas Reid to share about their life and that was shared with all of our casts and production. Every couple of weeks I shared videos about people who were successful who were Blind or Low Vision from various types of work, backgrounds, life experiences.

[TR in conversation with JS:]
Hold on you’re telling me that Alfre Woodard saw that video?

JS:

Oh yeh, Alfre Woodard saw your video.

[TR in conversation with JS:]

Alfre Woodard saw me? Laughs…

JS:

It’s true, it’s true. Yup!

[TR in conversation with JS:]

Ahh, that’s cool!

Joe Stretch! Dude I told you that I think your story in terms of your hustle and what you’re doing is just so cool and inspiring to folks and to me personally. I definitely salute you, what you’re doing and keep doing it Bro. You’re doing your thing! I’m happy for you.

JS:

Thank you brother. You know how I feel about you and your podcast.

[TR in conversation with JS:]
Yes Sir… laughs…

JS:

Can I say it again?

[TR in conversation with JS:]
You can say it again!

JS:

My favorite podcast!

[TR in conversation with JS:]
Your what?

JS:

My favorite podcast around blindness is Reid My Mind… (Singing) Radio!

[TR in conversation with JS:]

Laughs…Yeh, there it is!

JS:

Woo!

TR:

See

Audio: available on Apple TV Plus.

was released with 3 episodes and subsequent episodes dropping weekly.

Creating See as a premier show for the launch of their network (Apple TV Plus) could be viewed as a risky move.

First, Apple has such a positive reputation with the Blind community. I’m sure they wouldn’t want to risk offending or having negative press like what we saw earlier this year when the CW launched “In the Dark” and the NFB responded with #LetUsPlayUs.

Yes, it’s Sci-Fi but blindness is real. Anyone who understands the power of media knows that it does impact how people view others.

but it appears they made every attempt to get it right.
Apple’s influence on accessibility goes beyond their own products.
When a clear leader of design and innovation makes such an open commitment to access, well it’s clear that others follow suit.

Leading off the launch of their streaming service, Apple TV Plus,
With a show built around a world where
blindness is the norm,
in an actual world where the thought of being blind is so feared.
I don’t know, that to me sounds like Apple once again being bold and let’s hope setting some trends.

This episode sort of made me want to look at whether I’m challenging my comfort level, putting myself out there enough, taking risks. As
people adjusting to blindness, disability I think we should be doing that.

It doesn’t have to be climbing mountains and what not. Those days are done for me. My back just hurts thinking about it. But there are definitely other ways. Who’s with me!

Joe’s experience is a great example of what’s possible.

I know there are some who hear Joe’s story and say he’s lucky. Well, I’ll agree with you. If you’re working with the same definition of luck. That’s when preparation meets opportunity. Because that’s when things happen.

[TR in conversation with JS:]
The coolest thing about watching the first episode was that right when it’s over and then ran the credits and I hear my man,
Audio: “Associate producer, Joe Strechay”, Audio Describer from See.

TR:
Dude I’m on the treadmill and I’m like yeh Joe, yeh! Laughs!

TR:

You can check out See (Available on Apple TV Plus) right now. Just open that TV app and you can get right on it. You can even get the first episode for free.

You can check out Joe on YouTube, his channel is called Joe Strechay. And he’s also on Twitter and Instagram under that same name.
That’s S T R E C H A Y!

TR:
I think this is a perfect way to officially close out the 2019 season.

I may drop an extra holiday episode, but you know there’s only one way to make sure you get that… Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts or where ever you like to get yours.

The podcast will be back in 2020 in time to help make things clear for anyone adjusting to blindness.

In the meantime please help spread the word. I hate to think of another young 19 year old who doesn’t get that help and have the same opportunities to reach their potential

Feel free to reach out and say hello. I love hearing from listeners.

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

I 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

TR:

Peace!

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