Posts Tagged ‘Vocational Rehabilitation’

Charles Curtis Blackwell – Words of Meaning Empowerment & Inspiration

Wednesday, October 21st, 2020

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

Photo by Liz Moughon

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

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

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




Show the transcript


Audio: City soundscape merges into a nightclub atmosphere.

TR as on stage Host:

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

— Applause

Thank you, thank you very much!

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

— Jazz Music Begins

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

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

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

It all drops after the intro!

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Theme



Music – Rahsan Roland Kirk, Volunteer Slavery

Have you ever heard of Rahsaan Roland Kirk?

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

I caught him live before I lost my eyesight.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Audio: Historic Radio News Broadcast

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Coach called him.

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

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

No, no, no I didn’t!

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

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

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

Audio: Sound of white school busing protests.

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

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

I got into reading.

Audio: School bell ringing

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

Music transition…

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

Music Transition

I got to college my whole world started changing.

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



Audio: Sound of ocean waves continues with van driving…


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

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

— brief silence

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

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

By the grace of God here I am.

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

I got back in college a few months later.

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

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

Cymbal crash


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

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

Cymbal crash

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

I was raised southern family, my folks from Mississippi.

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

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

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

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

Audio Cymbal crash

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

Audio: Subway train on tracks


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Audio from Track1 Charles Curtis Blackwell, In Color

Y’all gonna hear from me… someday!

An older Smokey voice off mic repeats

Y’all gonna hear from me… someday!

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

Music – Curtis Mayfield Back to the World


Curtis Mayfield had this song called Back to the World.

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

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

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

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

“Words that have meaning” – CC with Ambient effect

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

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

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

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

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

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

He said, he’s testing you.

He’s testing me?

Yeh, he’s testing you.

And that’s all my Dad said.

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

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

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

You could have a cafeteria in a federal building.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Music Begins…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

It was like a Martin Luther King story man.

This time it was real.

Audio Bridge

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

“Graduate school!” – CC with Ambient effect

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Music ends



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

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

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

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

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

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

I was doing stuff that was workable for my blindness.

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

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

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

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

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

Music ends!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Music begins.

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

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

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

Music pauses

apparently you don’t know the brother. ..

My name is Charles Curtis Blackwell!


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

Music begins.

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

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

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

Subscribe wherever you get podcasts!
Transcripts & more are over at 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

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



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eTitle:A Love of Language With Elizabeth Sammons

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2019

A headshot of Elizabeth Sammons & Cover of The Lyra & the Cross
Meet Elizabeth Sammons! Hear how her love of languages has taken her to Switzerland, Russia, the Peace Corps and helped her become a published author.

Her journey illustrates how we can find ways to include our passions in our career and throughout our lives.


The Lyra and the Cross


Show the transcript


Welcome back to another episode of Reid My Mind Radio. I’m your host and producer T.Reid. Just about every two weeks or so, I bring you someone who has been impacted by Blindness, low Vision or Disability in general. These are people I find compelling.
People I believe have a story to share. The goal is to reach those of you adjusting to vision loss.

There’s a real power in learning what it really does mean to live with disability as opposed to what we either indirectly or directly learned or
absorbed throughout our lives. I know this because I too have experienced vision loss and early on decided to challenge my own biases. Occasionally I bring you stories from my own experience as a man who became Blind as an adult.

Up next on today’s episode; we see an example of someone setting their own course through life.
while being sure to find ways to fulfill their passion.

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Theme Music


Allow me to introduce you to Elizabeth Sammons. She’s retired from the Vocational Rehabilitation and
international relations fields.

Currently, she and her husband are traveling the country in an RV while she continues in her new career as a writer. She’s been an exchange student, volunteered in the Peace Corps and lived and worked in Russia. We’ll get to that but as you’ll see, her early years really set the pace for how she lives her life.


I was raised in Central Ohio, small town which is a blessing.
Went to a school for the Blind for two years, learned Braille. Went on and long story short I was mainstreamed in the public school in fifth grade.


Let’s say Elizabeth’s high school experience left much to be desired socially.


I told my parents and I told the school I was willing to do anything if I could get out in three years rather than four. And I did that and I was only 16 when I graduated

[TR in conversation with ES:]
What was it that said, go ahead I’m going to go and finish early. Now I get it that you said you weren’t having a good time, I guess some bullying or whatever the case may be, but to say I’m just going to rush through it as opposed to the way I think most stories that involved bullying, sort of like the hiding from it, you weren’t hiding you said I have to get out of this situation.


I didn’t hide I ran


[TR in conversation with ES:]
And that doesn’t seem like a typical response. What was that about?


Well I think it was realistic. I said What am I going to do to get away from this and hiding didn’t work for seven years. And I figured the best thing I can do, and I know I’m capable of it, is to work really hard and get out of at least a year.

I haven’t thought about that. you’re right . I actually think it was as healthy a response as I could have given at that point.

[TR in conversation with ES:]
Especially because you knew you could. You had a good sense of yourself at that age.

Elizabeth credits her parents for their early advocacy and support. for example, check out their decision following her early high school graduation.


My parents rightly said, you’re too young to go to college, you’re socially too young and so I had the opportunity to do an exchange year and I went to Switzerland for a year .

Studied for a year there in a French school and lived with a host family and that was not always easy but a really neat experience. The more I look back on it the more I realize how much it influenced me really.

[TR in conversation with ES:]

So your parents said you’re too young to go to college but they sent you to Switzerland. (Laughs…)


I never thought about that. (Laughs) That is a little… (Laughs)
I think what they meant was I was already a year ahead of my peers . I would have been almost two years ahead at that point. There’s a big difference as most of our listeners are going to know between someone who is 16 and someone 18. Plus my high school years had not been happy years and I think that they wanted me to just have another year to kind of de press from that. As it ended up my Switzerland experience, I was pretty well accepted by my peers there and I had some great experiences that it proved to me that Elizabeth was ok and that I could kind of set out a new like and not have the bad experiences with negative social experiences like I had before that. So it really worked out well. And I was happy to do it. I was an adventurer of different cultures and different people and so it was a great thing.


Elizabeth’s love of culture and languages began early.

I actually remember when I was about 10 years old turning our local television stations and there was a movie in French and I literally remember sitting and crying saying this is such a beautiful language I wish I knew it. So the first chance I did have which was high school to take a language and they offered Spanish, French and Latin. I decided on French because I was interested in Europe and I decided that would be the most widely spoken language next to English. I just took to it like a duck to water.


Returning home from Switzerland, Elizabeth enrolled in college. Majoring in both French and Communications she decided to complete college in three years. She then went on to complete her Masters in Journalism.


When I was at Ohio University studying Journalism I had a few extra credits, we had to take some electives and I decided my electives would be starting to learn Russian because I’d always been interested in Russia and Russian culture but had not had the opportunity to study it. So
I began to study it . Made friends with one of the Russians who worked in our language lab and she really helped me privately just because she wanted to. She saw I was interested. I started volunteering . At that time there were a lot of refugees coming in from Russian primarily Jewish refugees but also some active Christian refugees, also Baptist and other Christian groups . Most of them came adults with kids but some of the adults with kids would also bring their parents and so you would have people 60, 70, 80 even older who would be coming in for many reasons would not be able to learn English or very little English. I volunteered to say hey if you’ll speak to me in Russian I can do things like make telephone calls for you , help you read your mail, help you correspond, maybe talk with your landlord for you with you, interpret for you as I learn better Russian and people needed that and wanted that . So I was able to give to that community and they were able to give to me as my Russian developed and it was a really great kind of exchange.

Although Elizabeth’s Master’s Degree ultimately was in Journalism, her real interest was creative writing.


I was writing stories ever since I was 4 years old. I love to read I love to write. Storytelling and also fact gathering, I love both of those things. I wanted to get my masters in creative writing and my mother who was alive then said, anyone who knows you knows you can write well but if you have on your graduate certificate Journalism, then you’re a lot more likely to get a job then you are in creative writing. And I’m so glad number one she said that and number two I listened. She was truly right about that and the creative writing sort I don’t want to say came of itself but it was something I knew I could do. Journalism so strengthened my writing .

[TR in conversation with ES:]
The fact gathering methods must have been a challenge in getting a Journalism degree. What was that like? Now we have the internet …


You’re so right on the questions you’re asking me . You’re right because I was studying in the 80’s . There was no internet. I did rely on readers . I did rely on asking the right questions. I did rely on cooperation with fellow students and I realize after having been midway in my degree year, coming closer to finishing it that I was not going to be a kind of Journalist that could get a 3 AM call on a three bell fire alarm and get there and do an adequate story most likely. so what interested me more was storytelling journalism of that type that travel magazines and other less time sensitive periodicals but none the less periodicals that need good journalism and need good fact finders and reporters would do.

I should also mention that especially my Master’s program where I needed to read so much I had a number of volunteer readers who were from other countries that I said hey if you’ll read for me I’ll help you with your pronunciation. If there are words you don’t know I’ll take time to explain those to you and when it comes down time for you to write your thesis or write papers I’ll help you edit. So again I would really encourage anybody who has abilities to find that means of exchange. Not what can you do for me but what can we do for each other.


Doing for each other or finding a way that everyone can benefit is one of the motivators prompting Elizabeth to join the Peace Corps.

Hoping to put her knowledge of Russian to work, she wanted to land an assignment in Russia or Poland.


Well they decided to send me to the one Eastern European country that spoke a totally different language, Hungary. I think they said well if she could learn French and Russian she can learn Hungarian too, which I did study it as soon as I found out that they were inviting me to go there as an English teacher.


Unfortunately, Elizabeth’s time in Hungary was cut short due to some health problems.

She did however get the opportunity to immerse herself in the Russian language and culture during her almost decade stay in the 90’s.


I had worked a bit in Russia before that with a government exhibit that traveled through Russia and I think I’d been the first person with a disability that they knew of that did that and it had been going on for about 40 years as kind of a citizens exchange. I was interested in going back to Russia , I had met a young gentlemen there so I went back and I heard from someone about a disability related kind of a program going on in that city so I contacted the American organizers and said hey guess what I’m living here I would love to serve if you have a position and they happened to have something . So it was kind of one of those right place right time situations where I jumped in as soon as I heard about it . They interviewed me . They gave me a job and also the fact of living in Russia and being bilingual and English is my native language there were so few of us that there were lots of teachers and interpreters and advertisers who really needed that skill of a native speaker so I was really able to get an American , small but albeit, American salary and American bank account at home and able to moon light and do my other things and make enough money on the economy there to live alright. And I got married too I forgot to say and I got married to this gentlemen.

[TR in conversation with ES:]
That sounds like what got you out there, the guy. Laughs…


It is, yes it is. The guy got me out there.


In 1996 Elizabeth returned to the states to give birth to her daughter. She went back to Russia about a year later and following a break up she and her daughter came back to the states in 2000.


Back to Ohio. I looked for a job. I used Vocational Rehab to help me and although it wasn’t the job I wanted. I knew a bird in the hand was better than two in the bush so I took a job with Social Security. I worked there for about 5 years as a Claims Rep and doing some PR for them.

And then I moved on in 2005 to our Ohio Vocational Rehabilitation system and Defacto I became kind of like the Public Relations person and community relations down at the state house with our legislators. Always kind of reaching out using that Journalism , using that research using the ability to gather facts and make recommendations and explain to people why we could or couldn’t do something or needed to do something. That was a lot of what I did.

[TR in conversation with ES:]
How about the languages? How were you incorporating those types of things?


It’s so funny that you ask that because in my interview for Social Security job I told them that I spoke Russian. And you know they kind of gave a token nod that’s cool. The first they I got there they said do you really speak Russian ? I said well yeh I told you I speak Russian. They said well, we’re having this Administrative law judge hearing with someone who’s Russian and doesn’t speak English today. Would you be willing to go be the interpreter. My first husband had been a doctor and I heard all kinds of medical terms and different things and I didn’t blink an eye well sure I’d be happy to save you the money for hiring an interpreter, why shouldn’t I do that. And I think they were kind of shocked and picked themselves off the floor. I had to be very careful explaining to the lawyer and the Russian speaking client that I do receive my salary from Social Security but in this hearing I am your interpreter. I am not taking any sides with Social Security. You know I’m not taking your side either . My job is to make sure you’re heard.

There were some cultural ways that this gentleman answered that didn’t make sense. I knew what he meant and I said the true sense of what he meant to the judge and after the gentleman left with his lawyer the judge said Ms. Sammons would you stay here for a moment. I thought oh boy an I in trouble. And he said I’ve been a law judge for 20 years this is one of the very few times if ever that I felt I truly spoke with the claimant. I just kind of smiled and said well you can tell Social Security that too. I don’t say that to brag I simply say it because knowing the culture as well as knowing the language is really important when you’re an interpreter. Anyone who is out there and you have a visual impairment and you know two languages your interpreting shouldn’t be effected in any way by your vision. Something you can readily do as long as you know the languages and understand what’s behind the culture so I’d encourage you to think about that.


Elizabeth had additional opportunities to interpret in the Social Security Administration, as part of Vocational Rehab and as a volunteer in the community.

Notice how Elizabeth is putting her interests into action in and out of her career.

[TR in conversation with ES:]
What about the writing?



I kind of put the writing on a back burner for a while. Not that I didn’t write at all but I certainly did lots of writing for my job, but in terms of creative writing . I started up with a group a writing group which meets twice a month and we’d go over one another’s manuscripts and give comments.


Elizabeth suggests avoiding the writers groups where author’s read their work and group members critique on the spot. Understandably, such a process isn’t going to produce quality feedback.

She began by sharing one of her already completed short stories.


They liked it, but they didn’t like it as much as I did. I really felt for 4 years that it wasn’t the best I’ve ever wrote, but it was the thing that I wrote that I loved the most and it was just sort of crying out to me, you’ve done this little bitty sketch, you need to turn this sketch into a big portrait.


At the same time, tragedy in Elizabeth’s life served as even more inspiration. This included the loss of two friends, one of which was to Cancer.

This death experience and the broken relationship experience really made me think a lot about what makes a friendship work or not work and what happens when people are so different that they can’t live together, they can’t get along.


Taking two characters from the Bible, Steven or the first Christian martyr…


and some people may know who Paul or Saul was – a Jew who then began to believe in Jesus but before he did he wrote lots of letters in the New Testament like the first and second Corrinthians and Romans and Ephesians and other writings.

He first comes into the Bible when Stephen is being stoned. It says a young man named Saul stood by and held the garments for those who stoned Stephen. Being that Paul/Saul was such a huge figure in the Bible later I thought that’s not a real positive light to come in. (Laughs) If you want to come in you might think of a different door to come in, but not that he wrote that.

The Greek tradition, and Stephen was Greek holds believe it or not that Saul and Steven were relatives. And this puts an entirely different light on Stevens martyrdom and what Western folks reading the Bible see… oh yeh, Saul was thee when Steven was martyred. So I held this together historically, respecting the tradition may or may not be true, but let’s say they were at least people who knew each other well. I portrayed Steven and Saul as best friends at the beginning of this book. Really close, grew up in childhood , helped each other and gradually through the book as Jesus Christ comes on to the scene living and later crucified and Steven makes the choice to believe in him as the Messiah and Saul very strongly holds to the traditions in the honor of those traditions and how the friendship breaks.

I describe the events of that through different points of views so there’s some chapters that witness of Steven and some are witness of Saul some are witness of other characters that I invented or other historical characters that see this change in the friendship and of course ultimately the martyrdom.

Many scholars do believe that Saul had a disability. And I did in my book give him a disability which also influenced a little bit his take on this whole situation and his feelings and his reactions because he was never quite the one . He was always a little bit of the odd man out too. And deal as well with the loss of his friendship with Steven.


Elizabeth’s first novel, The Lyra and the Cross is currently available in both print and E-Book on


I am working on getting an audio copy ready and when that does come out I will definitely let you know that’s out.


Even before The Lyra and the Cross, Elizabeth wrote a manuscript for a book set in the 1990’s. It’s about a family who’s patriarch dies


They find out some secrets that expose them to realizing they have some very serious genetic threats in the family and they have some very serious other issues in the family that they never knew about.

And the name of that book which I hope to get published hopefully by next year is With Best Intent because all the characters except for one all are doing things believing they’re doing the right thing but unfortunately some of the consequences live on for decades and decades and mark people not in a good way.


Inspired by a story she created for a presentation, Elizabeth is finishing up a Children’s book on advocacy.

Told from the view of a family who brings in a homeless cat and this cat has to find its place in the home , make itself loved by the family when things go wrong let the family know. It’s the Advo Cat.

I’m working with a professional illustrator right now and she’s working on getting it visually pleasing to 10, 11, 12 year olds. I meaning it for pre-teens.

It’s not advocacy related to any particular disability or politics or religion it’s just good advocacy principles.

It’s called Omar Advo because in the beginning you don’t know he’s a cat.

I describe him but I don’t use the word cat at all and people are thinking he’s a human and then you see the picture and you realize he isn’t . The first lesson is sometimes someone isn’t who you think he is. That’s the first lesson of advocacy.

[TR in conversation with ES:]
Isn’t that the first lesson of life! Laughs…


Amen to that. laughs…

[TR in conversation with ES:]
Say the title one more time.


Omar Advo


It’s pretty apparent, Elizabeth knows how to adapt to new environments. Always finding ways to incorporate her interests and passions throughout her career and no matter where she calls home.


My husband Jeff retired two years ago and struggled and cajoled and finally convinced me that it was ok to retire young . So I did early resign from my Vocational Rehab job last August.

We are currently for the most part living in an RV and traveling around. Right now I’m talking to you from Texas. We plan to continue a lot of our travel .


Elizabeth’s not interested in writing about her travels. She prefers to pursue her creative writing.


I feel extremely blessed even though it’s not always easy but to be able to live as an artist right now and be able to really travel and see so many great things and meet some amazing wonderful people . My life right now is sort of on the road and as much on the pen as I can be. Exploring our country and hopefully exploring our world a little bit just enjoying and trying to be there for people.


While she’s not active on social media Elizabeth says if you’re interested in reaching out with any questions she’ll be happy to answer. Therefore feel free to send questions to ReidMyMindRadio at and I’ll forward them to her.

Once again, The Lyra and the Cross is currently available in both E-Book and hard copy from Amazon with an audio book version on the way.

You can find some additional writings from Elizabeth including posts on her international experience over on her blog She hasn’t written much in this space for a couple of years but like me I think you can find something you may enjoy.

A big shout out to Empish Thomas for recommending and introducing me to Elizabeth.

Empish is a freelance writer and one of the bloggers along with Elizabeth on Vision Aware .com.

You can always send me feedback or recommend a guest or topic all you have to do is hollaback!

We have the comments section on the blog,
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