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Empowering the Next Generation

Documentary Film Review: “My Girl Story” by Tameka Citchen-Spruce

Los Angeles, CA, March 31 – As a Black girl, you are often made to feel small, and the moment you feel emotions you are seen as too emotional, confrontational, and other not so pleasant adjectives that are far too often used to describe Black women. There is this stereotype that we must be strong, and we can handle whatever life throws at us. Now, in some ways that may be true, but it’s a part of our heritage that was perpetuated on us since the beginning of slavery. I can tell you firsthand Black women are tired of the idea that we must be strong all the time. Sometimes we want to be vulnerable, experience joy, and feel like we can ask for help and support. But it’s sometimes even hard for us to ask for that support.

Headshot of one of the subjects of the documentary film "My Girl Story"I had all these thoughts while watching “My Girl Story,” the insightful documentary produced by filmmaker and 2021 RespectAbility Entertainment Lab Alumna Tameka Citchen-Spruce. It tells the story of two young Black women who struggled with bullying and subsequent fighting in school. As Executive Producer on the film, Citchen-Spruce explains, “Growing up I never saw media representation that resembles my story. So it’s an honor to produce a story of the next generation of Black disabled girls.” [continue reading…]

Never Lose Sight of Your Worth: A Letter To My Younger Self

Los Angeles, CA, March 31

My Dear Younger Self,

Courtney Munnings smiling headshot wearing a black suit jacket and pink shirtI’m sorry to tell you, you’ll always be different. You won’t always see it, but you’ll feel it. And others will too. The problem is, there are more of them than there are you. So, you will feel wrong. And you won’t fit in. But it won’t be for lack of trying.

For many more years, you will feel desperate to belong. Because belonging means safety, so your mind will make it happen. You will do subtle things to mimic your peers in the same way that you breathe –automatically. You mostly won’t know that you’re speaking or looking or moving like the Others; you will only know that they like you. A lot. But you won’t take it for granted. In fact, you will be hyper-vigilant about people-pleasing. All of your interests and personal goals will relate to being good, looking good, and doing good for others. [continue reading…]

Advice to My Younger Self: Finding Independence Through Community

Abigail Shaw smiling seated on a bench outside

Photo courtesy of Rick Guidotti, Positive Exposure 109

New York City, March 25 – A couple of weeks ago I received a larger-sized envelope on my doorstep. Initially I thought it was something for my partner. I’m blind, and I use a lot of different techniques or apps to adjust to a predominately sighted world. For this task, I scanned the mailing label with an app on my phone that converts text to speech to uncover who the sender was. In the end, it was indeed addressed to me, and it was my master’s in social work degree diploma.

For a moment, I caught myself reflecting on the care-free, and seemingly invincible version of myself from 12 years ago. I had been focused on getting a college degree, moving to a big city, and recording and producing stellar music. In contrast, the somewhat wiser, still witty as ever, and more cautious 30-year-old iteration of me is not meeting the expectations of my youth. It’s taken some time to embrace and love all the facets of what has made and continues to make me Abigail.

The me back in the early days of undergrad had envisioned the “grown up” me being Miss Independent. She’d have this super satisfying job that paid well and was, most likely, in the music industry. All of the stereotypes she tried to run away from about disabled people and traditional roles for women would magically dissolve if she lived in a big progressive city. From the outside looking in, you could have said I was well on my way toward accomplishing [most] of these things. [continue reading…]

Unlocking Society’s Mold of Expectations

Ketrina Hazell seated in her wheelchair, smiling

Ketrina Hazell
Photo courtesy of Rick Guidotti, Positive Exposure 109

New York City, March 25 – Professionals always have tried to frame the expectations of my life, whether they were an educator, service provider, or medical professional. Doctors told my parents I would never be able to see, hear, walk, talk, or live a “normal” life. What is normal? Despite my parents being given low expectations of me, I am no less of a human in their eyes.

I asked my parents one day why I can’t walk or do certain things. At that moment I learned what my story is. We all have a story. What’s your story?

I was born premature weighing only two and a half pounds, so doctors said that I needed to stay in the hospital for weight gain. While there I received a lack of oxygen to my brain, and as a result my motor skills were impacted. At nine months old, my parents expressed concerns about my lack of progress in my milestones, and this early intervention is when my parents learned the name of my disability. Cerebral Palsy is a part of me. [continue reading…]

Writing Myself Into Existence: by Leo B. Allanach

(Trigger warning: sexual assault, bullying, homophobia, ableism)

Leo Allanach headshot smilingLos Angeles, March 14 – When you’re disabled, when you’re trans, when you’re a child growing up in a rural community of abuse, your body does not belong to yourself. The most important thing you can do, as impossibly difficult as it is, is to reclaim yourself.

I always thought part of my problem was taking up space. No matter how much I try, I feel like I’m on center stage, forcing everyone to look at me by virtue of existing. But it’s a negative space. I’m not seen as a full person when I use my cane – people come up and ask intrusive, rude, even hurtful questions. I’m not seen as something binary, and therefore “real,” but some strange queer Other, due to my transness and gender presentation. I’ve never had space to breathe, never had physical space to take up fully as myself. Nowhere was safe for me to exist. So, for a long time, I didn’t. [continue reading…]

The Crash of Learned Carelessness

Christina Link smiling headshot

Christina Lisk

Los Angeles, CA, March 12 – My wake-up call to learned carelessness came in Summer 2021, when a violent crash forced me out of a work-induced haze. Until then, I had spent years in a modus operandi wherein I was expected to treat my pain as though it didn’t matter. Physical, mental, emotional—none of it mattered when I was expected to fulfill the traditional definition of work. “Traditional” is the key word when coming from a background wherein other forms of work were treated as inferior, and illness was seen as an excuse.

For the five years leading up to that crash, I staggered through work as I struggled with two undiagnosed illnesses: hidradenitis suppurative and Lyme disease. I worked as a housekeeper, pet sitter, intern, volunteer mentor, and freelance writer. None of it mattered, however, as it didn’t lead to the “good job” with benefits or offer the opportunity to climb within a corporation. In the days leading up to the crash, I was throwing myself into work in hopes of getting this “good job” at long last.

Had I allowed myself to see the signs, I would have stepped away from work much sooner to take care of myself. In summer 2021, my health was in serious decline after various forms of stress sent it spiraling out of control. Along with stressors from the pandemic and a broken hearing aid, I had been left by my partner because I didn’t agree to his timeline for children. I swallowed Aleve like candy, chased it with caffeine, and tried to hide migraine symptoms under a theatrical smile. [continue reading…]

Joy St. Juste on ADHD, Motherhood, and Defeating Ableist Expectations

Joy St. Juste smiling seated on a couch with her children lying down with her.

Joy St. Juste with her children

Los Angeles, CA, March 4 – A third-generation Los Angeles native, RespectAbility’s new Marketing and Communications Director Joy St. Juste began her career as a freelance journalist after graduating from Arizona State University. However, after facing a rut in her life, she made a leap of faith and took a job at the English language newspaper, The Guadalajara Reporter. Her time in Mexico was integral to connecting to her roots and key aspects of her identity. I asked her if she connects her Latinidad to her gender in any way:

“There is definitely a throughline there…In connecting with your ancestors.” St. Juste replied. “When I meditate, I never see a man. It’s always like my grandma and my great grandma there, you know? And it’s interesting being a mother of a boy and a girl… Having my daughter, I definitely feel that through line.”

St. Juste explains that being diagnosed with ADHD heavily plays into womanhood in a myriad of ways. She was not diagnosed until she was 37 and this presented its own unique challenges: [continue reading…]

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