Wednesday, January 9, 2013

My Interview with disabled writer and activist Leroy Moore, Jr.

Happy New Year !!!!!!!!

(Cues DJ Eric B.) It's been a long time , I shouldn't of left you. Without dope blog to step too ....

I am excited to bring to you my interview with Leroy Moore, Jr. who is an African American disabled writer, poet, community activist, and feminist.  I often read his work as a columnist of Illin-N-Chillin on Poor Magazine and continually find myself learning something new or feeling validated in my critiques of the injustices happening to marginalized folk.  Leroy is also the founder of Krip-Hop Nation (an international project of Hip-Hop and other musicians with disabilities) and Co-Founder of an igroup of artist called Sins Invalid:An Unashamed Claim to Beauty In the Face of Invisibility.

As a Black writer, poet, hip-hop/music lover, community activist, feminist and consultant on race and disability with a physical disability, he has been sharing his perspectives on identity, race, and disability for the last 13 years. His work began in London, England where he discovered a Black disabled movement which led to the creation of his lecture series, "On the Outskirts: Race & Disability". He is also producer and columnist of Illin-N-Chillin at Poor Magazine and creator of Krip-Hop Mixtape Project. He is one of the leading voices around police brutality and wrongful incarceration of people with disabilities and has studied, worked, and lectured in the field of race and disability concerning blues, hip-hop, and social justice issues in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and the Netherlands.

Q&A With Leroy Moore, Jr.
TALINA: How would you describe Disability Arts? Disability Culture? In your mind, whom does it appeal to, in other words, who is your audience?
LEROY:  In my view as a Black straight man, disability arts/culture does not lay separate from my other identities and is a process of self empowerment that bumps into society’s oppression but if you hold on to it and mix it up with your full identity then it becomes less of I and more toward a cultural community that has a rich and colorful history and future.  Knowing that you are adding to what has been there, makes that person see that it is stronger then oppression and what popular cultural wants you to believe.  Thus, nobody can shake the art/cultural foundation that you are adding to- cause it has always been there.  Some times we as artists/activists/authors need to define our audience for marketing sake and in the beginning to get approval but beyond that period I think all art, writing, teaching is and needs to be for everyone if we want real change.

TALINA: In what ways have contributing to the disability rights movement via arts and culture impacted your identity?  Do you hope to influence the younger generation’s ability to identify positively with disability culture? How?
LEROYBeing an activist in the disability rights movement and educating others about disability culture has extremely impacted all that I am today. Race has also played into my experiences in the disability rights movement and in my cultural activism through my poetry, songs and or performances in a key in most of my cultural projects that I do.  For example, the creation of Broken Bodies Police Brutality Profiling Mixtape came out of my decades of activism around police brutality cases involving largely Black and Brown people with disabilities.  Not all of my cultural expression is about my identity. I also like to challenge myself to be a better alley in other communities in my writings, events and products that I put out.  For example in 2009 Krip-Hop Nation (A project that I started) first public event was Krip-Hop and Homo-Hop bringing Hip-Hop artists who were disabled and queer to try to break down this wall of hush hush and so much more.  In February I’m putting out a mixtape of poemsongs that deals with sexuality, relationships, disability and our need to be wanted. I think the mixtape will have a message that goes beyond identity.  It’s humanity that anybody can understand but at the same times it explains some of our experience as people with disability looking for love and respect.   I hope to help the youth especially disabled youth of color to be critical on what they hear, see and read from mainstream and institutions and to take what I try to lay out and take it apart agree or disagree with it but to build on it with their own art, words, music and visuals etc.

TALINA: As a mom , who is very aware of identity politics and identifies a woman who subscribes to the black feminist thought process, when I worry about my son navigating the world …it is not him I am trying to fix.  It is society’s view of him, particularly because of the intersections that have impacts on his life.  Can you describe the impact of being identified as black male and disabled, or is there one? 

LEROY: I use to react to how people identify me as however in my forties I make my own impact and that is with my whole self that stems back to the knowledge that I have a strong cultural/activism history that I’m contributing to.  It’s a hard road because many have tried to put roadblocks and it is easier to give into the peer pressure as you grow into a person with a solid foundation of who you are.  But once that formation becomes solid then it’s no way of breaking it.  The two things I always recommend to parents are (1) consistently diversify not only in people but also places, situations; books etc. and (2) promote your child’s critically thinking not only among their peers, but their elders with a good framework.  It is important not only to disagree to disagree but to be able to back it up on why and to show a different point of view.  I think both elements can lead to a person with a sense of who she or he is and that can be protected from outside pressure to conform thus feeling comfortable in his/her skin and at the same time recognizing and welcoming diversity.

TALINA: Do you think it is important for the disability political and cultural movement to have multicultural faces and stories?  Why? What are the barriers? Any solutions?

LEROY: I been saying this since I was a boy that disability has diverse faces, bodies, skin color and as I got older and let myself  be schooled by others I also learn and carry to this day that disability is fluid like our sex , our families and our partners.  This must be presented on stage, in books, in the music we buy, on TV. Online etc. but we need to do it and not relay on others. It don’t matter how small or large, with or without an agent, publisher, mainstream TV, etc. cause we are building on what our disabled ancestors left us and also people are looking to us to show that mirror to the world.  We have art, music, activism, solutions that needs to be display and at the same time we need to listen to others knowing that our disability is only one aspect our identity but we belong to a world that is diverse and holds so much education that can and has benefit us all.

The barriers are always there and sometimes feel overwhelming more on a systemic level than an individual level that makes any individual feels helpless.  Like when mass mainstream media continue to misrepresent us as people with disabilities at a time of economic downturn, a public crisis or on the other end using pity to stir up reaction all by using our identity in a negative light.  In these situations we must support our local activists/cultural workers with disabilities that are disruption that framework with their own empowering, political educations, historical and popular artistic avenues.  Sorry to say but as a whole we don’t support the good what goes on at a local smaller level and I hope we as a community will continue in a big way to change that.

TALINA: Do you have any advice for parents who are raising children of color with disabilities? Do you think it is important for them to expose their children to disability arts and culture? Why?

LEROY: I think I answer this question in the previous question however I think the world would be a different place if kids were raised with some kind of diversity every day.  Can you imagine if a youth of color was raised with exposure to not only disability but also all types of identities at birth until their teens on a regular basis?  It would be a different world.  Parents most of the times are so concerned with services and legal rights for their disabled kid of course but can you imagine if we add the cultural, history, art and music of people with disabilities as a subject to pass down to our kids like the laws and services?  It would help develop a strong sense of belonging and pride.

Thank you for your time, thoughts and contributions to the movement. Because of you, I have another positive role model for my son, and for that I am eternally grateful. (TJ)

 In the early days of gathering information about my son's diagnosis , I was looking for some culturally relevant information  I wanted to know in what ways would raising a young black man be impacted by his diagnosis of Down Syndrome. I was trying to craft a vision for my son's life, a path and I could not find information,  beyond medical lists of doom and gloom , that included my culture.  Fast forward 5 years later, enter social media, training projects , etc and access to wonderfully diverse communities of parents and experiences etc , but more importantly , access to adults with disabilities who are advocates , activists  artists etc from all different types of backgrounds.  
Talk about renewing my vision.  While I have never had low expectations for my baby :) ( I can hear his father now , yelling , he is a big boy !!! Sheesh )  , I certainly can see a clearer path to him being an artist.  Why is that so important ?  Because it informs the choices I make for him now. It also helps me to cultivate a positive identity with him.  In the same way , I feel compelled to take him to the Schomburg Center in Harlem , or listen to the blues , or break dance to hip hop, I also feel compelled to make sure he has those same information and inspiration via his connection to disability arts and culture.  What he does with it when he gets older , who knows .  But it is important for me to connect with folks like Leroy to inform my notions of what his life might look like  beyond just a quest for services ( that part of his answer was very powerful and challenging .... Love it!!) 

Your Thoughts???