On Friday, a couple of friends invited me to see an inspiring Black History documentary called Who We Are which was created by Jeffery Robinson who was lead attorney for the ACLU before he founded his non-profit that has the same name as his documentary. I found out that Mr. Robinson spent most of his adult life in the Seattle area after growing up in Memphis during the civil rights era and getting a law degree from Harvard University.
I went all the way up to Seattle rather than seeing the movie locally because Mr. Robinson himself was going to be there. That was exciting for me. My own documentary filmmaker Jeffrey Hibbard also felt it was important to go and see a good documentary like this one, see the style of it on a big screen, and how the interviews were done, or when being on site at important locations is critical to a film. As it turned out, the style of Who We Are was a lot like what we’re planning to do.
I liked how the film started, showing the scenery of places like Memphis and Tulsa, giving us a feeling of the important cities and towns where key events took place. That’s exactly what I want in my documentary, starting in Tacoma where I was born, then Puyallup where I was raised, and Seattle where I was kept alive in the hospital during much of my childhood. The feelings of those places tell a lot of the story.
One of the things I liked about watching Who We Are and documentaries like this are they give me inspiration and motivation to keep going in my own life. I get inspired by the experience and perseverance of others who find the strength to fight for their rights. Watching the movie, I couldn’t help but think about the similarities and challenges that many of us still face with discrimination today.
Since there’s a lot of vocabulary needed to articulate a full understanding of other people’s experience, especially with things like racism, I’ll just try to share my perspective. In my case, or for the disabled in general, I don’t know whether prejudice or judgment or systemic discrimination are the right words. All I know is that those of us who experience discrimination can see it in a second.
In fact, the scene in the movie where Mr. Robinson confronts the guy holding a confederate flag in front of a confederate monument was intense for me. I’ve had to learn to handle situations like that, too. Like he did in the movie, I try not to react. I think about what to say before opening my mouth nowadays, because I have to decide if it’s worth confronting them, or better to just go about my day.
Anyone who has experienced disrespect based on how we look will know right off the bat for the rest of our lives what certain words and symbols mean, no matter how someone tries to define them later. Like a confederate flag, it’s disrespectful toward a whole group of people, and it always will be. It’s like people who say comments that are absolutely disrespectful to me, by extension it’s to everyone who has a disability. I guess some don’t realize what they are saying, but others do. They are trolls who think it’s funny, or think it’s going to give them attention, or a reaction that’s going to start some sort of altercation.
Still to this day in 2022, people are still dealing with this, and it affects us. I love going out, but I don’t do it as much as I would if I didn’t have to think about what some people will inevitably say or do around me. We learn to keep our heads down a lot, not really talking to people as much unless they ask us something. I’ve been in plenty of those situations, so I know people are out there with that mindset, and it’s literally dangerous not knowing what they might do.
There’s so much that still needs to be done for human equality. This country talks a lot about rights for everyone, but it’s not how we always act. We see someone down the street and think they are a no-good thug, with hoodie and baggie pants, just like seeing someone in a wheelchair and assuming they are mentally “less than.” I know things are a lot better than in the past, but people are still making assumptions and trying to control others when they don’t need to.
As a big Star Wars fan, it makes me feel better to think that there are two sides to the force, the dark side and the Jedi side. It helps me to think of it that way, to get past the fact that someone I never met before just insulted me and the rest of my people. I was raised to be nice, to give a lending hand if I saw somebody struggling, and so it’s hard going out in the world and finding out that’s not always the case. That’s when the real test happens – when the world tests you – and you realize what kind of person you really are. We change after a certain amount of insult and injury. We can become bitter. I’ve been there and had those feelings, I’ve seen it and lived it and I know the newest generation of kids are going through that same thing.
I learned a lot from seeing Who We Are, and I was about ready to head out after the movie, until my friends Kim & Chris Chisholm pointed out Seattle Seahawks football coach Pete Carroll down in front talking to Mr. Robinson after the show. I was like no, really? He blended in so well I just thought he was a regular guy – which of course he is – but everyone thinks of him as so much more. All I could think of was that my mom had stepped out into the lobby and was going to freak out. Fortunately she came back into the theater just before Mr. Carroll and his wife came up – Chris had gone down to ask him if he’d take a photo with us. I thought maybe he’d say, “Sorry, I’m on personal time and have to go,” but then all of a sudden he’s right there in front of me, and I was trying to not be a blabbering idiot with a million questions.
Coach Carroll shook my hand, chatted with me, and I think the biggest thing I’ll take away from the encounter was that after I told him what I was doing in my life (speaking gigs, consulting on accessibility, doing educational events, etc.), he said, “I can’t wait to see your documentary.” Pete Carroll, head coach of the Seattle Seahawks, told me that he can’t wait to see my documentary. I’ll never forget that! I have to say I really hope when Mr. & Mrs. Carroll do see my documentary, that they share it with Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and his famous wife Ciara since I’m a big fan of theirs, too. That would be a dream come true!