Endorsed: Mr. Robot.

“Did I really just say all of that out loud? SHIT, I did.”

That’s one of my favorite quotes after having finished a recent episode of Mr. Robot. I’m all about this show, and I never, ever thought I would be.

Months ago, I first heard about it after a bunch of friends started watching it. The way they described it – as a psychological thriller – made me think it would be a bit dark for me. Then, earlier this summer, Kimmie W. and I were looking for a new show to begin watching together (I’ve been consuming a ton of media with all of this downtime that I’ve had). After a few recommendations she, too, mentions the show too.

And then, in a real kicker, I log into my Amazon Prime account and it recommends the show to me through their Amazon Video feature. When my algorithms figure me out, I feel like that’s the truest sign that I need to listen.

Now that I’ve finished all of the first season and the first 3 episodes of the second season in about two weeks, I have to say: this is 1 of the best shows of the summer. 

The show stars Rami Malek (he was actually in a few episodes of 24 – and you know how much I loved 24!) as Elliot, a young computer hacker. He works for a cyber-security firm by day but is a vigilante underground computer hacker and coder by night. There’s the conflict.

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Read more after the jump …

TONIGHT! LIVE ART Premieres on National TV.

Inclusion. Everybody. Compassion. Love. Art. Performance. That is LIVE ART.

Almost 2 years ago, I published this heart-felt, long, long post about an amazing, inclusive, and powerful program I had recently discovered. Although I didn’t begin that day as a part of their community, by the end of it – I was so deep and wanted to be even a bigger part of it.

That community is the LIVE ART community.

The above is the trailer from “From the Wings,” a movie about SPARC’s LIVE ART program.

Being witness to the LIVE ART project and its development changed my life. It re-sparc’d (see what I did there?) my passion for working with students of all abilities. In the smallest example, since meeting and working with staff members and students who are involved with the development of LIVE ART, I’ve learned much more sign language. I learned a whole other language just to communicate with some of these great people! I mean, isn’t that the definition of inclusivity? Otherwise, it firmly and passionately reminded me the importance of having a seat for everyone at any table and that there is limitless value added in practicing inclusivity.

The immersion you feel as an actual part of this program is something that I can only imagine. Because the sensory experience – visual, physical, spatial, compassion(al), … they are all there. I am grateful to have developed friendships with so many who are the heart of LIVE ART. If you watch this movie – you can get kind of close to that feeling, too.

Over the years, LIVE ART has impacted the lives of hundreds of students and it has also impacted dozens more staff member’s lives. I hope you will tune in – and at least for the short time that you are watching, it will impact yours, too.

“This big audience, just wanting to see you.”

Tonight, 9:00 p.m., your local Public Broadcasting System (PBS) affiliate. Check out that link, too – it’ll air again on Sunday and that calendar looks like it will be updated periodically in the future.

Thanks for reading.

 

Every new person I met last month.

If you’re a faithful reader of this blog, you know that I have a goal of meeting 1 new person every single day. For the month of July 2016, I decided to embark on a little adventure that would document that goal. I wanted to make a note on every single person that was my “new person” for that particular day, and maybe a little story about them.

This project took on many forms so far this year through the brainstorming process. Last year, I recorded 1 second of my life every single day, and I didn’t know if I could translate something like that into something closer to my goal of meeting a new person daily. Like, how do you approach someone and ask them if you can post a photo or story about them on your little space on the internet? Would people even be into it?

Instead, I decided to keep notes. Those notes that I kept in my iPhone turned into this blog. After you click through, you’ll see a whole list. 1 person for each day. 31 folks. Some of them may become better friends, some of them were just through the service industry, others have played a huge part in my health and healing.

Each person, no doubt, has left an impact on me. Thanks to a little note about them and their name I can instantly launch back, mentally, to that day, and our interaction. I believe that our ability to be social is one of the greatest privileges we are provided as human beings. This little project just takes advantage of that, and writes it down. And reminds me of the beauty in being social creatures. In sharing information, in learning about other’s lives, in getting advice when you least expect it.

As I’ve always said, the potential behind being open to meeting 1 new person everyday is limitless.

I also like to ask my 1 new person, if the conversation goes deeper, 1 constant question: “What makes you awesome?” I’ve included the answer to that question where I could/took note of it. :)

Enjoy!

Read more after the jump …

July 26, 1990: the ADA.

It was a momentous day. Huuuuuuuge, I tell ya. July 26, 1990: a Thursday and the 207th day of that year.

Why do I think that, you might be asking yourself. I wasn’t even born yet!

Here’s why:

On this day, legislation known as the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law. Today, 26 years ago, the federal government expressed a direct and concerted interest and effort into make my quality of life better as an American with a disability. They showed care toward my experiences that I would have in the future in the hiring process, in public environments, with the government, and more. This is the anniversary of that very, VERY important day when disability rights were realized as civil rights.

Whenever I reflect on my experiences so far as a man with a disability that is also an American citizen, I can’t help but reference the ADA. I’ve never lived in a world where the ADA legislation was not in effect. Therefore, it’s been much less likely that I would experience a violation of my civil rights in any situation simply due to my disability.

This is a reality that can’t be said for folks around the world. Frankly, this entire website and speaking endeavor and my quality of life would not be possible if not for the ADA.

Read more after the jump …

#HOW2Montréal.

For the most part, what happens in Montréal stays in Montréal. But there are some general things I MUST share with you all from a fantastic recent trip north of the border for a buddy’s bachelor party! Check out the slideshow below.

All in all, some must-do’s when you’re in Montréal:

  • Check out Mount Royal. It’s absolutely gorgeous.
  • Smoked meat at Schwartz’s.
  • Get some Timmy’s, better known as Tim Horton’s. (basically a Candian version of Dunkin’ Donuts in the states)
  • Go to a music festival.
  • HAVE POUTINE!
  • Have a Montréal bagel. (preferably with brunch)
  • Ask locals where to go, too, especially if you’re looking for bars. Also, check out the huge and brewing ;) brewpub culture.
  • If it’s in season, go to a hockey game. This isn’t something we got to do though :( But Canadians do love their hockey.

And some logistical tips…

  • Use the Google Translate app – there’s a lot of french! It gives you a live translation (see the slideshow). It’s GENIUS.
  • Understand the foreign transaction fees on your credit card and make sure to exchange any leftover Canadian cash that you withdrew when you get back to the states, before you leave the airport.
  • Adjust your phone plan so that you can use Uber/Maps/etc. while you’re navigating. VERY important, in my opinion, when trying to navigate a new place.
  • Budget for lots of Ubers. It just seemed so much more convenient than the public transportation, especially with a big group of us.

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Mandela Washington Fellows.

Today is Mandela Day. Folks are celebrating this amazing man around the world. Hearing and seeing these celebrations is inspiring me to reflect on an experience I had a little less than a month ago. The power and wisdom that I felt on that day and with those fellows left memories and an impact on me that feels like it was only yesterday that I met all of them. I wish that they would say the same.

“In November 2009, the UN General Assembly declared July 18th ‘Nelson Mandela International Day‘ in recognition of the former South African President’s contribution to the culture of peace and freedom.”

It was an early Saturday morning, and if I was following doctor’s orders I probably would have been laying in bed somewhere, getting a ton of rest. But instead, I had made the trek to Blacksburg, back to my alma mater, to meet with a very special group of students. I was rolling down University City Boulevard to make it to the LCI and meet with some students who had just arrived to Virginia Tech from many other countries.

A few weeks earlier, I got an e-mail from Virginia Tech’s Language and Culture Institute. Based on past presentations and the relationships I’ve forged with many of their staff members, I was honored that they were inviting me to come and present to a new program, a new set of students. In the past, I had worked with the Humphrey Scholars Program, but this time around it was a new group of students – the Mandela Washington Fellows.

I didn’t know much about the program, but I immediately began to do my research. The Mandela Washington Fellowship is an inspiring program and an initiative by President Obama. The young students in this program are inspiring students and leaders in their fields from from Africa. It was started 2 years ago and is the flagship program of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) that empowers young people through academic coursework, leadership training, and networking. That’s why they were calling me in.

After working out some logistics – around the fact that I have been hospitalized for more than a third of the calendar days so far this year – we found a date that worked well for the fellows, shortly after their arrival to campus. The theme for their work that week was personal ethics and social change. You bet that my mental wheels immediately began turning. They were giving me two hours to work with the students and pretty much free reign. Intimidating, yes, but even more so: exciting! What an opportunity to make an impression on folks and connect with some people who are doing such great work.
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The 25 fellows were joined by several from the current cohort of Humphrey Fellows. My talk intentionally focused on the fact that social change can, too, come in small ways. It doesn’t always have to be large, orchestrated, coordinated, leader-driven movements that cause social change. That’s how I view social change in my every day life. My goal of meeting 1 new person everyday is it’s own form of daily practicing inclusion in my own communities.

Their professional experience ranged from working in disability rights and being directors of major programs to being a student activist and working with NGOs to being a youth mentor or a medical translator. As I do with most smaller-group presentations like this, I took the time and went around the room to ask every single student where they were from and what kind of work they were doing. It was beautiful to see the connections that began to be made not only between me and the fellows, but between some of the fellows who were, really, only just meeting each other. The road began to be paved for some serious change-making.

I informed them of my life’s motto – that life is all about what you have done for other people. And I spoke on how HESONWHEELS primarily focuses on social advocacy, inclusion, and disability. In fact, some of the fellows had never had direct interaction with people with disabilities. Others listed “disability advocate” as their primary role in the work they are doing – so the conversations we had even after the presentation were also lively and eye-opening. That’s the bread and butter of a good talk, I believe – is if the group is a manageable size and you can have time at the end for a great Q&A that usually turns into more of a conversation and revelations for everyone in the room. It’s a beautiful experience.

Finally, I reminded the fellows that even though they had been transplanted to this new country and were in a completely new environment, to be sure to open themselves up to the potential of community. Community is not only the name of one of my favorite books, but it’s also one of my favorite aspects of the human experience, especially when it’s “done right.” I was hoping that, since it was so early in their six week program, this mindset would position them to fully experience all that Virginia Tech and, frankly, the United States has to offer.

I have continued to be connected with many of the fellows, via e-mail, in the weeks since that wonderful Saturday morning. I hope these connections continue and that their great work continues as they follow their passions and help the people they care about the most. That is what each of us should be doing everyday, through a lens of social advocacy and justice. It’s what I do, and it’s why I believe we can each play a part – big or small – in making the world a better place through service.

Edit: I also wanted to share blogs that 2 of the fellows have penned since I met with them. 

First, “The wound is the place where the light enters you- Rumi” by Amel Belay Yimer .

And, also, “Leaving your mental door open equals learning…” by Lusungu Kalanga.