The inaugural installment of our Disability Power Series. Journalist and disability rights advocate Keah Brown presented her first book The Pretty One, a thoughtful, inspiring, and charming collection of essays exploring what it means to be black and disabled in a mostly able-bodied white America. Keah's work has appeared in Teen Vogue, ESPNW, Harper's Bazaar, and Marie Claire UK, among other publications, and is the creator of the viral campaign #DisabledAndCute.
Born with cerebral palsy, her greatest desire used to be normalcy and refuge from the steady stream of self-hate society strengthened inside her. But after years of introspection and reaching out to others in her community, she has reclaimed herself and changed her perspective.
>> EMILY BLUM: We are just going to wait a few more minutes to get started to wait for everybody to join us.
All right. Well, we're going to get started. First, thank you, everyone, for joining us this afternoon. My name is Emily Blum. I'm the executive director of ADA 25 Advancing Leadership, and it's so good to see so many of our members and leaders on this call. Welcome to all of you, whether you have been a longtime friend or one who is brand-new to us, we are so glad you have joined us today. Thank you to all of you who made a donation to support this virtual event. We are so thankful for your generosity and your gift ensures that this event is accessible to all of our participants.
For those of you who may be unfamiliar with ADA 25 Advancing Leadership, let me introduce us. We are a network of positive disrupters. All people with disabilities who are using our power to create an equitable and inclusive society, and today, we are thrilled to be launching our Disability Power Series and feature our first conversation with writer, author, and creator of #DisabledandCute, and she is very disabled and cute, Keah Brown.
But before we begin, a few housekeeping and accessibility notes. Earlier today, we sent out a guide on accessing some key accessibility features in Zoom, but I wanted to especially highlight how to access CART or live captioning. To see captions, turn them on by clicking the CC closed captioning icon. You can also change the size of the captions in settings. My colleague Alex will be monitoring the chat box, so if you have any problems, she can help you troubleshoot. We will hold some time for a few questions at the end, so please feel free to enter those questions in the chat box as the conversation evolves. Also, I want to note that this convening is being recorded, so we can share it with those who weren't able to attend live. Lastly, if you are a person with a disability and are interested in joining our community, we want to hear from you. In the chat box, we will put a link to our website and how you can apply to become a member.
With that, I'm going to turn it over to my colleague Risa Rifkind, who will be facilitating our conversation, and the incomparable Keah Brown.
>> RISA RIFKIND: Thank you so much. Keah, we are so excited to have you join us. I'd like to just jump right in. You know, I want to check out your website and to read "The Pretty One" to learn more about her if you haven't already. But first and foremost, Keah, I hope you are staying safe and healthy during this time. Can you share with us how you're passing your time, spending your time right now?
>> KEAH BROWN: Yeah. Right now, I've been focusing a lot on writing. I try not to, like, pressure myself into being productive because I hate the idea that, like, this is just free time that we're supposed to use to be productive, like we can do whatever we want. But for me, writing sort of, like, calms me down and keeps me centered. I've really just been work on things that I'm hoping to, like, you know sell or pitch once this is all over, and I just try to write in the morning, take a break, have some lunch, watch a movie or a TV show. And then write some in the afternoon.
But I try not to write past, like, 7:00. I just like the idea -- I'm a Virgo, so I love a routine. And that really just helps me keep, you know, sane and safe and grounded and just like, you know, able to get up in the morning and be fine. I can get through this. So, yeah, writing has been literally a God send.
>> RISA RIFKIND: I love the idea of a routine. I hope to be diligent and get my own routine together sooner than later. Maybe I need to just find my outlet. But thank you again for joining us and welcome to the virtual Disability Power Series. You are our first guest, which is super exciting.
>> KEAH BROWN: An honor.
>> RISA RIFKIND: It's our honor, so thank you for letting it be our honor to have you. And as a woman of color with a disability myself, I was hoping you could share with us and reflect on how you find power as a woman with a disability.
>> KEAH BROWN: Well, I mean, a lot of the power that I have I find through the work. I feel like I'm my most confident self, most certain self on the page, I think by not allowing myself or people like me, like women of color, who are disabled, to be erased from the narrative of disability. Like, that's what gives me the most power, is writing and saying, you know, even on social media, like I'm here and I'm not going to be ignored.
And what it means to be disabled. I think just using my voice in my platform, which I hate the word platform. But using it to be who I am all the time without apology, and talk about what it means to be of color and disabled, what it means to be queer and disabled, what it means to live with those intersections and not apologize for the space that I take up. That's where I find my most power, when I'm like, I'm not going to apologize.
I'm not going to sugar cut anything. I'm just going to be who I am all the time and that's going to be enough for me, if it's not for you, then great, keep it moving. But if it is, welcome, let's have some fun. Let's enjoy the time we have together.
>> RISA RIFKIND: I think that's why I relate, you tell it like it is. We tell it like it is, and hopefully that's what makes us charming as well.
>> KEAH BROWN: Right. Fingers crossed.
>> RISA RIFKIND: I think you're doing a great job. You're using your platform to do that. In "The Pretty One," you talk about the difficulty of representation, when you are representational, in your words. And how you blast audiences in movies, but those didn't have disabilities. Tell ut more about your opinion of today's representation, has culture, pop culture m oved forward at all?
>> KEAH BROWN: I think very slowly and small steps. But when I look at characters like Garrett on "superstar," I think we're getting to a place where we're allowing disabled characters to be fully realized people, and that's wonderful. But, again, you know, it has its own issues. He's not really disabled. And, you know, he's just one character in a sea of characters that gets to be who I think -- what I think is actually authentic in some way, even with his own problems. You don't see people like us in these shows, in these movie.
When we have a narrative, where it's white cis men who are wheelchair users who hate themselves. Those are the stories that I know are deserving to be told, but I think what happens is that we lose nuance when we're only telling those stories. And so for me, I think there have been strides made, but at the same time, there's still so much work to be done, and I think that we can't rest, you know, one or two decent pieces of representation. We should want so much more. And so for me, it's like, I love pop culture so much that I know what it can be, and I know that it has the potential to be great. It's just about, you know, me helping make it great. In whatever way that I can.
>> RISA RIFKIND: This is Risa. Related to, you know, representation of multi-representational people like me and you, and representation generally, of black people in and out -- people of color in and out of in the disability community, how has that specific element of representation within the disability community impacted your life and the stories that you shared?
>> KEAH BROWN: I think that -- I spent a lot of time initially being angry. I'm a person that can access anger very quickly. So I have to be careful of that. But I find myself just, like, frustrated. Because you would think that people who know what it's like already to be marginalized would be more willing and open to letting more people into the community, or talking about the ways in which we intersect.
And I think the problem that I have the most is that pop culture tends to see disability, like I said, in one narrow way, you know, only people who use wheelchairs are disabled. And that goes down to just a systematic thing, in terms of our symbols and stuff. But there are so many of us who have invisible disabilities, or who are disabled but don't use mobility aids, or just use them some of the time. I think the problem I see within the community is this idea that there's a hierarchy, that one is greater than the other.
But the reality is we're really all in this together, and so we can't do things like separate out, you know, who is worthy based on a sort of -- like, based on a sort of hierarchy of disability and based on the idea that, like, if you use mobility, you're somehow more disabled than the person before you or behind you. That's not the way it works in the real world, and I think once we can get to that place where we're able to say it and mean it, we'll be better off.
>> RISA RIFKIND: This is Risa. I love the conversation around hierarchy as well, because I think that happens a lot. It's not often talked about. But I'm going to switch a little bit. And thank you all for submitting questions. I see them coming into the chat. Keep sending them in. We are going to switch to audience Q&A, audience participation is welcome. So we'll get there momentarily.
But, something else that I think was really interesting in what you wrote about was that people without disabilities think about disability more than people with disabilities, which I think has its own hierarchy spin. What did you mean by that and how does that relate to ableism?
>> KEAH BROWN: Just that I think for a lot of us in the community, we -- you know, we know how to adapt, and we do so accordingly, because we have to. But the people who don't have disabilities or don't know anybody with disabilities, they think that it is the number one thing on our minds at all times, that we have no other interests or cares or, you know, hobbies or anything. They think that it's just disability all the time.
And I find that even with certain representations, people -- you can tell who is really behind it, if it's somebody with a disability or in the community or not. Because sometimes they make your disability the only personality trait. I love pop culture, I love rom-coms, different colors, all these random things. But those things are never talked about in conjunction with disability. It's always, like, disability or nothing full stop. And I think that's because nondisabled people don't understand that we could possibly care about anything else. They think that, oh, my God, because it's such a shock to them, they think that it's just a constant shock to us. And that that's all we must be.
But, you know, you're a fully realized human being and so is everybody else in this room. So, it's just important that nondisabled people stop thinking about the shock value of disability and start seeing the person behind the disability, or rather in tandem with disability.
>> RISA RIFKIND: I think that's really interesting too as we think about our current situation, and access to healthcare around the COVID-19 pandemic. And, like, talk of ableist dissemination and people without disabilities making decisions on who gets access in a life-saving measure, like access to ventilators, if someone else deems their life not as valuable, if you will. What have you been noticing in these times?
>> KEAH BROWN: It's hard not to be petrified. Like, it's hard not to spend my days just completely scared of even having to, like, go out to get the mail, or going out to, you know, get groceries if I need them. It's just this idea that, like, because we see so many articles, like the one in Pro Publica, that say the people with disabilities are the ones they're more likely to make comfortable instead of giving us the treatment that I think we deserve. That sort of reality scares me, because I don't want to die and I don't want to die because somebody who has no idea what it's like to live with a disability thinks that my life is less because I have one.
And what I've been trying my best to do is like, you know, thank God for therapy. I talk to my therapist about it literally every week. I'm like, girl, it's time for the COVID section of our session. Because I just need to talk about it. And I think for me, it's just using my voice online and talking about how ridiculous it is that people like me are being, you know, made comfortable instead of giving the care that we deserve because these people don't understand what it's like to live with disabilities. They think a preexisting condition automatically means we wouldn't make it.
But the only way we wouldn't make it is if they weren't really trying to do their jobs. Really, my whole focus in this whole thing is, like, you know, trying to stay afloat mentally by doing work, but also being honest about the fear behind the pandemic, because I think that a lot of people think that we're being, you know, overzealous, or there was somebody else who tweeted at me and they were like, oh, you're just being, like, dramatic.
And the articles came out, and I'm like, see what I'm saying, though? This isn't just me being alarmist, is the word they used. This is me being honest about the reality. And so I want people to understand that it's not the same for everybody else. And so we may all be in this together, but it's not always going to be the same result. We need to start thinking about those of us who are less in a position of fortune when it comes to, you know, our medical system.
>> RISA RIFKIND: I think related to that too is what happens after all of this? What happens after we come out of the pandemic. And I know in a recent Fast Company article, you said not allowing remote work until the threat of a pandemic is ableist and that accommodation for employees with disabilities makes better businesses. How do you see sharing your story as part of that larger culture for disability inclusion?
>> KEAH BROWN: What did you say? It cut out.
>> RISA RIFKIND: How do you see sharing your story as part of the larger culture change for disability inclusion in corporate spaces. So, you know, how might we start thinking about accommodations like remote work as part of our long-term work strategy.
>> KEAH BROWN: I mean, I think that it will allow more people to show what they can do. I think we spend so much time thinking, like, oh, you know, this isn't possible. We could never do remote work. It just doesn't work for our company, which is the response I got a lot before the pandemic. And I think that because of the pandemic, we can see that that's not really the truth because so many places, so many publications, for me as a journalist and a writer, went virtual overnight. So it really wasn't as hard as they made it seem.
I think even though the circumstances with which we find ourselves working remotely aren't ideal, I think that it just goes to show that it's possible to turn out quality work remotely, that it's not just like you have to be able to show up to an office, sit at a desk for, you know, umpteen hours, and that's supposed to be the value that you bring to a publication or any job. It's just that I think that -- my hope is that this will change the ways in which people see remote work in terms of whether or not it's available to their companies.
I think that a lot of us are living proof that it is, you know? We're still getting work done, and we do live in an ableist society, which blows. But at the same time, it's like, you're allowing more people to have access to your publication and to feel seen by your publication, or to feel seen by your product or your ads or whatever have you, because you're allowing people who would have never gotten that otherwise to remotely from their homes but still provide you with the service that
For me, I'm more likely to buy something or try something when I see somebody that looks like me doing it. And I think that these -- you know, I'm speaking solely for publication because that's my real house. But I think when you're seeing other writers inside of marginalized communities that you would have never seen otherwise, that's important and that's going to allow me to continue to be a reader or to start reading whatever publication, or just start being a part of whatevering to ge
I think it really just goes to show at the beginning of this conversation, disabled people were not in it. And at the end of it, we're not in it either. But we can change that before all of this is over, we can be the people that people turn to when you're trying to find ways to get connected to a community that is otherwise ignored. So, hopefully, you know, the remote work article helps these companies and places see that it's, you know, worthy work.
>> RISA RIFKIND: I think another part of the pandemic conversation also, in addition to access to employment options, is how do we move forward? How do we talk about this trauma? And in the last bit of "The Pretty One," you really go into a conversation around oppression, trauma, mental health, and your own experiences with mental health and suicidal ideation. But how art and the written word played a part in you continuing your work and staying with us. Do you have thoughts on how art, especially now, can help mental health moving forward?
>> KEAH BROWN: Yeah. Every day, art to me is something that keeps me going. I know that's very cheesy, but I feel like the knowledge that art can be made, even in times like this, or that it is being made, and we'll see it outside of this pandemic, is what keeps me going. And I think that it's really special because I was just talking to my friend Danielle before we started the chat. We're planning to live text. We live text to each other.
The half of it that comes out on Netflix May 1st. And just having something to look forward to. Just, you know, every day or like every other week to have something that I know I can go watch. Or go read. Or, you know, somehow participate in a conversation about. That's what keeps me going. And I think that's what's going to keep a lot of us going. It's like, art is never just for the artists. But it's for people who need something to look forward to. And my whole journey in terms of self-love is literally me just trying to find something to look forward to. And I found it in books and I found it in movies.
Then I was like, oh, I can write my own books. I just finished the first chapter of my own movie. So, hopefully, you know, I can help be a part of that change, but I can also let people know that it's not frivolous to find something to look forward to. It's not frivolous to put your heart into art or to try to create your own happy ending through art or through just trying to get through the next date, whether it's through a movie, book, a TV show. It's very important, I think, to find something that makes you feel like you can get through another hour, another second, another minute. And to hold onto that as tightly as you can.
>> RISA RIFKIND: Thank you for sharing that. I'm going to ask you one more question, and then turn it over to Alex to help manage the amazing amount of questions that are coming in. But, this is your first book you published at 27. Many of our readers who are in our network and on this Zoom hangout meeting, whatever we might want to call it, are interested in sharing your story on a broader scale. Can you talk through your journey of publishing the book? What were the steps? And anything you would have done differently? And at the very end, I want you to just share what you're working on now. I know I said last question, but I'm going to make it a long one.
>> KEAH BROWN: Yeah, publishing a book was a wild process. I thought for sure that fiction was going to come first. Fiction is my first love. Like, she's just beautiful, she's wonderful. [Audio breaking up]
>> RISA RIFKIND: Keah, I think we lost you for a second. Oh, no. Bear with us while we get Keah back.
>> KEAH BROWN: Can you hear me?
>> RISA RIFKIND: We can now. Yes.
>> KEAH BROWN: Okay, you can hear me?
>> RISA RIFKIND: Yes.
>> KEAH BROWN: Okay. I can hear you, I can't see you.
>> RISA RIFKIND: We can hear you and see you. If you're ready, feel free to keep going.
>> KEAH BROWN: Okay. I can see you now. All right. So, what was I saying? Oh, yes. What was I saying? I forgot that fast.
>> RISA RIFKIND: About sharing --
>> KEAH BROWN: Oh, publishing the book. Okay. So, publishing the book was a wild ride, because I always thought that fiction was going to be my first published book. I was like, oh, fiction is my first love. She's perfect, she's beautiful. How can we not stand? But then my literary agent who came to my from Twitter -- I'm going to slight brag. I had, like, eight literary agents looking to work with me and I put them on these speed dating phone calls where they talked about what they saw for my future, and Alex, he was the best fit. He's over at Trident Media Group. Shoutout to Alex slater.
He's like, you want to do an essay collection eventually, why don't you just do it first? So we talked about the things that I wanted to talk about. I said, this is not a sob sorry. This is literally just a story about my life so far and I want to be able to celebrate where I am and how I got here. And so essentially what we did was we put together a proposal, which was like, maybe almost 100 pages, and we just talked about what the book was like, what it was -- what you could compare it to, what it meant to have a book like this, and why it would be a good idea for these, you know, publishing houses.
And then we sent that -- we sent that proposal out to different publishing houses. And then it happened really fast, which I guess is very rare. But we sent out the proposal in September, and we sold it I think in, like, November. So it was a very quick process. I started writing January 1st of that next year because I was like, I don't want them to change their minds or take it back or be like, just kidding! You're on Punk'd. So I started writing immediately, and then I went through edits that would test that.
He was amazing. It was a very back and forth open process. And so then we did edits and it was the first pass pages, which is, you know, any big pages you want to make. And the second pass pages is just the small edits. Like, periods, commas, whatever. And then the book was ready, but then we had to wait for, like, them to be bound and for us to pick a cover, and that was the whole process of just trying to figure out what fits best with the story. In terms of, you know, what would best encapsulate "The Pretty One." We decided that my face would. So we chose the cover.
And it was a love -- you know, I did a mini book tour. I call it a book tour of sorts. And so then once the book was out and I started to go different places and talk about the book itself. So the process, I think it was much longer for the book to come out than it was to write it, but I think it was just because I was so excited to write it that I was, like, hammering the essays out. Like, every single day. You know, I was at my house, over at the library. I was just like, got to write these essays. I don't want them to be like, never mind, this is too much.
So I did kind of rush the process I think a little bit. But it was really an experience to -- for me specifically to see my hand on the cover. And to be proud of it. It's been so long hiding my hand in pictures, cropping it out, asking people to make sure my hand wasn't visible. But I think for me, it was very important to have my hand visible on the cover and to say, like, I'm disabled and I'm cute, get used to it, and here it is. You know, right out into the public. And here you have it. I mean, in terms of what I'm doing now is I'm working on a novel in the morning. And then I'm working on a movie in the afternoon. I'm hoping that something will come of those. You know, we never know with these sorts of things. But I've followed this book Called the 90-day Novel by Aaron Watt. I highly recommend it. I'm not being paid to say that. It's just really good.
So, yeah, I've been working on a movie and a novel. You know, just using those two things to tide me over. And then I have -- I'm a Virgo, again, so I love a plan. And I have a Word doc of the next five projects I want to do. So I'm just focusing on those two first. And then I'll do the next two and the next one. So we'll see. But I'm just trying to keep busy and write across genres and do everything that I love. Mediocre people get to do it all the time, so why not me?
>> RISA RIFKIND: I love that. A plan, continue execution. That's great. Alex, do you want to try and help us start moderating the Q&A, the questions that have come in?
>> ALEX PEREZ-GARCIA: Yes, I would love to. This is Alex. And Emily Blum, I did see your question come first, but I want to hold that one for the end, and I'll start off with the question that came from Evelyn. Do you think the reason for not having more people with disabilities represented on TV and movies is because not enough are encouraged to go in the field?
>> KEAH BROWN: Oh, I love this question. That's a great one. I think it's a twofold. I think that that's a really big reason, but I also think that people use fear to explain away their decisions. And they use fear to stop themselves from trying something new. And so a lot of it is that people don't feel like they're encouraged to go out and do it because we don't get auditions and we don't get the opportunities that our nondisabled counterparts do. But at the same time, it's also that people are afraid to even try. And not the actors. I'm talking about studios, producers, directors, what have you. They're afraid to tell proper stories of people with disabilities, because they think that the caricatures, the people who are nondisabled put on are sort of like accurate depiction, and we all know that that's not true. They don't. And so I think a part of it is that really people don't feel comfortable enough to go out and try, but the bigger issue is that we're not being asked to try in the first place.
>> ALEX PEREZ-GARCIA: Thank you. I have another question that is, in that same vein from William. Do you think it's hard to represent characters and films as the audience is younger or older?
>> KEAH BROWN: Well, as somebody who is working on something next for our younger audience, I think that it's all about the way that you approach things. And I think that there's sort of a hardship in each. But I think that if you treat your characters with disabilities like people first, then it will come across in a better way than treating them like characters. And I think that what happens often is that we see stories that are about disabled people, not by disabled people. And there's nuance missing. And so for me, it's like I want to be able to keep that nuance in both children's stories and in older stories.
Like, I just -- we just announced that I have a children's book coming out in fall 2022, and that was very important for me to give the character, the main character nuance and to give her this sort of agency that we don't often see in these stories. So they're both hard, but they're both doable.
>> ALEX PEREZ-GARCIA: Thank you. This question comes from Kedra Cheney. What kind of story lines in pop culture do you think had an opportunity to tell a better story about disability, but maybe dropped the ball? Also, in your fantasy world, what kind of books/movie/TV script would you like to write if Hollywood came knocking?
>> KEAH BROWN: Well, I would like -- first of all, let me just answer what I would like to write. Because, yes. I would like to write comedies and rom-coms. I'm doing it now. That's the script I'm work on is a romantic comedy, because I love them and I think that they're so important. I'd like to do a drama eventually, but I'm like, team rom-com all the time. So I think that there are a lot of stories that they could have done better. I think that Speechless could have been better, the TV show. I think they could have done a better job of showing that disabled people of color exist in the world in general. I think that they could have allowed her to have a love interest.
It wasn't just like, no, I could never feel that about him. That show was just so many -- like so many missed opportunities for me. Or in my opinion. I think that while I love Superstar, it would be cool for them to do an episode in Garrett's point of view, just to see how he navigates every single day. I think that would be really funny and really smart because he's hilarious. I also think that movies like Million-dollar Baby and Me Before You, they could have been better on the whole. There was another one that Hilary Swank did. I think it was like You and Me. It was on Netflix with Emmy Rossum. I just felt like it got really -- like, it was good at first because the acting was good.
But it's also just like, these things tend to, you know, cater towards sappiness in a way that, like, annoys me. In a way that doesn't seem genuine. I think that you can allow disabled people to fall in love and fall out of love and not want to kill themselves by the time that the movie is over, and the TV show is all of them hating themselves all the time. I think that those offer really negative views of disability as a whole. So those could have been better.
I think that's it. I feel like a lot of times, when I see disability, it's because of those reasons. I will say that "Crip Camp" is amazing. If you haven't seen it yet, it's amazing. I saw it at Sundance, and I cried and it was ugly. I'm not a pretty cryer in the first place, but it was bad. I think it's a great documentary.
>> ALEX PEREZ-GARCIA: Thank you for that. I know a lot of our members have watched that movie as well. Good to have a shoutout to Crip Camp in this chat. This is a question from Timeothus Gordon Jr. I'm sorry if I messed up your name.
Question for Keah. In the midst of the pandemic, where people are encouraged to stay home, what fun things outside of writing do you like to do to have joy and not become bored and deep in thought? How can disabled people of color balance social distance with being social with their community considering that some communities of color depend on social interactions in groups, or what can they do to remain social at home even though I cannot come out and do the same thing? I worry about the mental health of our community partly due to the closed access of fun stuff that we usually enjoy.
>> KEAH BROWN: Oh, I worry about it too all the time. Outside of writing, a lot of what I do for fun is like listening to Paramore, just sitting in the dark and listening to Paramore, like the emo queen that I am. Watching movies, watching TV shows. What I do a lot is just in general, but definitely more so during the pandemic, is that I plan out times to watch things at the same time that my friends are watching it, so we coordinate. That helps me keep -- we're not together physically, but at least we're doing this thing together. Like, me and my friends who live in California, we got together and downloaded that Netflix party thing, and watched "a Cinderella Story." We plan to watch TV shows. We'll watch it, like, the day after each other. Like 90-day Fiancee is wild. Like, before the 90 days -- I love. It's so messy.
And me and my friend Erica will watch it. We'll literally have a full discussion. And so it's literally just me constantly talking to my friends and, like, constantly being, like, you know, we're not doing things together, but we're doing things virtually together. It has to be enough. But I do worry about mental health issues and worrying about getting too sad. Literally, what I try my best to do is when I'm feeling that bad, I will shut off Twitter or shut off wherever I'm getting the bad news from and just watch a movie for an hour, make myself laugh, or, you know, go look at TikTok with my sister, just something to, like, get myself away from the thing that's making me feel, like, this is never going to end or that this is the world's worst thing.
So that's what I suggest. Find things to do with your friends virtually together and, you know, step away from Twitter, or from wherever it is that you're getting the constant, you know, negative mood or ideas or news.
>> ALEX PEREZ-GARCIA: Thank you. I think it's really important to talk about joy, especially in this time. Thank you for that. This question is from Whitney Hill. Thank you for coming here to talk to us. Quick, but tough question. How would you suggest continuing to write, advocating, creating for yourself and others when your disabilities began to prevent you from being emotionally/proactively active. My depression often grapples with my voice, and now especially, I feel like my introversion is on an adrenaline attack. And my voice is a whisper.
Side bar, creating or producing anything is difficult.
>> KEAH BROWN: Oh, that is a hefty question. I feel like the best advice I can give you is to try your hardest to be kind to yourself. You know, we are in the middle of a pandemic, and so don't feel like you have to create and you have to have some sort of fantastic art or the next great American novel out of it, just because we have time on our hands. I think that you should just focus on trying to be well with yourself first before you try to drive into creating. I know that you said it's tough for you right now, so, you know, maybe take a break from creating and just try to find things that bring you joy outside of it.
Because you're not under any obligation, at least from me, you're not under any obligation to create or do something that's major just because we have time. Because like I said, this is a pandemic. This is hard stuff. Like, we wake up every day and it's like, oh, everything is closed, but that's not a vacation. You're not on vacation. You're not being forced to create something. The only reason that I'm still creating is because it makes me feel good. If it didn't, I wouldn't do it. And I try to take off on weekends. So, try to be kind to yourself in the process. And understand that it's not going to come easy the way that it did before, but you're not under any obligation to create just because other people are.
>> ALEX PEREZ-GARCIA: Thank you so much for that really wise advice. This question is from Brian. Keah, how do you overcome fears to do daily activities with the current pandemic, and how do you get over the feeling of being stuck?
>> KEAH BROWN: My own thing with fear, especially at the top of last year and this new one is I'm not going to get rid of it. I'm not going to get past it. I'm just going to have to use it, feel it, and do it anyway. A lot of it is I'm going to be scared, but I'm going to do it anyway. Otherwise, I'll feel regret for not trying. And then in terms of going out and doing things that I have to do during the pandemic, I'm the worst person for advice with that, because I have been holed up in my room with so much anxiety.
I was like, I can't go to physical therapy right now because the idea of leaving my house is just exhausting. So I wish that I could give you better advice with that regard. But I think in general of being scared of doing something, I was so petrified to write a movie and start a novel but I did it anyway. I'm still scared doing it, because I feel like if I don't, I'm going to regret it. And I don't want to live my life anymore with regrets. So, in terms of what I created, use the fear and do it anyway. But in terms of leaving the house during the pandemic, I can't help you, because I haven't left mine and have no interest in leaving it until it's safe.
>> ALEX PEREZ-GARCIA: Thank you. This question is from Marcus Miller and kind of shifting. It's still in the same vein, but with a different lens. My apologies for getting to the meeting late. Side bar, Marcus, no worries. I am an advocate for inclusion as a father of a blind adult daughter and as a DEI practice professional. How are you managing the #stayhome stay safe mandate as somebody whose mobility may be curtailed due to the virus?
>> KEAH BROWN: It's interesting, because like I said, I've been too scared to go to physical therapy, so I've just been doing my physical therapy at home. Like, when I have any sort of, like, you know, knee ache or any sort of, like, really sore throat, like I had a sore throat for two days last week and I was panicking. So, I don't know if I'm handling it as well as I should be. But I also think that what I'm trying to do is remember that, like, I'm not the only one going through this and that sort of helps me, like, at least contextualize what's happening, and I try my best to just be kind in the moments that I'm frustrated with my body.
And understand that just because I can't do something, I can't be productive one day or two days or like a week, that doesn't mean that I'm somehow less than because of it, and that's what really helps me the most. Hopefully I answered your question, and also hopefully it helps your daughter to understand that, like, it's okay to have bad days, bad weeks at this point. This all sucks. And it's okay to say that. It's okay to feel that.
>> ALEX PEREZ-GARCIA: This is another question. Thank you guys for all the questions.
>> KEAH BROWN: Yeah, thank you.
>> ALEX PEREZ-GARCIA: I hope we can get through all of them, so I'm going to the next one. This is from Kathleen. It seems like so many of the disability stories in movies are about curing or eliminating a disability. When will we see a good character who has a disability and lives with it?
>> KEAH BROWN: Hopefully, when I sell this movie. If I sell this movie, you'll see it. My hope is that we will in my lifetime. I think it's something like exhausts me with regard to disability narratives. It's either, wow, she was never disabled in the first place, like everything, everything. Or wow, this person suddenly has a cure and they're totally fine, like Forrest Gump when he was running with the braces. And I love Tom Hanks, but come on. My hope is that I can help create those stories. Hopefully one day they'll see the light of day. But my hope is that we can all in some way help shift the way disabled characters are treated in films. It's not like disability is a thing that you have to cure away or lie about. It's a thing that you can live with every single day like we do.
So hopefully that will come when I finish, you know, writing the movie, or writing these movies, plural, and hopefully they'll sell and we'll see them one day. Fingers crossed.
>> KEAH BROWN: We'll keep our fingers, toes, eyes, ears, everything crossed for you, because we want to see that movie, too.
>> KEAH BROWN: Thank you!
>> ALEX PEREZ-GARCIA: Keah, I too am working on a children's book about a spunky girl of color with a disability, exclamation point.
>> KEAH BROWN: Nice, congratulations.
>> ALEX PEREZ-GARCIA: I'd love to talk with you about that offline. Currently, I'm working on a project to try to foster deeper human connection between storyteller and audience. Do you have any tips on how to pull that heart string to see the we collective?
>> KEAH BROWN: Wonderful question. I guess for me, a lot of my work is identity-based, whether that's fiction or nonfiction. And so I feel you on that, trying to, you know, get people to see the we of a collective instead of the separate I. What I try to do is show the humanity in my characters, whether that's in children's books or movies or what have you. I want so badly for people to understand that we're more alike than we are different, and that's so cheesy, but it's so true.
So, I guess the tip that I have or the tip that I tend to use is to fully know who the person is first. And so if you know who the person is, that will shine through better on the page or wherever it is that you're creating this thing, it will shine through better when you know the person it is that you're creating.
And what we can do to pull at people's heart strings is just create characters that are fully realized and that feel things and that are messy as much as they are good. I think that when you try to focus too much on one archetype of a person, we lose the, you know -- we lose the relatability of a character when we're just like, oh, no, this person is completely good. Like, no, life is full of gray areas. And so you want to make sure that your characters as a whole are characters who are. And that's the kind of characters that I know I love to see.
>> ALEX PEREZ-GARCIA: Thank you so much. We're going to take -- just do two more questions, and then close it out. Thank you guys so much again. And we'll try and collect these questions and then maybe send them to Keah, if you have time to respond afterwards since we didn't get to everyone. This one is from Valerie. Representation is amazing, and necessary. But do you imagine a future in media where disability narratives are used to challenge our conceptions of care, independence/interdependence. And the idea that the binary of abled/disabled is not as clear as is portrayed. Do you think certain mediums of art might be better for this challenge than others? Sometimes I feel like good representation isn't enough and wish for conversations to be furthered and made more complicated.
>> KEAH BROWN: Hmm. I think -- well, like I said, for me, I'm a pop culture buff. I love pop culture. So my inclination is to say that it can happen best with, like, TV and film. It's not that I have to imagine a future where that happens. I think that first we have to -- I think it's really about getting the basics down. So, yeah, it's exhausting. Like, disabled people are people, too. Like, show us that. But it's also at the same time, we have to start somewhere. And so my -- I guess my idea is that we start with the idea that people -- disabled people are people first. And then we can go into nuanced conversations. But we can't do it all at once. And so, yeah, I do imagine a future where our conversations can be deeper, but I also -- right now, we just -- like representation in general would be enough right now for us to further the conversation later, if that makes sense.
>> ALEX PEREZ-GARCIA: Totally. So, this is the last question, looping back to Emily Blum's question. Who are the writers and artists that you love, and who else should we be reading besides you?
>> KEAH BROWN: Oh! I think I made a list. Hold on. I'm picking up my phone, but I'm not ignoring you, I promise. Because I put a list together. Well, I love Roxanne Gaelic. I think SC is doing great work. Brandon LG Taylor is doing fantastic work. There are so many wonderful disabled writers, of course, whose names I'm like blanking on. There are so many people doing great work in terms of -- not even just about disability. I think that there are people with disabilities who are telling stories that dig deeper than, you know, we often see with regard to just everyday life. I follow a lot of wonderful people on Twitter. I think if you're looking for a lot of good writers and people that you should be reading, I think that you should definitely be on Twitter, because Twitter is where a lot of good work is happening. And it's where a lot of great disabled people can share, you know, their platforms and their voices and they can talk about the things that matter most to them.
But keep it so that, like, it's -- what's the word I'm looking for? Keep it so that it's like understandable by a large audience, whether disabled or not. So, of course, I'm blanking on everybody else's names and I can't find the freaking note that I wrote. But there are so many wonderful people on the Internet. I think Alice Wong is amazing. I love her with all my heart. Literally, if you're just looking for somebody worthy of reading or worthy of, like, talking about, literally follow Alice. Alice knows everybody. Rebecca Coakley knows everybody. Follow them and they will lead the way. I promise you. They're amazing and there are so many people, of course, that I'm blanking on. But they're amazing. Follow them for more people that you should be reading, because they're always on it.
>> ALEX PEREZ-GARCIA: Thank you so much. And this is just a quick -- in the chat, Kristay asked if the list can be sent out by email. So no worries that you can't remember right now. We usually send a follow-up email. So, happy to put that in and, you know, continue spreading the word about different artists and thought leaders.
>> KEAH BROWN: Absolutely. I have a whole list. So you'll be getting that in the follow-up email. I promise.
>> ALEX PEREZ-GARCIA: Good. Great. That's good for our audience to hear. I think that we're going to wrap it up, and close out with -- I just saw Risa raise her hand. So I'm going to hand it back over to Risa to close us out.
>> RISA RIFKIND: Thanks, Alex. Don't log off yet, because Keah is actually going to close us out with a reading of an expert from "The Pretty One." So bear with me and then I'm going to hand it over to Keah. I do see more questions are coming in. Like Alex said, we'll try and take these in and share out what we can in the follow-up.
So, thank you again, Keah, for such an insightful conversation and for everyone who joined and sent in such amazing questions. If you're interested in having Advancing Leadership continue the series to bring together national disability leaders for these type of amazing, fruitful conversations, consider making a donation at ada25Chicago.org/donate. Alex will drop that link in the chat. Your support makes these events possible.
For newcomers, please also remember to follow Advancing Leadership on all of our social media platforms of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Medium. And because maybe you would like to rewatch this later or you want to share this with others who couldn't join us today, a recording of this conversation will be posted shortly. So stay tuned for that in the follow-up as well.
And with that, Keah, I want to turn it back over to you for that lovely reading to close us out.
>> KEAH BROWN: Thank you. Thank you everybody for those amazing questions. I promise that I will answer some of the ones that we didn't get to. You'll get some answers from me. I promise. And I'll do as much as I can. What I'm going to read for you tonight is the excerpt from one of the essays in the book, which is, can we sit for a sec? It's about my love affair with chairs, and people seem to respond to this one the most. I thought I'd read you just a couple paragraphs and see, you know, hopefully you like it and hopefully it will make you want to buy the book if you haven't yet already. Here we go.
My longest relationship has been with chairs. We are very happy together. Committed and strong, in sickness, in health, till death do us part, et cetera. There are arguments and disagreements as any other relationship, sure. But we have apologized before we go to bed so we don't go to bed angry. The notion of love at first sight is a little cheesy, but it's true. Chairs and I have traveled around the world together. We have cuddled on the beach in Puerto Rico, shared stolen glances in the Virgin Islands, we danced the night away in Grand Turk and gave some major PDA in the Bahamas.
My chairs are loyal with vastly different personalities, but an equal amount of appreciation. A few of them like to play it cool. They don't want me to think that they care as much as they do. And I let them believe that they are winning. Because sometimes, you have to let your partner think that they have the upper hand to work on the thing that you want later.
The chairs in my life love me, and I honestly can't blame them. My favorite place to canoodle with my boo is at the mall. I love shopping. It brings me the kind of joy that I am imagine having a child brings to a mother. Shopping is euphoric for me. It is my personal treat after long days, and when shopping, I feel like I can do anything. I feel like anything is possible. Like the world is at my fingertips.
Several times I have bought new items that I've forgotten to wear. And months later, I find them with the tag still on. In my new clothe, I feel like I am debuting the best version of myself to the world. I like to wear them when I know enough people will see. Because if enough people don't see me in the outfits, did I even wear a cute one at all?
In these moment, I enjoy the clothes and the audience that I get, just from existing. In my new clothes, strangers are often looking for a show from me anyway. So why not give them one? If I stand out, at least I will look cute when I do it. New clothes are great for all of these options, as well as the option of caring for them like beloved older pieces, and the smell and feel of new clothes is a beautiful thing.
When I am at the mall, I often ask myself, what can I buy that I certainly don't need? Ice cream, a cookie, a pretzel, all three. How many items can I try -- how many items can I buy without trying them on? I believe my record is four full outfits and a pair of shoes. You can never have enough of a thing that brings you the most comfort.
>> RISA RIFKIND: Thank you, Keah. If you haven't yet bought "The Pretty One," please do so. Alex just dropped in the chat how you can do that via large retailer, Amazon, or local bookstores in your area. So, please do that. Thank you, everyone, and we'll see you next time.
>> KEAH BROWN: Thank you so much. Yes. Thank you so much. I hope you guys love it and enjoy the book. Thank you so much for those wonderful questions. They were amazing. I can't wait to answer more of them later. Thank you so much. I hope you have -- you all stay safe and have a wonderful afternoon, morning, night, wherever you are in the world. Thank you so much for tuning in to talk to me today.
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