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Ken Meeker | June 2022 Men In Motion

a professional waist shot of Ken a white man with arms folded across his chest. He has short dark hair and eyeglasses.  

Ken Meeker | June 2022 Men In Motion

Contents

Editor’s Note

In recognition of Pride Month Bold Blind Beauty is pleased to introduce you to Ken Meeker, our June Man In Motion. I met Ken at the AFB Leadership Conference I attended last month in Arlington, VA. It feels like the conference is the gift that keeps on giving. Several articles published over the past few weeks have mentioned the conference and this one won’t be an exception.

During an introductory call with Ken I was pleasantly surprised to learn just how much we share in common. It’s rare that I meet others who can relate to the (vitrectomy) eye surgeries I had and not only that but he’s also an introvert. We literally could have talked for hours but I digress.

Ken’s submission is a little different than our typical Men In Motion features as he wrote a piece along with his video. Enjoy! ~Steph

Beyond Sight Magazine

Beyond Sight Magazine Cover has a professional waist shot of Ken, a white man, with arms folded across his chest. He has short dark hair and eyeglasses.  Text on the cover reads “Beyond Sight June 2022 | Men In Motion | Ken Meeker.”

YouTube Video

 Equality is giving everyone a shoe. Equity is giving everyone a shoe that fits.

~ Dr. Naheed Dosani 

Introduction

Another professional shot profile shot on a black background with Ken the right.

Hello! I’m Ken Meeker. Let me begin by thanking Bold Blind Beauty for asking me to be the June Men-In-Motion feature.

I come to you from the desert southwest, land of scorpions, rattle snakes, and temperatures so hot you can cook an egg on the sidewalk in the summer – Phoenix, Arizona. Born here, but grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The place where Bugs Bunny always takes the wrong turn.

When I think about it, maybe Bugs Bunny was on to something. My life has had some massive turns that brought me to great heights and some incredible lows. But I can say with certainty, I wouldn’t change a thing – taking away the challenges, adversity, and struggles I faced would mean I would be a different person. It took a long time to really like who I am, most of the time.

Challenging Perceptions

Little blonde haired Ken looking adorable as he's walking outside with a winter jacket on.
Little Ken

I lived most my life as fully sighted. I’m nearsighted and wore glasses since 11 but I was able to start driving at 16 and lived a typical sighted person experience. That changed on July 4th 2014.

2014 had already been a very difficult and challenging year. I had just moved from San Diego, California to Arizona in June of that year to be closer to my brothers and mom. It was time for a reset, or a new start is probably more accurate. In San Diego I had successful career in insurance, but most recently left an extremely abusive job and toxic workplace. Arizona was the best place to hit reset.

The evening of July 4th 2014 I was going to meet a very close friend at a small Independence Day party. I was housesitting at my brother’s and around 6pm I drove to a store nearby to get some stuff for the party. I sat down in the car, and my vision was gone. It was that fast. Everything was a washed-out gray. I came to find out that the retina in my right eye completely detached and was floating around the back of my eye, only being held on only by the optic nerve, and my left was in bad, bad shape.

There were dozens of tests and eventually I learned an infection was in my eyes. Infection? How? Why didn’t I know? These were pointless questions. All my energy went into getting better and it took nearly 2 ½ years for my health to stabilize. Two minor surgeries on my left and two major surgeries on my right eyes. The first surgery lasted nearly an hour and a half just to try and save it.

Yellow warning bracelet to alert people that Ken had a gas bubble in his eye from his victrectomy.
Gas Bubble Warning Bracelet

Once my health stabilized, I was left with extreme low vision and legally blind. I have limited central vision in my left eye, no peripheral, and no sight in my right. But I focus on what I do have. I love to read, and still have the ability to read some print.

One would hope that is where tragedy would end. Shortly after my health stabilized, my mom, already a two-time breast cancer survivor, was diagnosed a third time with breast cancer, this time it was terminal. My mom, Donna is my inspiration and the strongest person I’ve ever known. She lived her values and even though her life was never easy, she managed to raise three boys by herself and she instilled on my brothers and I that we could be whatever we wanted to be. But we had to commit, put in the work, and believe in ourselves in order to achieve – and she was our greatest cheerleader.

My moms’ greatest gift was fierce and unwavering unconditional love. I came out as gay to my mom when I was still in high-school. In the mid 90’s it was very uncommon to come out in high school. I was one out of 2,000 students in my high school who was openly gay. There were no protections, and fears of hazing, gay-bashing, and discrimination were everywhere.

The one place I knew that I could be myself and was loved was at home. I knew, without a doubt, my mom would love me no matter what. I never feared her rejection. That feeling of certainly is indescribable. When I came out to her just before my Senior year, the only thing she wanted to know is if I trusted her. That is true unconditional love. And I wish every child knew it, because it is the most powerful thing in the world.

I became my mom’s caregiver and took on the responsibility of navigating the bureaucracy of our healthcare system, record keeping, and making sure she didn’t have to worry about anything. She could focus on being a sister to her siblings, a mom, and grandmother. During this time, I grew closer to my mom than I thought possible. In many ways, what I went through with my vision loss allowed me to take care of my mom. We were already living together because I needed help after my loss of sight. We had a healthy relationship with respectful boundaries, not always easy with a youngest child and parent.

Odds are we would not have been living together had I not lost my sight. The burden on my mom would have been tremendous. I wouldn’t have gotten to know her as Donna – as her sisters, and everyone that wasn’t a kids or grandchild got to know her. It was amazing to know this side of her – she was so funny and smart. My vision loss, while terrible and tragic, gave me the chance to care for and know the most amazing person I’ve ever met. If getting my sight back meant I lose the time with my mom, it’s a no brainer, I chose the time with my mom.

Moving Through Tragedy, Not Getting Over It

Ken is hugging his mom Donna in this photo. He's wearing a blue shirt and his mom is wearing a denim jacket.
Ken & his mom Donna

My mother, Donna, lost her battle to cancer on February 13, 2018. I miss her every day, but I can’t be sad. She left me with so much I am grateful for, that it is a disservice to her memory to be sad. At some point we all must pass on. When she left, her very last words were a joke. A joke! What a precious gift it is to leave someone not with sorrow, but with laughter and joy.

After she passed, I wondered what I was going to do. I spent the last 4 years recovering, then taking care of my mom. Being idle doesn’t suit me, I’m too young and ambitious to sit around doing nothing. And that is when I started on the path I continue on today.

I received white cane and mobility training, then went on to complete a comprehensive VR program, obtained a project management certification, and maintained my license as an Insurance Agent in Arizona. I had no plans to return to the insurance industry, but I worked hard to obtain that license, and wasn’t about to let it go. Shortly after completing the comprehensive program at Foundation for Blind Children here in Phoenix, there was an opening for a Career Specialist position in the program I completed.

When I found out I got the job I was more excited about landing it than any other job in my life. I’d also be working for an organization whose mission I deeply believe in. But life loves curve balls. Near the end of 2021, I had to make a very painful choice between my health or a dream job. In 2013, I chose work. That decision led to a cascade of tragedy and pain – this time I chose my health.

But when a door closes, other opportunities appear, as long as your mind and heart are open. My long-term goal had been to get into coaching. I now had an opportunity to launch an executive and career coaching business of my own. And with that, I started Vitality Career Coaching. My business is in its infancy, but exciting things are happening and the future is full of possibilities.

Permission To Be Happy

The full size Wonder Woman photo from the header. Ken and his partner are standing on each side of the life size image of Wonder Woman.
Wonder Woman

This might sound silly, but consciously giving yourself permission to pursue and be happy is essential in life. Life is hard, it is not fair, and it likely never will be. Each of us face challenges. Don’t bother comparing your struggles with anyone else’s, it is pointless. What defines each of us are not the challenges or obstacles we face – but how we overcome them. What we do to break down barriers. I will not be defined by my vision loss, or by being gay any more than my mom is defined by her cancer or being a single mother.

In her final moments my mom made a joke – made me laugh and smile, brought me joy. I am proud and thankful every day to be her son. I am at peace with who I am more than any other time in my life. I’ve forgiven myself for when I’ve screwed up, done my best to learn and be a better person. I’ve learned it’s easier to live authentically. I acknowledge the flaws and imperfections, and give myself permission to be happy. It is the greatest gift we can give ourselves.

Conclusion

Thank you for letting me share a little about my personal story with vision loss. Being blind or low vision is hard. We face countless challenges and obstacles every day. We are also some of the most creative, insightful, and perceptive people in the world. Never underestimate what someone who is differently abled is capable of – but we also need to remember that the world isn’t built for us and if you want something out of life, get out there and make it happen. As a good friend once told me: “Failure is to stop trying.” Never stop believing in yourself and trying.

How to reach me:

Ken’s Bio:

I am originally from New Mexico, but now call Phoenix, Arizona home. For much of my adult life I worked in the insurance industry in various leadership roles. In 2014 I went through a serious, life changing medical event that resulted in me losing most of my sight. I then took care of my mother who had terminal breast cancer. After she passed away, I felt a need to do more with my life and started on the path I continue today. I’ve learned my passion is finding ways to foster growth in others to help them achieve their goals. At the beginning of 2022 I made the bold decision to launch my own career and executive coaching business, Vitality Career Coaching LLC. I also consult and speak to organizations on how to implement DEI and create more access for people living with disabilities.

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Image Descriptions

  • Header and Beyond Sight Magazine Cover are identical a professional waist shot on a white background of Ken a white man with arms folded across his chest. He has short dark hair and eyeglasses.  Text on the cover reads “Beyond Sight June 2022 | Men In Motion | Ken Meeker.”
  • Another professional shot profile shot on a black background with Ken the right.
  • YouTube Thumbnail & Video description: The image is a cropped version of the full size Wonder Woman photo (7th image). Ken and his partner are standing on each side of the life size image of Wonder Woman wearing face masks. In the video Ken is wearing sequin rainbow shoes, black jeans, black t-shirt, and a black sequin hat.
  • Little blonde haired Ken looking adorable as he’s walking outside with a winter jacket on.
  • Yellow warning bracelet to alert people that Ken had a gas bubble in his eye from his victrectomy.
  • Ken is hugging his mom Donna in this photo. He’s wearing a blue shirt and his mom is wearing a denim jacket.
  • The full size Wonder Woman of Ken and his partner (wearing face masks) are standing on each side of the life size image of Wonder Woman.
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