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February Men In Motion | Kirk Adams

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MEN IN MOTION

Hi Everyone, Happy Monday!!

You know how they say “the only certainty is uncertainty?” Well, since starting this website uncertainty has become synonymous with Bold Blind Beauty and I couldn’t be happier. I’ve talked about some of these changes in Seeing Differently A Message Of Hope For 2020 and Bold Blind Beauty Reveals. What I didn’t expect was help from some of the most amazing people including:

In addition to the folks mentioned, my right-hand person (Nasreen Bhutta), helped to create our advisory board to guide the direction of Bold Blind Beauty. At Catherine’s suggestion, we redesigned Blind Beauty to become B3 Magazine which will host our main features and more. We’re not sure how all of this is going to work but we are so excited to try this experiment.

Obviously, it is going to take us some time to restructure the site to match our vision and we ask for your patience while things are moving about. Okay, enough about the site, I’m thrilled to introduce you to today’s “Man in Motion” and our first B3 Magazine feature Kirk Adams.

Men In Motion | Kirk Adams

Really, what’s next for me and for AFB is to change systems. To eliminate barriers, to create opportunities, to understand where we can focus our resources, leverage our relationships, our expertise, our history, to level the playing field for people who are blind. To create that world of no limits

~Kirk Adams | Men In Motion

Kirk Adams, President, and CEO of the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) is the first person to appear on the cover of B3 Magazine. It wasn’t that long ago that I met Kirk through my friend Melody Goodspeed. In sharing with Melody our Men in Motion series she immediately offered to invite Kirk to participate. A call was arranged and the next thing I knew I was working with some talented people who work for AFB to complete this project. Following is a video and below that is the transcript for those who prefer reading. Kirk, thank you very much for letting Bold Blind Beauty share your story. ~Steph

Hi, this is Kirk Adams. I am president and CEO of the American Foundation for the Blind. It is truly a privilege to get to talk today to the Bold Blind Beauty community, and thank you, Steph McCoy, for reaching out to me. I’m honored to know you and really appreciate what you’re doing.

I was asked to tell a little bit about myself. I’m a totally blind person, born as a sighted person. My retinas detached when I was five years old. I was in kindergarten, and in that point in time blind kids didn’t go to school with their brothers and sisters and neighbors, you were going to a state residential school. I attended the Oregon State School for the Blind for first, second and third grades. I learned how to read and write braille, and travel with a white cane, and type on a typewriter, and we spent a lot of time with outdoor experiences, a lot of time on the Oregon coast, hiking in the mountains. 

I remember cutting wood with a crosscut saw, riding horses, though really learning to feel comfortable as a blind person moving through spaces and different environments. I was taught to love myself and body and what it could do. And when my blindness skills were to the level where I could participate in public school, I began public school in fourth grade. 

[It was] a very different experience – a lot of limits placed on me, mostly through misconceptions of blindness. I heard “No,” “That won’t work,” I heard “You can’t do that,” “That’s too dangerous.” I was the only blind kid in my school after leaving the school for the blind. It was really a sink-or-swim situation. It was before the Individuals with Disability Education Act, so sometimes I got my textbooks in Braille, sometimes I didn’t. Sometimes I had a different edition than the other kids. 

I was not allowed to participate in P.E. [physical education]. Again, people thought that would be too dangerous. I learned a lot through that experience. I developed a lot of resilience, grit, and perseverance. It was also isolating and difficult – especially in the teen years. I grew up in little rural towns and my classmates all got driver’s licenses when they turned 16, and all got jobs, and I got neither. And there was no public transportation.

It was a mixed bag. I was fortunate enough to receive an academic scholarship to go to college, a small college called Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington. The first week there I met a brilliant, gorgeous young lady and we’ve been married now 34 years and have two find children who are active adults, contributing to their communities.

The next phase after college was wanting to do the thing that young adults do, which was to find a good job and buy a house and raise a family. I started applying for jobs. I had good credentials – Phi Beta Kappa cum laude, 4.0 in my major, which was economics, and I started sending out resumes and cover letters. I knew I wanted to work in Seattle, where there is good public transportation. 

I was applying to finance jobs. I would get a phone interview, and it would go really well. Then I would walk in for the in-person interview, with my white cane and my slate and stylus and Braille… and things did not go well. I was not offered positions – I was often told I was the second candidate. 

I was not at that point revealing my disability, disclosing my disability during the application process. So I changed my tack – I started disclosing my disability in my cover letter, letting people know I’m totally blind, have been since I was five, here’s how I’ve accomplished what I’ve accomplished, here’s how I’ll do the job that you need done, here’s how I will contribute… and then I wasn’t even getting the phone interviews. 

I started casting that employment net wider and wider and wider. I applied for a sales position with a securities firm, a small family-owned business that underwrote tax-free municipal bonds in the Puget Sound area. The sales manger [there] had also gone to Whitman College and was also an Econ major. We’d had some of the same professors and he called them, and they vouched for my competencies, and I was offered a position selling tax-free municipal bonds over the phone, which I did for ten years. I earned enough to do those things I wanted to do – get married, buy a house, start our family.

After doing that for about ten years, I really came to the point where I wanted to contribute to my community in a different way. I pivoted into the non-profit sector, became a development officer for the Seattle Public Library Foundation, raising money for the statewide Talking Book and Braille Library.

I knew I’d found my home in the nonprofit world, so I went back to school and got a master’s degree in not for profit leadership from Seattle University. I had increasingly more responsibility as I moved through different organizations, and I was fortunate enough to be hired by the Lighthouse for the Blind of Seattle, where I became CEO. I served in that position for eight years, grew the organization nicely, increased the numbers of blind and deaf-blind people we employed, increased wages, increased locations, had a very great experience. 

During that time, I connected with the American Foundation for the Blind through our leadership conference. I attended my first AFB Leadership Conference in 2001, when I went to work for the Lighthouse. I was told, “If you want to get to know the blindness field, you need to go to the AFB Leadership Conference!” 

I’ve gone 19 years in a row now, I was asked to join the program committee for AFB, then the board of trustees, and then when my predecessor announced his retirement, I put my name forward. There was a very rigorous national search, and I am blessed to be given the opportunity to lead AFB into its second century – our centennial next year in 2021.

[End narrative]

7:41 – 10:32 Q1 Who are the major influences in your life? 

Thinking about the people who had the most influence on my life, I think I’ll take them in order, there’s three people who come to mind. One of them is my grandmother – my mom’s mom. Her name was Bessy Rose Luark, and she grew up in very rural Washington state. Her family was involved in the logging and timber industry. She was a Rosie the Riveter during World War Two, she worked on Boeing aircraft. She was a serial entrepreneur, she owned a boarding house, she owned a nursing home, she started a greenhouse to do wholesale sales of flowers to the florists, she went back to school and got a license for practical nursing certificate in her 50s. 

She was just an amazing person. When my retinas detached when I was five and I became totally blind she treated me just like she treated all of her other grandkids. She would adapt crafts projects for me so they could be tactile. Just an amazing doer, a “no limits” type of person. She did not allow society to put any type of limits on her, she lived her life fully. She passed away when our son was three years old, so he got to meet her. I think about her a lot.

The second person would be a lady named Mrs. Summers, she was my teacher at the Oregon State School for the Blind. She gave me the gift of literacy. She taught me how to read Braille. She was a tough task master. She made me practice the techniques and the hand sweeping gestures of a good braille reader for hours and hours and hours before she would teach me the braille code. I’d ask her, “Can I learn to read now?” and she’d say, “No, you’re not ready yet!”

When I finally was given that gift, I just became a voracious reader. Reading carried me through many a difficult time, especially in my adolescence. 

The third person would be my wife, Ros. We met the first week of school (college), when we were 18 and now, we’ve been married 34 years. She has the biggest heart of anyone I know, the most grace. 

Those are three people – coincidentally, all female! They were the three people that came to mind when I think about who had the most influence on me. 

As a blind parent, what were some of the challenges you experienced?

Parenting two children as a totally blind person, a couple things come to mind. Really the main challenge that I can think of was around transportation. We had two very active kids, both involved in music – one’s a cellist, ones a harpist. They were involved in sports. 

For the typical sighted parent who can drive, can support those activities in a way that a blind parent can’t. Although, public transportation was our friend. The kids had metro bus passes early on. I had an account with a taxi company that would bill us monthly, and both kids had access to the taxi account. Obviously, this was before Uber and Lyft, which I think could make a world of difference now. 

I would say the flipside, though, is that my kids have a sense of empathy and fairness that is exemplary, and I think that part of that is they were raised by one parent with a significant disability. My wife is African American so we’re an interracial family as well, so our kids have some really unique experiences and viewpoints. I think their lives are richer because of my blindness, and I think they would say the same. 

What’s next for AFB and Kirk Adams? 

Really, what’s next for me and for AFB is to change systems. To eliminate barriers, to create opportunities, to understand where we can focus our resources, leverage our relationships, our expertise, our history, to level the playing field for people who are blind. To create that world of no limits. 

Following AFB:

Image Description:

The B3 Magazine cover has a gray/white marbled background. The date & edition number are in the upper right corner in black ink. Kirk’s photo is aligned on the right margin with the background appearing on the top, bottom and left margin. In the headshot, Kirk is very distinguished with silver hair and dressed in a dark business suit with a dark print tie. “B3” is in large teal text and a teal-colored circle with Kirk’s name and title are in white text. There is a 4-line of white text on the image that reads “creating an inclusive society that values all of our abilities”

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January Men In Motion | Juan Alcazar

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MEN IN MOTION

Editor’s Note:

On the first Monday of every month in 2020, you will meet some amazing blind & visually impaired male influencers. For January’s “Men In Motion” Bold Blind Beauty is thrilled to introduce you to Filmmaker Juan Alcazar.

Juan is the talented creator of the YouTube Channel JC5 Productions and is also a valued member of our CAPTIVATING! team. From 1 minute short films to dramatic shorts, collabs, vision impairment, and disability awareness, Juan has a varied collection of video content.

Always remind yourself why you do what you do.

In September of 2018, I made a comment on an Instagram post of Juan’s that led me to view his video “A Second Chance.” The storyline in this poignant video tugged my heartstrings because the subject matter is universally relevant to all of us at some point in our lives. Questioning, doubting, and underestimating our value can leave us feeling like what we do doesn’t matter. I think Juan beautifully captured the feelings of helplessness and hopelessness experienced when we make comparisons. Many creatives, who also happen to be sensitive, are especially vulnerable because we feel so deeply.

It took Juan some time to find his “why” as he didn’t want to be known as “the blind filmmaker.” While he doesn’t let his sight loss define who he is, he realized he had a bigger purpose for creating videos. Today, we share his powerful story in “Accepting My Blindness” (transcription is below the video).

Accepting My Blindness | Juan Alcazar

Accepting My Blindness Video Transcription

When I was really little my parents would see me staring at the TV from a really close distance. At first, they thought I was just fascinated by looking at the pixels but little did they know that I couldn’t see well and I would eventually need glasses. 

So I did end up getting glasses and yeah they helped out a lot during my grade school, middle school, and high school years. But I still had problems. I still had to sit in the front row and I still had trouble seeing what the teacher wrote on the blackboard or the overhead.

It wasn’t until college when I finally was able to wear contact lenses. It was great, but it lasted for about just nine or so years and that’s because my vision was still getting worse and worse and then they told me “You know what they don’t make contacts that go to your prescription. Your prescription is too high now.” So I eventually went back to wearing glasses.

So fast forward to present day now where I’m making this short film mix sit-down video. This YouTube video where I’m here to tell you hey, uhh, I’m legally blind and I know I’ve mentioned my vision problems in a few videos before but I’ve never really wanted to say that I was legally blind.

Being born with nearsightedness and living with it every day. It’s a real interesting experience actually. Everything is just completely out of focus and only comes into focus when you put something really really close to your eye, but it’s not just nearsightedness. I have problems with my peripheral vision. I drop something and I take maybe 20, 30 seconds to find it and also when I look straight forwards that’s also a problem because I tend to see things a little bit darker than usual and this can be really really problematic when I’m walking around at night. 

And here’s the thing I was in denial. I didn’t want to admit that I was legally blind and the reason for that is I could still see quite a bit. I mean I still have trouble seeing with glasses but compared to what other people have. They have more severe vision problems.

I just didn’t feel like I was blind enough to even say that I was legally blind. And here’s another confession. I did not want to be known as the legally blind filmmaker on YouTube and that’s because for some reason I kept thinking that if I focus on that it’s going to take away the attention from my creative stuff to my vision and I didn’t want that to happen.

But after watching a few YouTubers with disabilities it really made me just stop and think why I’m feeling this way about my own disability and why am I so insecure about it? They’ve helped me accept my blindness. They’ve helped me accept it and that it’s a part of me. That is part of who I am. That it’s part of my daily life but at the same time they’ve also taught me that this doesn’t completely define me who I am as a person. 

In many ways, this has all left me pretty empowered and just confident and motivated to do what I want to do. When I stop and think about it I’m like, “Dude, you’re doing something that you shouldn’t be doing technically. You’re a filmmaker. You’re making movies but yet you’re visually impaired. You’re doing something that heavily relies on your eyes.”

And it’s almost like I’m telling my disability, “Hey, you may be slowing me down but you know what I’m not gonna let you stop me from doing what I want to do.” In a way that’s pretty cool.

What matters to me the most as a filmmaker is trying yo get my stories out there. Trying to get my content out there. Sure it may take me a little longer to set up my camera and edit. It may be more challenging but then again hey life is full of challenges and this is my challenge and I’m willing to accept it and you know what? I’m okay with that.

Hey JC5ers what’s going on? So yeah I wanted to make this video for a while in this format because you’re going to see a few more short films kind of, well…short films mixed in with sit-down videos in this format and I wanted to talk about my vision, my eyesight and that’s going to become a little more prominent on my channel. It’s not going to completely dominate my content but I just want to talk more about it.

It wasn’t just those YouTubers who I watched with disabilities that helped inspire me it was you guys as well, uh. I’m grateful that you guys are watching me and I’m hoping that I continue to entertain you guys and educate you guys here and there as well. 

So anyway if you happen to like this video then give it a thumbs up if you found it hey a little bit inspirational for you then feel free to share it if you want. I will see you guys next week or next time hopefully you next week cuz I missed last week’s upload anyway I’ll talk to you later. See ya

Here are a few of our favorite JC5 Production videos:

If you are a fan of creative and authentic storytelling you will want to add JC5 Productions to your playlist.

Connecting With Juan:

Image Descriptions:

  • Featured image is a closeup of Juan with a big smile on his face. He has a knit gray beanie on his head and is wearing a green crew neck sweater. In the blurred background is a redbrick fireplace next to a doorframe.
  • In the second head & shoulders photo, Juan appears more serious with his right hand wrapped around the handle of his white cane. Wearing a casual, open, button-down gray shirt he has a navy blue tee underneath. Juan, sporting his bald head looks distinguished against a stark white backdrop.