Helping a Blind Man See

Paying attention to signs is so relevant to everyday life. It's easy for me to say that because on a spiritual level, I'm in tune with my body and  physically, I am an able-bodied person who has the literal ability to see. I recently attended a meet-up catered to freelancers in Baltimore, and one of the people I met was a graphic designer who's work can be found in children's museums across the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions of the U.S. Up until that event, I never even thought about who actually created these types of directional signs, but ever since our conversation, I've been noticing how signs are (or aren't) placed.

Today, while taking the metro to the city, a blind man entered the train. As he sat down, he used his cane to navigate which seats were empty, and began to tilt his head forward and towards the doors so he could hear where the next stop would be. I watched as he tried to figure out when his stop would be, by assuming he either was counting the stops in his head, or was waiting to listen for the announcement over the intercom system...which never came.

Up until that point, I never noticed that the 15 minutes prior to him stepping on the train, the conductor never made an announcement to let us know which stop we were at or which stop was coming next. I got emotional and frustrated at the same time while being empathetic to the man in front of me. If the particular car we were on was empty, would he have even been able to get to his destination? Why wasn't there an automated announcement telling us which stop we were approaching? Why is this [metro] system so broken?

I thought about why I cared so much - maybe it's because I'm so immersed in being in spaces that are inclusive, I'm more sensitive to those who haven't had a voice. I thought about the irony of how disconnected the transportation system is in Baltimore to the people who actually need the service, and I thought about how can I help.

The man stood up from his seat, moved his cane around and asked "which stop is this?" in which I replied, and he left nodding, right in my direction.

on collaboration

I've always been inspired by people's stories. When I first started using ride-sharing services like Uber, I was intrigued by learning about my drivers and it felt as if every single person that chauffeured me to my destination had something incredible to share. I remember telling a friend that I wanted to work for Uber, but only to write about the drivers and share it with the world, but that idea was quickly shot down. Seems as if everyone had that idea. My point is that I honestly feel that I have met some fascinating people on the planet, just in my everyday occurrences.  As much as I don't necessarily enjoy small talk, I often get a sense that someone has an interesting story just by looking at them. One example is from last spring. I was walking my usual trail at a park near my house, I saw a black man swimming in the park lake in a full-on scuba outfit with a camera in hand, underwater.

I was walking my usual trail at a park near my house, I saw a black man swimming in the park lake in a full-on scuba outfit with a camera in hand, underwater. That doesn't happen everyday - at least to me. I started to walk the trail but turned around because I wanted to find out who this guy was. Turns out he's a local Baltimore photographer and was taking some initial shots for a future photoshoot. We exchanged numbers and are still friends to this day.

Fast forward to present day,  I've been working on a couple projects related to collaboration and amplifying the work of people who look like me. Speaking to friends, writing for various publications and throwing out ideas to my trusted circle, people like Kyle, Karlene, and Dorien (pictured below) have come into my life at the right time. Each of their stories is inspiring, impactful and I'm grateful that people like them exist in this world. We recently met to go over ideas for an upcoming event, I'm still in awe from how our visions have turned into something tangible.

Oh, Baltimore

My love for Baltimore grows stronger as the days go by. I remember when I first moved back home in 2013, after a stint in NYC, feeling devastated and defeated. Unsure how to rebuild my life in a somewhat familiar place, the same reasons why I left (2002) in the first place were still ingrained in the back of my mind.

"I don't see myself in this city. It's too slow paced. It's too Black and White. Where are the Haitians that I'm not related to? Where are my Caribbean folks at?!"

It took some time for me to adjust to the pace, the shift in cultures in the neighborhood I grew up (hello Nigerians!) and the fact that there are some like-minded people that I can learn from.

Integrating myself into the different niche communities and cultures that Baltimore consists of has been my saving grace. I've gained perspective and have learned the complexities that are often overlooked by the media and even people who live in the surrounding counties.

I've pushed myself to learn and surround myself with people of different backgrounds, and by coincidence or serendipitously, I've met some of the most brilliant and ridiculously talented people.  The game-changers, the influencers, community organizers, the builders, activists, and entrepreneurs. The types of people who care about making this city shine.

And right now, that's precisely what we need.

walking in west baltimore.

I felt guilty for not helping, for not witnessing the protests or walking the streets where he was shot. I felt guilty for heading out of town when there were hundreds of opportunities to help clean up the streets that same weekend I left.

I felt guilty because I was afraid to head to the city – the real city – where the media had filmed the “riots."

But today, I felt different.

Last night before bed, I scrolled through my twitter feed, and came across a post of a beautiful mural dedicated to Freddie Gray. I reached out to the woman who snapped this shot and she gave me the location where I could see this first hand.

I drove to Sandtown, specifically to the corner of Presbury and Mount, to not only see this mural that was curated just a few days ago, but to walk the streets to get a sense of who actually lives here.

At first, I was nervous for walking around, but as I roamed the streets, people greeted me and said hello. It was an overall chill vibe, but I could only imagine what the tension was like just a few weeks prior as some streets were still blocked off as a few scattered cops were standing guard.

As I arrived on the same streets where thousands protested, I felt a sense of peace. Now, the streets are quiet with people going about their day-to-day business. Women on the stoops braiding hair, kids walking around, men standing on the corner, politicin’ as usual. I walked up to the mural, with the fresh spray paint smell still residing in the air. I spotted a popular activist, Deray Mckesson, on the corner filming a piece in front of another building where a local Baltimore artist was creating another mural: a mix of images of MLK protests to what just transpired in these past two weeks. There were a few people with their DSLRs snapping away, but also engaging in conversations with those who were raised on these streets.

The boarded up row houses were not unnoticed, but this was expected. I’ve driven down these streets before, and understood this to be the “normal” west side of Baltimore.

I chatted up with three older black gentleman, one of whom was born and raised at Gilmore Homes – and actually bet $1,000 to his friend [who’s in jail] that he has proof that he was born there and when I tell you he was PROUD of where he was from – he pulled out a folder with his birth certificate with proof that he was born here. These cats just wanted to be heard. They voiced their opinions on how corrupt the cops are, how it took another murder for people to actually take a look at west Baltimore, and how instead of investing millions of dollars to rebuild Canton and the Waterfront, how about taking that money to help those who actually live here. With their frustrations, they all mentioned that it’s going to take a lot of time and effort to shed light on this neighborhood. All they can do is talk about what’s going on, with hopes that more people like us (the artists, the curious folks, those wanting to help) will actually do so and not just put this on the back burner.

I no longer feel guilty. I reside in Baltimore, and I have the chance to help 24/7. Spending just about an hour in this neighborhood was enough time to give me a feeling of hope. That there are people committed and demanding change, and taking immediate action to turn this place around.


Let’s just hope this momentum continues.

I'm from Baltimore.

It’s exhausting telling people where I’m from. “No, but I'm from the county.”

“No, not where The Wire was filmed.”

“No, not in the city. I live about 30 minutes away.” 

“Oh, and yeah, my family is Haitian. “

Maybe it's because I'm brown, and most people automatically assume people who look like me should speak a certain way, and live in a certain zip code.  But as soon as I mention the last bit "my family is Haitian" it's like everything I resemble makes sense to them. "Ohh so that's why you speak like that."

Today I woke up tired. Most likely from watching the news and reading my twitter feed and being angry at what friends were posting on Facebook – not realizing how racist their words are, or them - from the night before.

We’re all ignorant to what’s actually happening, unless we’ve been through the trenches, and experienced what those who are in the media have been through, or have some empathy towards a disenfranchised group.

It surprised me that people were shocked about these protests, and even more surprised at the buildings that were being burned vs. the actual core of what is happening/has happened time and time again.

Maybe it’s because my family came from the trenches – of a third world country – that they provided me with the safety of growing up no where close to anything that may resemble what they have gone through.

When I say I’m from Baltimore, I feel that there’s two sides. The county and what you see on the news. Just like Haiti.  Portraying a place as always violent and in distress is one thing especially if you've never visited.  But we all know there's two sides to every story.

The core of it all is fucked up. Money, politics and race. It all comes down to race and the injustices that occur from a system that wasn’t built for anyone else than those who built it.

Today I felt torn. I wanted to help, but didn’t want to get hurt. Physically, emotionally – afraid of feeling and seeing what I’ve been raised not to even experience.

This is the exact reason why I need to help. To understand what people who look like me feel - the same people that when others ask where I'm from, assume I am. To create change and to uplift those who think they never have a chance at survival.  There are too many people running away from what's happening, ignoring these issues (and people) as if they don't exist, and blaming those who are hurt for disrupting "their" city.

“People don’t want to believe that they actually are racists or that the systems & institutions that they pay into and buy into are actually working actively against certain people…people can’t come up with how they feel and as a result don’t want to face the realities of where they live.” - Clinton Yates

choose to win.

What do I want to say? This is the first question I always ask myself before I even begin writing.  I read some blogs from my favorite people, listen to some music, take notes, highlight quotes from my favorite books - all in hope to get some inspiration to just start.

I get these urges when I know I have a lot I want to write, yet nothing ever comes out as clear as I’d like it to be – or at least coherent for those of you reading this.

The hardest part is always starting.  Always.

So, what do I want to say?

Life is a big beautiful mess. Everyone is going through it, and there’s no way to go around it or avoid it.

Going through emails, I came across one from Rog on choosing not to fail or choosing to win.  They both mean the same thing, but it’s how you’re perceiving and initiating your choices that make the outlook brighter, and more manageable.

Everyone fails at something in life.  It’s a guaranteed part of being human.  However, mentally preparing yourself for failure won’t get you anywhere.  Feelings of being stuck, or depressed, or unsure-of-what-to-do-next-so-you-don’t-do-anything aren’t pathways that lead to success. Changing your mentality of being capable of actually winning at whatever it is you want to achieve vs. thinking it’s absolutely impossible leads to action.

Asking for help doesn’t hurt the process either. I’ve learned over the course of the years that some of my best ideas, efforts and successes come from being in the trenches – and using my resources to help get me out.

Understanding the depths of each situation and how it makes me feel allows me to move upwards and be proactive in my decisions - in a positive fashion.  Failure is inevitable.  Reaching for the top is a choice; and it’s risky, scary and everything in between – and without a doubt, worth it.


This post is brought to you by: Shiraz (I keep it classy) Sade – Fear Dustin's Music