All posts by Empish

About Empish

Freelance Journalist, Blogger and Consultant

I’m Fully Vaccinated but Will Still Wear a Mask

Empish wearing orange top with FAMU facemask

Today marks two weeks after my second vaccine shot. This Means I am fully vaccinated and according to the recent announcement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) I can stop wearing my mask under certain conditions. The guidelines say, “If you are fully vaccinated, you can resume activities that you did before the pandemic without wearing a mask or physically distancing, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations. That includes local business and workplace guidance. You will still be required to wear a mask on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation traveling into, within, or out of the United States, and in U.S. transportation hubs such as airports and stations.”

I should be elated by this news, right? Yet, I am not. Don’t get me wrong I am happy because part of this means that as a country, we are moving in a positive direction with this virus but I still feel some trepidation. The reason being is that I am vaccinated but what about others around me? It’s not like I can tell in some kind of way who is vaccinated and who is not. So, because of that I am still going to wear my mask in public places like grocery shopping or getting my hair done.

Three Reasons for the CDC Decision

I was listening this morning to the Pod Save America podcast and they interviewed Dr. Fauci. He said the CDC decision came about because of three things:

1.  The vaccine is better than was shown in clinical trials.

2.  The vaccine works well against variants.

3.  Studies are showing high levels of protection, meaning that you are less likely to get infected and to pass on to others.

Guidelines Not a Mandate

The news to stop wearing a mask is not a mandate but just guidelines. The CDC wants to help assure vaccinated people they are safe. I can appreciate that information and will proceed with caution. I trust science but don’t trust people in the same way. I realize after the announcement was made that we will be on an honor system. Even if you show your paper vaccine card that might not be enough proof because there are already forged versions floating around. Additionally, the vaccine card information is only recorded in your state; there is no federal database.

The other concern I have about this is the announcement was made so quick. Businesses and government officials were caught off Gard and were surprise. This doesn’t give much time for people to get their act together and figure things out. If you are a business owner, how do you handle this news? It doesn’t seem to be any recommendations or advice for you. It is like every man for himself to figure it out. This is a problem and will leave people all over the place doing all kinds of things. Good, bad and otherwise. I was thinking that maybe rolling this guideline out over time in stages, giving people time to adjust would have been a better approach.

Empish grocery shopping wearing a facemask

Another concern I have is that we have not reached heard immunity. Lots of people are not vaccinated or have just gotten the one of two required shots. Some people don’t want to get vaccinated and some people can’t for various reasons. So those folks still need to wear a mask. But will they? This is another reason why I still will wear mine.

Don’t Know What the Future Holds

Lastly, COVID-19 is new. Going through a pandemic is not something we are experts at doing. Information about this virus changes constantly and who knows what we will be told next week, next month or even next year. Yeah, I am fully vaccinated but how long will that last? Six months? A year? Will I have to get a booster shot? What about getting the virus even though you are vaccinated like the members of the New York Yankees? These questions have not clearly been answered and so again, this is also why I will continue to wear a mask. We just don’t know what the future holds. I have been doing the 3 W’s: wash my hands, wear a mask and watch my distance for the past year. I don’t want all of this work and effort to go down the drain so until I get more clear and solid info, I will continue to wear my mask even though I am fully vaccinated.

Now, what about you? Now that the CDC says you can stop wearing a mask if fully vaccinated will you do so? Why or why not? Share your thoughts with me.

Got Zoom Fatigue? Go Audio Like Me.

Zoom Logo

A few weeks ago, I was reading an interesting newspaper article about people struggling with Zoom calls. In the article it referred to a Stanford University research study that revealed what people like me, who work from home, already know-Zoom fatigue is real. Sitting at a desk for long periods of time while staring at a computer screen and trying to keep your mind from wandering off can be exhausting. Yes, I know because you are preaching to the choir and I am not even on Zoom calls every day! In the study they highlighted 4 factors causing the problem:

1. A need for constant eye-to-eye contact.

2.  Seeing your face on screen while talking.

3.  Having to sit still for long periods of time.

4.  Challenge of communicating via body language.

Empish Sitting in Front of Laptop Wearing Headset with Microphone

Now, the suggested solutions offered I found quite intriguing because as a blind person I do them already for my calls. I began to think perhaps this is why my fatigue is not so bad? Perhaps being blind has some benefit when it comes to Zoom-type videoconferencing? There were three main remedies to help with exhaustion:

1.  Turn off the video camera and do audio calls only.

2.  disable the selfie window.

3.  Reduce the size of the call window.

Yep, its confirmed. I do these suggestions already. The majority of the time I do audio Zoom calls. I only turn on video when it is mandatory like a job interview. Or when the person has to see me like a telemedical appointment. Otherwise, the video is off. For example, my book club meeting on Bookshare is done via Zoom and the administrator turns the video off making the entire meeting audio only.

I also pick using the phone option when available. If I get a Zoom invite with a phone number included, I will sometimes call on my landline instead. This helps me to stay alert and engaged. I can get up from in front of my computer and move around, stretch my legs or go into another room. A change of scenery can help boost energy and maintain participation.

Empish Using a Landline Phone

The bottom line when it comes to Zoom fatigue is that as a blind person, I don’t have the vision to be as tired like sighted folks. I can’t physically stare at a screen or try and interpret body language. I am not trying to see my selfie in a little box so I don’t have that kind of stress. I also don’t have to be concerned with keeping constant eye contact because I can’t do it anyway. So, a lot of this stuff goes out the window for me. Two real challenges I have is the long amounts of time sitting in a chair and keeping my mind focused on the topic.

But asides from those two things, who knew being blind would have this kind of advantage? Those Stanford University researchers should have come and talked to blind folks like me. I would have gotten them hipped to the situation and knocked off some time and energy on that research. Minus my consulting fee. HaHa! Perhaps using my tips or the ones at Stanford will help you too with Zoom fatigue.

Ever Lee Hairston Shares er Ambitious Life Journey of Blindness

Wall of Book Shelves

Reading with My Ears Book Review

The first time I heard about Ever Lee Hairston was several years ago when I read the book The Hairstons: An American Family in Black and White by Henry Wiencek. In this depiction of two large families; the author wrote about an incident at a family reunion. Ever Lee called out the white Hairstons for how they mistreated her family who were sharecroppers on the land for many years. I remember thinking how bold this blind Black woman was to do this in this large crowded room full of people. However, she was spot on to say something because the white side of the family had profited for so long while her family lived in poverty. Second time her name popped up was while listening to a favorite podcast, called The Nod. She was being interviewed about her live. Then the third time was another podcast by Freedom Scientific sharing her life once again but this time including her published book. After running into this lady three times, I told myself this was no coincidence and that I needed to read her book to get the skinny on her life.

I found it in audio at the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled and finished it last week. The book is titled Blind Ambition: One Woman’s Journey to Greatness Despite Her Blindness. I was interested in her life story because I don’t come across many blind Black women   who have documented their life. The only other time was when I read about Haban Girma. As I read her story, I pulled out four core areas Ever lee was ambitious about: her education, career, marriage/family and the National Federation of the Blind.

Ambitious about Education

Ever Lee grew up in the segregated south on the Coolemee plantation in Mocksville, North Carolina. She is the third of seven children. Her days were filled with school and picking cotton. She realized from an early age that sharecropping was not the life she wanted to live. It was hard physical work. She was fearful of snakes and her family had little income. She had a desire to become a nurse because one of her sisters was constantly ill. She knew her parents had no money for college so being the ambitious person she was, Ever Lee came up with a plan. She heard about work opportunities up north and during the summer she worked as a live-in maid to save money for school. During this entire time Ever Lee struggled with her vision. She knew something was wrong but was not sure exactly what as she didn’t go to an eye doctor and never told anyone because she was ashamed. All through college, living with her aunt and uncle, and working as a live-in maid Ever Lee kept her vision problem a secret. This caused her to struggle through school because she couldn’t always see the chalkboard, her printed books or exams. When it was time to take the nursing exam, she failed the eye test portion. She was deeply disappointed but pressed on and got her teaching degree instead.

Ambitious About Career

Display of NLS Player Cartridges and Earbuds

Ever Lee was ambitious about her ability to be employed. She shared an incident where she applied for a position and got the interview. She dressed professionally, showed up on time with resume in hand but when she arrived it went downhill. The employer told her they had never hired a blind person before and she left disappointed. I also had a similar experience which happened shortly after I lost my vision. I went in for an interview and the first thing said to me was, “Oh, I didn’t know a blind person would apply for this job.” When that was said I knew, Like Ever Lee, I wasn’t going to get the job. That one statement spoke volumes about what that employer thought about the blind even though I was qualified for the job.

But like me Ever Lee pressed on and found a more opened-minded employer who not only gave her a job but helped her advance her career. She worked several years as a teacher and then later as a counselor at the Department of Health and Human Services. I worked for DHHS too when I was in high school and my first year of college. I was not blind at the time but I did have a blind co-worker, another one with cerebral palsy and a supervisor who used a wheelchair. Like Ever Lee this experience was rewarding, self-affirming and built my self-confidence. It also helped me when I went blind because I was able to pull from the experience to help me make it through.

Ambitious about Marriage and Family

Initially Ever Lee was hesitant about pursuing dating and romantic relationships because she was fearful her blindness would be exposed. She didn’t date in high school or college. She had been keeping it a secret the majority of her life.  But she did ultimately let go and fall in love with a guy and marry him. The relationship didn’t last because he was gaslighting and cheating on her. She realized this and took her son and left. She figured out what to do, got her career together, purchased a home and eventually met another man she married. When that marriage ended from abandonment, she still kept going. I have to appreciate Ever Lee sharing these intimate details of her life. failed relationships are hard to deal with and being public about it takes courage. Also, I admire the fact she shows them as just relationships where blindness is not the center. Many times, I have had to address the question/concern about my disability in a relationship as if it is the most important thing when so many other factors make up a successful match.

Ambitious About National Federation of the Blind

After years of struggle and disappointment, Ever Lee finally got a proper diagnosis. She was told by an eye specialist that she had a genetic eye disease called retinitis pigmentosa (RP). She was also told that it would probably get worse over time. Ever Lee’s vision did get worse and for a long time she relied on others to help. Or she “faked it to you make it.” While Ever Lee worked at DHHS she learned about more services for the blind. She got a call from the National Federation of the Blind inviting her to attend   their convention. Her aha moment came when she was offered an agenda in braille/large print. By this time, she could no longer read print and she didn’t know braille. This is when Ever Lee knew she needed more blind skills. So, she took 6 months off from work for vision rehabilitation training. She had already been using a white cane but needed more education on how to live an independent life as a blind person. I could relate too. I also took off from work for about a year to go through a similar program for the same exact reasons. Attending the convention and emersion in her training was the beginning of Ever Lee’s full involvement in NFB. After that she became an active member, advocate, mentor   and later joined the national board of directors. After losing my vision I also got deeply involved in the disability community. First, I became an advocate, then later public educator. Today, I am a writer and blogger on the topic of blindness.

Films About the Disabled Receive 2021 Oscar Nominations

Container of Movie Popcorn in a Colorful Cardboard Box

WooHoo! Three films featuring people with disabilities got the Oscar nod this year. I was so excited because representation matters. I was able to view two of the three films enjoying them both. The Oscars have been criticized in the pass for its lack of diversity and inclusion but this year I saw progress. The three films are:  Feeling Through, Crip Camp and the Sound of Metal.

Feeling Through

Feeling Through was nominated for Best Live Action Short Film. This 90-minute film is about a homeless teen who meets a deafblind man and how that encounter changes his life. Tereek (Francisco Burgos) is a young man trying hard to keep his homelessness a secret and is desperately looking for a place for the night. While texting friends, hoping he can crash with them, he ends up helping Artie (Robert Tarango), a deafblind man waiting for a bus. Their interaction is complicated. They have differences in abilities, temperaments and ages. However, as Tereek helps Artie navigate a ride home, he learns to see the world through another perspective beyond his own  and broadening his horizons in the process.

I saw this film on YouTube and had

some mix feelings about it. although I enjoyed it because it was available in audio description, featured people of color in a lead role and people with disabilities I struggled a bit with the storyline. Perhaps it was my own uncomfortableness with the vulnerability of Artie being deafblind and depending on others. As a blind person I found it a little unsettling to have to hold up a sign asking for help like that. I began to wonder did this man need some training for the deafblind? How does that work? Those kinds of questions swirled around my head. Depending on the kindness of strangers can be a little unnerving when you have a disability. But in this film, you see it play out and Artie is helped but also taken advantage of which bothered me. Yet, at the end of the day the film shows the challenges of both characters; one obvious and one not so much, which makes me think this is what the film was all about.

Crip Camp

The next film is Crip Camp and it was nominated for Best Documentary Feature. Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution follows the birth of the disability rights movement. The film starts in 1971 at Camp Jened, a camp for teens with disabilities and focuses on how those campers become activists in their fight for accessibility legislation.

I saw this film on Netflix and also in audio description. Absolutely loved it! It reminded me of my years working as an advocate at disABILITY LINK, an independent living center. I appreciated the real rawness of the film. They just showed you what it was like to be disabled and how much fun they had at camp. I like the fact the camp gave them the freedom to just be themselves without restrictions. Too many times others who are not disabled want to dictate our movements which can be quite suffocating. Viewing the film, the campers looked like they were having so much fun as any person attending camp should regardless of ability.

The Sound of Metal

The Sound of Metal is the third film and got the most nominations. It was nominated for six Oscars: Best Picture, Best Actor (Riz Ahmed); Best Supporting Actor (Paul Raci); Writing (Original Screenplay); Film Editing; and Best Sound.  Out of all those nominations It won an Oscar for Best Sound.

The film is about   punk-metal drummer, Ruben’s (Riz Ahmed) journey of losing his hearing. After several one-night gigs, he begins to experience intermittent hearing loss. When a specialist tells him, his condition will rapidly worsen, he thinks his music career and life are over. His bandmate and girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke) check the recovering heroin addict into a secluded sober house for the deaf in hopes it will prevent a relapse and help him learn to adjust. But after being welcomed into a community that is very accepting, Ruben has to choose between his equilibrium and the drive to reclaim the life he once knew.

I have not seen this movie yet because it was released on Amazon Prime but after reading the reviews and summary’s I might have to get a subscription. I can understand why this film got so much Oscar attention. The film sounds like a good one because of the realistic portrayal of a man losing his hearing which directly impacts his career and things he loves. How do you play music without hearing it? I can understand his dilemma. I went through something similar when I went blind and was trying to figure out how to be a journalist. This profession is writing and I can’t see. How does that work? I appreciate the storyline because people need to see how a disability can come into your life at any time. As a matter of fact, most people are not born disabled. So, seeing the journey on the big screen is commendable.

I applaud the Oscars for nominating these films and look forward to more hitting the big screen in the future. It is important that our stories get told, acknowledged and rewarded just like others.

How I Volunteer Virtually Regardless of a Pandemic

black and white line drawing of two feather pens in an inkwell

National Volunteer Week

When most people think of volunteering in the community it is something that you physically do such as feeding the homeless, building a house, tutoring/reading to children, registering people to vote, or running errands for seniors. All of those tasks are great volunteer opportunities and are well needed in the community but there are things that I have done as a volunteer sitting right at home.  I have been volunteering all my life in a variety of projects. Even after I went blind, I still kept volunteering. I just had to shift the way I did it. I figured out a way to use my journalism skills to help my community and even during a pandemic. This week is National Volunteer Week; April 18-24.   The Points of Light established it as an opportunity to recognize the impact of volunteer service and the power of volunteers to tackle society’s greatest challenges, to build stronger communities and be a force that transforms the world.

Started Virtual Volunteering

My first step into virtual volunteering was right after I went blind and lost my corporate job to downsizing, I was rethinking my career path and decided to volunteer at a non-profit. Since I was now a part of the disability community, I wanted to learn more and give back. I worked on a newsletter for a disability non-profit agency called disABILITY LINK. I collected articles and other content for the newsletter via email and phone. Wrote and edited the pieces, then submitted to my supervisor for publishing.

This was a good opportunity for me because it allowed me to give back, use my journalism skills in a professional way and learn about the disability community. It was a win-win all the way around. I began to realize that I could use my writing in a more meaningful way than just as a career.

Volunteering as a Radio Producer  

Empish with Guest Roderick Parker at GaRRS Studio

The next opportunity came in 2006 where a friend recommended me for the position. I was asked to help produce the Eye on Blindness Show by the Georgia Radio Reading Service. Prior to this time, my experience had been in writing only. So, this stretched my journalism skills and I was up for the challenge. Each month I was directed to find guests for the 30-minute show, do research, and write up show notes and promotion materials. All I did from home using my landline phone and computer. I also collaborated with the show’s host on topic ideas and future guests. I volunteered for about 3 years on the show. Later I was asked to come back and not only produce but host as well; which I gladly did for another 3 years.

Empish Using a Landline Phone

Volunteering as a Blogger

One day I got an email request for bloggers/peer advisors for a website called VisionAware. The website was a resource for people new to vision loss and they were looking for people to talk about their lives and give advice and information. Well, that was right up my alley. So, I filled out the application form and signed on. That was back in 2012 and I am still volunteering with VisionAware to this day.  We meet once a month via Zoom conference call to discuss topic ideas and themes for the site. We work to give true and honest information with a real-life experience. I write blog posts from home and submit via email. Volunteering at VisionAWare is rewarding because I can help others like myself and I get to work with a great group of people.

Virtual volunteering has been a wonderful experience for me. The things I have learned. The people I have met. The lives that have changed. This is all for the good and all from the comfort of my home. There are creative ways to volunteer. We are still in this pandemic and traditional methods may not be possible but you can still serve your community virtually. Check out the Points of Light database for virtual volunteer suggestions.

What Does a Shark, ABC and Audio Description Have in Common?

Empish wearing audio description headset at movie theater

Did my title grab your attention? I sure hope so. Well, now that you are here reading my blog post let me explain what a shark, ABC and audio description have in common.

The Shark Tank

I am a huge, huge. Let me say it one more time. Huge fan of The Shark Tank. This one-hour show allows Entrepreneurs to pitch their small businesses to investors called sharks. The reason I am such a fan is I love the creativity and originality that is displayed on the show. There are such cool consumer products and all types of businesses. The ingenuity showcased is amazing! I also love the negotiating strategy used with the investors. They discuss why their business is worth what it is while the investors explain why they will give the money or not. Sometimes they haggle back and forth even getting a little heated but that is all a part of the show.

Watching The Shark Tank on ABC

I tune in every Friday night at 8pm Eastern Standard Time. On what station? You guessed it. On ABC. Do not call me. Do not text me. Do not ring my doorbell. Do not email me. You will be ignored. Because I am glued to the TV watching my Shark Tank. ABC has been running The Shark Tank for about 11 seasons and I have been watching it faithfully for several years now.

Audio Description of The Shark Tank

Now you understand my love of Shar Tank and watching it on ABC. Now let me explain the audio description part and how that connects. Audio description provides extra verbal narration     of visual elements happening in a TV program or film. It could be hand gestures, facial expressions, physical movements or a description of clothing and action. It describes things that a person with vision loss might not notice or realize. As of July 1, 2018, ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, Discovery, HGTV, History, TBS, and USA are each required to provide 87.5 hours of audio-described prime time or children’s programming per calendar quarter. As part of those hours, ABC selected The Shar Tank as one of their shows to provide audio description. WhooHoo! So, when I first heard about this a couple of years ago, I was very excited and it just enhanced my viewing pleasure. Now, I am really, really ignoring you on Friday night! When the show first comes on a voice is describing the shark swimming. I would get descriptions of the people coming in to the tank like what they look like, their dress, hair and eye color. Facial expressions would also be described and there is a lot of that going on in the tank as the entrepreneurs react to the investors. Eyes rolling, eyebrows furring, mouth dropping, grim looks or smiling faces. Sometimes if they are doing a demonstration as part of their pitch that would be described as well. Then the money and negotiation amounts would also be described.

Well, several months ago my description fell off, got disconnected or something. Not sure what happen but because I am a huge Shark Tank fan I still kept watching. I knew in the back of my mind I needed to get the description fix. I reached out to my local ABC affiliate, WSB-Atlanta, via email. I got a reply that my concern was being sent over to one of the engineers to investigate. I had to reach out to the close captioning contact for the deaf because there is no direct contact for the blind. This is an issue we talk about in the blind community all the time.  But typically, the close captioning departments are familiar enough and can assist. In my case, I didn’t hear back. So, I tried again. Still no response. I called and left a message with no reply. So, a friend suggested to file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and that did the job.  I got a call from the chief engineer and we began to work on the problem.  Over several phone and email conversations it was determined that the audio description signal was not reaching my TV for ABC. I was getting it for all my other stations like NBC, CBS and FOX meaning that it is working properly on my end. I got a sighted friend to come over twice to work with the engineer via phone. But as of this writing we have not found a solution yet. It seems that my TV has a setting separately for each station. Although we set it up for audio description it is still not working.  The engineer and I are persevering and are hopeful that we will come to a resolution soon. But in the meantime, what am I going to do on Friday nights? You guessed it. Keep watching my Shark Tank!

The Audio Description Challenge

Here’s another challenge with audio description but this one is a cool and fun one I think you will enjoy. One of my fellow visually impaired blogging friends, Steph McCoy, loves audio description too. So much so, she helped launch Audio Description Awareness Day last year. She is promoting a challenge at her blog,  Bold Blind Beauty. Here are the details:  On April 16 2021 Bold Blind Beauty presents the Second Annual Audio Description Awareness Day and with it, kicks off the Audio Description Awareness Challenge, hashtag TADAChallenge. Here’s how it goes: Step one, find a friend to watch a TV episode or movie of your choice with audio description. Step two. At the end of the month, post your experience on social media and use the hashtag TADAChallenge which stands for The Audio Description Awareness Challenge.

Painting Glass and Ceramic Pottery in the Dark

Empish and instructor smiling and proudly displaying finished painted wine glass

Today is World Art Day

Before losing my sight, I was on the path of a new career in the fashion industry. Yes, I know you are probably in shock because all I have ever talked about is my writing and non-profit work. But yes, I had other career ambitions. Back in the late 1990s I was taking night classes in fashion design and merchandising at a local art college after work. As part of the course curriculum, I had to take art classes that included painting and drawing. I was working with watercolor and acrylic paints and drawing with charcoal and pencils. But as my vision decreased and it became harder and harder to see my canvas, colors and still models; I withdrew from school. I gave away all my art supplies to an artsy friend and moved on from that career path.

Fast-forward to 2014 I decided to try a little art again, partly to challenge myself, boost my self-esteem and explore my creativity.  These are some of the reasons that the International Association of Art (IAA/AIAP) created World Art Day. They chose April 15th because it coincided with Leonardo da Vinci’s birthday. Known as one of the most famous artists in history, Leonardo da Vinci has become a symbol of peace, freedom of expression and tolerance and brotherhood. World Art Day, established in 2012, celebrates the fine arts and promotes awareness of creativity worldwide. Although I took these two art classes some years ago, I learned art produces a love for learning and creativity. It also strengthens my focus and problem-solving skills.

Painting Wine Glass

The glass painting class provided one-on-one instruction, all painting materials and a wine glass. Since I hadn’t done anything artistic in so long, I wanted more hand-holding and accommodation than others. I shared with my instructor that I was blind and that I needed more verbal engagement than her sighted students. I was pleasantly surprised and excited to discover she had worked with a visually impaired student before and felt very comfortable working with me. The mission was to paint a wine glass and decorate it with a variety of stencils of your choosing.

Empish leaning over and focused on painting wine glass

After donning my painting apron, I washed the wine glass with rubbing alcohol and a cloth to remove all dirt and grime. Next, I made my paint color selections and learned which bowls held which colors. I also touched and felt my brushes for the variations in the bristles. I chose my self-adhesive stencils.  There were several pages to choose from and the instructor described each one. Some were phrases and words; others were flowers and butterflies. Some were small and others were big. I carefully handled the stencils because they were paper thin and had adhesive on the back. I chose a large butterfly for the top and flowers for the base of the wine glass.

Once I got my materials organized, the next step was to paint the whole base of the wine glass with a water brush. This was challenging because it was hard determining how much paint was on the tip of the brush and when more paint needed reapplying. My instructor assisted me with this part. After the base paint dried, I placed the small stencils on top for the flowers, which were in a different color. I used a sponge type brush using the corner of the brush and gently dabbed the paint on the stencil. Once the paint dried, I repeated the same steps with the large butterfly on the upper round part of the wine glass. Since this stencil was a lot larger than the ones, I used on the base it was a little tricky. The stencil was fragile so I was very careful in placing it down on the glass so it wouldn’t easily rip. I cautiously placed it down by sections going from one part to the other and laid down the edges last.

During the whole painting process I used my visual memories and my fingers on my left hand as a guide to determine where to place the paint. I also used my fingers on my left hand and place them around the boarder of the stencil. This helped me to determine the perimeter and how far to move around on the stencil. Once everything dried, I admired my work before my instructor placed it in a decorative gift bag.

Painting Ceramic Pottery

My other class was painting ceramic pottery. This project was a little easier since I had already handled ceramics before. But instead of working with an instructor I brought a sighted friend to assist. We went to a ceramic pottery store in the mall where you select unfinished pieces for decoration. Again, I picked out my colors and the paint brushes. I chose bright bold colors and a round jewelry box for my pottery piece. This time instead of using self-adhesive stencils I used a rubber stamp. I chose letters, flowers and butterflies. Yes, I love flowers and butterflies! I first painted the entire jewelry box; both inside and out. Then my sighted friend assisted with drying by using a hair dryer to speed up the process. Next, she assisted with applying the paint on the rubber stamp. We worked together to determine the distance between letters and the other objects. Once completed, we left the jewelry box on the table to dry.  Later the instructor would glaze and fire. About a week later I was called to come by and pick up my finished piece.

Lessons Learned and Resources

Both of these painting projects were a lot of fun for me. But more importantly they showed me that I could do it. It did require some mental concentration and sighted help but I was glad that I stretched myself and exercised my creative muscle. I know that we are still living under COVID   and social distancing so taking an in-person art class may not be feasible. Still, you can explore art virtually. The IAA/AIAP has suggestions on their website or take a Zoom online class. For my blind and visually impaired readers, check out this encouraging podcast about a blind painter ; and the American Printing House for the Blind provides accessible art supplies  and a Building Your Fine Arts Toolkit Blog. You might not be Leonardo da Vinci but all these resources can support that creative inner artist in you!

Being a Vegan is not Just for White Folks Only

The Invisible Vegan: A Movement Toward a New Consciousness poster with a green background and a black stylized fist grasping an orange carrot. In the lower left corner are the list of the featured performers'.

I recently made some changes to my meal plan and have moved more into a plant-based diet. This change surprisingly has not been too hard because fruits and vegetables are my jam. Even before I started working from home, I would take a salad to work just about every day for lunch. It would be filled with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, broccoli and even green bell peppers and onions with a sprinkling of chopped nuts. My co-workers would be eyeballing my lunch as I quickly moved out of the break room and back to my office to eat my crunchy rainbow feast. So, when I heard about The Invisible Vegan documentary by Jasmine Leyva I just had to watch it. Now, before I give my two cents let me give you the summary.

Summary of Invisible Vegan Documentary

The documentary begins with the personal story of Jasmine Leyva, a 30-year-old black actress and filmmaker currently based in Los Angeles. Over the past seven years, Jasmine has committed herself to veganism, both in lifestyle and research. Taking Leyva’s unhealthy childhood growing up in Washington, DC as a point of departure, the film interweaves her narrative with the professional and personal experiences of a prominent group of vegan activists. The film integrates interviews with popular culture luminaries including Cedric the Entertainer (actor and comedian), John Salley (former NBA player and wellness advocate), and Clayton Gavin (aka Stic of the hip-hop duo Dead Prez).

The Invisible Vegan also explains how plant-based eating is directly linked to African roots and how African-American eating habits have been debased by a chain of oppression.

Africa, Slavery and Soul Food

AS I sat and watched the 90-minute film, I was nodding my head and saying, “Yes, that’s right, that’s right!” Sounding like people in the amen corner at church. She was speaking truth to power and I was not too surprised by nothing coming out of this young lady’s mouth. She started out explaining how a plant-based diet came from Africa and how it is not just for white folks. She ticked off the names of Civil rights activists who are vegetarians like the late Rosa Parks, Coretta Scott King, and Dick Gregory. She mentioned Angela Davis too. This was enlightening because I only knew about Dick Gregory as I had read about his diet plan before. He was a firm believer in better health just as much as in civil rights.

She talked about how our enslaved ancestors were forced to eat the scraps on the plantation. How they made meals out of the leftovers. Yes, this is so true. I remember reading the book Roots and many other slave narratives where scenes played out just like this.  Because of this situation Black people passed down this type of eating from generation to generation. It is embedded in our family and culture.  

So, when she started talking about losing the “Black card” I knew exactly what she was talking about. I am nodding my head again. The type of food our ancestors ate on the plantation evolved into what we call today as soul food.  This includes favorites like fried chicken, collard or mustard greens, okra, cornbread, sweet potatoes or yams and blackeyed peas. It also includes some kind of pork product like ham, pig’s feet, hog head cheese and the all-time favorite for many Black folks – chitlins! So, if you are a Black person and don’t eat soul food then you can lose your Black card and be called out. That is not a good situation. Believe me I have been there myself. Not for being a vegan, like Jasmine, but for my efforts in trying to lose weight. Many of these items are not healthy and/or not cooked in a healthy way. So, believe me, I get it. She also talked about how eating soul food is not just the food itself but about a sense of being and belonging. These foods are comforting and connect us to our family, history and legacy in this country. If you don’t think so, go back and watch the classic 1997 movie Soul Food.

Challenges of EatingHealthy

A head shot of Jasmine Leyva with long dark hair, smiling and leaning on one arm in a casual pose. She is wearing a brown and white sleeveless top and a long silver chain around her neck.

With this being said, it is hard for people to change and move to a healthy diet or even become a vegan for that matter. She shared about her journey to become a vegan and the ups and downs of that experience. When it comes to diet and nutrition our doctors are not well equipped to help because they get little education on it when they are in medical school. They are sometimes more apt to write out prescriptions or recommend surgery. I experienced this myself when talking to my PCP and was fortunately referred to a nutritionist.  There I learned about food groups and how food impacts the body. She also talked about food deserts and lack of access to healthy foods. As they say, “No Whole Foods in the hood!”  I could also relate to that too. I have had to get on the bus and travel miles away to find healthier options. And don’t forget about the cost of healthy food! OMG! Why does organic cost twice as much? Crazy! It takes a lot of work and energy to do all of this which I find very stressful at times.  No wonder it is so easy to grab a hamburger at McDonalds. One thing I found interesting and a bit surprising was how meat processing plants are located near minority communities. I didn’t realize that. I mean I knew about how they treat animals, the hormones and the runoff; but not the location.

No Judgement to Become a Vegan

The last thing about the documentary is that it was not judgmental. Jasmine shared her life journey, laid out the facts, and had other people share their experiences. It was not this hard-line approach. She encouraged you to start where you are. I am not ready to go totally vegan but I thought I could do something like meatless Mondays, tofu Tuesdays or salad Saturdays. You know, ease my way into a plant-based lifestyle.

Although this film is not audio described for people like me with vision loss, I still got so much out of it. I encourage you to check it out especially if you are trying to change your eating habits and curious about a vegan lifestyle. The Invisible Vegan is available to watch now on TubiTV and stream on Amazon Prime

My Treadmill is Used for Walking Not a Clothes Hanger

Empish on Treadmill

National Walking Day

One day I was having my treadmill serviced and the maintenance guy told me, “I can tell you actually use this treadmill. It is not a clothes hanger like my other customers.” I had to chuckle when he said that because he was right. Although that compliment was said some years ago, it still holds true. I walk on my treadmill as a form of staying healthy and exercise. Even more so with COVID as it helps with my mental well-being as I continue to shelter in place. I walk a couple of times a week and plan on walking today to honor National Walking Day, started by the American Heart Association as a way to encourage and educate people on the health benefits of walking.

I started walking as a form of exercise in college. Many sunny days in Florida I would lase up my tennis shoes, pop in a cassette tape into my Walkman, and start walking through my neighborhood. Other times I would walk to campus, work, visit friends or to run errands. Ah, those were the days. Walking in the warm weather with the wind blowing softly in my face, and bobbing my head to the latest hit song. When I graduated and moved to Georgia, my walking outdoors abruptly stopped because there was little to no sidewalks and even less respect to pedestrians. I remember when I first arrived reading an article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution about the number of pedestrian fatalities. Yes, that is correct. People dyeing while walking around Atlanta. Well, that wasn’t going to be me. So, I had to figure out other ways to workout. It was a struggle because shortly after I moved, I began to go blind and the traditional methods of exercise were lost to me. Yet, at the end of the day walking was still a possibility. I just had to move it indoors onto a treadmill. So, that is what I did. I purchased my first treadmill in 2003. You won’t believe it but old faithful is still going strong after all these years! I walk for about 30 minutes a couple of times a week. I have long since let go of the cassette tapes and Walkman and now listen to music on my stereo with handheld remote control. Or sometimes I will watch TV, listen to an audiobook or podcast. Here are ten benefits of why I use my treadmill for walking not a clothes hanger.

Benefits of Walking on a Treadmill

1.  Treadmills are designed to be easier on your joints, which is great for me and the arthritis in my knee.

2.  The weather doesn’t stop me from walking.

3.  I can walk anytime of the day or night.

4.  As I said before I have watched TV, listened to an audiobook, music or podcast while walking on a treadmill.

5.  Treadmills have cup holders for your water bottles, smartphone, and other items so you don’t have to carry them.

6.  Treadmills allow you to walk at a constant speed and rhythm, which can be helpful if you tend to walk too fast or have problems pacing yourself.

7.  You can hold on to the handrails for stability if you have balance problems.

8.  If you have allergies, outdoor pollution or poor walking conditions in your community walking on a treadmill is a better option than walking outside.

9.  Treadmills can keep track of heart rate, speed, time and calories burned.

10.  You can program the treadmill to set the speed, incline, and difficulty of your walk and change this whenever you want.

I have been able to take advantage of just about all of these benefits of walking on a treadmill. Additionally, my blindness doesn’t impede me from its usage, with some simple braille labeling my treadmill is fairly accessible.  As a result, my mental and physical health has improved. The ability to have a stable and consistent form of exercise at my fingertips is critically important to me. That is why my clothes stay in my closet and not hanging on my treadmill. I encourage you to make a commitment to yourself, if you haven’t already, to get some form of physical activity going. Use this day of observance as your jumping off point and get out there and walk.

Recognizing 5 Black Women in Journalism During Women’s History Month

Stack of Newspapers

When I was taking courses in journalism in college, I learned about women in the news but they were more modern-day women verses historical. Since March is National Women’s History Month, I wanted to honor some women that impacted the industry from the past. Some of the women are not as well-known while others are famous. Regardless, they left a mark on American journalism that is noteworthy because of their courage, self-determination and strength.

Published Stories on Lynchings

The first woman, Ida B. Wells, was a journalist I knew because of her bravery and doggedness in publishing the stories of lynchings. She was born a slave in 1862 in Mississippi. When the Civil War ended, Ida’s parents became politically active setting an example of activism and advocacy she would use later in life. They also believed in the importance of education.  She became a teacher and moved to Memphis after her parents and one sibling died from yellow fever. Ida’s activism kicked off when she filed a lawsuit against a train car company in 1885for unfair treatment. She had been thrown off a first-class train despite having a ticket. Although she won the case locally, the ruling was later overturned in federal court.

After losing her teaching job Ida turned to journalism. In 1892 when three friends had been lynched by a mob, she began an editorial campaign against lynching. She was doubtful about the reasons Black men were lynched and set out to investigate several cases. She published her findings in a pamphlet and wrote several columns. Her exposure enraged locals, who burned her press and drove her from Memphis. Ida was passionate about highlighting lynchings that she traveled internationally. Abroad, she openly challenged white women in the suffrage movement who ignored lynching’s. Ida was often ridiculed and ostracized by women’s suffrage organizations in the United States because of her bold and fearless stance on the topic. Despite lack of support, Ida remained active in the women’s rights movement. She was a founder of the National Association of Colored Women’s Club which was created to address issues dealing with civil rights and women’s suffrage. Although she was in Niagara Falls for the founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), her name is not mentioned as an official founder; but she later became a member of the executive committee. Disenchanted with their white and elite Black leadership, she soon distanced herself from the organization. Late in her career Ida focused on urban reform in Chicago. She died in 1931.

Poet and Journalist  

The second woman was born shortly after the Civil War in New Orleans and later was actively involved in the Harlem Renaissance. Her name is Alice Dunbar Nelson  and she was a poet, journalist and political activist. Her first collection of stories, poems and essays, Violets, and Other Tales, was published in 1895. She was married to the famous poet, Paul Laurence Dunbar and during their marriage she published a short-story collection, The Goodness of St. Rocque and Other Stories. This collection was published as a companion piece to his Poems of Cabin and Field in 1899. The volume helped establish her as a clever portrayer of Creole culture. The marriage didn’t last owing to abuse and alcoholism from her husband yet Alice continued to move forward in her writings and romantic life.

Alice was involved in the Harlem Renaissance, even though she hadn’t lived in New York for many years since before her marriage to Paul and was still living in Delaware at the time. Her poetry, much of it written earlier, was rediscovered through its appearance in journals and collections like The Crisis, Opportunity, Ebony and Topaz. She was also a journalist and wrote a syndicated column, Une Femme Dit, and contributed a wealth of reviews and essays to newspapers and magazines. During the 1920s, she coedited the Wilmington Advocate, a progressive Black newspaper. She also published The Dunbar Speaker and Entertainer, a literary anthology.  Although a successful writer, Alice spoke about her challenges as a journalist in her diary. She discussed being denied pay for her articles and issues she had with receiving proper recognition for her work. Her diary was published in 1984 and remains one of the few diaries of a 19th-century African-American woman. Alice died in 1935.

Vintage typewriter on a wooden desk

First to Receive White House Media Credentials

Alice Allison Dunnigan was the first Black woman credentialed to cover the White House, the Supreme Court, the State Department and Congress. Born in 1906 in Kentucky, Alice was a bright and smart student, and started writing for newspapers when she was only 13 years old. She began her career as a teacher, but wasn’t satisfied so took journalism classes and wrote fact sheets about information omitted in the school curriculum. Alice knew that to move forward she had to physically move so in 1935, she moved to Louisville. There she worked for Black-owned newspapers like the Louisville Defender. Next, she moved to the Capitol. Initially she worked for the federal government as a civil service worker but still had her eyes on journalism. In 1946 Alice’s ambitions were realized when she became a Washington, DC, correspondent for the Associated Negro Press (ANP), the first Black-owned wire service, supplying more than 100 newspapers nationwide. It was her ticket to covering national politics. She worked mightily on getting her press pass and was approved in 1947, and quickly acquired White House media credentials the following year.

Despite these major achievements Alice still dealt with racism and sexism in the work place. While covering President Truman and President Eisenhower, Alice experienced discrimination. She was one of three African Americans and one of two women in the press corps covering President Truman’s campaign. During her years of covering the White House, she frequently asked questions regarding the escalating civil rights movement. In 1953 Dunnigan was barred from covering a speech given by President Eisenhower in a whites-only theater and was forced to sit with the servants to cover Ohio Senator Robert A. Taft’s funeral. It was not until President Kennedy that she was recognized as a member of the press when asking questions. Under his administration, Alice began a new career as a consultant. President Kennedy appointed her to his Committee on Equal Opportunity designed to level the playing field for Americans seeking federal government jobs. After retiring, Alice self-published her autobiography, A Black Woman’s Experience: From Schoolhouse to White House. She died in 1983, and in 2013, was posthumously inducted into the National Association of Black Journalists Hall of Fame.

First to Have Comics Syndicated Nationally  

The next woman started off as a writer but was best known as a cartoonist. She was the first Black woman to have her comics syndicated nationally   across America. Jackie Ormes, born in 1911, used her artistic talent to remark on political and social issues happening at the time. Her portrayal of positive Black folks went against long held stereotypical and negative images. Her first strip in the Pittsburg Courier, Torchy Brown in Dixie to Harlem, followed the adventures of Torchy Brown, a young ambitious Black teen who traveled from Mississippi to New York to pursue her dream of performing in the Big Apple. During the 1940s, Jackie worked as a columnist at the Chicago Defender and published her next cartoon strip, Candy, about a funny, hard-working and smart maid. 

The Pittsburgh Courier published a new strip from Jackie after WWII called Patty-Jo ‘n’ Ginger. It centered around two sisters, Ginger, the older, stylish sister, and Patty Jo, the wisecracking, insightful little sister. The strip was so successful it ran for 11 years with more than 500 cartoons. In partnership with the Terri Lee Doll Company, Jackie created the Patty-Jo doll in 1947. This was the first nationally distributed high class Black doll that had real child-like features and an extensive, fashionable wardrobe. The dolls were extremely popular and the wish of many Black and white children. As the Civil Rights Movement grew, Jackie’s comic section was cut. She retired from cartooning and switched to painting. but later, Jackie had to stop painting entirely after developing rheumatoid arthritis. Still, she stayed active in the artist community through her seat on the board of directors of the Usable Museum of African-American History and Art. Jackie died from a cerebral hemorrhage in 1985. She was posthumously inducted into the National Association of Black Journalists Hall of Fame in 2014.

Newspaper Owner and integrationist

Two pressmen are working in an old fashion pressroom with an old stop-the-presses type press.

Daisy Bates is a name I quickly recognized but not for her journalism background. Whenever I would read about Daisy it was her affiliation with the NAACP and how she advocated for integration with the Little Rock 9 in Arkansas. But before she got heavily involved in school integration, she married a newspaper man and they both ran the Arkansas State Press which focused on the need for social and economic improvements for the Black community. This paper became known for its courageous reporting of acts of police brutality against Black soldiers from a local army camp. Their persistence and drive in spotlighting these abuses led many white business owners to cease placing advertisements in their paper. Regardless of the financial loss, they continued to produce their publication. In 1959 they were forced to close the Arkansas State Press due to threats of racial violence. But Daisy reopened it in 1984 and sold it several years later. For many years Daisy continued her advocacy in education and civil rights involvement. For her work, the state of Arkansas proclaimed the third Monday in February, Daisy Gatson Bates Day. She died in 1999 and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Freedom the same year.

All of these women had incredible stories of tenacity, strength and power. As I researched each one there was so much rich history on their lives, I struggled with featuring just the highlights because there was so much more than what appears in this blog post. These women were wives, mothers, sisters, friends and held other roles in their community. These women battled racism, sexism and all kinds of challenges as they tried to do their work as journalists. They were excellent examples and believed deeply in the power of the written word and its impact on their community and society. Journalism was not just a routine 9-to-5 job but a way to evoke social and political change. I can definitely relate and is also a reason why I chose journalism and why I wanted to recognize them this month.