A Black History Moment: Remembering Blind Tom

Before Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles were sharing their musical talents, there was Blind Tom Wiggins. Born in 1848, Wiggins was born autistic and blind. He grew up a slave, yet was an accomplished pianist who later traveled around the country showcasing his skills.

The Ballad of Blind Tom, a book written by Deirdre O’Connell, tells about the life and legacy of America’s lost musical genius. Watch the video below to hear the creative sounds of Wiggins, who was known as the slave pianist and autistic savant.

For more information, go to www.blindtom.org.

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Improving transportation in Charleston

I26AltAs the Charleston, S.C. community continues to grow with tourism, residents and businesses, so does the need to increase its infrastructure to handle the influx of people. Transportation alternatives are being discussed through the I-26 Alternatives Analysis to improve maneuverability throughout the Lowcountry.

I attended a meeting last night where the traffic study team is recommending a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system. A number of larger cities in Oregon, California and Texas have BRTs and they have had great success. This mode of transportation uses dedicated lanes and signaling systems to decrease travel time.

From an accessibility standpoint, BRTs have wider doorways and have zero-incline entrances for people with disabilities. Tie-down systems have also improved making it easier for drivers to secure wheelchairs. The accessibility of these busses will make traveling with a disability a lot easier.

Bus Rapid Transit in San Bernardino, California

Bus Rapid Transit in San Bernardino, California

Although it’s exciting to see what the future holds for transportation in Charleston, there is still a long way to go before we see these new buses. It’s estimated to be 7-10 years before the approximately $365 million system is up and running. CARTA, Tri-County Link and the Berkeley, Dorchester and Charleston Council of Governments are among the organizations working on this project.

For more information about I-26Alt, go to www.i26alt.org. Take a look at the video from ABC News 4 where I talked about the importance of accessible transportation (the reporter inadvertently gave me a new last name in the video): http://abcnews4.com/news/local/365-million-plan-to-lighten-i-26-traffic-would-focus-on-more-buses.

 

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Keeping Dr. King’s legacy alive

MLK Injustice Anywhere Quote

A group of disability advocates promoting the importance of inclusion.

As we celebrated the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. this past weekend, I began to think about some of the adversities our nation has overcome: from enslaved African Americans who were treated as property, to individuals with disabilities who were shunned away in their homes because they looked different, to people of all religions who couldn’t freely practice their faith without fear of being attacked.

Regardless of who we are or where we come from, we all have something to contribute to society. Dr. King was not afraid to be an advocate for change or to be the voice for the voiceless. One of my favorite quotes from Dr. King is, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” When one suffers, we all suffer.

Cooper River Bridge - Bridge of Hope

Thousands of people unite on the Cooper River Bridge after Emanuel AME Church Massacre.

We all suffered when nine lives were lost at Emanuel AME Church last June. Yet, even through the sadness, our community stood hand-in-hand on the Cooper River Bridge to show solidarity and create a bridge of hope. Dr. King’s vision of unity continues to be alive and well and his dream is being put into action.

I believe Dr. King would be proud and excited for the future of our nation. As this past weekend has shown, people all around our country paraded up and down streets promoting love and kindness for everyone.

Here, in Charleston, the esteemed Lowcountry Voices performed “Shed a Little Light: A Concert Honoring the Life and Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.” The sanctuary was filled at St. Matthew Baptist Church Saturday evening where the choir sang traditional gospel hymns and spirituals to inspire us all to make a difference.

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Mayor John Tecklenburg takes office

Monday marked a new day in Charleston’s history. Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. retired after 40 years as the leader of the Holy City. Now, incoming Mayor John Tecklenburg is at the helm.

A photo opportunity with Charleston's newest mayor, John Tecklenburg.

A photo opportunity with Charleston’s newest mayor, John Tecklenburg.

I attended Mayor Tecklenburg’s inauguration reception and had the chance to take a picture with him. I’m looking forward to working with the mayor to continue improving accessibility within our city.

Thanks, Joe!

Mayor Joe Riley’s legacy will continue to be a positive influence on our community. He has done a lot for accessibility within Charleston. He helped improve the accessibility of the scenic sidewalk along The Battery and declared the first Saturday in November as Students with Disabilities Day.

Mayor Joe Riley with Meagan Orton and me at a Gavalas Kolanko Foundation Luncheon.

Mayor Joe Riley with Meagan Orton and me at a Gavalas Kolanko Foundation Luncheon. Meagan and I are on the Board of Directors for the Foundation.

That first Saturday in November is when the Charleston James Island Connector Run is often held each year. The race is a fundraiser to provide scholarships to students with disabilities through the Gavalas Kolanko Foundation.

As we move in to this new era in Charleston, let us continue to make strides for inclusion and diversity for all people.

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Are you off to a great START?

Happy New Year 2016

As we enter into the new year, many of us have made resolutions to become healthier, to save money and to become an all-around better person. How are those new goals working out? Have you given up already?

It can be a struggle sometimes, but support from family and friends can go a long way. On Sunday, my pastor, Rev. Dr. Clinton Brantley of St. Matthew Baptist Church, provided these tips to jumpstart our new year.

Using the acronym START, here are a few ways to live a happy, healthy and prosperous year.

S – Stop making excuses – Stop being a victim of your circumstances and make things happen.

T – Taking inventory of your life – Learn from life’s experiences and grow from those opportunities.

A – Acting on faith – Have the faith to change your life for the better.

R – Refocus your thoughts – Life is shaped by your thoughts. Focus on what’s most important.

T – Trust in God – In all things, trust in God to lead the way.

Allow these steps to help you live your best life! Happy New Year!

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Top 10 blog posts of 2015

As we look back on 2015, it was filled with moments of celebration to saddening situations. Our nation celebrated 25 years of the Americans with Disabilities Act. I also enjoyed traveling to Minneapolis, Minnesota with the MUSC Longevity After Injury Project to recognize 40 years of spinal cord injury research.

We were heartbroken by the nine people who lost their lives in the Mother Emanuel AME massacre in downtown Charleston. It was also sad to see 5-year-old Tyreik Gadsden become paralyzed from gun violence.

So, let’s take a look at what happened during 2015! Here are my top 10 most viewed blog posts.

  1. “NCIS: New Orleans” actor isn’t just playing a role
  2. New CBS show, “The Inspectors” features a character with a spinal cord injury
  3. My mother’s perspective on raising a son with a disability
  4. 5-year-old Tyreik Gadsden adjusts to his new spinal cord injury
  5. The Standing Wheelchair – Scott Liesch interview
  6. Words of encouragement for people with disabilities
  7. A day in the life of Alex Jackson
  8. Freddie Gray’s trauma-related spinal cord injury
  9. Flying to and from Minnesota
  10. Living beyond the wheelchair

Thank you for following my blog each week. I’ve enjoyed sharing my experiences of living with a disability. Please let me know what you like most about Tuesday Talk With Alex and let me know what other topics you’d like to see.

Here’s to a happy and healthy 2016! Happy New Year!

 

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The Festival of Lights at James Island County Park

Festival of Lights 2015

It’s a Charleston tradition to ring in the holiday season by visiting the Festival of Lights. From aquatic animals to dinosaurs and everything in between, there is sure to be a light display that sparks your interest.

Driving through the park is one way to view the thousands of lights, but guests can park and take a train ride to explore the area. For a long time, the train wasn’t wheelchair accessible. However, this is the first year there is a wheelchair-accessible train car.

The train car has a fold-out ramp allowing one person in a wheelchair to ride at a time. My chair was tied down using the same style of tie downs used in vehicles. The 10-minute tour through the trails of the park provides a fun way to see the lights.

Festival of Lights Train 2015

Rashad Bennett and I on the train.

I’m always excited when accessibility improvements are made. The Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission has done a nice job to  improve the accommodations for people with disabilities.

The Festival of Lights ends January 3, so be sure to check it out. For more information, visit https://ccprc.com/1546/Holiday-Festival-of-Lights.

 

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