Growing up, I never had close friends who had disabilities, or to sound more politically correct – friends with “special needs”. I wouldn’t say I deliberately discriminated against the kids who had physical challenges in my neighborhood, there were a number of them, but I just wasn’t close to any of them.
All along, I observed them from afar. There was Lukmon, “the boy with the crooked leg” as he was fondly teased. It never got to him as he was always cheerful and I remember he always offered to man the goalposts at street football matches and boy was he a fine goalkeeper. We chatted a few times, but I never really got to know him on a one-on-one basis, enough to know his challenges and aspirations.
Years passed as I grew up, but I was still quite oblivious of the personal lives of people with disabilities because I hadn’t really come in contact with them. All I saw was “Awareness Campaigns” from Charity Foundations and well-meaning individuals and I often wondered what it would take to be a part… but it was not more than a mere thought.
As an entertainment publicist with GospelNaija.com, I was invited to Open Mic Sessions at PraiseVille in the year 2014 and eventually started hosting the same programme in 2015. On one certain edition, shortly after my friend and music partner F-Clef finished his performance, a certain young chap by the name BeeJay, whom I have noticed before from previous editions for his cheerful and funny remarks but didn’t pay much attention to him because he was obviously physically challenged, he offered to perform next at the Open Mic Sessions.
I was the MC of the evening and someone whispered to me, “BeeJay says he wants to perform.” “Oh really? That’s cool, please let him come.” I said as handed over the microphone to him not too sure of what to expect. To say I was wowed is just an understatement. As he started singing, F-Clef and some friends swooped into action to stand in as backup vocals, the audience with closed eyes and hands lifted up joined in with one voice as we worshipped God in unison.
I won’t lie; I was just looking and wondering. Wondering what was happening. Wondering why I prejudged and mis-assumed that since he had Downsyndrome, there was little he could offer musically or otherwise. Or maybe I was expecting some flat notes, off keys and off timing in his performance. None of these happened. He didn’t even overdo it. Coming from a musical family, BeeJay’s delivery was on point. But that wasn’t all; he had this grace, an unmistakable joy, all over him. It was contagious and it got me. This was the first thing that made me open to know more about him and “them”.
A couple of months later, at another edition of Open Mic Sessions, F-Clef performed his hit single titled DESTINED TO FLY. Our PraiseVillehost, Mr. Majek fell in love with the rendition and beckoned on F-Clef saying, “Can I steal this song please?” We gave him the go-ahead knowing quite well that the song was in safe hands.
True to his word, around July this year (2016), we got a call from Mr. Majek stating that F-Clef’s DESTINED TO FLY has been selected as the Down Syndrome Foundation Nigeria’s 2016 Theme Song. We were also invited to interact with the kids and perform at the school’s vacation party. Music wise, it was another leap in our careers, but personally it was another opportunity to meet many more talented, specially gifted, pride-free, beautiful minds like BeeJay who I am now fond of. And yes I did!
At the school, I met with the multi-talented Solomon who won me in an impromptu dance competition. I saw kids engaging in arts and crafts like beads making, painting, and music and so on. On the instant, I found my place among them and I know I can contribute my quota in creating awareness to their plight and supporting them to achieve the best. While F-Clef and me thought we would be the ones to inspire the children, we were the ones being inspired by them. They’re Down To Earth and certainly destined to fly.
Written by Oyez Emmanuel