By Kylie Stoltzfus
Disability Pride at Millersville University
By Kylie Stoltzfus, News Editor
On October 20 and 21, Millersville University celebrated Disability Pride with back to back events at the main campus and the Ware Center.
On October 20, a community artmaking session was held in the Student Memorial Center with artist Charles Curtis Blackwell. In the evening, Disability Pride hosted an open mic event with Blackwell, providing an open forum for students to share their experiences with the campus community.
Jessica Hughes, assistant professor in Millersville’s communication and theatre department, opened the event by introducing Blackwell. Blackwell is a legally blind artist, specializing in poetry and painting.
“In some ways, I look okay, but I’m legally blind,” said Blackwell. “Being me and how I am, when I went from 2020 to legally blind, I was a mess.”
When Blackwell became blind, he spoke with his doctors about his diagnosis. The doctor told Blackwell to “make [his] defect an asset.” After Blackwell lost his vision, he began hosting writers workshops at a prison. Blackwell says he related to the inmates he was working with because, from his perspective, an individual does not need to be behind bars to be in prison. Blackwell’s loss of vision cultivated empathy within him for the experience of the inmates he was working with. Blackwell spoke with one of the inmates after the workshop ended.
“When you lost your eyesight, did you lose your will to live?” asked the inmate.
“Part of me didn’t want to tell the truth,” said Blackwell.
After concluding his presentation, Blackwell joined Millersville students in creating posters honoring what living with disability means to them. The posters were displayed in the Student Memorial Center, symbolizing the pride disabled students and community members hold and underscoring their belonging on campus.
On October 21, a screening of “The God Given Talent: The Creative Life of Charles Curtis Blackwell” (2019) was shown at the Ware Center in Downtown Lancaster. “The God Given Talent” is an award-winning documentary portraying the life and story of Charles Curtis Blackwell.
The 70-minute documentary highlights Blackwell’s relationship to art, his experience of losing his vision, his involvement in the civil rights movement, among other transformative life experiences.
The film screening was accompanied by a discussion with director Jeff Giordano and Blackwell with the live theater audience. For those unable to attend the live event, “The God Given Talent” is available for streaming on Vimeo.com for a minimal rental fee of three dollars.
Millersville University prides itself on being an inclusive and accepting environment. This means honoring and fully accepting every individual that steps foot on campus.
During the open mic event, Blackwell said, “Sometimes we accept, but can we include? We have to create a community where people communicate and embrace each other.”