When I started out on my film journey, one of my many goals for the film and for myself was to finally be accepted not just by my peers, but by society . You can understand why I made that a goal for myself. At that time, I felt that being accepted by society as a person with a disability would benefit not only me but other people in wheelchairs and other disabilities. Now over a year later, my goal has changed.
I would rather not be accepted by society as a person with a disability. Let me explain. Throughout my 30 years of life, all I’ve wanted was to be accepted. I wanted to be accepted by my friends, family, and other people. I yearned for that acceptance and I was ashamed of my disability. I figured that if I wanted to be successful I had to embrace society, I had to be a part of it, I had to conform. Even when I was working on this film, I still was trying to gain acceptance. Now I don’t want that at all. I don’t want to be “accepted” anymore, I would rather be an outcast than be accepted by society.
Why should I work my ass off to force people to welcome me into their “little club?” Hell, they shunned me to begin with. They treat me like I don’t belong and I’m supposed to work hard to have them welcome me with open arms reluctantly, no way. So I rather stick with being an outcast. As an outcast, I get to be myself. I don’t have to hide who I am to be viewed as normal because I’m not normal.
There are things about me that stand out to many people who I’ve met throughout my life and that’s all that matters to me. Those people who I’ve befriended have accepted me from the beginning as a person and not a man in a wheelchair. I shouldn’t have to work for acceptance, as a black man and a person with a disability; I should already have that acceptance.
While being in my wheelchair, I’ve experienced many obstacles while traveling through the streets of Chicago. Being that we’re still in winter and with the first significant snowstorm in Chicago, that took place, I wanted to share with you all about the time I got stuck in the snow while riding in my wheelchair. This incident took place in my neighborhood and it was a frightening experience that turned into a great experience thanks to a Good Samaritan.
The incident took place in my neighborhood of Old Town. This happen in December of 2006 and this was at a time when me and my mom were still getting acclimated with our neighborhood just moving into Old Town in August of that year. I was also getting acclimated to my (then) new power chair and the “rebel” in me thought I can do anything in my chair even go through snow. Well on this particular day, I learned that this rebel can be stopped.
It happened on a Sunday morning and I normally go out at that time (no matter the season) to get the Sunday newspapers, get some fresh air and enjoy the sights and sounds of the neighborhood. I made a stop at the Walgreen’s on the corner of North Ave. & Wells. On my way there the sidewalks around where I lived and along North Ave. were relatively clean with a few patches and piles of snow (which I could rollover in my power chair). After picking up the newspapers from Walgreen’s instead of going back the way I came, the “rebel” in me decided to ride around the neighborhood and go a different direction and that was a mistake.
Instead of heading back west up North Ave. and back to my house, I went east on North Ave. to the next street LaSalle and went south up one block to a street called Burton and that’s where I made my mistake. Now let me describe this street. Around there Burton between LaSalle and Wells is a really short street and it’s like a dead-end and at the end it has a long sidewalk leading to Wells. I went up Burton and I almost got stuck by an alleyway over there due to the snow but I keep pressing on, nothing was gonna stop me.
I approached this bar called Burton Place (pretty good bar, by the way) and there was a lot of snow in that area but I figured that I could make it and as I kept moving through the snow it was bad but then…my chair came to a complete stop! I’m stuck in the snow with no way of backing up. I’m scared to death! I’ve never been stuck in the snow and worse it was very cold. There were people around but I didn’t want them to think I was stuck in the snow. I panicked at that time because I was ashamed of asking for help. I was getting cold but then out of nowhere a man was walking down Wells with a shovel headed in my direction. He saw me and asked if I needed help. I told him reluctantly “yes I did need help” This Good Samaritan spent at least 20 minutes digging me out of the snow and making a path for me to get out. Eventually, I was able to back out and move forward to get out of there.
I was so grateful to this random guy because he didn’t have to help me at all. I was sad after that because I didn’t have any money left to give him and I really wanted to give him something for helping me. The interesting thing is that I never saw that guy again because where I live I’m used to seeing people around even if I don’t know them and I never saw that guy again. On that day I learned a tough lesson that day. I’m still a rebel in my wheelchair but at certain points when I’m traveling through the city, I have to shut down the rebel and adventurer in me and be more cautious especially during the winter.
With the debut of the Wheelchair Chronicles Facebook page, I decided to talk about the art of maneuvering in a wheelchair. This is a topic that has intrigued many people who have seen me in my wheelchair. People are “amazed” at how well I ride around in my wheelchair. Well maybe the reason for that is that I’ve had plenty of experience. I and many others who use wheelchairs have turned maneuvering into an art form (yes! that’s right, an art form)
I call it an art because whether you live in the city, suburbs, town, etc. as a wheelchair user you a performing a delicate dance through people, cracked concrete, streets, construction zones, cars, tiny spaces, and let’s not forget the weather, I can list a bunch more but you get the point so I’ll spare you.
It’s an art form because it takes time and patience to become an actual expert in controlling a wheelchair. When I got my manual chair in 2001 it was hard to maneuver, getting around spaces in my apartment because I was horrible at (still am in some instances) and because I hated being in my wheelchair. When I got my first my power chair 5 years later I met with the same problems and crashing into plenty of walls in the process.
As time went on I became better at it controlling both of my chairs through my apartment and through the streets of Chicago. Hell I even started learning a few tricks like quick turns, moving through extremely tight spaces, and even learned the art of drifting (all my racing fans and car enthusiasts know what I’m talking about). Since I got my second power chair (aka the speed demon) a few months ago I’ve had to relearn how to maneuver all over again because it a lot bigger and faster than my other power chair.
What a lot of able-body people don’t understand is that there’s a process that us wheelchair users have to go through when we’re maneuvering in either are manual or powers chairs or hell both. There’s even a process when setting up are chairs to help us transfer either to our beds, other wheelchairs, etc. So when people are amazed at my ability move in tight spaces without scratching up walls, when I can ride fast in my chair without hitting you on the streets (even though sometimes I really want to) just remember that maneuvering in a wheelchair is a process and an art that in my 12 years I have mastered and I’m still learning.
P.S. My new Facebook page to the Wheelchair Chronicles is up so give it a like and tell your friends about it as well. It’s a way for me to connect with my fans. Thanks!
Well today I’ve accomplished something that I thought I would never happen. After 11 months, I am officially done shooting the Wheelchair Chronicles. It’s been an unbelievable 11 months for me (well, the last couple of years have been unbelievable) working on this film. I still remember the day I put together the original concept for this film, I still remember showing my friend Lindsay Davis my ideas about the film and I remember when I completely abandoned this film all together and I remember my friend Shumaila Rafiq encouraging me to work on my film again. I’ve had many ups and downs about this film and I couldn’t be happier than I am now.
I really enjoyed capturing footage of (the best city in the world) Chicago. I got a chance to find out what my city was all about, more particularly how it affected me in my wheelchair. In the area that I live in (Lincoln Park/Old Town) I’ve had to deal with a lot of issues trying to capture film footage. One of the main problems was construction that forced me many time ride my wheelchair in the streets. Another issue was weather related. When you live in a city like Chicago (or any major city) you have to deal with snow and during my 11 months of filming I dealt with those issues but you know what, it made for a great experience and that’s what I take from my months of filming.
Now that I’m done filming it’s now time for the next chapter of this film and that’s editing, marketing, promoting and creating the vision for this film. What I mean by vision is that I have to find people who I can share my vision with and are on the same page with me and have the same enthusiasm that I have for the film. That means I have to find the right editor that can put the all the pieces of my film and create one complete puzzle. I need to find the right music that complements my vision and finding that is gonna be a grueling search. I also have to put together a personal marketing team that can help promote the film.
I’m learning that if I don’t have the right people in place, it could ruin my film and I can’t afford to let that happen so my choices are really important. I’m getting ready to start the next chapter of the Wheelchair Chronicles and I want to thank everyone for their support of me and my film. You don’t how much your support means to me and I appreciate each and every one of you. Sometime next year, my film will be showed at different film festivals across this U.S., Canada and even Europe, Australia, China, Japan so be on the look out.
I’m more than two weeks (17 days) away from completing the shooting part of my film. I am so glad to be reaching this milestone because I never thought I would get to this point but I’m here. During the 11 month journey of capturing footage for the film, I had a lot of doubts in my mind because I had no clue what the hell I was doing when I started. I had no clue how to work a video camera, I didn’t know how to use editing software, I was a complete mess.
The best thing about working on the film was that I had help, a lot of help in putting this film together. I had people like Camille DeBose who I’ve mentioned a few times on my blog (Stepping In Front Of The Camera, Filming Plans, Being In Front of The Camera), has helped me with different ideas and concepts. Another person who has helped me is Alaric Rocha when I worked with him on Deadly Embrace. Seeing how an actual film works and being on a real set was one of the greatest experiences I’ve had so far in my film career. Oh and the many friends and family who have support me and this film. I don’t want to leave you all out because you played an important role in my film as well.
While I’m sad that I’m not going to be collecting anymore footage for my film, I’m excited to continue this journey and start marketing and promoting the hell out of this film. I’m gonna make this film a success!
While creating this film, I wanted to focus on my life in a wheelchair, sounds simple, right! But, as I started working on the Wheelchair Chronicles, I’ve had to really evaluate not just my life in a wheelchair, but my whole life . My experiences, my relationships with friends and family, etc. While doing this, I’ve had to dig into my mind, my world and figure out what makes me the person that I am today.
First off, it was difficult to dive into the world of Justin Cooper. The reason being is my mind is all over the place. There are so many thoughts going on in my head (even as I’m typing this) that it’s hard to figure out where to start. When I start to dig inside my mind, it’s full of thoughts and things that I’m going through at the moment. Like fir instance, dealing with the film, classes, and how I’m going to pay my tuition.
As I go further, I see my desires, the things that I want out of life. I even see the people who I want and don’t want in my life. The people who I want in my life are the people who have been good to me over the years, the people who have supported me and the film, and will continue to be apart of life.
Then I reach the part of my mind where I dig up my regrets and disappointments in my life. I find myself regretting a lot of things in my life. I regret not telling people who were apart of my life at one time that I love them ( friends and family). Even today there some people (especially one special person in my life) who I still haven’t told that I love. I’m sorry to those people because you all mean a lot to me and the fact that I couldn’t tell you is one of the biggest disappointments and regrets in my life.
See this is what happens when I start digging in my mind, it starts off well but then I start thinking about my regrets and disappointments but that’s the way I am. Since I’ve started working on this film, I’ve really had to look over and evaluate my life and this something that I’ve had to do to make this film a success. I’m glad that I’m doing it but sometimes when I start digging into my mind I just have to dig deeper.
Since I’ve been working on this film, something has irked me. While I’ve been working on my film, I don’t have any footage of me riding through the city. I mean I do have footage of my travels through the city but that’s from my perspective (a wheelchair perspective). Now while that’s an important aspect of my film, people need to see my travels a different angle, a different perspective and that’s what I plan to do.
With the help of a friend of mine, I’m going to collect that footage that I feel will show my travels through the city from a different point-of-view. I can’t wait to start shooting again because I haven’t done it since my interview session and my deadline for being done shooting this film is coming up quickly so I need to gather as much remaining footage I can before I start editing and promoting my film.
Also I plan to do a second interview session. I had so much fun with the first one, I’m gonna do another one and for the second session, I plan on asking you all to come up with questions for me and I’ll answer them for this session. I’ll more about that in a later blog post.
For those who missed it I posted another clip from my film called A Man Affected In the clip below I talk about how being in a wheelchair has affected me as a man. Hope you all enjoy it!
It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything on my blog . I apologize for that but my life has been busy the last month or so with starting back at DePaul, working on my film and assembling my film team. So far I got a couple of people on board with my documentary and I’m so glad to have them on my team.
Yesterday in my Senior Capstone class we did an in class activity and the activity was What are your goals…and basically it what were are goals for the next year, and what were are goals in five years and ten years. It was an interesting activity for me because I really haven’t thought about what my goals were for the future and it took me some time to figure out where I see myself not just in one year but down the line. I want to share with you all what I wrote.
For the next year, my goal is to have my film finished, distributed and shown across the country at different film festivals. It’s a goal that I feel will set me up for my goals in five and ten years. In five years, my goal is to be directing more films or producing a television series. In ten years, I plan to be married (hopefully) and I continue to make a name for myself in the film and television industry.
I feel like these goals are attainable and I understand that if I want to make it in these industries I have to work hard and network to make it. This film is the stepping stone to my success and I hope that I know that I will be a success because I’m a strong person and I have persevered through a lot of tough times in my life and nothing is gonna stop me for completing my goals.
P.S. A couple of weeks ago I posted a couple of clips from my film and if you haven’t had a chance to check them out here’s your chance. Let me know what you think of it
Last Friday I had my interview session for my film and it was a great experience. Normally I’m the one holding the camera and capturing some great footage, but this time I was in front of the camera and let me say that it was a nerve-racking experience for me. Now it was nerve-racking for me before shooting my session because I had never done this before and I knew that this was going to be an important part of my film so I was nervous (wouldn’t you be knowing that you were gonna be in front of a camera?).
So on that day I met with my special adviser Camille (who has been an important part of my film) and I was scared to death but I didn’t want to show that to her so I was cool and calm but inside, I was freaking out. After a little hiccup (camera issues) we got started and Camille started asking me questions that I had put together and a couple of her own and as I started talking, I started to relax and all the nervousness I had was gone.
I was really comfortable talking about my life and answering tough questions. There were some times when I didn’t realize when the camera was on and that was a great thing for me because I got a chance to talk and express how I felt about my life in a wheelchair. This was one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life and in all honesty I don’t know what I was worried or nervous about. This was a great experience and I plan to do a second interview session in the future. Hell, you might see in front of the camera more often
So it’s been over a week since I got my new wheelchair and I absolutely love my wheelchair. So far I’ve had a few kinks like the fact that my new chair is a speed demon and I have to really be careful driving it because I’ve crashed into a lot of things around Chicago during my first week. I’ve to get more adapted to way this wheelchair drives compared to my old wheelchair. I’m a good driver but I just have to get use to my new wheelchair.
While I’m dealing with those kinks there’s one challenge that I completely forgot that I was going to deal with and that’s how my new chair was gonna affect how I shoot my film. The reason this is a challenge because my new chair and my old one are completely different. For example, in my old chair when I would film the camera would be in my lap and that’s how I was able to film while I was riding in my wheelchair. In my new one I don’t have the same luxury of putting the camera in my lap because of size of my new chair which is smaller than my old one.
This is a huge challenge for me especially since I’m getting to close to end of the shooting part of my film. I will stop shooting my film in November and with that deadline I set, I have to figure out between now and November how I’m gonna handle this. The next few months are gonna be tough for me now that I have my new wheelchair but if anyone can take on this new challenge its Justin Cooper
Now I have to go and see if I can tame this speed demon that I call a wheelchair. Wish me luck!