It’s been a long time since I’ve written on my blog. Since I finished my film back in February, it’s been on my external hard drive waiting to be released to the public. However, my life has been very busy and I haven’t been able to showcase my work. Since February I’ve had a bigger role in my young professional’s council group at Access Living, I joined a couple of groups there as well. I was involved in putting together the disability pride parade back in July and I also took an entrepreneur training course at UIC during the spring/summer. During all this time I was going through some issues with my body that was making my life a living hell. So my plate has been full and then some. I feel like I’m constantly letting people down because I’m asked when my film is coming and all I can say it’s coming soon but then I realize people understand what I’m going through and continue to be excited about this project that’s been four years in the making and I really appreciate their enthusiasm and it makes me work harder to give the people what they want and that’s the wheelchair chronicles.
It’s been too damn long since I’ve given y’all an update but there’s been a lot of things (good things) that’s been happening recently. The film is all finished and it’s on my external hard drive waiting to be released to the public. I’ve been focused on collaborating with my UIC family, I’ve got a bigger role in YPC (Young Professionals Council) at Access Living as membership & recruitment chair, I’m working hard with the disability pride parade committee on putting together the parade that’s coming up in a few months, I’m working with a few friends helping put their own projects together, and lastly I’m doing entrepreneurial training at UIC. So I haven’t neglected y’all or my film. I’m getting great opportunities to better myself and collaborate with other people. Thank you all for your support and patience.
Wheelchair Chronicles Update
I know it’s been a while since I last wrote on my blog or provided any news on the film. Well as I mentioned back in November of 2015, I completed the film and explained the wonderful journey I went through to finish the Wheelchair Chronicles. Fast forward to today, it’s still finished but life has gotten in the way recently and in a good way. I’ve taken on more responsibilities in my life but don’t think for one minute that I’m forgetting about my film. Once I figured out where I’m gonna debut it in Chicago, I’ll let you all know where and how you can see it. Sorry for the wait everyone but you’ll won’t be disappointed when I present The Wheelchair Chronicles.
The Many Faces of Justin Cooper
Going through the editing process has been a grueling task, but as I’ve gone through hours of footage, I’m always amazed when I see myself on video. I go back to my interview session with Camillie DeBose in 2012, and it was the first time I was talking in-depth about my life. As I was editing, I can see all the different feelings and emotions I was going through at that time and it all came to a head in that session. I want everyone to see those feelings and emotions that I’m conveying, as I tell my story in this film.
Early Morning Thoughts
I’m up early on a Saturday morning. I should be sleeping because I have a long day ahead of me but I can’t. I’m dealing with pain in my legs that turns on and off like a light switch. When it’s off I can move normally (normal for me), but when that pain is turned on, then it’s hard for me to move around and that’s very important for me. I’m also feeling very lonely. It’s very hard for me to admit that because I tend not to express my feelings as much especially when it comes to being lonely. I try to keep myself occupied by working on various project (including my film), and hanging out and being around my friends but that doesn’t help. I just keep a smile on my face and pretend that everything is ok but it’s not. I’m at a point in my life where I want to come home to someone, be able to spend time with and have fun with. It’s rare that I even talk about feeling this way but I guess I couldn’t hold it in anymore.
A Dark Point In My Life
The last couple of days I’ve been thinking hard about the person that I’ve become and where my life is at today compared to person I was and where my life was 14 years ago. I look back at that point in my life because that was a time that my entire life was turned upside down. During that time I got my first wheelchair, I was bouncing around between high schools trying to find my identity and it was a time that I suffered from a deep depression that took me years to get out of and recover from.
It started all in 2000. I was a student at St. Benedict High School. I was finishing up my sophomore year and I miss a large amount of the school year due to St. Ben’s getting a grant to help renovate the school. At the time I was actually walking but with the new construction, I couldn’t walk from one building to the next. Long story short, I wouldn’t be able to return to St. Ben’s my junior year but could return for my senior year.
During my junior year in 2000, I was actually home schooled through Senn High School and I was to complete a year at Senn and be able to transfer back to St. Benedict the next school year. Well that never happened and I wound up being stuck in the Chicago Public School (CPS) system for the next three years. I was beyond devastated because that meant I would never see my friends at St. Ben’s again. My friends meant so much to me at that time because they accepted me as a person and understood about my disability.
Around 2001 that was the beginning of my downward spiral. I was stuck at Senn before being transferred to Mather and then back to Senn (by the way, without my knowledge). I did get my wheelchair and while that played an important part of my life, I didn’t feel that way at the time. I hated being in a wheelchair and add to that I couldn’t get out of my house as much because we lived in a basement apartment and it was difficult for me to get out of my house. The only time I ever got out was to go to a few events and to school and I fucking hated going to school.
I spent the rest of my high school years being home schooled and I just kept getting deeper and deeper into my depression. Yeah I had the support of my uncle and my mother. She’s a praying woman and I didn’t give a damn about her trying to encourage me and lift my spirits up. Nobody knew what was going on with me. I put on a fake smile and pretend everything was alright, when I was actually going through hell. I was even at a point where I had suicidal thoughts, something that I’ve never mentioned to anyone until today. At a certain point I thought about killing myself. I hated my life, I hated being in a wheelchair, I was so damn lonely and I couldn’t take it anymore and I had my thoughts on how I was gonna end it. Thank God I didn’t go through with it but still, I was in a dark place.
I got out of high school in 2003 and started going to Truman College part-time and spent four years there. I was still couldn’t get out the house as much as I wanted to, I was still lonely. Going to school everyday was keeping me from going back to that dark place and being in a deep depression but I still kept to myself. In the summer of 2006, things started looking up. I moved from my basement apartment to Old Town, I dropped out of Truman and transferred to DePaul.
I was still a loner during the first few months at DePaul but as the years went on I met and got to know some amazing people there. They were just like my friends at St. Ben’s. They accepted me as a person (I’m trying so hard not to tear up now). They have given me so much love and support and I’m so grateful to have them in my life. The main reason the Wheelchair Chronicles is being made, is because of their encouragement and the strong belief they have in me and I’m forever thankful to them for that.
I’m now at a point in my life where I’m happy with who I am as a person, I happy that my film is close to being completed and that it’s taking me to places that I never thought I’d be at this time. I’ve met some new friends that are now a part of my life and now I’m networking with some big-time people in Chicago. I’m proud of the person I’ve become and where my life is heading.
Starting To Figure It Out
Two weeks ago I celebrated my 32nd birthday. Now for some it might be just another birthday, another year where you’re getting older but for me it’s a huge accomplishment. It’s a huge accomplishment as a black man because there are many young men who don’t get to reach my age so I’m thankful and blessed that I get to see another birthday. As a wheelchair user it’s an accomplishment because I’m at a point where I’m starting to figure out my life.
It’s funny to me that it’s taken this long to figure out my life. I remember as a teen planning what my future was gonna be like. I was gonna go to college, get a great job, be married, and have children but as I’m typing this, that hasn’t happened and I have no regrets about that. Now that I look back, having that plan is just plain boring to be honest. I never thought about what twist and turns that would come my way, the unexpected curveballs that would be thrown in my direction, and meeting people who would change my life.
The Wheelchair Chronicles has been the starting point for where I’m figuring out who I am as a person and has taken me to places I’ve never imagine. I never thought I’d be apart of an amazing group of people who want to be advocates and fight for and with people with disabilities. I never imagine that I would have an article in the Chicago Sun-Times telling my story and talking about my film and that same article would get me in touch with the Artistic Director of the Joffrey Ballet. Now I’m apart of another group of wonderful people who have a passion for sharing the artistic work of women, women of color and people of color with disabilities.
At 32, I see myself as a wheelchair artist, activist, advocate, and an ambassador. I want to continue to share my story with the world but I also want to fight and stand with my fellow disabled brothers and sisters. As an ambassador, I want to be able to network and be apart of other groups and committees in the city and share my story with them as well. People with disabilities are gravely misrepresented in media and I’m out to change that. I might be a one man army but you know what, it only takes one to bring people together and turn that one into hundreds, hundreds into thousands and thousands into millions of people willing to fight to be represented. Now that I’m starting to figure out my life, I’m now a very dangerous man because now I know what I’m capable of.
The Portrayal of Disabled People
I saw this quote scrolling through tumblr and this made so much sense to me and also in regards to my film. I want to show the world through this film a more real representation of a disabled person and that I have my own identity as a person with a disability.
“The history of the portrayal of disabled people is the history of oppressive and negative representation. This has meant that disabled people have been presented as socially flawed able bodied people, not as disabled people with their own identities.”
– David Hevey, 25 March 1992
An Awesome Week
This has been such an amazing week for me. It started off on Monday when an article I wrote in collaboration with Access Living was published in the Chicago Sun-Times. Everyone I knew was proud of me for my work and now I’m finding out some prominent people in Chicago have read it as well and that’s so awesome. I forgot to share it with you all and I apologize for that, so I’m posting a link to the article at the end of this post for you all to read. I hope you all enjoy it.
Where Have I Been
So where do I begin!? It’s been a long as time since I’ve written on this blog and many things have happen since my last post. I’m upset at myself because I’ve wanted to keep everyone updated on what’s going on with the film but life has gotten in the way of providing you all with updates. Just to let you all know my film is still going well. I haven’t worked on it as much the past few weeks but I’ve come up with a brand new idea that I feel will add more to the overall presentation of The Wheelchair Chronicles and I’m very happy with my decision and I think you all will like it very much.
While I’ve been away from the blog my life has gotten a bit busy and for good reason. I recently started working with Access Living, which is a strong advocacy group in Chicago dealing with and helping people with disabilities in many ways. I joined Access Living’s YPC (Young Professionals Council) a few months ago on an invite from one of the amazing therapist at Day Rehab Center, Alli Luft and became a member from day one and it’s been incredible. So far I’ve met so many awesome people who work all over the city and come together for a common goal and that’s to help people with disabilities and I’m loving it. You know at first I really didn’t think I fit into this group because I’m just an average filmmaker and many in the group have legit professions. I got over that quickly because being a filmmaker is a huge asset to a group like this and that matters. So I’m grateful to be a part of that group.
Even though I’ve been away from the blog and my film, it’s for a very good reason. I hope to have the film finished by the end of the year and I expect to continue my work with the YPC at Access Living. I feel that my best work is yet to come and I look forward to what the next few months have to bring.