BEING A BLACK MOTHER TO AN ASPIRING HIP HOP ARTIST WITH AUTISM*
It is not easy raising a child with two parents. It's incredibly hard to raise a child as a single parent especially being a Black parent to a child with a disability. My name is Elesina Barnett and I am a single mother of an aspiring hip-hop artist who has Autism. His name is Jachin Anthony Meeks, aka Jam! Jam was born on July 9,1994 in Inglewood, CA. Jam was a good baby for the most part. He didn't cry much and he was reaching all the infant milestones just fine with the exception that he did not talk. He didn't do any cooing, babbling or anything like that. When he turned a year old it was time to get his one year shots. Shortly after those shots Jam began screaming all the time, loud screeching noises. He would bang his head on walls, tables, doors, concrete, he would pinch himself until he bled. He would not eat meat, or fruit at all.
When Jam turned three years old I enrolled him into preschool. All he did was scream, bite, and run. His teacher talked to me about having Jam tested for Autism. I was terrified!! I had never heard of Autism. I wanted to know was it contagious? How did he get it? Is it curable? His teacher told me the basics about Autism, i.e. the characteristics of Autism, some of the behaviors. The teacher helped me get him tested and yes it was official he had Autism.
Going through school life was very challenging because Jam had Autism and it was still new in the Black community, there were no autism programs in the Black schools, yet there were autism programs in the predominately white schools. It was very challenging when it came to working with the teachers who were dealing with Jam. First, the teachers didn't understand Black culture, and had no respect for the way we raise our children. Second, the teachers didn't care to try and work with Jam and it showed. Every two to three days he was getting suspended from school from reacting to the kids bothering him after trying to communicate to the teacher that he was being picked on. I've had to request so many manifestation meetings it is not even funny. (a manifestation meeting is a meeting to determine if the action caused by the child was due to his or her disability).
I had to learn very fast how to be a voice for my son. Third, the teachers had no experience working with autistic children, especially Black autistic children. Most parents sent their kids to school like it was a daycare. I never saw any of the parents come to any of the programs the schools had, none of the parent conferences, no field trips. Since the second grade I trained every teacher and staff member on how to work with Jam, how to talk to him, how to calm him down and most importantly how to help him without making him feel like he's an incapable kid just tossed off to the side. I did not raise him like that at home. I didn't want him to feel like that at school. Even in junior high and high school I maintained a very close relationship with all of his teachers.
One of the triggers in autism is change and transitioning. With each grade level Jam had to attend a new school and that meant getting to know new teachers, new staff, and new children. I would arrange a meet n' greet orientation for Jam at each new school. We would be able to tour the school, see his classroom, and meet his teachers and aids. I had packets prepared for the teachers as well. The packets explained how Jam learns, his triggers, and what to do to deescalate him. The individual education plan only helped with his education goals. His behavior plan really didn't protect him, it deprived him of a fair right to obtain an education like all the other children. Jam was bullied a lot when he hit middle and high school. People with Autism aren't really socially inclined. Junior high is when Jam started speaking. The bullying was getting worse and worse with each grade level. Teachers weren't paying attention to what the non disabled children were doing; only to how Jam was reacting to them. Just because Jam couldn't speak didn't mean he couldn't hear and understand what people said. I couldn't understand why Jam was being the one always getting suspended from school when he was the victim.
Then it dawned on me, Jam had very limited speech and difficulty expressing himself, so the school always took the word of the white children and staff, always having statements from his peers and no statement from him. I began doing pop ups to the school, classrooms. I learned about individualized education plans (i.e.p.) and accommodations. What I'm able to ask for, what the laws are, what the schools are obligated to actually do. I became Jam's voice in a world where Black people had no voice at all. As time went on and Jam got older, I taught Jam how to have a voice for himself. I taught him how to advocate for his own needs. It's still a struggle. While the white community totally respects his voice and feelings, the Black community still thinks he is incapable of thinking for himself and speaking for himself.
At home Jam has two younger siblings. a sister, and brother. Even though they are close in age, it still seems like Jam was an only child. He didn't interact with his siblings, he didn't play with them. He didn't want to go on outings with them. It was hard trying to explain Autism to my other two children and expect them to be understanding of Jam's needs. They were children themselves. Don't misunderstand I never raised Jam different from my other children. His disability was never an excuse or reason he couldn't do something. I had very little support from my family. They didn't want to take the time to learn about autism. They didn't want him around. I lost many so called real friends I had because they didn't understand that my Black child was not typical and I could not raise him as such. Over the years you look up and notice that you're isolated from the world.
Jam has been given almost every if not every psycho drug there is. He has been taking meds since he was seven years old. He has been on Lexapro, Risperdal, Chlonochdine, the list goes on. The meds gave him severe violent behaviors, homicidal thoughts and he was paranoid all the time. When the meds wore off he was very depressed, and in a zombie state. He slept most of the time, which meant he was missing school. He couldn't go anywhere because he was so out of it. I became tired of him going through all of that. Enough was enough!!
When Jam went to middle school, I began baking marijuana edibles and giving them to him. I started sending him to school with the edibles instead of the pills. The teachers nor Jam knew that the edibles had marijuana in them. I went back to school to take psychology and Nutrition. I learned how diet and cannabis can have positive affects for individuals with autism. I started right away changing his diet. Jam is total vegan. He consumes no animal or animal products. He started showing remarkable progress! He was speaking better, articulating his thoughts, reading and understanding, participating in classroom discussions, and at home he was more involved with us. His music just started getting more and more better! He did edibles well through high school.
I didn't just allow the school to teach my son. I knew he wasn't going to get his-story. I taught my children to always study to show thine own self approved research and opinions. I taught Jam about Black history where we originated from and how great of a people we really are. He began researching for himself and educating himself on Black culture and Black evolution which led to empowering himself with knowledge. I did a lot of talking to Jam like hands on learning. I did not want his white peers to see my son as some type of nigga or animalistic Black person who only resorts to violence. I taught Jam how to give his feelings a voice! Things people wouldn't listen to when he was trying to tell them. Then he started playing the keyboard and rapping to the beats he compose.
I told my son "you have a voice and it deserves to be heard," as long as you can read you can learn to do anything you desire to do and no one can tell you different. So he taught himself how to make his own beats. How to record on other people's beats, he started recording himself and producing himself. He started rapping in school and it stopped the bullying! He became well respected even by the teachers but it back fired with his Black peers. They made fun of his rhymes and him because he wouldn't cuss in his rhymes, or he wouldn't bag on people, or gang bang in his rhymes. Things had gotten so bad with his Black peers that he attempted suicide while he was at school by jumping from the second story building. Every day is a new struggle for Jam even when he tries to express to people especially his Black peers, that he has autism they don't believe him. They tell him things like there's nothing wrong with you, you're hiding behind a label, you need to stop allowing the government to tell you who you are.
Over the years Jam has learned how to use cannabis and meditation as natural resources to help with his autism and all the pieces that comes along with it. Although each person with autism may or may not have a secondary diagnosis, for Jam has vocal and physical TouretteSyndrome. He is also a pacer. Jam really doesn't like to go outside unless he has a show to do because people stare at him when he is ticking. With cannabis he is able to be outside and not tick.
The way he is treated in the Black community is worse than any other culture. Our Black men are too busy putting him down for not doing or being their image of Black men. Black women treat him like he has some type of cooties. Jam feels like no one in this world cares or loves him enough to learn about and understand autism and understand him. Simple joys in life Jam will probably not experience like falling in love, going out with friends having fun, having a Black girlfriend. He is very much aware that he has not experienced these things and it bothers him a lot. It's the same way when it comes to his music, it is very hard to get the support of the Black community.
Jam is a conscious lyricist. His music reflects that. He doesn't talk about the things that his peers are talking about in their music. He doesn't do "trap music", he doesn't disrespect the ladies. His music uplifts and educates our Black community about who we are and where we come from. Jam is very passionate about waking our Black people up and giving the messages the Creator has for us. Our Black communities don't care to hear any of that. It is already difficult being a Black male in this world. Imagine how difficult it must be to be a Black male with a disability in this world. He has a natura l God given talent and because he won't conform to today's Hip-Hop it's hard to get into the music industry. He would love to work with some of our Black artists, but they want him to change his style, his looks, to sound like everyone else, and to look like everyone else, instead of just accepting him for who he is and respecting his talent.
Today Jam continues to make music that will inspire and create change in the world. I do all I can not just as a mother, but as an advocate, and a fan of his music to keep him on the stage. Whether its local or abroad, whether he's performing in front of one person or one million people Jam will ALWAYS rock the stage! That is the one place where Autism doesn't exist and he is just Jam!
*This essay was first published by the National Black Disability Coalition, Feb. 9, 2018. More can be found out about NBDC at www.blackdisability.org.