Transcribed by Kanako Suwa
[ Introduction music plays ]
Welcome to the SENIA Happy Hour with your host, Lori Boll. We know you’re busy so we bring you 1 hour’s worth of content in under thirty minutes, leaving you with time for a true happy hour.
Lori: Hey everyone today, I speak with LeDerick Horne. LeDerick was labeled with a learning disability in the third grade. He’s now a dynamic spoken-word poet and a tireless advocate for all people with disabilities. LeDerick uses his gift for spoken word poetry as the gateway to larger discussions on equal opportunity, pride, self-determination, and hope for people with disabilities. Our discussion today focuses on many things; his diagnosis and the impact that made on his life, how he became interested in poetry, his podcast called The Black and Dysleic podcast, and a bit about his advocacy work for the Rare Gem Talent School in Kenya. It was a true joy speaking with him today and we’re super excited that he will be a keynote speaker at our upcoming conference so enjoy and now, onto the show.
Hi LeDerick and welcome to the podcast
LeDerick: Lori, hello, thank you for having me.
Glad to, so first of all, thanks so much for agreeing to be a keynote speaker at the upcoming SENIA conference.
Oh yeah, I’m looking forward to it. I hope everyone appreciates my message.
Oh, they will and we feel quite honored to have you. So thanks for taking that time.
I know that you’ll be sharing through the conference about your journey with a learning difference, but do you mind telling us briefly about your dyslexia diagnosis and what that meant for you as a young student?
Yeah, so I was, I was a student who started struggling relatively early in school, I had to repeat the 1st grade and then got to the third grade and was diagnosed there and and the first label that I was given was that I was neurologically impaired, which was apparently a fairly common diagnosis, particularly given to black boys here in New Jersey at the time that that I was being diagnosed. And that was really the label that I carried until I got To to go to college and was re-evaluated in my early 20s, and the you know with specific learning disability with a diagnosis of dyslexia and and throughout my my childhood, my experience of carrying a label of having a learning difference was really one around silence and shame.
I think that my school had a culture that didn’t really promote us talking openly, it was something that really wasn’t mentioned too much in my family and so. Uh, what I definitely knew was that I was someone who was in special ed and I knew that within the hierarchy of the the students within my school I was a part of a group that was at the bottom and so there was a lot of shame associated with that. And that started to flip once I got to college and I was a part of a support program for students with learning differences.
And the label I actually really embraced was learning disability. I actually found a lot of empowerment in that label, particularly coming at a place where we didn’t talk anything about, you know, having differently, differently abled minds. And yeah, and so that’s that’s sort of the journey you know and and and I I love being a part of this community. I love being a part of, you know, a long line of historical figures whose minds work differently and who have helped to contribute to making the world a great place and and I’m very proud to be someone who’s LD.
Lori: Well thanks, thanks for sharing that story. You said you like the term learning disability and there’s so many labels out there and it’s a big topic of discussion in groups I’m in, you know, we don’t know. Should we call learning disabled? learning differently? Abled learning difference. Do you have a preference?
LeDerick: You know, I I land where I think I think that it is an inalienable right that all of us have the right to define ourselves in the way that feels right to us. And whether that be a difference or disability or neurodivergent, you know whatever feels right to you.I think that’s that’s what you should embrace for me again, coming out of a place where we weren’t talking about anything and in the first language that was sort of given to me by the the counselors at my school was was learning disability and it was done in an asset based way where I wasn’t focused on what I couldn’t do, ut instead was focused on what I could do and how I could utilize those, those gifts in those talents to be able to leverage those at the face of different challenges that I was facing. For me, that language is very empowering.
The other thing is, and this is this is one of the points that I will frequently make when you get into the label conversation is, here in the US, I don’t get it right, because I have a difference, I have rights because I’m a person with the disability and and that is because of a long history of people who have fought for a very long time to allow for access and anti discrimination, you know it’s the Americans with disability that you know the idea ain’t right and so, uhm I I do know that it is also important, particularly as we’re preparing young people to become stronger advocates to know the right words that they need to use in order to have legal protection.
Now for some people, maybe they they never have to worry about that, right? Maybe they’re in a situation where they’ll be able to get a job and live in a community, where being able to advocate on that level is something that will never come up, but for for many people there are those of us who are going to need to access services who you know may even need legal protection in order to get the things that we’re entitled to. And so it’s it’s the the disability piece that that protects us.
Lori: Thank you. So you’re a poet.
LeDerick: Yeah, yeah.
Lori: And I believe you’ll be sharing some of your spoken word poetry with us at the conference. How did, jow did this become a passion for you?
LeDerick: Yeah, the same at the same time well, I would say poetry has always been a Passion right so Uhm, as a as a very small child, my parents with my parents would play poetry album, spoken word albums for me and I think I’ve always enjoyed language used well. And I got to I , you know I was going through school and was surrounded by guys who were You know who were MC’s that were incredible rappers wordsmiths… And and I think many of them maybe saw potential in me that I didn’t even see within myself at the time, but when I got to college and when I was given the freedom to just write and not worry about spelling, the the first thing that started to sort of fall out of me was poetry, and so again the the value of community. I was very fortunate that here in Central New Jersey, I connected with a great group of peers who were also artists, writers and musicians And so it it nurtured that that aspect of of my creativity. I was, I wasn’t, I still am a visual artist even when I was a little kid I could draw and paint. And I I have a BA in mathematics, and I minored in fine art with an emphasis in painting because that’s that’s something that has always been there As well, but.
Lori: That’s really interesting, sorry the math and the the artists. Those those don’t always go hand in hand.
LeDerick: Well yeah, yeah.
Lori: So yeah thanks sorry I interrupted you but.
LeDerick: No, no I I yeah and I sometimes yeah it, I get a raised eyebrow when I say that you you know, but I was I, I knew I wanted to get a bachelors degree and sort of the dyslexic dilemma right? Like how do I get through this with like the minimal pain, right? Like more school and for me it was like math was so logical right? Like compared to the challenges that I’ve had with writing and spelling and so math felt like a much easier route in order to get degree. I initially also was pursuing a bachelors once I really decided what I wanted to do I thought I wanted to work in education and so the idea of being a math, a math teacher felt again like an an easy path to being in the classroom. Now if I was perhaps a bit braver as a student when I was when I was younger, I think I would have pursue to creative writing or literature degree… But yeah, but a math degree is nothing to be ashamed of.
Lori: Speaking from a non mathPerson yet growth mindset, but yeah Nothing to be ashamed of. So I mean on top of everything you do, you know you’re also the Co host of a podcast called The Black and Dyslexic Podcast, and you you do that with Winifred Winston, I believe who’s the founder of Dyslexia Advocation Inc.
LeDerick: You got it.
Lori: I understand from this podcast, but black and underrepresented minorities do not experience advocacy in the same way as white families, so can you tell me a little bit more about that ?
LeDerick: Sure, so the the podcast is Winifred Winston’s creation and Winifred’s an amazing social entrepreneur working in Baltimore and with her nonprofit, she’s looking to make Uh, advocacy a lot easier, a lot more affordable for families, particular families of color in the Baltimore area. And she’s also the the parent of a daughter who has dyslexia and a few years back, she sort of started stepping into this advocacy space. And realize that many of her white peers were just much more prepared, much more in the know about the educational system about policies and and, and so with the the with the podcasts, when she initially sort of presented it to me, what it, what it made me realize was that this was an opportunity to do something that I I just really thought there was a need for, which was to create a space where families of color could talk in a in a way that was brave, that was safe about the experiences that they were having, both with their kids and also through navigating the education system and to do it in a way which was culturally responsive, right?
That that felt like just the way in which people of color sort of exchanged with each other. And yeah, and it’s I think that we’ve both Winifred and I realized that there’s tremendous power that comes from being in the know. But you have to kind of like know the right questions to ask. You have to know the right people to connect to the right books to read and unfortunately a lot of that information just isn’t isn’t readily available within the black community.
And you know, for for some of our white peers, for many of our white peers who are fortunate enough in some cases to send their kids to private schools to afford you know attorneys or or you know some of the best tutors or what have you. There’s just a a knowledge base that builds up from being able to to provide that support, and that’s something that a lot of black families don’t get. So with the with the podcast we’re inviting literacy experts, advocates, attorneys, we have a segment so it’s black and dyslexic, so we have bad ass parents and the parents come in and they they share their story of of you know you know wrestling through some some very challenging times to support their kids and and we sort of meet them in whatever point they are in their journey and then the other thing that’s also very interesting after recording quite a few of these interviews now is, we find that a lot of the the people who are working in the field of course come to this work because they have kids who have dyslexia or ADHD or or what have you and and so you know it even… with many of our experts, it also ends up being a conversation with a family member. So that’s yeah, so that’s the that’s the, that’s the podcast and that’s that’s what we’re hoping to provide.
Lori: That’s great!
LeDerick: And then and and if I could just add. You know, so we absolutely have a focus on black and underrepresented minorities for on families, but I think the one of the truisms of of black people is you know, particularly in the US, as we were fighting for greater and greater liberation that fight, although it may be, you know, sort of targeted at the black community is something that’s a benefit everyone and we’re Like we’re being, we’ve been bombarded by comments You know, white Moms, you know who are just like man this is so good! You know this is the information I need and so you know I encourage everybody to listen to it, but we we absolutely do come to this work with the focus on on black people.
Lori: Well, that’s that’s great and it just made me think about how, what, what we speak about so much in our field is that universal design for inclusion. What you do for students with learning differences can be so beneficial for every student in a class, so if we design our lessons and our programs to support those students, then everyone benefits. So sounds like you kind of have that universal design for for your podcast it’s supportive of everyone. Do you have any tips for educators who are working with families To help better support the families in their journey?
LeDerick: You know one of the things that, that I’m that, I think is really important is accessible language, right? So within the learning difference space within the the space of providing supports, you know with it being special education or even in private schools we can get so caught up in acronyms, right? And there’s, you could sit, I mean you could sit at these tables and everyone just sort of throws them around. And I, I think in a way that that they’re almost utilized to maybe not intentionally, but as far as how they function, they in a way make access to information and knowledge and empowerment more difficult. So you know, having a commitment to talking in a way which is Which is open up that you know and and and in meetings with families being OK with stopping and saying, hey, that’s what this means.
You know, I’ve even, I’ve even advocated for for folks writing up a list right of like, here are some of the terms that you can expect to hear in the in the course of this meeting and handing those out to everybody. The other thing I think is really important is that I don’t believe our families, and I think this is especially true for families of color are aware of how much power they have in an educational setting. Right?
Uhm, you know that no one has to sign off on an IEP until they’re happy, You know until so it’s meets what they think it should, you know? Yeah, even in the podcast, you know. We we’ve interviewed people were like no, we’re gonna have a IEP Meeting every week right every week. Till until until my kid is getting what my kid needs that our families have that power.
My mother, you know my mother has shared with me, you know, dealing with a number of different issues in her life at the time when I Was first diagnosed. You know, going through a divorce, you know having two kids going to tonight’s school to finish her,, her own degree working, you know, working a full time job, and then when the you know the quote, unquote professionals showed up With their PHD’s and their their very fancy words she she did something that she regretted was that she just stepped away. You know she stepped, she stepped, back and assumed that they knew best and and had the right solutions and there was indications right like? I went from, you know, having Cs To bringing home A’s And B’s. Right, but our our parents need to know our families need to know and I think it is the place of our schools to proactively approach them from a place where we want our families to be empowered.
Uhm yeah, you know I, I’ve also really advocated for schools to come to find a cohort of families who are either in the system you know in the school system now or whose kids have passed through the school system and those those families should be liaisons. They should be advocates on behalf of of family members who are new to the district That they should be the ones that they can turn to when they have questions. If the situation is is challenging, if they’re having an issue with a teacher or an administrator talking to another family member and taking that proactive approach to empowerment, to connecting them to the system is much better than waiting for someone to get to a point where they’re just absolutely upset with the school and then have to seek outside counsel so you know, and I’ve seen it.
I’ve seen it work in in communities in Ohio and different places in the in the United States and I and I think that proactive approach it’s it’s what we look for for any good Leader and I think it’s something that. We should definitely Look for for For the educators and the administrators In our schools.
Lori: Yeah, agree 100%. It’s interesting; a colleague and I are are currently writing our first book and it’s on this topic of teachers, educators, therapists and parents all working together to do what’s best for their children. One of my chapters is called Enough with the Acronyms Already.
LeDerick: That’s great.
Lori: And I, you know, share a little bit about our first IEP meeting when they’re because our son has special needs and they were like, OK Mr and Mrs Boll, You know this IEP meeting. We just had an SST meeting then we now have an IEP meeting, And for Brayden we gave him these assessments, the ABELS, the AIDAS. See this the. You know, and it’s just overwhelming.
LeDerick: And like you’re supposed to know what all that what all that means right?
Lori: Yeah, and by the end I was like what what, what’s happening? I have no idea. So that was my impetus to go back and get my special Ed degree because I didn’t know what was going on with my own kiddo so.
LeDerick: Well, I look, I look forward to reading your book.
Lori: Well, we’ll see. Thanks. So the majority of our audience are faculty at international schools around the globe. Knowing what we know now that these students are not advocated for as often as their white peers, What we can we do to ensure this advocacy happens?
LeDerick: You know I’ve I have as I’ve traveled The world and done more work with communities outside of the United States, I have sort of realized the the challenges that are that folks outside of the US face right? So even if You’re you know someone who’s native and you’re going to a school, you know where, You know an International School, so the population there is to be what primarily like Well, it’s.
Lori: It depends, but the majority of the international schools have people there from, you know 20 to 70 countries and and it can have a large population of the local population or it may not. It just depends on the school.
LeDerick: Right and so right, and that’s what my sense was. And so I think you know, the the idea is that different communities, different countries, different cultures are going to approach dyslexia, learning differences, disability in different ways, right? And so I think it’s it is again part of the reason why it becomes so important. You know, like universal design but also individualization having to get to know every, every family right like… What are their values? What are their thoughts? Where their what’s their approach to this? ’cause you know I’ve met some people where, No, like even, school school staff where you know I can, I can talk a whole lot of and provide a whole lot of information around empowering their young people But their thing is like our biggest impediment is the the family, right? Like the parents doesn’t don’t even want us to talk about this difference, right?
LeDerick: And so it’s like. OK, well well then that’s where we need to start. Right, we need just. We need to figure out. How do we communicate with our families about about what what the services that we have to offer and why it makes sense that they should? They should take advantage of them. And again, you know, being able to you know, utilize technology utilizing multimedia to capture the stories of families who were in your school Who were able to take advantage of supports, You know, playing those for the for the new family members, and I think that’s that’s a great strategy.
And then I also think that there’s there’s tremendous power and also engaging with the young people in your school to be ambassadors for For the you know, for everyone that’s working in the school, right? So I sort of began my my career around youth leadership and development. So how do we empower young people? With a variety of different kind of disabilities to be able to take leadership roles within the agencies and the organizations that are designed to serve them right so? Uhm, you know is there? A team of youth and young adult leaders who are part of your school that can go and have conversations with families, particularly if they may be a bit reluctant to take advantage of all that your school has to offer if they have a learning difference or what have you right like having that youth voice sometimes can be a whole lot more powerful than having the head of the school show up and say, hey, here’s here’s what I think you should do so so yeah, so those, those are some suggestions right around being able to engage those families.
Lori: Those are brilliant suggestions, by the way, and now my cats meowing in the background so.. Sure, everyone’s hearing that… so I also understand that you are involved with the Rare Gem Talent School in Kenya and you’re currently helping to raise funds so that the school can build a foundation for their new building that will house the students. This school supports students with learning disabilities.
LeDerick: Yeah yeah. Dyslexic dyslexic students. And they have a few students who are on the autism spectrum as well.
Lori: Cool, so how did you get involved with that?
LeDerick: Facebook right? So the head of this school is an amazing lady, amazing parent and educator, Nancy Meunier. And we were introduced through a mutual friend online and chatted for a couple of years until I was asked to do the closing keynote at the International Dyslexia Association Conference. And she was there. And so we got to meet in person and then, just through happenstance, it ended up that she was going to spend about a month here in the states after the conference with a family in New Jersey. So I took it upon myself to go and hang out with her for a day and and some of the conversations that we had had about just you know what is the school and and you Know who do you serve began to evolve into, what do you need right? And she gave me the story of the school of how it basically started in a small home Where she was providing support initially for her own, her own son who’s dyslexic and then for neighborhood families. They would send their kids, you know, to provide that support and and you know what Nancy was able to do, was something really remarkable, Was that she was able to get dyslexic students to be able to go to college, right?
And in Kenya there are very high stakes testing that had done in middle school, you know, and they shut the whole country down,It’s like a three day thing, and if you don’t, You know the way I understand it, if you don’t pass, then your education basically ends, that’s like, that’s it go find a job. And so yeah, the some of the first students to receive academic accommodations, or the first students who receive academic accommodations for dyslexia in Kenya were because of Nancy because of her, her advocacy and so now they they’re renting a a motel, an old motel, that the 1st floor of it is The academic space and the 2nd floor is primarily dormitories. They provide support for about 125 or so students who are a combination of boarding students and then students who come in during the day. I had the pleasure and the privilege of being able to go and spend about a week at the school in 2019. Stayed right there in the community with Nancy and her family and and got to meet a bunch of the family members who were sending their kids, I mean from all over the country were sending their kids to Rare Gem because what they were able to provide was so unique, but they’re renting a space. They don’t have the security of knowing you know whether a lease is going to be turned down for the the the you know the following year, they’re limited in the amount of improvements that they can make, and so very early on in that conversation that we had, it became clear to me that you know they needed to control their own destiny. You know, buy a piece of land and build, build, build their own school and so through our work. And really during the pandemic, it was a great, great support that we’ve got from folks all online for an extended international community of people who were able to make Donations through the Platform Global Giving to the Rare Gem Talent school. And so they were able to make it through the pandemic we we’ve now purchased our first piece of land.
They’ve recently received all of their approvals, the sort of infrastructure for this first building is in place as far as water and sewage and things along those lines and that. Now we’re looking to raise money now to build the first building, and that first building on that on that first acre of land will allow them to move from this space area now into this new one and then all the funding that comes in will just be about building out this school that the plan is to be able to provide an education for 500 students. 500 dyslexic students in Kenya. And then really? Beyond because they’re they’re getting requests from people outside of Kenya who hear about. The work that they’re Doing so, you know it’s it’s being able to support and provide a resource for the region.
Lori: That’s fantastic and very inspiring, so.
LeDerick: No yeah, and and if. And if there’s anyone who’s interested, you can go to the Globalgiving platform and and put in Rare Gem Talent School and I’ll also, I’ll, I’ll provide the link if that’s something. You can put in the shownotes.
Lori: Sure, yeah, yeah. I’ll put those in the notes for sure. So, well, LeDerick, I think that’s all we have time for today, but thank you so much for your time and for your wise words and we are just so excited to see you in December at our conference.
LeDerick: Well, this was this was amazing again I, I’m glad we were able to have an opportunity to to chat and I’m looking forward to talking with everybody at the conference.
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