Born with cerebral palsy, for much of her life Keah Brown longed for normalcy, hating the disability which she believed defined her in the eyes of others as well as herself.
“It’s very painful when people treat me differently,” says Brown, author of the recently released The Pretty One: On Life, Pop Culture, Disability, and Other Reasons to Fall in Love with Me. “Black people with disabilities are all but invisible. We simply don’t exist.”
Brown, whose cerebral palsy impacts the right side of her body, also suffers from seasonal depression, chronic migraines and anxiety. But despite all this, she also learned not to stand down.
“I never gave anybody the chance to say anything to me, I showed I wouldn’t back down,” she says, “I put forth a front that if you say anything to me, I’m going to say it back.”
She also, encouraged by her mother, started writing her thoughts and emotions into poems and short stories at a young age.
“My mom was really adamant that I finish school and also making sure I had every opportunity to just be a kid,” she says.
All this helped Brown discover her place in the world and an acceptance of herself and a way of dealing with others. It’s a journey of growth and shedding feelings of powerlessness. For most of her life she hated mirrors but now that she embraces who she is, she no longer avoids them. Such empowerment led her to create the hashtag #DisabledAndCute. She also is a contributor to such magazines as Harper’s Bazaar, Marie Claire and Teen Vogue.
Brown describes her book as a collection of essays about the idea that we’re on a journey to joy.
“With this book, people can see my journey and I really hope people can take things from I and to look at their own lives,” says Brown. “I wanted to be sure to tell the whole story, to create a kinship with others. By reading books like these outside of our experiences, we could learn so much about other people and to open us up.”
Cerebral palsy sometimes impacts Brown’s ability to write on certain days.
“Sometimes I don’t have the energy, I have pain, so when I have those days, I take breaks or I’ll write on my phone using an app,” she says. “But I try to get something done every day.”
Brown is already focusing on her next book. She’d like to write fiction which Brown describes as her first love.
In the meantime, she encourages all of us to listen to people, whether they’re disabled or not. And always continue on despite the odds.
“We all have bad days—all of us,” she says. “I try to go forward though, no matter what.”
When: September 25 at 6:30 p.m.
Where: American Writers Museum,180 N. Michigan Avenue, 2nd Floor, Chicago, IL
Cost: Free for members; $12 for non-members.
FYI: ASL Interpretation will be provided at this event; let the museum know how they can make event more comfortable by contacting them or RSVP at firstname.lastname@example.org or (312) 374-8790.