Unlearning to Learn to Strike a Balance With New Knowledge to Forge Ahead

Alan H Onyangois a 2022 Fellow in theProfessional Fellows Program on Inclusive Civic Engagement.This program is sponsored by the U.S Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, and is administered by the Institute for Community Inclusion (ICI) at the University of Massachusetts Boston in partnership with Humanity and Inclusion (HI). The following blog post was written by guest author Alan H Onyango.

Alan H Onyangois headshot against blue background

Alan H Onyangois

I write as I reminisce of the good old days when my pals from high school and I would one day relocate to the USA in search of milk and honey, a land of greener pastures. I am at the Pueblo De La Cienega dormitory at the University of Arizona (UA). I guess I finally made it to the UA, not by relocation, but as a Fellow in the Professional Fellows Program.

A door with a brass plaque above it with the name of the building

The front door of the Pueblo De La Cienega dormitory building, the University of Arizona.

When we touched down at the Tucson airport from Boston, Cheryl Muller, an Associate Director at the Disability Resources Center (DRC), picked up me and Harunah Damba, a visiting Fellow from Uganda, and his aide Jalia Namiro, in a true American muscle truck, a Dodge Ram. During the drive to the University, Cheryl shared “must-knows” with us in Tucson, like the scorching sun and how hot it can get, the importance of keeping hydrated, the cactuses and how old they can grow, plus how Tucsonans use the mountains in the region for directions. The Catalinas are in the northeast, the Rincon Mountains are to the east, the Santa Rita Mountains lie to the south, and Tucson Mountains are to the west. It was a short drive for this whole history and geography lesson. In no time, we were at the dormitory. We dropped off our luggage and headed out for our first experience of Tucson, which included a tailgate, a fundraiser for adaptive athletics at the DRC, and American football, which I personally found to be entertaining but confusing.

Football game at Arizona Stadium at the University of Arizona.

Arizona Stadium at the University of Arizona, during the football game between the Colorado Buffaloes and Arizona Wildcats.

At the University of Arizona, I am a mentee of Dr. Amanda Kraus, the Executive Director at the DRC. With the knowledge, expertise, and networks she has accumulated in her extensive career in higher education and the disability movement in the USA, Dr. Kraus has supported me academically and professionally in my journey to build my follow-on project.

Dr. Amanda Kraus (right) and I (left) at WounderSpaces at Scottsdale Fashion Square Phoenix, Arizona.

Dr. Amanda Kraus (right) and I (left) at WounderSpaces at Scottsdale Fashion Square Phoenix, Arizona.

First, I met Judy Heumann. Judy has been termed and considered the “mother of the disability movement” in the United States. I got to speak with Judy about my stay in Tucson and my work as a journalist at Signs TV. Because of time, we did not get to speak about her work in-depth, but in that short time, she shared many contacts and suggestions of people to speak to while in the USA who would add value to my stay and project. She promised to speak with me again, and I look forward to that. In the meantime, I am watching Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution, a documentary about the disability movement in the USA. In the documentary, Judy looks back on the journey and what the future holds.

On Friday October 14, at 6:30am MST, my mentor, Jalia, Harunah, and I hit the road for a 2-hour drive to Phoenix, Arizona to visit the Arizona State University, which houses the prestigious Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and the National Center on Disability and Journalism (NCJD). We set out to meet with Juan Mundel, Director of Cronkite Global Initiatives; tour the Walter Cronkite School; and finally met with Kristin Gilger, Director of the NCDJ and Dr. Beth Haller, who describes herself as a database of news and information about people with disabilities. This is not a flex, she truly is a database.

Man sitting at Cronkite News studio

I am sitting at the Cronkite News studio at the Walter Cronkite Journalism and Mass Communication School, Arizona State University, Phoenix, Arizona.

Director Juan Mundel hosted us with his colleague and Program Manager, Jan Holland-Malcom at the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship. Our conversation centered around journalism, strategic communication, and the opportunities and threats social media poses to these fields. Juan stressed the importance of understanding that regardless of how different many forms of journalism are from strategic communication, such as sports, photojournalism, and others, social media is morphing all the journalism fields to act as one. Hence, one needs to be a Cronkite to distinguish between the two. As for Jan, she opined the importance of understanding social media as a tool and using it to meet the client, the audience, and the attention where they are now. She also stressed the importance of remaining objective and subjective as a journalist. As a takeaway, I created allies and have a ton of educational resources available to me. Plus, I was gifted a book, Designing the New American University by Michael M. Crow and William B. Dabars.

My conversation with Director Kristin Gilger and Dr. Beth Haller was about proactive representation and participation of persons with disabilities in the media space. They stressed the importance of not leaving anything to chance, but to show up with a plan to disrupt the status quo. Beth shared how she has witnessed mainstream media pick up stories related to disability because they first trended on social media and vice versa. She argued that persons with disabilities can pick these examples like fine salt and forge ahead constructively. She shared the example of Weny Lu, who started out as an independent writer and now works with the New York Times. Lu is a great ally to the community and to journalists with disabilities. I got to speak to her virtually and she is a true inspiration. She was introduced to me by Judy Heumann through my mentor Dr. Amanda Kraus. Director Gilger introduced and spoke about the history of the NCDJ and how it has been a game changer in how persons with disabilities are represented in the media, not only in the USA, but across its borders and abroad (case and point, visiting PFP Fellow Alan Onyango).

To me, this Fellowship has been an opportunity to unlearn to learn to strike a balance with new knowledge and forge ahead. It has been three weeks into my Fellowship, and thus far, I am certain the future is brighter.