Keeping Austin Weird: Underestimate at your own risk

By Austin Jackson | Published Saturday, February 9, 2019
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When I go out on story assignments, my responsibilities often get in the way of working to understand something fully.

I am thinking about questions to ask, names to collect, angles and framing to use for presenting the story in a neat little package with a nice little bow.

Austin Jackson

Getting outside myself and the task at hand is a challenge and a luxury. On Wednesday, I got a little help.

The personal testimony of John Bramblitt, a former writer and current painter, was a lesson in empathy and triumph.

I joined the students in DeDe Diaczenko’s art classroom at McCarroll Middle School, and stood in awe of the power of art and humanity.

Bramblitt is blind. He’s also a world renowned painter.

He lost his eyesight in 2001. He thought his life was essentially over. He went through depression and grief, but in that time he picked up a paint brush.

A blind painter seemed like an oxymoron at the time, a punchline.

But he taught himself how to paint and express his emotions and the world around him.

His paintings were dark, at first. His world was dark, literally and metaphorically.

But as he painted, his works grew brighter and brighter. He could feel the colors through his hands and express his emotions on the canvas.

He could see, in his way, and express his vision of his world through art.

His colors use might not be hyper-realistic, but it’s true to him. It’s the color he feels.

Bramblitt’s unique vision has launched an international art career. He’s been featured on major networks to showcase his skill. But he took time from his day to teach kids in Decatur, and unknowingly a reporter as well.

At the class, he allowed the students in the classroom to walk in his shoes. They all wore blindfolds and experienced what it was like painting without the ability to see.

Many realized they could paint without their eyes.

I learned something too. Underestimating people with disabilities is a risk – one I will try not to take.

Austin Jackson is a reporter for the Messenger.

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