There are only so many hours in the day, and Jahmeelah Gamble makes every moment count. From her community involvement, facilitating programs for youth with disabilities, to hosting her own television and radio shows, she is the epitome of a superwoman.
1) First and foremost, can you talk about what you do? I was reading your website and it seems like you have your hands in everything, with a strong focus on disability and equality? How did you get into this and what is your background?
JG: I’ve been in the field for fifteen years, with a background in Developmental Services Working from Fanshawe College in 2010. Prior to that, I was involved in various day programs supporting children and adults with disabilities, and that’s when I decided to turn my passion into my career.
The way I got into it, well I really cannot say; I myself don’t have a disability, I don’t have a child or any family with disabilities. I’d like to say that God had a plan for me and thought that I would be a great asset to this field, so that’s how I got into it.Working in this field, I was trying to find different ways to be an advocate, but not be in the typical thick of things. Yes, I work for the School Board and I am an Education Resource Facilitator, but I wanted to go above and beyond that, so I started my own business, Ms. Jams. I consult with families, workshop facilitation, and community advocacy. There’s different organizations that have me come out, and I do workshops, whether it is parent empowerment or disability sensitivity classes with them, just to give them a really lighthearted and open perspective on how they can better understand disability awareness, and whether it is improving their business or just improving their attitudes, that is my goal when I go out and I support them. With parents I consult, especially with those first time parents whose first child is born with a disability, I help them understand the system and what the next steps are, and really remind them that they are first and foremost the expert of their child, and help them decide how they can be the best possible advocate for their children.
My show, A Voice For All, launched in 2014, and it’s hard to believe it’s in its fourth season. As I said, that wasn’t my educational background, but I did do an interview on Roger Television to promote Autism Awareness Month. The following year, I wanted to come back and talk about families, and that I was concerned that as a community, we didn’t do enough to help parents with children with disabilities feel welcome and understood. I wanted to pick which show I wanted to be on, so I thought that if I put my application in for Show Proposal, that that was me proposing to be on a particular show, and little did I know, I was asking to have my own show. I ended up totally winging an interview with a producer, explaining how I could have my own show and what it would be about, and next thing you know, I had a pilot then I had my first season, and I have not looked back since!
I am the host and the producer of the show. We proudly support people with disabilities, their support workers, the grassroots organizations that need more exposure, and most importantly, we provide support to parents. I have had parents come on the show and tell their stories, and it creates a sense of community for parents tuning in and they can learn from each other. What I love most about my show is when we have organizations like the Special Olympics come on, and there are athletes that rarely get mainstream television and they get ten whole minutes about why they are awesome, how they became the person they are, and regardless of what their disability or their cognitive level is, they made it work and they made it happen.
It’s been a rewarding experience for me, to better understand the organizations in our communities that really need our support, but also I’ve learned a lot about myself as an advocate. I’ve been doing this for fifteen years, but I still feel like I’m just getting started. The first couple years was me getting my feet wet and exploring who I am, and now that’s I’ve found this passion in media, whether it is magazines I’ve written for, my show, and I’ve recently launched my online radio program called Straight Up with Jam, where I talk straight up about disability issues and awareness within our community and around the world. The channel that my show airs on, Voices For Ability, is the only online radio show within the region that is for people with disabilities by people with disabilities, so I was honoured when they approached me about hosting a show. So I am speaking on the perspective as an able-bodied person, and identifying things that my fellow able-bodied people do that are not always right, but at the same time, trying to help the able-bodied community people with different abilities. We have various people from different organizations come around, and we talk straight up about the issues. It’s my way to contribute to an amazing group of people who are often misunderstood and I’m just doing my part.
2) What have been the struggles of doing this, as well as the rewards?
JG: The struggles of me being in this field of work is convincing people why they should pay attention, especially because I am able-bodied. I have been asked “Why are you so passionate about disabilites? You don’t even have a disability, and no one in your family is affected”. My answer to that is I have a heart, and my heart cares about individuals who do have different needs. When I go to different events, and especially mainstream events, my struggle is getting the platform to express to people to open their ears and their eyes and their hearts to what I am trying to promote. My struggle is a part of the story. When you have these setbacks, it gives you that fuel to keep going, and when I do come across these walls of people, that shows me that I need to work harder to promote the work that myself and other people are doing. There are harder days, when I am in the school system when I am seeing my students being misunderstood, I become sort of a mama bear, and showing people that they have a value and a purpose.
The rewards are the people I work with. I love my students, I really do. My previous student from last year was actually my flower girl at my wedding. She holds a very special place in my heart, so it was only natural that she be a part of our big day. I have had students and clients who have underestimated themselves. We have had big goals for them, and when we achieve that goal and I see that sense of pride on their face and their parents’ faces, that’s the biggest reward for me. Even with A Voice For All, and seeing how far it has come, that for me is a reward: having people understand what I am trying to promote. My work is my reward, every single day.
3) Tell me about your dance classes and how they started.
JG: I am not a classically trained dancer, I just happen to have some rhythm! For a couple years, I was a fitness instructor for the YMCA, and a previous colleague wanted to partner with me to do an event for individuals who have disabilities, especially adults. What the general population does not know is that typically when people with disabilities get to about 18 years old, they are essentially pushed off the cliff by the system. There is not enough funding and programs to support them, so they are left to their own means. We decided to launch EmpowerMe Fitness and Education about a year ago, which is a non-profit fitness program for adults with developmental disabilities. We took my fitness routines and modify them to each class; so for example, if we have an individual who is in a wheelchair or someone with autism, we completely modify the class so everyone is up and moving and everybody included. We rely solely on public donations and are now exploring government funding as well, because we need to have programs like this running consistently. It’s come together by need, with my background in Developmental Disabilites and dance, and her extensive background in Behaviour Therapy, to create something that a lot of people and their families were looking for. Some people weren’t even meeting us, they just showed up because there was nothing else like this available. We are always expanding and growing because the need is there. In the future, we hope to work with more classically trained dancers and get into gyms to help the staff working better understand and connect with members with disabilities. EmpowerMe not only aims to support people personally, within our program setting, but also the population and the community at large understand how they can better welcome individuals with disabilities.
What is next for you, in 2015 and beyond? What are you most proud of?
JG: I am hoping that we can take A Voice For All on wider platform to reach a bigger audience. I don’t believe in five year plans, because I really do not know. What I want is to continue to be healthy physically, mentally, and emotionally, so that I can continue to do the work that I do. In the upcoming months, I want to continue to learn more, become more passionate, and become a stronger advocate. I want to be involved in greater opportunities that allow me to further my experience, connect with more people, and strive to become a person who can create change and understanding.
With confidence, I can say I am self-made and that I am always looking for ways to grow. Yes, I am a Teacher’s Assistant during the day, but I have my television show, my radio show, I sit on committees, I do events, I do public speaking, so that to me is something I am really proud of. In such a short amount of time, I have accomplished so much, and I have grown, and helped people grow, and we are just getting started.
Stay connected with Jahmeelah by following her @MsJamPccs and keeping up with her at http://www.msjam.ca/