By Laura Swanson
A gymnasium packed to capacity with the twitching energy of teenagers, as a lone black man in a wheelchair moves on to the gym floor. There’s a hush, and then some whispers. What? This is the featured speaker for an all-school assembly?? Neah-Kah-Nie Middle School and High School students sat for the next 60 minutes and listened intently to the messages from this disabled, African American man. That’s Keith Jones – “Don’t Box Me In” is his presentation about his life and accomplishments and how one man’s determination can overcome the many boxes put in his way. The comments from those who attended, included: “He kept the students engaged. He’s funny, and his use of humor delivers a powerful message in a light manner that made an impact on students.”
Keith Jones has navigated, and continues to overcome on a daily basis, the perceptions of the world around him. As he shared the story about arriving at PDX, and the concern of other travelers that he was traveling alone. Keith has good hearing, and he could hear those around him wondering “where’s his worker, or support person?” He chuckles as he shares this story. This is his life – it happens on a continual basis, day-in-and-day-out, people making assumptions about his disability and discounting that he has capabilities. He inspires, educates and informs his audience about his experiences. Keith shared stories from his life that challenged the students and community members to examine their perceptions about disability, race, equity and inclusion.
On November 6th and 7th, Keith visited the North Oregon Coast, including the full-school assembly and a community coffee gathering. He has a high-caliber comedic style that is all his own and keeps his delivery on very serious topics light, yet, relevant. Well-read, well-spoken and passionate, Jones taught everyone lessons about what to say, what not to say and when, “Don’t assume I can’t do it myself – you’all know what that makes you,” as his smile lights up his face. “Ask or offer – ‘Let me know if you need any help.’ Don’t do it for me,” he continued. “If I need help, you bet, I’ll ask. Make it easy for me to get into your business. It’s really the simple things like access that makes all the difference,” said Keith. “Most importantly teach your children to be friendly to those kids that are different,” he continued, “Teach them to say hello, how are you? Not to turn around and go the other way. Teach them that it’s not ‘catching’. We are people too.”
Jones is a nationally known advocate that has spoken in various capacities and venues around the U.S. and Oregon including the Northwest Down Syndrome Association’s annual conference, All Born-In and the Confederation of Oregon School Administrator’s (COSA) annual conference in Seaside, OR. It was at this conference two years ago that Neah-Kah-Nie Special Education/Student Services Director Stacey Dills attended his presentation and thought, “We need to bring this guy to North Tillamook County.” Thanks to Julie Chick, FACT Oregon, Sammy’s Place, the Kiwanis Club of Tillamook, Eugene Schmuck Foundation, the Mudd-Nick Foundation, and the Nehalem Bay United Methodist Church for supporting these opportunities within our community – they made it happen. And he’ll be back. “We’ve got a lot more to learn about disability and inclusion, and Keith is an amazing teacher,” said organizer Julie Chick. “With community support, we hope to bring Keith back in the future so more people in our community have a chance to hear his messages.”
One of the highlights of the trip for Keith (and everyone) was trying out the Manzanita Beach adaptive wheelchairs. “Oh man,” exclaimed Keith.
“This is amazing, I’m in heaven,” as he gazed out at the Pacific Ocean. “It’s been 20 years since I’ve been on a beach, and that was on the other coast. This is one of the most comfortable wheelchairs … I could just sit right here …” staring out across the ocean.” Thanks Keith for sharing your experiences with our community, and what a pleasure it was to share our little corner of the world with you.
The Pioneer’s now provides video services. Here are 4 segments from the two hour Keith Jones: Don’t Box Me In Community coffee on November 7 on the Pioneer’s YouTube channel.
Here is a clip:
And the segments:
PART 1 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l6F0IbdK5As&t=3s
PART 2 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RT0yE4ham_8&t=2shttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RT0yE4ham_8&t=2shttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RT0yE4ham_8&t=2s
PART 3 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2r48aIVswR4
PART 4 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N5VlJ2Fneig
For more about Keith Jones, go to dasoultoucha.com.
FACTOregon – factoregon.org
Sammy’s Place – sammysplace.info
Manzanita Visitors Center – The adaptive wheelchairs are available FREE at the Manzanita Visitors Center just call to reserve and arrange pickup, etc. 503-812-5510, or message them here – www.exploremanzanita.com/contact/