Recently, Ballou High School graduates and co-authors of How to Grow Up Like Me, Our Lives Matter, and Humans of Ballou, Carl Brown and Darne’sha Walker visited a class of 6th-8th graders at Kendall Demonstration Elementary School (KDES). KDES is a day school serving deaf and hard of hearing students from birth through grade 8 located within Gallaudet University’s campus.
Carl and Darne’sha were invited to talk to the class after KDES teacher Lia Bengston shared Our Lives Matter with her students. With the help of interpreters, Carl and Darne’sha were able to engage with students about the writing process and what it means to overcome obstacles. According to Lia, the students “appreciated the fact that Carl and Darnesha opened up and shared some of their past experiences with them” and “many of them really felt a deep connection to [Carl and Darne’sha].” She shares: “One student borrowed How To Grow Up Like Me and read the whole book in one night. She borrowed the Humans of Ballou another day and returned it the next morning!”
Here, you can read Carl and Darne’sha’s reflections from the visit:
“I’d never seen deaf children until today, I have never even thought about actually speaking to them.... until today. On our way to the school, I got a little nervous because I thought they might have a not-so-good reaction because I thought they might get frustrated if we were talking too fast and they couldn’t catch it. But as we started walking into the classroom I started getting excited, 1) because I’ve always wanted to learn sign language, and 2) I love kids!
I got more excited as I watched them communicate with each other. I loved how they laughed and giggled about what we were saying. There were smiles everywhere. It was AMAZING!
I’m very BIG when it comes to kids with disabilities. I see disabilities as gifts. I think kids with disabilities should always be happy to be different because it’s what makes them amazing and unique. I have a little cousin who means the world to me. When she was born the doctors said that she wouldn’t see 5 months but she’s seen 11 years. She is a beautiful young lady. As a person with disabilities, she faces many obstacles but has beat them ALL. That’s why it warmed my heart so much to see those smiling faces because they have a gift that makes them more awesome.
Because of this amazing day, I know what I would like to do with my life; I’m going to study ASL and become an ASL School Counselor. I want to thank the Most Awesome Group Of 6th, 7th, and 8th Grade Kids Ever at KDES and I hope I get to work more with them in the future!
There are two main impacts I was able to take from this: being able to see how what I write can impact younger people, and being able to speak with a deaf [and hard of hearing] crowd.
Speaking to a [group of children with hearing disabilities] for the first time was an experience like no other. I felt like, for that moment, I was in a different world. Honestly it was not what I expected. I expected a lot of awkward silence, but it was the exact opposite. Many if not all of the students were very engaged during the visit. They asked amazing questions and often filled the room with laughter. This was also my first time having an interpreter as well. Even though the children signed to the interpreter their questions and comments, I still felt like I could hear their voices.
Getting to tell my story to these children was enlightening for me and in some ways therapeutic. I was able to share my struggles with people who [can really relate because] they have struggles of their own. When speaking with the children and answering their many questions, I was able to take myself back in time to when I wrote “All That Matters” and I thought about why I wrote what I wrote. It reminded me who I was and who I am today.
Being able to speak with children whose life I had affected in a positive way made me feel accomplished, like I have made an impact already in this world. This was an experience like no other and will definitely never be forgotten.