Gracie is a music artist, disability rights advocate, and peace promoter in Nigeria. She brought freshness to advocacy efforts through her unique blend of passion and music, bringing prominence to the important roles of persons with disabilities in development. Since emerging Miss Wheelchair National queen she has remained consistent in her passion to mainstream disability in development issues, through her work at Inclusive Friends where she works as director, providing direction and inspiration for change. As WaterAid Nigeria’s official spokesperson on disability in Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, Gracie works to ensure inclusive access for persons with disabilities and to end violence through benefit concerts, the proceeds of which have provided toilets for schools serving children with disabilities. Gracie plans to use the knowledge and experience she gains from the Fellowship in deepening her advocacy efforts to end discrimination and violence against women with disabilities in Nigeria.
PICTURE IMAGE: African disabled woman using a wheelchair on stage with a mic in her hand singing with a choir behind her.
Leroy Moore: Thank you for agreeing to be interview! I’ve recently got to know about your activism and music and as an African-American with a disability, advocate who is a journalist, poet, founder of an international musicians with disabilities network named Krip-Hop Nation, I’m very excited to get to know you, your music and the situation in Nigeria for people with disabilities. Let’s start there, give us a picture of the everyday situation for people with disabilities in Nigeria. My friend that is also a person with disability, a rapper and was born in Nigeria was working to take what he experience here in the US about disability rights and accessibility before he, Lee “aka” Mr. Flint (Lee Majorz) passed away. You were one of the 2015 Mandela Washington Fellows. Tell us about that experience and how has it influence your work today?
Grace A. Jerry: In June 2015, I participated in the Mandela Washington fellowship, a Young African Leadership initiative of President Barak Obama and the US department of States at the United States of America where I joined other 500 young Africans to undergo 6 weeks leadership exchange program.
The President created this initiative to recognize and support the critical and increasing role of African youth in strengthening democratic institutions, spurring economic growth, and enhancing peace and security in Africa.
It was an awesome Experience of academic coursework, leadership training, and networking, most importantly connecting with 499 young African leaders from the sub-Sahara and sharing learning and experiences.
Leroy Moore: Please tell us about your organization, Inclusive Friends & your work on violence against people with disabilities.
Grace A. Jerry: The Inclusive Friends Association is a non-profit organization established by people with disabilities to address the social, economic, and political challenges that confront people with disabilities. In particular, it has been a leading ally in the struggle to create a conducive environment for full inclusion of children, youth, and women with disabilities. Since 2011 it has carried out Democracy, Good Governance and peace building, Water sanitati0on and hygiene WASH, community health, Inclusive education ,income and livelihoods projects in Plateau State.
Working as a strong gender advocate with special interest on ending violence against women and girls with disabilities, In August 2014 the Nigerian Stability and Reconciliation Program (NSRP) of the Department for International Department (DFID), and Inclusive Friends undertook a groundbreaking study on documenting the experiences of Women with Disabilities in the face of violence conflicts in Plateau State with findings from study already shaping policy processes, actions and programming at state levels in Nigeria. A big part of my advocacy work has been the innovative use of music to amplify the challenges faced by millions of Nigerians with Disabilities. “Inclusive Friends” is an organization I co-founded.
Leroy Moore: You introduced our President, President Obama, at the 2015 “Young African Leaders Initiative Presidential Summit”. Tell us about that experience and what has change in Nigeria and other countries in Africa?
Grace A. Jerry: Till date, I still find myself playing back the emotions that rushed through me when I got the news that I would be responsible for inviting the president of the United States of America on stage. The experience was huge for me in many ways. First, in my home country Nigeria, a lot of people still struggle to understand the rights of persons with disabilities. We are seen as objects of pity in need of social protection without rights. On that stage I felt human for once, I felt complete. Introducing the biggest president was beyond me, it was about the 25.5 millions of Nigerians and millions across Africa with Disabilities whose confidence had been boosted by me.
Climbing the stage to introduce the American president was about equality, it was our chance to announce disability inclusion to the world. I was humbled by that opportunity, at the same time I knew I had to speak up for the millions who had lost their voices because of marginalization in communities. So climbing that stage, I carried the hopes of millions of persons with disabilities across the region who wanted a chance to be heard, a platform to demand equality, we wanted the world the hear us and demand equality. And somehow we achieved that.
I am back in Nigeria and a lot has changed since the YALI2015 experience. My interactions with Disability rights advocates, the Fellows and presidential precinct facilitators in the US have shaped me for greatness and provided more funding opportunity to implement programs and project
Leroy Moore: As you know Nigerian’s government has not yet passed a disability rights bill/law and lately the government wants to pass an anti-begging law that will effect a lot of people with disabilities. Please give us your thoughts about this act of government and recent protest there.
Grace A. Jerry: First let me start by saying Persons with disabilities do not enjoy the life of begging, the circumstances they found themselves in has reduced them to that. Now, the government is talking about an anti-begging bill when they are yet to put polices and laws in place that promote and protect the right of persons with disabilities that is singing into law the disability rights bill. How can a huge demographic of people, 25.5 million Nigerians be left out of what is ideally their rights to live a full and productive life?
Interestingly disability rights advocates/activists across the country are increasing their voices to demand for programs to be put in place to provide for this people who most of them are bread winners and have people also depending on them to survive.
Leroy Moore: I have this vision of bringing African & African-Americans with disabilities who are artists and musicians to come together in Africa for a networking session and concert and in November this year I will go to South Africa to meet some of the artists/advocates to talk about the big picture. What to think about this vision?
Grace A. Jerry: It’s a great vision Leroy; I must really commend you for that. Bringing the world to unite on addressing disability issues in Africa is very important. Americans with disabilities have over the years lead a normal and free life because of the ADA laws that have been in existence 25 years now, and coming to network on the African soil with disability rights advocates and activist with further strengthen the work of creating an all-inclusive Africa. It’s about time we all come together to build a strong networks across the borders. It’s about inclusion and equity for all.
Leroy Moore: Now let’s talk about your music. Your music has a real message & the sales of one of your CD go toward installing flush toilets and bringing clean drinking water at schools for children with disabilities. Tell us about your song about toilets and other songs with deep meaning.
Grace A. Jerry: Through Music we speaks up for the protection of the rights of Nigerians with disabilities to Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) facilities in Nigeria through my role as WaterAid Nigeria official Spokesperson on Disability in Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH). Since 2012, I and Inclusive Friends have organized special benefit concert tagged “Music for Toilets” which is an annual concert to commemorate world toilet day every 19th of November to provide awareness on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene facilities for schools serving children with Disabilities in Plateau State, Nigeria. As parts of our effort with support from the former Minister federal ministry of Water resources, we provided 20 flush toilets and 4 solar powered bore holes for some of the special schools in Plateau state, Nigeria.
The production of the YALI tribute song “E GO HAPPEN” Yes we can, at the home of James Madison in Montpellier USA, connected to the Africa the wonderful Africa that the great Madiba spoke about in many of his quotes. “E GO HAPPEN” is a shift from the dark and wrong narratives of Africa that the world have believed for many year to a strong positive narrative of the Africa that we “The young African leaders see”. The 25 young Africans fellows and the Presidential Precinct team who supported me in producing the song were amazing. The process of the song production was amazing as we shared common heritage, a vision for the new Africa; a chance to recreate our world/Continent and demand for our rights as young Africans.
Leroy Moore: Do you know another disabled Gospel singer in Nigeria, Yinka Ayefele and other disabled musicians there like Cobhams Asuquo and Tony Tetuila? Can there be a time where you all come together? Has there been a concert of disabled musicians in Nigeria?
Grace A. Jerry: I know a few Nigeria musicians with disability are doing amazingly well and have carved out a niche for themselves in the entertainment industry. Cobhams and Ayefele are doing amazing things, it would really be great to collaborate with more musicians with disabilities in other parts of Nigeria to do a mega concert that will make the headlines and further push for the signing of the disability rights bill among other issues.
Leroy Moore: What are your future projects in your advocacy and music?
Grace A. Jerry: Today music is more than just holding the microphone; it has become my medium for engagement; a powerful tool for advocacy. Music and advocacy is me, my world, my platform and my voice, a chance to provide more water sanitation and hygiene facilities for schools and communities for persons with disabilities. A chance to sing about ending gender based violence as violence affects women with disabilities too.
We will continue to raise our voices to address issues that affect us until our dream of achieving an All-inclusive Nigeria and the African continent is a reality.
Leroy Moore: Here in the US, musician with disabilities especially physically disabled are still being discriminating against in the music industry this is one reason why Krip-Hop Nation was born. How is the music industry in Nigeria toward musicians with disabilities and what can we do?
Grace A. Jerry: Disability issues are not so attractive here in Nigeria. It’s difficult to see a person with disability showcased in the entertainment industry or being celebrated. We are still speaking against the discriminations and stereotypes. There are a lot of Nigerians with disabilities who have great talents and all they need are platforms to showcase that. At the inclusive friends we have provided and still providing such opportunities for these artists.
With collaborations and partnerships with record labels and Krip-Hip Hop nations, I believe more opportunities will be available
Leroy Moore: Any last words and how can we keep up with your advocacy and music?
Grace A. Jerry: I see a great Africa continent, I see great Nations, I see people who cannot afford to be ignored by any nations of the world, not by any race or tribe, I see a great Africa as it emerge
I see Inclusive Nigeria and nations of Africa where persons with disabilities are supported to live their dreams #EGOHAPPENO
Follow Grace Jerry and Inclusive friends on www.inclusivefriends.org
Sound Cloud GRACEhttps://soundcloud.com/nigerian-hip-hop/grace-jerry-i-am-grace @gracejjerry @inclusivefriend Facebook.com/Grace Jerry, Grace Alache Jerry, Inclusivefriends