Editor’s Note: Fifty six year old Frank Barham, from Atlanta,Georgia is living his dream. Frank has learned that a musician never stops learning and never reaches the pinnacle. Jazz is a never ending journey of study; trying to become better, and learning to share your feelings through the music you play. Part 3 of a 5 part series.
After my accident 32 years ago, my parents helped to motivate me and to keep me going. Both my mom and my dad were very supportive and encouraging. They told me, “You’ve got to find a way to support yourself.” My family already knew how to deal with a spinal cord injury, because my dad had broken his neck 7 years before my accident. He had a C4 and a C5 spinal cord injury. There was a very interesting dynamic between me and my dad, because I was responsible for his injury as well as my own. Dad and I were at a party, and a group of us threw him in the swimming pool for fun. After he hit the water, he floated to the top and was paralyzed, and I held myself responsible for his injury. My guilt became a driving force for my self destructive tendencies. I can’t even begin to describe the emotion, the guilt and the anger I felt back then.
After I got out of rehab, I began to look for work. I hitch hiked and pushed my wheelchair to different interviews. Nothing on my résumé said I was in a wheelchair, so when I’d show up for job interviews, I could see the surprise on people’s faces. People were responding to me differently than they had when I was able bodied, but even though I clearly felt it, I tried to deny that it was real until one potential employer was brutally honest. Quite frankly, after the initial shock, I was really grateful to him for his honesty. He said, “Someone in a wheelchair, like you, doesn’t project the type of image that our company wants to project in the marketplace.”
I realized then, that the prejudice was real and that I was going to have to learn to work around it. People with disabilities weren’t covered by equal employment opportunity laws at that time. I knew I had to prove that I could work; not just in a professional position, but in any position. I changed my focus from trying to get a job as a salesman, to just getting a job – any job.
Among the jobs I pursued, were positions in radio. I had a good speaking voice; I was familiar with a wide range of music and, most importantly, no one could see my wheelchair. My radio career was tough, because the radio station I worked for and just about all the radio stations back then, weren’t wheelchair accessible. I spent a lot of time crawling upstairs and crawling all around the offices.
However, I did it. I was glad to have a job and was proud of the things I accomplished in radio. I was in radio about 6 years on a combination AM/FM station. I wrote advertisements and produced commercials.
I was very proud of the Monday night jazz show that I created for WDNC. The show highlighted the wealth of musical talent in the Raleigh/Durham area by featuring a different local jazz musician each week. I handled all aspects of show preparation from booking guests to producing new music each week and conducting on air interviews.
As gratifying as the radio show was, I still felt that I needed to leave Durham if I was going to continue to grow. Even though this was nice place to live, I had too much negative history associated with it. I needed to leave in order to begin building a new life that wasn’t dominated by the past. My first wife and I decided to move to Atlanta, Georgia. I found a job running the sound board for shows on a news/talk radio station. It didn’t take long to realize that this really wasn’t the right career for me. I found, applied and was accepted to a program called the Georgia Computer Programmers’ Project, which trained people with disabilities to program computers using an old language called COBOL. GCPP gave me the help I needed to transition from radio to IT.
About the Author: For the last 12 years, John E. Phillips of Vestavia, Alabama, has been a professional blogger for major companies, corporations and tourism associations throughout the nation. During his 24 years as Outdoor Editor for “The Birmingham Post-Herald” newspaper, he published more than 7,000 newspaper columns and sold more than 100,000 of his photos to newspapers, magazines and internet sites. He also hosted a radio show that was syndicated at 27 radio stations; created, wrote and sold a syndicated newspaper column that ran in 38 newspapers for more than a decade; and wrote and sold more than 30 books. Learn more at http://www.nighthawkpublications.com