Food, music and friendship brought the JESPY House community together during its first music festival for disabled performers on Sept. 16.
Michael Preston, the event coordinator, said that the Disabled American Performer Festival is an event that celebrates the talents of the disabled and gives various performers a platform to show off their musical talents. “The ultimate goal is to the give the disabled community a voice, to fight for their rights, to showcase their talents and to prove, with a disability or not, that they can accomplish they want if they put their mind to it,” Preston said.
The JESPY House is a nonprofit organization in South Orange that “enables adults with learning and developmental disabilities to achieve their full potential and lead independent lives,” according to its website. The organization works to “break down barriers” to ensure that clients have opportunities for full community inclusion.
The five-hour event, from 12 to 5 p.m., featured a variety of activities for guests including life-sized board games, corn hole, face painting and a video game tournament. Some activities had competitions in which winners received prizes, including a JESPY House fidget spinner.
Throughout the afternoon, several bands and soloists with disabilities were on stage singing songs that inspired them personally and ones that they had written themselves. One of these performances was the JESPY House’s J Street Band, which Preston manages.
Michael Jaslow, the lead vocalist of the J Street Band, said that the band often meets to practice covers and songs that band members have written by themselves. He added that most of the songs they perform are alternative rock songs.
“We’re here to put our names out there,” Jaslow said. “We’re here to show awareness for disabilities and to let the nation know that because we are disabled, we are not stigmatized and put off into the corner.”
Jaslow said he joined the band because he liked singing and wanted to do it as a hobby, as he was never much involved with music while growing up. He performed “Living with the Disabilities,” a song he wrote describing life with a disability.
“I feel like in today’s culture, we’re shut out,” he said. “I want the world to know that we have the same rights as anybody else, even though we might take longer to learn things. We live in a society that’s not always nice to us, so we want to show the world that we can survive living with a disability and live out our dreams.”
Tabatha Richardson-Smith, a communications major who graduated from SHU in 2016, said that the music festival is a great way to bring everyone together and celebrate, especially for those who don’t have families.
Richardson-Smith has been working as the head coach for the JESPY House’s Special Olympics New Jersey team for nearly a month. She said she enjoys helping people and applying her knowledge and love for basketball and other sports to her job.
Richardson-Smith was the all-time lead scorer for the SHU women’s basketball team in 2016.
“You learn here that disabilities don’t really define someone for who they are as a person,” Richardson-Smith said. “You might think that they can’t do something, but they really can.”
Richardson-Smith added that Seton Hall students should come out and get involved with the JESPY House and other nonprofit organizations.
“Try it out. You’re helping somebody, and you’ll enjoy doing it,” she said. “If they see that you’re wearing Seton Hall gear or playing sports, the people you’re helping will ask you how it’s like going to college. It encourages them.”
Preston said he hopes the event will run annually and become a national event in the future so that disabled performers across the country can have the same opportunity and bring awareness to the disabled community.
Liam Oakes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.