JULY 22, 2013
When I woke up this morning I had a vital mission to accomplish. I intended to flood the internet with a critical message about a popular rap musician’s offensive lyrics — lyrics that caused pain to those with autism and the people who love them. I intended to get him to apologize. I intended to bring widespread attention to his insensitivity, his cruelty, his ignorance.
By the time I finished my coffee, though, I discovered that two incredible people with autism had accomplished that mission before I woke.
Five days ago, Russell Lehmann (@AutisticPoet) sent me this tweet:
@AweinAutism Tweet @JColeNC about his lyrics: Go check the numbers dummy thats me gettin started Im artistic you niggas is autistic retarded
After a quick search for J. Cole, I found the lyrics Russell was referencing. Cole, a popular rapper, recently released a song titled Jodeci Freestyle, in which he addressed fellow rappers with what he intended as a “dis.” When Russell, who writes and records his own rap, heard Cole’s lyrics, he was offended —and outraged.
I responded to Russell with an email suggesting that he compose his own lyrics in response to J. Cole. I told him I’d post it on Awe in Autism and tweet the link asking all of our followers to spread the word.
Then I got a tweet from Nicole Nicholson, a poet and blogger with autism. She wrote:
@AweinAutism @AutisticPoet @JColeNC I don’t like this at all. How can I help? I might blog about this today.
I emailed her, too. “Yes,” I said, “blog about it.” And I made the same suggestion I had to Russell: Use your own voice, your own artistic talent, to speak out.
The three of us maintained a dialogue over the following few days. Russell wrote some powerful rap lyrics and recorded them on video, then posted it to World Star Hip Hop. Nicole wrote an incredibly insightful poem and published it on her website, Raven’s Wing Poetry, and on her blog, Woman With Asperger’s.
My mission —when I went to bed last night — was to dedicate a page on the Awe in Autism website to their responses to Cole, and to send tweets out to every one of our followers asking them to retweet. I aimed to get a response from the media.
But as I said, Russell and Nicole accomplished that mission all on their own.
By 1:00 PM Sunday, Russell’s video had over 75,000 views. As of this writing, it has 313,531 views. I don’t know how many people visited Nicole’s website and blog, but the number of people who responded to their tweets — and retweeted — is staggering. And what happened next is just plain awesome.
J. Cole put a public apology on his website. Within hours, the Huffington Post published an article about it. Rolling Stone published an article about it, and so did Billboard, then CBS News … and dozens of newspapers and websites around the country have followed suit.
Two people with autism … two people unknown to the world… two people affected by a neurological condition characterized by impaired communication ability used their unique voices to make a dramatic impact. They expressed themselves beautifully. They made the world just a little bit better than it was last week. And they did it by reaching one person at a time.
I’m reminded of the discerning words of anthropologist Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Nicole and Russell sent tweets to their followers acknowledging and accepting J. Cole’s apology. I commented on Cole’s site, thanking him for his retraction, as have many others. This is the power of one. It ALWAYS begins with one. One person, and then another, and another … that’s the pattern for change.
This is a story to be remembered and retold. It’s a story of inspiration; of communication; of compassion, understanding and forgiveness. It’s the best story ever.
Deborah French, president
Awe in Autism