Transcript Timotheus Gordon Jr

Kelly Bron Johnson (00:07)
Hi, and welcome to the Intersections on the Spectrum Podcast. The Intersections on the Spectrum podcast is the brainchild of Doug Blecher and Kelly Bron Johnson and created to discuss intersectional issues within the autistic community and give this ability to commonly marginalized, repressed, underrepresented or erased identities and issues. We aim to introduce you to the people and stories you didn't know about, but needed to hear and hope that by seeing yourself represented in the community allows you to feel seen.

Doug Blecher (00:38)
Today we get the pleasure to speak with Timotheus Gordon, Jr. Timotheus, thank you for joining us today.

Timotheus Gordon Jr (00:47)
My pleasure. Thank you for having me.

Doug Blecher (00:50)
We want to start out and just kind of learn. What would you say are the identifies that you most are connected to?

Timotheus Gordon Jr (01:02)
Sure, I'm definitely connected being a Black or African American person on the autism spectrum, but I also identify with the mental health community. And as of recently, because of my ongoing knee pain, I'm also in the chronic pain community now, too. So quite a few communities, as well as auditory processing disorder which affects my hearing ability.

Kelly Bron Johnson (01:39)
Okay, great. And that shows all about the different intersections, which is the whole point of this podcast. So thank you so much for being here.

Timotheus Gordon Jr (01:48)
No problem.

Kelly Bron Johnson (01:49)
So you are a research assistant at the University of Illinois Chicago Institute of Disability and Human Development, and you've done work relating to intersections on race and disability. What is some of the work in this area you have been involved with that you are most proud of?

Timotheus Gordon Jr (02:10)
A couple of things I like to highlight because there's a lot of things I've done that I can't even remember. But I'm most proud of the creation of Chicagoland Disabled People of Color Coalition, also known as Chicagoland Epoch. We are a group of black, Indigenous and people of color with disabilities in the Chicagoland area that promotes disability awareness, disability acceptance, and inclusion in communities of color South Chicago area. I'm personally proud of that group as a co founder, because we finally able to create a space for BIPOC folks with disabilities to not only come together for community, but also to start advocacy campaigns that is specific to their community as opposed to entering white spaces and not have the voices heard as much. I'm also proud of creating initiatives about informing people about Covid-19 as a research assistant about the vaccines and COVID itself, and also providing resources that people with disabilities need in the pandemic or endemic, whatever you want to call it. As part of the Institute on Disability and Human Development. We've been doing this work since the pandemic. I'm proud that we've been a resource too many people through our guides and training and such. 

Doug Blecher (04:26)
That's super important work, education and resources to people during this time. What are some ways you think that can be beneficial in helping autistic people through this traumatic period of our history?

Timotheus Gordon Jr (04:50)
Oh, God, it's been a traumatic experience, not only because of COVID-9 and many wars about to break out. But also just a racial climate is similar to the 1960s to be honest where it's the unrest is very visual and out there. I think this is a time for people to understand not only the plight of autistic people in general, but also let's take the time to understand what autistic people color go through also, because we don't just deal with being autistic, but also how to fit into our home communities in the general autism community that doesn't fully accept us and that our advances are just as well as white people on the spectrum, even though it's different, because again, our intersection of what we go through. Just listen to us. Basically.

Kelly Bron Johnson (06:15)
Yes, we're the experts of our experience. 100%. When you were talking about, you mentioned establishing or co founding the Chicago Land Disabled People of Color Coalition. One of the hopes was having people take pride in their disabled identity and to help them develop their advocacy skills. So when we're talking about listening to us, I guess this is a way to help people self advocate. So what has your experience been in supporting people to take pride in their different identities?

Timotheus Gordon Jr (06:53)
Get a joy in helping disabled people of color in general help find their identities, but also find out that this is not a new thing. There's been famous people of color in history. I mean, Harriet Tubman, mental health and traumatic brain injury. You have Dr. King with mental health, Michael Jordan, ADHD Magic, HIV. There's been a lot of people of color with disabilities throughout history who done great things, and I'm glad that there's more of us to tell their story and connect it to our present experience. So I'm glad that there's more people identifying with being autistic and a person of color because there are more examples of people like us. But then that also means that there is a need to get our stories and issues out there too, because unless we do it ourselves, it won't be as prevalent mainstream issues for lack of better words.

Kelly Bron Johnson (08:22)
I actually just made a post I quoted Stevie Wonder today people forget, right? They kind of will look at one identity and then they'll forget about other identities that a person has. I think a lot of times people might forget that Stevie wonder is blind to see examples of us out there. Representation Matters.

Doug Blecher (08:49)
Timotheus, one of the things that I'm really impressed by you is you lead advocacy efforts in a lot of different ways. And one of those other ways that you go about it is you're a member of the Advanced Your Leadership Power, which is a racial disability justice group in which you support and help lead campaigns on combating police violence and mental health within the Chicago Land Disability community. What do you see as some important things to take into account when people are thinking about advancing their leadership power, especially when their a member of multiple marginalized communities?

Timotheus Gordon Jr (09:34)
That's a great question. As much I've been a part of that group. It's been about seven years.

Timotheus Gordon Jr (09:46)
I never really thought of how I advanced my own leadership power right along other people's leadership abilities. But I think one thing to know from my personal experience is recognizing that I am a leader and I do have a voice. The question that we always ask ourselves is how can we do it? It's kind of like the story about Moses, for those who are not familiar with Christianity and Judaism. But basically Moses thought he wasn't a leader because he had a speech impediment, but he was still able to lead his people out of bondage because he still had the tools to be the leader. He had help. It's a similar thing with at least from DNA leader in multiple marginalized communities. It's not the fact that we can't do it. It's all about recognizing your strength and also the tools that are available to help you use your strengths to the fullest and also use the strengths that you may not know that you have before.

Kelly Bron Johnson (11:22)
Exactly. And I think doing that in a community, that's how we're stronger. But I think part of being a leader or part of advocacy is also knowing when to ask for help because we don't exist in a silo. Right. We don't exist in isolation. Nobody does. There's no human.

Timotheus Gordon Jr (11:46)
Nobody does. I agree with you.

Kelly Bron Johnson (11:48)
Right. So it's a certain amount of self awareness and power to know when to ask for help, to no one to lean and support on your community. And that's how we can get further. So it's beautiful that you've created these communities to empower us. Like you said, you didn't think about your leadership until we just ask you right now. But there's no way that you didn't grow during the time you've been working on this program. So it's a good moment. I hope for you to sit down and Pat yourself in the back, too.

Timotheus Gordon Jr (12:26)
I get told a lot to just reflect on what I've done. And that's the great thing about having mentors also, where not only that can help you, but also they can help you recogniz we're pretty bad ass ourselves.

Timotheus Gordon Jr (12:49)
Even though a lot of times maybe because of fear or maybe because of the belief of not bragging, it's okay to say as all they considered doing some great work.

Kelly Bron Johnson (13:07)
Yes. And I've a lot of problems in the past with that, just acknowledging what I've done and then because they're always kind of going for the next dopamine hit. That's how my brain is. Anyway.

Timotheus Gordon Jr (13:20)
It's kind of like, okay, I did this onto the next project as opposed to just sit back, relax and reflect.

Kelly Bron Johnson (13:30)
Yeah. For a moment. At least a moment. Take a moment. Autism activism can take place or take shape in different forms. And you have a social media account the black autist, which everybody should go follow right now, if they're not already. So this not only focuses on autism acceptance, but also issues and news surrounding the autistic and disabled community or people of color. So how do you look at social media as a tool for activism as far as autistic and disabled people of color?

Timotheus Gordon Jr (14:13)
 it's a godsend for me. And I'm sure it's going to be a godsend for others because I think before social media, we would have relied on getting out there in the public to spread our message. And it may have been a little more limited, unless you have a lot of clout or you're famous. But now with the power social media, you can have a lot of influence at home, basically, or at work, and you can still reach a huge crowd. It doesn't have to be the whole world, but just enough followers to listen to your message and pass your message along. And that power alone could help influence change or more awareness or acceptance. So the power of social media to me has been amazing. I think that's why black autist, through all its transformations and other examples of social media, any autistic community like doing our level. It shows that it's not really about how many followers you have, even though many of us have lots of followers. It's more for about getting our message out there for everybody to see. 

Kelly Bron Johnson (16:19)
 But you mentioned something really important before social media. I would say that if we wanted to go out in public and kind of be a speaker, that means that we had to be accepted by the general public or we would have had to kind of have an in with somebody neurotypical, probably in order to have any sort of reach. And if we don't mask, a lot of times, we don't fit in. So I think social media allows us to reach people, but without in a way that's authentic to us the way that we do our best, without having to sacrifice ourselves and mask in order to try and fit in before we get hurt.

Timotheus Gordon Jr (17:02)
Agreed. Yeah, I do, too, especially now that there's more autistic people of color using social media. You can still use it as an advocacy tool, but you also use it as a business opportunity or even opportunity to share your hobby and things that you enjoy. In fact, I created a hashtag called Black Autistic Joy, where black autistic folks could just use their hashtag to share what they enjoy because we don't get to see what autistic people of color enjoy. It's usually always white peers, but we have interests,too, even though it may be different again because of our intersecting identities and different cultures. But it's still worth sharing, and it's just as enjoyable as everybody else.

Kelly Bron Johnson (18:10)
Well, not only that there's a racial element to it as well, because black joy is not celebrated there's not as much as an emphasis on black joy. We talk about, especially now it's Black History Month, and we talk about all these things that people are supposed to learn and notice for once, one month out of the year. And when they bring up black history, everything, that's the worst, right? They bring up black history in the context of slavery in America when our history goes way further than that. And I've only saw one post really, that kind of did a summary of movies that focused on black joy and good outcomes rather than sharing media or movies that have to do with, I don't know, single parents and gangs or just slavery in general, rather than going back to the richness that is all of the black experience and all of black history. So I think there's like a further marginalization when we're talking about black autistic joy, this concept, first of all, when people's minds are blown too, that there's black autistic people which are so underrepresented, and then the fact that we can lead joyful lives despite what the world must think.

Kelly Bron Johnson (20:10)
I think it's an important hashtag that you created.

Timotheus Gordon Jr (20:18)
Absolutely.

Doug Blecher (20:20)
Timotheus, for you specifically. What do you feel like black autistic joy means to you?

Timotheus Gordon Jr (20:32)
Black autistic joy, if you go really deep into the soul, being yourself in this context, you're black and autistic self without fear of being killed, fear of being arrested, or fear of being ridiculed by your family members or even people in your own community, whether it's the black or autistic community i have a license to make the autistic experience my own. 

Doug Blecher (21:47)
And something that Kelly was talking about earlier in terms of activism is I definitely think it starts with the self. And I think it's been said before that to be truly disability inclusive, we must recognize and learn ways in which racism and ableism are really, truly, deeply linked to one another. Do you have suggestions or resources for our listeners that want to be more active in making sure that they're living a life that is disability inclusive?

Timotheus Gordon Jr (22:27)
That's a good question. I don't have any off hand, but I would suggest if you want to learn more about the intersection of race and disability, or wanted the examples of the culture within the black community, I think we kind of touched on it already. As far as the experience and check out the blog, the tiktoks or the writing or the shows produced by disabled people of color. And you could get a wide range of experiences from navigating school to exploring sexuality to exploring cultures where your race and your disability identity and other identities lead to unique experiences. So I think that's the power of social media also you get to check out our world that's not only activism based but also from a cultural status.

Kelly Bron Johnson (24:03)
I love this. This is a wonderful message. I think to leave with people like you said to search out search out the kind of people that you want to learn more about, but also like you said, to search out joy that we're not always looking at this like our life is a giant hardship and I don't want other people to kind of look at us , but look at us in terms of what we bring to the table and the joy that we bring and the richness of our culture. It's a beautiful message.

Timotheus Gordon Jr (24:34)
Thank you.

Doug Blecher (24:37)
Thanks so much for joining us today. We really appreciated the time spending with you.

Timotheus Gordon Jr (24:44)
No problem. I appreciate you all inviting me to the space.

Kelly Bron Johnson (24:51)
Wonderful. Thank you.