ReelAbilities: Houston Film & Art Festival is a city-wide event that celebrates the lives, stories, and talents of people with disabilities. The festival is completely accessibly and free, making it easy for people like me and you to help promote inclusion and get cultured at the same time. Today’s the final day, with a showing of the “Case of the Three Sided Dream” at Edwards Greenway Grand Palace Stadium 24 at 4 p.m. and ReelMusic, an all-inclusive jazz and blues fest put on by people living with disabilities at the Secret Group.
I was really amazed last year when I learned about ReelAbilities—it’s an organization that’s was off of my radar until I began working in Houston. I’m now lucky enough to call this organization my client and work daily to help spread the word about this incredible festival. The film, art and music festival is different than anything else I’ve ever seen and stretches far beyond your typical festival. Throughout the week, we’ve had panel discussions on important topics like mental health and even a Q&A with Luke Terrell, the director of “Gabe.” Another amazing part of the ReelAbilities is its emphasis on educating people on inclusion in offices and schools throughout Houston.
My love for inclusion dates back to high school, where I become incredibly involved in Best Buddies, an organization that creates friendships between students and their developmentally disabled peers. The club was a go-to for people who sought community service hours, but I wasn’t there for a gold star. I really, truly loved the friends I made and looked forward to spending lunch together, getting weekly phone calls, and attending the annual dance. I still keep in touch with my buddy Adriana after 11 years of being friends, and continue to get phone calls from additional buddies I made along the way. Adriana is actually reminded me so much of the protagonist in this week’s film, “Margarita With a Straw.” These calls are just about the best feeling I could ever describe, it’s right in line with the feelings my family has for Jaeden.
If you know me on a deeper level outside of Cup of Charisma, you’ll know that my nephew Jaeden is all I talk about. I have an Instagram filled with photos of quirky faces, daily grumblings (he doesn’t speak but is VERY vocal when it comes to play time), and kisses from my sweet nephew who happens to have Down syndrome. I remember the day he was born and when the doctors told my family—everyone was saddened and a bit scared for his well-being…everyone except me. I had already seen the light that working with students in Best Buddies had shed on my life and knew the overarching happiness children with disabilities could share with the rest of us who have been hardened by the world. Surely enough, Jaeden was the cheer we all didn’t know we needed in the first place. In the short film “I Don’t Care,” a young mom finds out her baby will have Down syndrome and her instinctive fear felt very similar to my family’s. Once the character spent time with a young girl with Down syndrome, her perception completely shifted.
Jaeden is selfless, light-hearted and looks at the world the way that he knows how to. Some may call Jaeden’s view youthful, idyllic, a permanent use of rose-colored lenses; the truth is that we all could benefit from looking at the world through his eyes. As my brother says, “The skills that he lacks he can learn in a classroom, but the skills he possesses can’t be taught.”
I can say that each and every person I know who has opened up to me about their disability or mental health issue has enhanced my life for the better. People with disabilities are just people. They have beautiful stories, big hearts, and new perspectives. If you try to look at life through the eyes of someone who sees differently than you, you will be forever changed.
It isn’t too late to attend the festival, get your free tickets here:
The Case of the Three Sided Dream: Feb. 23 4PM at Edwards Greenway Palace
ReelMusic: Feb. 23 6PM at The Secret Group
I hope to see you there!