We had the good fortune of connecting with Shalida Askanazi and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Shalida, what matters most to you?
The biggest value that matters to me the most is giving people a voice who are normally ignored. I’m black and disabled. I’ve been disabled my whole life and people tend to view the disabled community as people who should just be grateful and never complain. Adding in being black I have dealt with quite a lot of racism and ableism. That’s completely wrong. This country is not kind to people with disabilities. We’re not even allowed to marry without losing access to extremely important healthcare. City sidewalks are not accessible. A lot of businesses refuse to make their buildings welcoming and accessible. I believe that everyone deserves a voice. In my career as a writer and activist for the disabled community I want to make sure everyone with a disability feels comfortable and confident enough to share their concerns. Making sure everyone is listened to is an important principle. As a country we need to work better on that.

Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I’m an author and poet. I started writing when I was eight. I had an art teacher who taught me how to write poetry and it truly changed my life. Last year I published my first collection of poetry titled The Lazarus Girl. Right now I’m working on a collection of personal essays. I’m very excited about this new project because people will get a glimpse into my life as a black and disabled woman. Another part of my career is in politics. I’m currently on Dennis Kucinich’s campaign team. He’s running for mayor of Cleveland (my hometown). I help him with writing policies and giving him information on the disabled community. I also work on his website. He’s an incredible human and wants nothing but inclusion. I’m so excited to be a part of such an incredible team. I also gave the idea of utilizing mental health specialists instead of police officers. I would love to see that idea used in the city of Cleveland.

If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Cleveland is a fun city! We have the best food scene in the Midwest, an incredible art district, and our theater cultural is just as good as Broadway in New York City. We would definitely start by going to the Cleveland art museum. It’s honestly probably one of my favorite art museums. We have great permanent pieces and great exhibitions! I spent a lot of time there as a kid and even more time now as an adult. For lunch I would definitely take my friend to Slymans. They have the best corned beef in the city! I love their sandwiches because they’re piled high with corned beef. You can’t visit Cleveland without visiting Slymans. Everyone knows about our Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, so that would be our next stop. If this trip is happening during football season, we would definitely see a Cleveland Browns game. There’s a lot of cool bars downtown, so watching the game and drinking some beer from Great Lakes Brewery would be the perfect way to end the day.

The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
This might be strange for some people. But honestly, I would love to dedicate this shoutout to my bunny Bianca who recently passed away unexpectedly. She just wasn’t a pet, she was my emotional support animal. I got her because my anxiety and depression were really terrible and I could barely get out of bed. Then the pandemic started. We found her and fell in love. She was a tiny black Holland Lop. No one wanted her because she was black and couldn’t move around like the other baby bunnies. That really made me have a connection with her. She gave me a reason to get out of bed in the morning. She grew so much during her short life and she helped me grow as well. I wouldn’t be who I am without her. I’m so thankful for our time together. We grew together and both found her voices. I believe emotional support and service animals deserve so much more respect. They change people’s lives. They help bring a huge sense of independence that the disabled community finds it so hard to find. Maybe some people will find this strange. I could have named a few actual humans ( who are absolutely incredible and important to me) but I wanted my shoutout to go out the little black bunny that wasn’t brave enough to cross the tile floor but became brave and eventually did it. Bianca will never know how much she inspired me to become brave.

Website: ShalidaAskanazi.com

Instagram: @shalidaaskanazi

Image Credits
Savannah Hager

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