Getting to know Judy
Losing a teacher, activist, and friend.
Welcome to my newsletter! This is a place where I share art, writings, and what inspires me. This newsletter is free, with the option to become a paid subscriber for $5 a month. Your paid subscription plays a hand in helping me to continue to create work as a freelance artist and gives you access to exclusive posts.
Your payments also help me get resources to create accessible posts for Deaf and Blind folks; as a Deaf person, making accessible art is an essential mission for me. Payments will be made to invest in closed captioning apps and transcription services for my newsletter, podcast, and Instagram posts. The tier also gives you access to previews of newer things I am working on and releasing, including my “Gentle Reminders” oracle deck, which is currently out now!
Not seeing these newsletters show up in your inbox? Check your “promotions” tab or spam folder, and also be sure to add the email address from which you receive the newsletters to your contacts.
Thank you so much for being here!
“Some people say that what I did changed the world, but really, I simply refused to accept what I was told about who I could be. And I was willing to make a fuss about it,” Judy Heumann
I was settling into a little weekend trip with my partner when I started seeing on Twitter that many folks in the Disability community were sharing that Judy Heumann had passed away. I became nauseous and dizzy at the thought that Judy was gone. I was in shock. It felt like Judy would just always be here. The Disability community lost somebody who directly helped us in so many ways. We lost someone who was fighting rigorously for Disabled lives up until her passing. I lost somebody who not only deeply inspired me but somebody who I considered a personal friend.
I had the utmost privilege of getting to know Judy personally these last three years. It’s a friendship that I am still in awe happened. We ended up connecting through Instagram and, from there, really started checking in with each other from time to time through texts or phone calls. Judy was still actively advocating for herself and other Disabled people. She created a podcast, “The Heumann Perspective,” where she interviewed so many people of all ages from the Disability community. My partner Noah and I were talking this weekend about how Judy really kept up with young Disabled folks. She was deeply inclusive in her activism, and it felt like Judy believed in us, as young people, and the advocacy work we were doing.
“Change never happens at the pace we think it should. It happens over years of people joining together, strategizing, sharing, and pulling all the levers they possibly can. Gradually, excruciatingly slowly, things start to happen, and then suddenly, seemingly out of the blue, something will tip,” Judy Heumann
I didn’t learn about Judy during my time in school, the only Disabled person that was even mentioned in public school was Helen Keller, and the narrative that we learned about Keller came from a Non-Disabled person’s point of view where Keller was helped by Non-Disabled people as a child. I remember being a young kid seeing the division and the narrative of Keller’s youth, chalking it up to “oh, I see how I could be put on a pedestal for simply needing help.” I didn’t want to be put on that pedestal, though. It took years of self-discovery to come across Judy’s work. I found it eerie that during one of my last newsletters, I shared what it was like viewing “Crip Camp” for the first time. That film became my first proper intro to Judy, and I think it did the same for many others as well. Heumann broke the rules to fight for her and her peers’ rights.
Judy not only played a hand in my personal life in regard to some of my rights as a Disabled person, but she also played a hand in the relationships in my life too, well, one specific relationship. In 2021, I was in touch with Judy fairly regularly, and she made an announcement about her releasing a young adult novel about her life; I noticed that the cover of her book had an illustration of her on it. The style looked familiar to me, but I couldn’t understand why, especially since I hadn’t seen any credit to the illustrator who made the portrait. The next day after the announcement of that book, it was revealed that the cover was illustrated by Noah. I had known them & their work online but never really had that many longer-formed conversations with them. I had reached out to Noah about the cover and how much I loved it. That conversation sparked continuous conversations that eventually led to me being partners with them. We like to say that Judy played a hand in getting us together. Last year, Noah was closing their art show at the Boston Children’s Museum. We had decided to do a road trip from Boston to Atlanta, and one of the stops we thought of was to see Judy.
I remember calling her and telling her we had wanted to visit on our way back to Atlanta. She had made plans with us, and she was extremely adamant about us having a stay at a very nice hotel in DC that was near her. As the trip was coming up, Judy and I had been making a proper plan to meet. Noah ended up creating a print of their portrait of Judy and their sketches of her from the creation of the cover to give her. As we were traveling, we were regularly testing for COVID, trying to be as mindful as possible. A few days before we were heading to DC, though, Judy told us she had tested positive and that we should play it by ear regarding having some time with her. Judy ultimately decided that we should meet outside at a safe distance from Noah’s car while Noah and I were sitting in the car, more of a drive-by visit. We got the prints that Noah had made ready, and we rushed to a store to get a gift bag for the prints. The only bag options were either a graduation gift bag or a baby shower gift bag. I remember laughing when Noah chose the baby shower gift bag and thinking, “we’re really about to give Judy Heumann a bag that just says ‘baby’ on it?” Yes, we really were, and it made Judy laugh so much. She had such a good sense of humor. We had spent about 30 minutes with Judy that morning. She told us to come to visit her again, and we were planning to visit her this year.
When I was in the ICU in November, I remember calling Judy and leaving her a voicemail. In the voicemail, I was telling her what was going on and that I loved her. I’m glad I could tell her that. We stayed in touch through text and kept playing phone tag with each other. I don’t know; it just felt like Judy would always be here. It felt like she’d always be here for all of us. In the short span of knowing Judy, she showed me that community could exist globally. She showed me that my own rage from mistreatment was valid and okay.
At the end of Noah & I’s trip this past weekend, we decided to stop by a butterfly sanctuary on our way back to Atlanta. We took some time to be in a room full of butterflies, plants, and turtles. The news of Judy’s death settled into my body on top of the mourning of what’s happened in the Atlanta forest, the anti-trans rhetoric actively occurring, and the general heaviness of our world right now.
Judy embodied the importance of community and action.
I’ll miss her so much.
Four Things For You!
Appreciated this Substack read from Meredith
Rev Keyanna Jones’ words about Cop City at the Atlanta City Council meeting a few days ago, are so important.
As always, thank you so much for taking the time to read my newsletter, and I look forward to sharing things with you soon! Please feel free to comment on this post and share anything connected with you, to a loved one, or on social media if you wish to do so. My Instagram tag is @barryleeart. I hope that you are staying safe and well. <3