On today’s Regional Roundup, we discuss new legislation that will allow PA students to repeat the school year due to COVID-19 losses – but families must make the difficult decision by July 15th. Education Law Center Staff Attorney MARGIE WAKELIN explains the pros, cons and tight deadline. Then, we’re joined by VICKI LANDERS of Disability Pride PA, to discuss the importance of inclusivity and accessibility for the disabled community. Alongside her, elite paratriathlete and coach KELLY WORRELL talks about the upcoming Paralympics and the world of adaptive sports. Finally, the incredibly talented CAM ANTHONY, winner of The Voice, joins us after his recent performance with the Philly Pops to discuss his North Philly roots and plans for the future.
[00:00:01] Mary Cummings-Jordan Welcome to the Regional Roundup. I’m Mary Cummings-Jordan. Ahead this hour, many in the disabled community are celebrating July as Disability Pride Month. We’ll be talking about acceptance, visibility and inclusion. And we’ll spend some time with Cam Anthony, the 19 year old vocalist from North Philadelphia and winner of NBC’s The Voice. But to begin, few would disagree that the pandemic made educating school children and keeping them on track academically downright challenging and in many cases, close to impossible over the last year. Experts are concerned about the accumulation of learning loss, especially among students in special education, and that effects of the disruption will continue to impact student progress negatively well into the next school year. Pennsylvania has responded with a new law called Act 66, which allows any student from K through 12 to repeat a grade. Also, students with disabilities have the option to stay for another year if they turned 21 in the last year. But parents have to decide quickly. The deadline to make the request is this Thursday. Not an easy task for many families. Joining us now to help us parse Act 66 a little further is Margie Wakelin, an attorney with the Education Law Center. Margie, welcome.
[00:01:16] Margie Wakelin Thank you. Good morning.
[00:01:18] Mary Cummings-Jordan Good morning to you. So let’s begin by discussing the effect the pandemic has had on kids and learning over the last year. As a former teacher, you told producer Paige Murray-Bessler that this is the biggest challenge that’s ever faced schools, children and families.
[00:01:35] Margie Wakelin That’s right. Since schools were shut down in March 2020 due to the pandemic, education has really turned upside down. The grave inequities that existed prior to the pandemic were made even more visible. And that was particularly the case for black and brown students, students with disabilities, students living in poverty, English learners, students experiencing homelessness and many more. The barriers were multifaceted. We’ve talked about technology, not having computers, not having Internet. But for many students, those barriers persisted into the school year. And actually even to this moment where because they were on virtual learning, they weren’t really able to access education because of potentially their disabilities or being English learners and not having content that was translated into a language that they or their family could understand. So nearly every student in Pennsylvania was harmed by education disruption.
[00:02:32] Mary Cummings-Jordan So for some, we’re talking potentially about months and months of loss being behind.
[00:02:37] Margie Wakelin We’re talking about a significant amount of disruption, and Act 66 is one step to address that education disruption. But there are many more that are going to be taken and we’re eager for families to know that there is help coming.
[00:02:53] Mary Cummings-Jordan So Act 66 offers Pennsylvania parents and guardians the option of having a child repeat a grade. On the face of it, seems like a good idea, but what are the real life considerations?
[00:03:06] Margie Wakelin There’s no one right decision here. Act 66 appropriately puts this decision in the hands of parents and students who really are the experts of their students and of their learning. But it’s ultimately going to be a highly individualized determination. And so we want families to be thinking about a variety of different factors. For some, the option to have additional exposure or in some cases first time exposure to repeated grade level curriculum. For example, that third grader who’s repeating third grade for some that’s going to be an attractive option. But for others, repeating a grade may lead to new concerns, particularly related to socialization or development. So ideally, families would have the opportunity to be making this decision in conjunction with their schools with a lot of information. But because of the short timeline, because they need to tell their schools by Thursday, this Thursday, and the law has really hasn’t even been around for two weeks. Unfortunately, that sort of collaboration is not happening in a lot of situations because this is appropriately the time when schools are and teachers are often taking a well needed break, especially after this last year.
[00:04:22] Mary Cummings-Jordan Do you have any sense of the thinking behind this short window?
[00:04:26] Margie Wakelin Well, it does make sense when you think of for for purposes of planning, schools need to know how many students are going to be in a grade so that they can appropriately staff. And so that’s why July 15th is a date that we sort of have to live with. But there are decisions about retention that have been made in the past. And I think what’s unique about 66 is that this decision is in the hands of parents. They notify the school by July 15th that they want their child to repeat the grade and then that is what is supposed to happen. There may be other options for parents to engage in a dialog after July 15th with their schools.
[00:05:05] Mary Cummings-Jordan So if they miss the deadline?
[00:05:07] Margie Wakelin If they miss the deadline, as in other years, I think we’re encouraging families that if they just find out about this law after July 15th and if it seems like something that is an option that they’d like to pursue for their child, that they contact their schools. But under Act 66, the deadline is July 15th. So if you’re listening to me now and you’re a parent who is considering this or a student who’s over 18, who’s considering it, then we want you to act and get the information you need to make that decision by Thursday.
[00:05:36] Mary Cummings-Jordan So with this short window in mind, have districts been able to get the word out? Sounds like some maybe, but many others no.
[00:05:43] Margie Wakelin Act 66 doesn’t have a specific provision that says that districts do need to get the word out. But I know that districts have been working. For example, the school district of Philadelphia has been doing robo calls. They have been sending emails to let families know that this is an option. But there are still a lot of limitations. The state, the Pennsylvania Department of Education, developed a form that families need to use to elect this this option of repeating a year or having their child whose or their young adult who’s twenty one stay an additional year. But there are problems with that form. If you are a parent who has technology barriers, which are the same families that were really trying to address and a lot of ways this legislation, they don’t have the ability to download the form and print it and then take it to the school or email it. It’s not incredibly accessible. So those are some concerns. But we want to make sure that families know about this as a right so that if it is something that they want to do, that they can act. But there are other options. One is that right now, schools are developing acceleration plans for those students who are continuing on in their grade for all students, really to address the education disruption over this last year and this widespread. Yes, this is and they have dedicated federal funding one time funding to that’s actually very significant funding to address the education disruption that was created by covid. All all schools across Pennsylvania are doing this. So that’s one. The other is that students with disabilities who we know many were particularly harmed by the disruption of the covid pandemic. They many are going to be entitled to compensatory education or as our state is is designing these plans, is called covid Compensatory Services or CCRC. OK, and that’s going to be additional education services to make up for what students didn’t receive that they were entitled to or if they weren’t making progress, to really put them in a position where they are making that progress that they were entitled to.
[00:07:53] Mary Cummings-Jordan Do parents or guardians need to kind of ask specifically about COVID compensatory services or they offered up?
[00:08:00] Margie Wakelin Covid compensatory services, that’s an obligation that our state has set for districts to be meeting with families, meeting with IEP teams. Those are the special education teams….
[00:08:09] Mary Cummings-Jordan So they would reach out to the families then?
[00:08:10] Margie Wakelin They should be reaching out to the families. There’s a process for that where they’re looking at data where the student was prior to March 2020 and where they are now and then designing plans to look at how to bridge that gap that resulted from the disruption.
[00:08:26] Mary Cummings-Jordan So the options available to young people with disabilities who have aged out of the system over the last year at age 21, normally they would be done. They’d be moving on with their lives. There is an extra year of education available to them should they want it? What does this do for them? How are families responding to this?
[00:08:48] Margie Wakelin This has been legislation even, you know, back last spring, Spring of 2020, where advocates and families we’re talking about, we need this legislation because our children, the students with disabilities who are in school at age 21, oftentimes have disabilities that affect them in the most significant ways. And not having that year where they were able to get, for example, on the job training or in-person support to develop independent living skills, that has been a real hardship for them over that last this last year or so. I think many families that have students who were students with disabilities, who are age 21 during this last year or turn 21 this summer, should consider this as an option to remain in school because there is robust educational transition services. So services to prepare a student for further education, employment, independent living that’s provided through schools. The adult system has a lot of gaps in terms of what is is offered and what what young adults with disabilities are entitled to. So I think a lot of families should really be looking. At that as an option, a lot of students with disabilities and seeing that as something that they want to elect by again July 15th.
[00:10:08] Mary Cummings-Jordan Are they eligible for the extra year if they’ve already received their diploma?
[00:10:13] Margie Wakelin Yes. So if they they’re eligible for that extra year, if they turn 21 during this last school year and or during the summer and they were in school. So if they received their diploma four years ago, they wouldn’t be. But if they were in school during this last year as a and they turn 21, typically they would exit school and they would access special education. But this they’re entitled to if they would have otherwise aged out, they’re entitled to stay in school.
[00:10:42] Mary Cummings-Jordan OK, let’s spend just a moment talking about school athletes, Margie. If a young person repeats twelfth grade but turns 19, do you know if they have another year of athletic eligibility?
[00:10:53] Margie Wakelin I would direct that question back to the school districts in terms of their athletic directors to make that determination about eligibility.
[00:11:02] Mary Cummings-Jordan And how about preschoolers? Does Act 66 apply to them?
[00:11:07] Margie Wakelin Act 66 does not apply to preschool. It applies to kindergarten through 12th grade or the age that a student would turn 21.
[00:11:16] Mary Cummings-Jordan Ok, so are you getting a lot of calls at the Education Law Center about this?
[00:11:21] Margie Wakelin We are getting a lot of inquiries for assistance about understanding what this law means and how families should be approaching it. And from lots of different folks, different families, parents, advocates, and there’s been a lot of attention. But but I fear that there are still largely the majority of families don’t know anything about Act 66. So we’re really trying to let them know because this is a right that parents and students have. And if they don’t know about it, they can’t exercise that.
[00:11:55] Mary Cummings-Jordan Right. And the deadline is Thursday. So as we wrap up again, just if you could, the considerations parents have to think about when pondering whether to have a child repeat a grade or just kind of stay on the original academic track. Got about 30 seconds or so…
[00:12:16] Margie Wakelin OK, well, there are some benefits and there are also some some concerns. One, you know, if in terms of benefits, if a student really would needs that extra exposure to learning, then repeating the grade could be a good option in terms of concerns. You want to look at what the social implications will be, what will be the perception of the student if they have to repeat a year? We know from research that sometimes students that they perceive that they are inadequate, that they are in fear, and that imprints them for their entire academic career. So we want to look at at how that can actually have a negative impact. And, you know, as a parent, you know, your child best and a student who’s over 18, they know themselves, is repeating a grade the right option? It’s an individualized determination.
[00:13:04] Mary Cummings-Jordan And again, the deadline for application, July 15th on Thursday. Margie Wakelin, thank you so much for joining us. Margie is staff attorney at the Education Law Center, and her work focuses on advancing educational access issues for all students. Up next on the Regional Roundup, we’re talking about Disability Pride Month. Two great guests. Stay with us.
[00:13:25] Mary Cummings-Jordan You’re listening to the Regional Roundup on WHYY in Philadelphia. I’m Mary Cummings-Jordan. The Americans with Disabilities Act is coming up on its 31st anniversary signed into law by President George H.W. Bush, July 26th, 1990. It’s considered to have been a watershed moment in the movement to secure disability rights, followed a few years later by another milestone, the Olmstead decision. So decades later, how far has the disability community come in the effort to establish acceptance, visibility and inclusion within the wider community? And what sort of work remains to be done? July is widely recognized as Disability Pride Month, and here with us in studio are Vicki Landers, founder and CEO of Disability Pride PA and Kelly Worrell is an elite para-triathlete who competes at the national and international levels. She’s also a board member and volunteer with the Athletes with Disabilities Network Northeast. Welcome to you as well, Kelly.
[00:14:32] Kelly WorrellThank you. Thank you for having me.
[00:14:33] Mary Cummings-Jordan Sure. So I’d like to start by defining disability pride with an excerpt of something written by Sarah Triano of the National Disabled Students Union. She writes, “Disability Pride represents a rejection of the notion that our physical, sensory, mental and cognitive differences from the nondisabled standard are wrong or bad in any way, and is a statement of our self acceptance, dignity and pride. Vicki, this, of course, came from the Disability Pride PA website. Your thoughts, and would you add anything to this?
[00:15:10] Vicki Landers I found that that that was the most comprehensive definition out there. I mean, I just add that, you know, everybody wants to have pride in themselves, you know, and everybody should have pride in themselves. So just because you have a disability or you have something else going on doesn’t mean that you can’t have pride. Everybody has pride.
[00:15:39] Mary Cummings-Jordan Kelly, your thoughts?
[00:15:45] Kelly Worrell I agree, I think that’s really well said.
[00:15:47] Mary Cummings-Jordan So let’s talk about what Disability Pride Month is about then. Tell us about it, it’s relatively new for many of us. I’m not quite sure how long the month, if you will, has been in a place, Disability Pride Month. And I know it’s actually celebrated in June in the Philadelphia area. What are you trying to get across with Disability Pride Month? What would you like to tell us about that?
[00:16:22] Vicki Landers I am in the belief that disability pride should be celebrated every day, that disability pride month is something that because I guess the ADA was signed, that that’s why July is usually the month that happens. Here in Philadelphia we celebrate in June because June 22nd is the Olmstead Act and they have roots here in Philadelphia. And that’s why we started to celebrate then. But, you know, Disability Pride Month is about just showing our pride, amplifying our voices, letting people know that we’re here, we’re staying. This is what we need. This is what we deserve, and this is our rights. Thirty, almost thirty one years ago, there was a law that was signed and we’re still not receiving the rights that were signed into law thirty one years ago.
[00:17:23] Mary Cummings-Jordan Well, that was the next question. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the foundation of the Americans with Disabilities Act is America’s promise of equal access to opportunity for all citizens. And you’re saying, Vicki, that 30 years later this promise hasn’t been realized?
[00:17:39] Vicki Landers No.
[00:17:40] Mary Cummings-Jordan How come? I mean, in what ways?
[00:17:43] Vicki Landers Well, of course, it made some it made some great strides, but there are so much more to be done. And the fact that we’re still fighting for accessibility in our city with state government buildings just for access to have the accommodations that are required so that way we can participate fully. These are I mean, housing, accessible housing. I mean, that is a huge issue, you know, and these are things that we were with the with the ADA that we were being able we were told that we’re going to give us, you know, full access to enjoy our lives like everybody else, you know, and it does not happen.
[00:18:37] Mary Cummings-Jordan Kelly, as an athlete, what are your experiences here and what are your thoughts about the promise of the ADA?
[00:18:43] Kelly Worrell I mean, I think with accessibility even from an athlete perspective and adaptations for things, I mean, simple, simple luxuries like I have with walking on two legs or running that I can just put sneakers on and run out the door. You know, a friend of mine who lost their leg in a motorcycle accident, who wants to go for a run, it would cost them upwards of fifteen thousand dollars to go do that same run. It’s not covered by insurance because it’s not medically necessary. Same thing with parents. Some of these parents can’t go buy their child a bike, at Target for fifty dollars. You know, these bikes are a minimum three to five thousand dollars. And it’s you know, it’s very challenging financially to make just being active, doing the things that their friends are doing accessible. So it’s it’s really, you know, important for families to connect to organizations that can help them, you know, navigate ways to get access to these types of things. But, yeah, I agree. I mean, there’s definitely steps in the right direction, but there’s a long way to go.
[00:19:48] Mary Cummings-Jordan I know that at the Disabilities Network NE you work with young people, with kids, you know, and getting them into and involved with sports. You know, for any of us, I mean, what are the parallels in how sports can help any of us navigate life?
[00:20:07] Kelly Worrell We work with children up to we have a group of veterans that are in their late 70s. So we have, you know, individuals of all ages. We find, you know, especially with people that live a more sedentary life, that obviously I mean, being connected to a community, introduced to sports that they may not have access to, to be able to participate with others that look like them, especially for children, is so important. Representation is so important for them. You know, you’re often, I am a person with a disability. I’ve had a limp and I was born with a limb difference. And we are often the only one in the room that looks, you know…So at 44 years old I was recently, you know, introduced to this community in my 40s. And it’s incredible, but I feel like, I don’t know, it’s just a wonderful thing for them to increase their just mental health, physical well-being…
[00:21:06] Mary Cummings-Jordan …and body awareness. Sports can definitely just really enhance a lot of different aspects of life. And you’re saying the lack of access to adaptive equipment can be a real roadblock for for many people. Well, let’s talk about something called systemic ableism, Vicki. Describe that for us and how that might affect negatively the disabled community.
[00:21:33] Vicki Landers Well, it’s it’s so funny, that it’s a word that we’ve been running around with since the beginning of time, but it’s an ableist view or an able bodied view of what a disabled person needs or what they think that we need. Society is set up with barriers that stop us from living our everyday lives. Our bodies and our disabilities are not the ones that make us not be able to do the things we want to do. It’s the things that are being put in front of us by society.
[00:22:26] Mary Cummings-JordanSuch as what?
[00:22:29] Vicki Landers Barriers? Stairs. I would say that that’s the easiest thing. You put stairs in front of a building so somebody can’t get in. I mean, you’re putting. You know, in in medical equipment, you know, I’m going through something myself right now, but I had a friend who needed a wheelchair. And your insurance pays for your wheelchair, but they don’t pay for wheels.
[00:23:03] Mary Cummings-Jordan Get out.
[00:23:05] Vicki Landers It’s an accessory to have to have the chair fit for yourself. Since you’re going to be spending a lot of time in it, it needs to be customized. Those aren’t included. I mean, those are the things that I mean, as simple as just being able to sit in your chair all day.
[00:23:24] Mary Cummings-JordanAnd the wider community is not aware of this.
[00:23:26] Vicki Landers Right.
[00:23:26] Mary Cummings-Jordan Ok, language counts. The term special needs not ok?
[00:23:35] Kelly Worrell I think it’s a matter of preference. I’ve have people that think it is ok. I’m, it just depends on how you identify I think, as a person with disabilities or a disabled person.
[00:23:48] Mary Cummings-Jordan Vicki, tell us about Disability Pride PA’s view on language.
[00:23:56] Vicki Landers Well, my view is that you should ask the person how they want to be talked about. But also there are a lot of terms that were put upon us, such as special needs, such as handicapped. Those are ableist terms that were put upon us and they are not what we are. We’re people with disabilities. We’re disabled people. We’re deaf. We’re you know, these are the terms we want to go by. There are the special needs…
[00:24:37] Mary Cummings-Jordan It’s just something that you find negative, that negatively reflects on who you are.
[00:24:42] Vicki Landers When you say that somebody has special needs, they have needs just like everybody else in the world. They’re not special. They’re different, because everybody is different. What I need is different than what you need, and what my needs are different than that person’s needs. So they’re not special. Most of the time, the reason why they call them that is, is because of the terminology in special education.
[00:25:10] Mary Cummings-Jordan And again, there’s a lack of awareness within the wider community. So among your friends and your neighbors, in your family, in the wider community, how would you like to be addressed? How would you like to be treated?
[00:25:24] Vicki Landers Well, I’m a disabled person. I’m very proud of being a disabled person. I also want to be, you know, identified as Vicki, right. You know, Vicki first. And then, like my shirt says today, I am disabled, I am queer and I am proud. And I think that kind of says it all. It’s the way that I want to be addressed.
[00:25:52] Mary Cummings-Jordan Yeah. Kelly?
[00:25:54] Kelly Worrell I consider myself a person with a disability, but Kelly.
[00:26:03] Mary Cummings-Jordan So everybody’s experience is a little bit different.
[00:26:07] Kelly WorrellI don’t think of my arm that frequently, to be honest.
[00:26:15] Mary Cummings-Jordan So what would you say, though, to someone who is challenged by their disability and is finding it tough to, you know, love and accept their body as is?
[00:26:24] Kelly Worrell So, I would say for them to reach out to, you know, organizations that have people that have been through similar circumstances. Like we have a peer mentoring program that is fantastic. It’s for people that are faced with life changing, disabling events. We pair them up with people of similar age and experience and they help them navigate that transition. So, you know, it’s important to have somebody that says, oh, hey, I needed to do this to my front stairs and have this ramp put in or let me show you a countertop that is accessible or just things just to have somebody that’s been through it to help you, you know, walk through and also to connect you with resources if you do need special equipment. People like Challenged Athletes Foundation that, you know, can give grants for these types of things if they are having financial difficulty affording that the change. So but yeah, I mean, community is important. I feel like, you know, having supportive people around you that have been there and that can help you is is huge.
[00:27:26] Mary Cummings-Jordan Vicki, there are some people whose disabilities are not immediately evident, describe the challenges they might face as they navigate perhaps the workplace and the response you’d like to see from employers and members of the able bodied community.
[00:27:43] Vicki Landers So I’m a person with invisible disability, and it is challenging because you have to think about how much do you have to disclose? How much do you need to disclose that you can get the accommodations that you have the right to? You know, and I feel that if employers were a little more apt to say, you know, just I mean, who couldn’t who wouldn’t want to be able to adapt their work schedule to what worked for them best? I mean, everybody wants that. And that’s all that a disabled person is looking for. And it looks different for every person.
[00:28:42] Mary Cummings-Jordan Tell us about the “conversations we’ve missed” within the disabled community, Vicki.
[00:28:51] Vicki Landers So there’s always conversations where. I find the disability community is the most inclusive community out there.
[00:29:00] Mary Cummings-Jordan Kelly, you’re nodding your head.
[00:29:02] Kelly Worrell Oh, absolutely.
[00:29:03] Vicki Landers Yeah, um, we take everybody. I mean, 80 percent of adults turning into seniors become disabled, whether they like the terminology or not. So we are the most inclusive. We take everybody. Doesn’t matter what you look like, what your preferences are. But there are always conversations. For me, when I have my when I have my events. You know, I just finished a 10 day, 30 event program and I still miss conversations that need to be had.
[00:29:40] Mary Cummings-Jordan So what sort of conversations are not happening that you try to get going within the community?
[00:29:46] Vicki Landers So I would like there to be more conversations around diverse narratives, you know, people of color within the disability community who are not being heard. This year I was so excited because I actually we got a chance to have the Deaf Blind Advocacy Group who’s never been asked to be a part of what was going on. One of the things that I always miss is is the adapted sports. Now I have somebody that I can reach out to so that we don’t miss those conversations.
[00:30:26] Mary Cummings-Jordan And so conversations are available through groups and community like, you know, Disability Pride, PA and also your community as well, Kelly. We’ve only got about less than a minute left. But I did want to get to the fact that on a lighter note, I know not everybody watches the Paralympics or the Olympics, but the Paralympics are opening up at the end of August. August 24th. Kelly, I’m going to make an assumption, since you are a triathlete, that this is something you’ll be watching. Where are you going to be watching for?
[00:30:54] Kelly Worrell Well, obviously, I’m a paratriathlete. So, you know, many of my friends I just raced with a couple of weeks ago who qualified for the Paralympics. They’ll be competing Paratriathlon, but I’ll be watching it all. Whatever I can. I’ll DVR everything. It’s incredible. And one thing that I think that people don’t know or see is the level of athleticism that these athletes have. It is incredible. They are so talented and just so there that their athleticism is over the top. I mean, you have to watch. It’s going to be amazing.
[00:31:27] Mary Cummings-Jordan Oh, sports are so much they are so much fun. Yeah. And Vicki, quickly, do you watch the Paralympics?
[00:31:33] Vicki Landers Honestly, I’ve learned so much more in the last four years that I am excited to watch this year.
[00:31:42] Mary Cummings-Jordan Ok, well, listen, it is great to have you with us. Vicki Landers, President and CEO of Disability Pride PA and Kelly Worrell, assistant director of Athletics with Disabilities Network NE and an elite paratriathlete. A pleasure. Stay with us.
[00:31:59] Mary Cummings-Jordan I’m Mary Cummings, Jordan, and this is the Regional Roundup. Welcome back.
[00:32:04] Cam Anthony“And while the clouds roll back and the stars fill the night…”
[00:32:36] Mary Cummings-Jordan North Philly has produced its share of musical luminaries, and now we’re watching another North Philadelphian of enormous talent getting widespread recognition. As a pre-teen, Cam Anthony sung at the White House for President and First Lady Obama. He also appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. He won a showcase at the Apollo at the ripe old age of 16 and this year at 19, took top prize at NBC’s The Voice. Cam Anthony recently performed at the Man Center as part of Philadelphia’s Wawa Welcome America Festival. We just heard a bit of the song Stand Up. He’s in L.A. right now and he’s taking a breather from his hectic schedule to spend some time with us today. Hi, Cam. Thanks for joining us.
[00:33:17] Cam AnthonyHi. I’m so happy to be here. Thank you for that wonderful introduction as well.
[00:33:21] Mary Cummings-Jordan Well, we we appreciate you. And I know it’s early for you, too, so thanks for that. Well, it’s got to have been a whirlwind few months of years. Have you had a chance to take it all in?
[00:33:34] Cam AnthonyFor sure, it definitely has been a whirlwind. I’m taking my time still to let it sink in. You know, one thing I heard from Blake as someone asked him how he would describe the things he’s feeling and if he’s even let anything sink in right now, is he said that, you know, he doesn’t think that will sink in by the time he’s or until he’s actually finished with everything. And I kind of resonate with that a lot because, you know, once you get the moment to just sit down and really look at everything you’ve done, you’re just like, wow. So, yeah, it doesn’t it didn’t sink in yet, but it will soon, I’m sure.
[00:34:05] Mary Cummings-Jordan And Blake Shelton, of course, is the country singer. You were on his team for for The Voice. Let’s talk about the song Stand Up, which you performed. The man said on July 4th, you are accompanied by the mother, Bethel AME Church Choir. Stand up is from the motion picture. Harriet, tell us a little bit about the song and why you chose to perform it for Independence Day.
[00:34:28] Cam AnthonyWell, I think, number one, the song is important because it talks about the plight and and or it speaks on not necessarily talks about it exactly. But it talks about the plight that we went through as a country, but also as African-Americans living in America. And it talks about during slavery when, you know, there was a time where people had to stand up and rise to the occasion to to to to deliver ourselves from freedom. And now, many, many years later in America, we are still in a similar place where although we are not physically chained and bound and in bondage, we are suffering from institutionalized racism and things that are, you know, still inflicted upon us on a daily. And so as a black person, I mean, even just being on the voice, it shows that that doesn’t necessarily matter, because I’ve I’ve had my many run ins after and during with the police and really with certain things. Yes. So I think that it just it was important to speak on this and bring this type of thing to such a platform where it’s not necessarily talked about.
[00:35:32] Mary Cummings-Jordan Do you feel comfortable talking about any of this?
[00:35:36] Cam AnthonyI’m sure I’ll speak on one situation. OK, it was it was actually during the voice we were filming, I believe it was black and it was battles. And I was walking with one of our one of the other contestants whose name was Andrew Marshall. And we were walking one night and a police officer, you know, flew through the intersection to come and stop us. And he pulled out this big spotlight and kind of put it on me. And I had on a hoodie and everything. So I didn’t necessarily, you know, I guess I fit the description and I put my hands on my pocket and Andrew kind of stepped to the side and the officer just was questioning me, asking us what we were doing. And I didn’t necessarily say anything. And it took for Andrew actually to tell the to the officer, Andrew is a white male. For those of you don’t know, it’s for Andrew to say, you know, we’re just out for a walk. There’s nothing basically nothing going on, you know? And then the officer was like, oh, you know, sorry. We were looking for some a male and all black and, you know, you know, basically saying, I fit the description and this is something that we go through a lot. And even at the hotel I was staying at, you know, there was a moment where I wasn’t allowed to get a key to my room. So, you know, there are just things that we go through that, you know, not everyone will go through on a daily basis. And I think that it was it was important to show that it does not matter who you are as a black person. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done or where you’ve been. You will always be or what they perceive you perceive you as which are perceived as.
[00:37:12] Mary Cummings-Jordan Yeah. Well, so sorry you had to go through those experiences. Well, listen, we’ve got a clip Cam from the knockout rounds on the voice in which you sing Nina Simone’s Feeling Good. Let’s take a listen.
[00:37:26] Cam Anthony“Stars when you shine, you know how I feel…”
[00:38:17] Mary Cummings-Jordan So where does your voice come from, when did it all begin for you, Cam?
[00:38:22] Cam AnthonyWell, it started when I was much, much younger. I was four years old. And my mother said that she heard me singing the Folgers commercial, and that’s when she knew that I would have a voice when I grew up. So she began to teach me my mother as a singer as well. She started to teach me everything she knew. And after a while, after going to church and becoming on, you know, the church choir and everything, we ended up posting some videos online and it just became something more than more than I knew that it was going to become, of course. But it became my passion and something that I really, really just love to do because I was able to see how it affected change and in people and not even just myself, but in a lot of the people I knew.
[00:39:02] Mary Cummings-Jordan So what was it like? What was it like to compete on The Voice and a few years back showcase at the Apollo? I mean, the crowd at the Apollo can be pretty honest, brutally honest sometimes for sure.
[00:39:16] Cam AnthonyIt’s showtime at the Apollo is is such a crucial and very it’s a staple and especially for African-Americans. And so to perform on that stage where many, many legends like frickin Michael Jackson, Patti LaBelle, a lot of the people that I look up to really have performed and cross that stage, it was an honor to do that on that stage and in front of such an amazing, electrifying crowd, I must say, because they definitely, like you said, are very honest. And we’ll give it to you straight up. You know, if you aren’t if you if you’re not floating, they both kind of let you know for sure.
[00:39:53] Mary Cummings-Jordan And you took that competition.
[00:39:55] Cam AnthonyOh, yes. And it was nice to get that validation from them. But what working on The Voice as well was another life changing experience, because it was interesting during covid, I will say. But I think just to be able to be in front of those four coaches, such legendary coaches, you’ve got John Legend, Nick Jonas, Kelly Clarkson, and then my wonderful, wonderful coach, Blake Shelton, to be able to just be in front of them and and learn from them and watch as they, you know, kind of guide us through this competition was was wonderful. And so it was just an honor to be able to be on that stage in such a platform.
[00:40:30] Mary Cummings-Jordan So you’re around people who have been in the music industry a long time. You seem to be really self-assured on stage. Do you get nervous, Cam? And if so, how do you deal with nerves before a high stakes performance?
[00:40:43] Cam AnthonyYou know, it depends sometimes I would say, yes, I do get nervous, and normally I just I would say I do get nervous, but nerves and excitement are the same vibration. So if you just flip it with your perspective, then you’re good, you know? But I do remember during this last show, actually on Sunday, one of the dancers from me on a school of dance, they were they accompany me on on the stage. They were she came up to me and she’s like, So do you get nervous? Are you nervous? And I at first I was going to say no, but then I’m like, you know, actually give me your hand. So I took her hand and I put it on my heart and I was like, this is what I feel before I get on stage, because I was I was nervous, but I was like, in my mind, it’s about being prepared and and also just, you know, enjoying yourself in the moment. So I wanted to just center myself and bring myself back to the moment. I was like, we’re going to have a great time. So that’s what I do before I get on the stage, you know?
[00:41:40] Mary Cummings-Jordan So a few years ago, Ashley Williams at Philly Voice wrote about you saying, picture the talents of a younger Chris Brown, Bruno Mars, John Legend and Michael Jackson all wrapped into one. And with that, you get 16 year old Kwame Anthony again. This is like, what, three years ago? Does that sound about right? I mean, what is your style, how would you describe your style?
[00:42:03] Cam AnthonyWell, I would say I definitely pull from a lot of them, I almost I think from Michael Jackson, I would say I get some style and just I feel like I resonate with who Prince was as an artist as well. But then, you know, Chris Brown has his vibes where he’s very he’s very talented, especially with dancing like he’s an amazing dancer. So I think that, you know, I can look up to him and a lot of those ways as well. And then, Bruno, I will throw in some Bruno in there with some some interesting like he has this retro but new school vibe that I like.
[00:42:38] Mary Cummings-Jordan Yeah, well, speaking of retro, your stage outfits, some seem to give a shout out to Motown. Is that on purpose? A flare at Blair at the slacks, a cut of the jacket.
[00:42:48] Cam AnthonyYou know, that’s just I feel like if there was any era that I should have grown up in, it would be the 70s, because that, you know, that is just that’s my vibe. That is it gives this like rose colored glasses kind of feel to the world, you know? So I just wanted to I wanted to embody that. And, yes, Motown for sure to you know, it definitely embodied a lot of what that what the style was like then.
[00:43:13] Mary Cummings-Jordan Well, we don’t have Motown, but we do have a clip of one more song from The Voice with Blake Shelton, and it’s She Drives Me Crazy, so hear it is.
[00:43:30] Cam Anthony“I can’t get any rest…”.
[00:43:30] Mary Cummings-Jordan Cam, you seem to move so easily into falsetto when you sing, is it easy for you?
[00:44:10] Cam AnthonyI think as of now, it’s definitely a lot easier. I had to take some time to work on it for sure, but I think yeah, for sure it’s a lot easier for me to slide into my head voice. And I would like I like to push my chest voice as far as I can so that it can you know, it can seem as seamless as possible, but I definitely have to make sure that is locked in and and like muscle memory.
[00:44:33] Mary Cummings-Jordan Yeah. So, again, you’re from North Philadelphia. Did Philly help to shape you as an artist?
[00:44:39] Cam AnthonyFor sure. Growing up in North Philly? A lot of people may not know, but it’s such a mixing clubs and or melting pot, excuse me, of so many different people and cultures and stuff like that. So I learned so much about different people, different styles of music and and then just the people that I was surrounded by, they, you know, would would play so many different, like a range of music. I would come outside during Saturday cleaning and you have hip hop going on, one in the street and you have orchestral sounds coming from one end. And then, you know, just sounds of different different places and different parts of the world that you would not imagine are coming together in this one space. But they are. So I definitely learned a lot from my community.
[00:45:23] Mary Cummings-Jordan So you were signed to a record label when you were just 12. Know Camp Färm fame can be a tricky thing is I’m sure, you know, it can bring a lot of wealth and recognition, but can also be really hard to handle for some performers. I mean, there’s a long list of folks who struggled with the pressures and even the isolation of fame. So do you have a game plan as your star rises to stay grounded and healthy?
[00:45:48] Cam AnthonyI you know, I think from the beginning, it’s been to surround myself with just people that keep me grounded. You know, people that, you know, want to make sure that I am I’m still sane because this business, like you said, can be something that can drive people to places that they have never been. And so I think it’s just important to surround yourself with people that can keep you and remind you of where you’ve come from.
[00:46:12] Mary Cummings-Jordan is your family still playing a big part?
[00:46:15] Cam AnthonyOh, yeah, I’ve seen them plenty of times, I’ve talked to them all the time, they’re always reminding me like, hey, remember remember that time when we were, you know, all on Twenty Fifth Street and the lights were out and we weren’t able to afford this, but we started we made this song at this time or, you know, just those moments that really just kept us together and and kept us hoping on something better.
[00:46:36] Mary Cummings-Jordan So as winner of Season 20 of The Voice, you received one hundred thousand dollars and a recording contract with Universal Music Group. What happens next?
[00:46:46] Cam AnthonyWell, I am actually working on recording my new things, my new music and new album, hopefully I can get a single out very soon, but yeah, we’re working on getting a lot of things done. I also talk a lot about The Wiz because it is my favorite, favorite movie and my people I am aware that it is a musical already. But yeah, I am in need of this musical so that I can be The Wiz. I mean, I can be the scarecrow. My apologies. I need Missy Elliott in here and Jayna Brown as Dorothy because I think it would be dope for our generation to have The Wiz come back.
[00:47:22] Mary Cummings-Jordan So that about a new movie, that’s what you’re thinking. And new production?
[00:47:27] Cam AnthonyA movie, a new production. All of it. Let’s make it happen. I think people need The Wiz.
[00:47:30] Mary Cummings-Jordan Oh, that sounds like a lot of fun, though. So, you know, as we wrap up, Cam, where do you see yourself then say, let’s say five years? What do you imagine? Where do you imagine you’ll be?
[00:47:42] Cam AnthonyWell, five years, I hope to have collected plenty of Grammys, of course, I’m hoping to be able to be a part of it this year. Well, the next season of, you know, when the Grammys comes around, I hope to have you been able to move my family to a better place. And hopefully we are all to be together and we’re working on our own passions because I really I really am striving to be able to see my family work on their passions as well. But then I also hope to be able to be in a place to just deliver some type of. Is to some other artists, because I know that this industry could be hard and it can be a place where you don’t necessarily get room to have stairs or walk up, but you’re more so used as stairs. And so I want to make sure that people are, you know, seen and felt valued in their in their artistry.
[00:48:31] Mary Cummings-Jordan Well Cam Anthony, It’s been just great to have you with us. Best of luck. And don’t be a stranger.
[00:48:36] Cam AnthonyYes, for sure. Thank you so much for having me.
[00:48:38] Mary Cummings-Jordan Cam Anthony, Season 20, winner of The Voice. Our engineer today has been Dianna Martinez, our producer Paige Murray-Bessler. I’m Mary Cummings-Jordan. Thanks for listening. Be well.