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September 30, 2004

Wanda's picks

From: San Francisco Bay View, CA - Sep 30, 2004

by Wanda Sabir

CJ Jones

After trying to reach CJ via one relay service, which kept cutting me off, I just called him and he answered. To put it mildly, I was amazed. The last time I'd communicated with a deaf person, it was through an interpreter (TTD). I called her, and someone typed my conversation for them to read. Now, if I understand the technology, which is, according to CJ, about two or three years old, the person on the other end using a computer can see the transcript immediately. They must have great interpreters, fast typists or voice recognition software or a combination.

Jones was not born deaf. The fourth child in a family of what would eventually be nine, seven kids, he lost his hearing to spinal meningitis. In St. Louis, Mo., there weren't many two-parent African American families like his, whose children's first language was American Sign Language.

All the kids sign, of course. Recent studies show that babies are capable of language far earlier than they demonstrate, because verbal language is such a complex system, so children who also sign have an advantage in their ability to communicate their desires earlier than their hearing peers. Instead of crying when hungry or wet, the deaf baby can sign it. The research said that a lot "bad" behavior is eliminated, because the frustration of misunderstanding and the inability to communicate is also eliminated.

The humorist said that because he could hear until he was 7, his and his parents' outlook on the hearing world was quite different, especially his dad, who didn't trust that world at all. Denied admission to the same college his son would graduate from years later, CJ's dad developed his skills as a boxer, earning Golden Gloves.

Though life was better for CJ than his parents, especially his father, Clarence Jones, CJ said the Black deaf person experienced the double whammy.

I asked him what it felt like to be deaf in a world that he had to accommodate himself to all the time, not the hearing world accommodating themselves to him sometimes. What I noted was the artist's interest in reciprocity - let's keep things balanced.

CJ had to learn how to read lips, speak … basically act like a hearing person, yet the hearing world made little or no attempt to communicate with him.

He said that he encouraged people who tried to communicate in American sign, no matter how little. Before he moved to Los Angeles to continue his career in stand up comedy, CJ also worked in the Bay Area as a vocational advocate for the deaf community.

A graduate of Gallaudet, one of two universities in the country for the deaf and hearing impaired, he knew many of the African American deaf artists I named, such as Connie Briscoe, one of my favorite authors. He even knew another acquaintance who worked at Ohlone College, where CJ also taught American Sign Language.

By elementary school, CJ's love of drama was already in evidence. So when CJ went to the Gallaudet School for the Deaf in St. Louis and graduated from Missouri School for the Deaf, it was natural for him to continue his theatre interests by directing and acting in student plays. CJ continued dabbling in theatre even after earning a technical degree and went to work at Xerox. Suffice it to say that job didn't last long.

When he lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, CJ directed plays for the Fremont School for the Blind. When he moved to Los Angeles to move his career into a more central place in his life, CJ ended up with a Tony Award for his role with the National Theatre of the Deaf. He worked with this company for a year before pursuing once again the solo career he still has.

CJ will perform an excerpt from his work on his father, "What, Are You Deaf?"

A motivational speaker also, CJ said that he performs in high schools and other community settings for deaf children. Though the ratio of African American deaf children to those of other races is not high, some of the same issues confront both, with the added "whammy of racism" complicating an already complicated life for the African American deaf child. CJ speaks to this in many of his performance pieces. Visit him on the web at .

© 2004 San Francisco Bay View