LeDerick Horne, Poet With Learning Disabilities

We were walking down to the end of my
street, having to catch the bus, and it being a short bus. The first label I was
given was that I was neurologically impaired. Then after that, I was placed
completely in special education. I remember immediately feeling like my
life had changed. I had to walk into the building and go to a classroom that was
all the way at the end of the hallway. I was also conscious I was in a
segregated setting. Everything that I, that spoke to me about my experience,
said that I was lesser than everyone else. It just began to just sort of work away at
my self-esteem. I very quickly began to think of myself as being stupid. My name is LeDerick Horne. I am a poet, a
speaker, and an advocate, and I have learning and attention issues that
affect my ability to spell, to read, as well as do calculations. I remember
sitting in the living room, my mother trying to teach me the alphabet, and me
trying to convince her vigorously that I knew what the alphabet was. And I would
sing the alphabet song, and I said, “There, that’s the alphabet.” It was a sound to me.
And I remember her taking a legal pad, writing a symbol on the pad in, you
know, big dark letters, turning it to me and saying, “What letter is this?” And I had
no idea. She said, “You do not know the alphabet.” The first word that I learned
to spell on my own was “fresh.” And the only reason I was able to spell the word
“fresh” is because there was a song on the radio at the time, and the hook was “F-R-E-S-H fresh fresh fresh, that’s fresh.” It used this mnemonic of rhyme and
rhythm, and my brain locked onto it, right. Every other way that everyone else had
tried to get me to spell a word was just like, paper and lists and just sort of
cram it in. But then these MCs showed up on the radio and gave me this little
gift. By the time I got to first grade, it was clear that I was not able to
perform as well as the other students. I ended up getting tested and evaluated. I’m
a part of the first generation to pass through what we now refer to as special
education. We’re coming out of the ’70s, we’re coming out of the disability
rights movement, and, you know, special education was still a relatively new
thing. So a lot of these labels were, people were trying to figure them out. And
if I was in a different district, maybe I would have been called dyslexic. I never
caught up with reading in high school. I wasn’t getting a lot of supports, it was
just like, one special ed class after another. The closer I got to graduation,
the more I began to think about what life was going to be like for
me as an adult. The winter of my junior year of high school,
facing senior year, facing graduation, I just got filled with a lot of fear and a
lot of depression. I needed to just pause and reevaluate who I was. One of the
things that I noticed early on was that the vast majority of the folks who were
in special ed were young black boys. People of color, right. I began to get
very aware of what it meant to be a person of color, a black man in America.
And it was almost at the same time that I was wrestling with a lot of these
self-esteem issues, associated with being in special ed and having a disability. I remember trying to read Einstein’s theory of relativity, and not understanding any
of the math, but understanding enough of it where I realized that point of view
was important. And that a big part of what I needed to do was to shift the
point of view that I had about who I was as a student. About
what my value was in the larger society. I came out of that really dark place
with just this understanding, and this deeply held belief, that I was not flawed.
That I wasn’t broken. That I wasn’t a mistake. And also realizing I had a
great mind, and that I could have a future.
I remember rolling up in my next IEP meeting, and just kind of telling the
team, “I’m going to college.” You know, like, let’s figure out how to make that work.
What changed my life when I went to college was that I was a part of a
support program, specifically designed to support students with learning and
attention issues. I’d been in special ed for many, many years,
surrounded by people with learning and attention issues, and other kinds of
disabilities, but nobody talked about it. It was like a dirty secret. I showed up
on campus the first day for an orientation, and they were like, now we’re
gonna talk about being LD. We’re gonna talk about learning and attention issues. And we
spent days just talking about it. It was just this open conversation. And we were
laughing, we were joking about some of the things that were embarrassing. Also
having a counselor. She sat me down and she just walked me through all my
documentation. And explained to me what all that stuff meant, right. And I remember
being proud to hear things like, in all these tests I scored really well, and it
was clear that I was, you know, smart, and talented and all these sort of things.
And I remember Susan, my counselor Susan, turning to me and saying, “Stop worrying
about spelling, just write.” Write whatever you want, and
then we’ll figure the spelling and the grammar, we’ll figure that out down the
line. I began staying up all night writing. I
remember having all these papers, and walking into Susan’s office, and saying,
“Susan, I think I might be a poet.” And then the evenings, I would go to open mics,
and I would perform. And then I got connected to this community of
artists. I got known as a writer. I was a poet with a learning disability. I was a poet that couldn’t spell. Back in time, you can
find cats like me, snacking on knowledge filled fruits in the Garden of Eden. But
instead I made my bed in a Garden State, on the east coast of a country that is
mine, because my ancestors helped build it with blood, sweat, and tears. Their
daily fear still be my everyday reality. Never caught up in that
emancipation oh you free now fallacy, because I too have been systematically
institutionalized to rely on everything, and I do mean everything, except for
myself. Realize that you’re not alone, right. Like, I went through school feeling a
lot of isolation, and what really made the difference to me was being able to
connect with people who had similar minds to mine. The other piece of advice
that I have for young people is just the power of understanding how your mind
works, right. And so I dare you to judge yourselves by a different standard. To
lift as you climb, and to fight like gladiators to become master and
commander of your own beautiful minds. But above all else, I dare you to dream.

3 Replies to “LeDerick Horne, Poet With Learning Disabilities

  1. Thank you LeDerick, for your story. I can totally relate to this as child and is now a parent of children with same issues.

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