Getting Personal: Darla Talks About Disability, Family, Love & Music

Leroy - Posted on 30 March 2013

Leroy Moore/Darla Lennox

Krip-Hop Nation:  Lets get this out of the way.  Yes you are my girlfriend so I wanted to interview because of your deep relationship with disability and your musical talents and of course our relationship.  It all well 99.9% involves disability with other factors.  Please explain.


Darla Lennox:  My life since childhood has been centered on disability since my parents are both deaf and being the oldest, I learned advocacy from a young age. From growing up in a deaf and hearing culture, I just felt it was a natural fit for me to work with persons with disabilities—physical disabilities and developmental disabilities, which I did in various group homes and sheltered workshops. Then in 2000, my son, Daniel, was diagnosed with autism and it was also at this time I made the decision to leave group home work for good and go back to school to major in social work with the primary goal being, I didn’t want other families to go through what we (me and my ex-husband) went through which is when you get the diagnosis of autism, there is no handbook or guide, there’s a lot of well meaning advice and a lot of “You should do this and you should do that”, of what you should do next. It’s been a lot of learning along the way with Daniel, what works and doesn’t work for him, a lot of reading and connecting with other parents who are also raising a child with autism. You know when Daniel was diagnosed, a family member said, “God chose you special and knew you could raise a child with autism since you worked with disabilities.” I am a spiritual person but I don’t feel God chose me special, it just happened and if I didn’t raise Daniel, who would? You do what any parent does, you raise your child the best you know how with lots of love, faith, patience, hope, and a good sense of humor! I do think because I worked with persons with disabilities, when the diagnosis was made, I kind of already knew this was where it was heading and just resolved to learn what I could about autism. Yes, I had so many questions and I reached out to one of my aunts who also had and lost a child with a disability, for answers, for support and guidance. She was and still continues to be a support for me.  Whew, did this answer the question? You know I could go on and on. J


KHN:  Please please give us your side of the story how we met.


Darla Lennox:  I’ve got a big ol’ smile thinking about it. We met through my ex-husband, Correy, back in 2006 when he went to Berkeley to interview you for his documentary on the historical treatment of persons with disabilities (which has not been made yet but really needs to be because the time is WAY overdue for this story!). He mentioned to you that I had been working in the field of disabilities for a long time and that I also couldn’t stand the “r” word, which his documentary also focused on—its overuse in popular media. We began emailing each other every so often over the years when your nephews were born , you sent me an email telling me you were an uncle again and you would pop up on Facebook chat to say hi and give your best to my family. I would listen to your radio show and being on Texas time, when I tuned in, it was some lady talking about vegetarian treats!  It really wasn’t until the summer of 2009 after I had already separated from my ex that I shared that news with you. Something in me told me, “Tell him, you know you want to get to know him better.” So I did and we began having long Internet conversations and we didn’t talk on the phone till about 2 months later. I don’t know why we didn’t talk on the phone sooner!  What started out as a huge respect for your work, poetry, and radio shows turned into friendship and then turned into love.  We just connected and found out that we had a lot in common. Me reaching out to you that summer of 2009 was the best thing I could have done because I found and fell in love with my soulmate.


KHN:  You tried out for the X Factor.  Tell us about that experience and your long history of singing.


Darla Lennox: The X Factor is about the image. Yeah, they’ll tell you there is no age limit but as I stood in line in Dallas waiting for my turn to sing, the man in front of me, who was in his mid-40’s and had a great rock voice, was told, “You’re not what we’re looking for.” I was told the same thing after 2 days of standing in long lines hearing Adele’s “Rolling In the Deep” over and over again and people trying to sing like Mariah Carey.  I sang “Get Here” by Oleta Adams, my signature tune and turned on my charm but it wasn’t enough. So back home I went. It was a great learning experience of what these talent shows are looking for and how hungry people are when it comes to singing and sharing their gift with the world. That’s how I feel. I love to sing and I’m not interested in becoming the next Adele and filling stadiums. I would be content to sing in a little smoky jazz club with a cello player and piano behind me while I connect with the people sitting close by. I’ve been singing since the age of 7-8 when I, along with my childhood friend, Laura, would sing the Bee Gees in her basement for her family. Never mind the fact that we didn’t know all the words to “Tragedy” just the chorus, but they sat there and smiled and clapped. I joined choir in the 8th grade and continued to be in a choir until I graduated community college in 1991. In between singing in choirs, I also sang at weddings, some talent shows at the fair, a gay bar, and Jewish temple for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. I loved singing Hebrew at the Jewish Temple because the words and notes just seemed to float and when I hit that last note, it was so quiet you could hear a pin drop.  It was the most wonderful feeling and afterwards having women who travelled from Florida (I was living in Michigan at the time) tell me that they come every year to hear me sing (I sang 2 years straight for the holidays) was truly humbling. This is why I love to sing, why I want to sing-to make that connection with people and move them to feel things in their heart whether it be happiness or sadness.


KHN:  As a working class mother tell us how do you fit your singing into you life and what is in your future when it comes to your singing?


Darla Lennox:  I haven’t been able (yet) to fit singing into my life at this moment as I’m trying to resolve some sleep and anxiety issues for my son but decided the best thing I can do to get myself out there is try open mic. I’ve done karaoke and enjoy it but with open mic, anything goes and while I don’t play an instrument, I hope someone will give me a chance just to open up my mouth and sing. I’ve been going back and forth deciding whether or not I would like to try out for The Voice. I’m a fan and love the fact that they really are just listening to your voice and it would be amazing to have coaching from any of the artists on the show to become an even better singer. I’m not a perfect singer by any means but it would be great to get coaching on singing songs out of my comfort zone (which is typically ballads-r&b, old school soul—aka Anita Baker, Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Nina Simone).  And the exposure would be wonderful too. I’ll keep everyone posted!


KHN:  Your son, Daniel has autism, as an advocate tell us what do you think about this public awareness about people who are autistic and gives some example what is happening locally for your teenage son.


Darla Lennox: As you know April is Autism Awareness Month and people are aware of autism because it happens in 1 out of every 88 children, but now I have read that the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) is now saying that autism is being diagnosed in 1 out of every 50 children. Autism has been at the forefront of the news for quite a while now and I’m all for awareness but what we need, as families of persons with autism, is acceptance for our loved ones! I support Autism Society of America because they really work hard to get more resources for families with autism and they do it in a way that is respectful and appreciates people with autism as they are (at least this is my opinion). And I know I’m gonna get some flack for this but I’m not a huge fan of Autism Speaks because the commercials play the melodramatic music that autism is a horrible tragedy and that children with autism do not like hugs, do not smile, etc. My son is very affectionate, smiles, laughs, and hugs. There was a video, oh I want to say 3-4 years ago, that they put out where they were talking to families of children with autism and one person talked about wanting to strap herself and her son with autism in a car and driving off a bridge.  This is extremely troubling and you have seen the numerous stories in the news about children and adults with not only autism but other disabilities being killed or hurt by their loved ones. Stories like this can be avoided with ACCEPTANCE of autism, ACCEPTANCE of disability as a natural part of life! One person with autism is just that, one person. My son is not “Rainman”, he cannot tell you how many toothpicks you’ve dropped on the floor. He is not able to talk but it doesn’t mean he doesn’t have something or nothing to say. And while he has some behaviors (such as the not sleeping) that are stressful, I love him as he is.  What’s happening locally? Well, there is an autism support group where I live but I stopped attending after the first meeting when I realized I was the only one with a teenage son with autism and the rest had really young children who were repeating what they were hearing  and one parent said, they wish their child wouldn’t talk so much. I just shook my head thinking, “I would love for my son to talk so much, to say anything” and just felt a disconnect. There are many services for children with autism when they’re young but they’re practically non-existent the older they get, particularly when they are teenagers.  Puberty is hard enough but when you add autism to the mix, it can be a trying time for the teenager and the family.  This lack of services for teens with autism isn’t just an issue here, it’s an issue everywhere.


KHN:  You also have a daughter, Ana, that is not disabled, tell us as brother and sister growing up together what was like as a mother making sure that both got enough attention from you and realizing that Daniel would get more attention.


Darla Lennox: Anna’s father and I always made sure as the kids were growing up that we took the time to have a mommy/daughter or daddy/daughter night to get her out of the house and have some fun because she wasn’t just a sister, she was also a third caretaker of Daniel. People ask me if Anna will take care of Daniel after me or Correy are gone and I say no and they are surprised. Anna has been a 3rd parent of Daniel all her life, she deserves to have her own life outside of her brother and it’s up to us as his parents to make sure we have people we trust to take care of Daniel’s long term needs after we’re gone.


KHN:  You grew up with Deaf parents tell us is there a community/organizations for children of Deaf parents and was there pressure on you as a hearing child at that time?


Darla Lennox:  Yes, I am known as a CODA (Child of Deaf Adult) and there is a CODA organization where they have yearly conferences across the United States and the world where CODAs get together to meet and share their experiences of growing up with deaf parents. I went to one conference in 2010 and it was a wonderful experience that opened up a lot of memories for me. My brother and sister also went with me and it was wonderful having that time to bond and share our memories with other CODAs.  The CODA conference is one place where you can be you and people understand if you break out into signing as you talk because it’s just a natural part of you. Yes, there was a lot of pressure on me growing up as the oldest child of deaf parents because at that time, there was no videophone to make phone calls to businesses, there was no relay yet, there was the oldest child making the phone calls to the electric company or the car loan place on “hey the bill will be late this month” or interpreting doctor visits with the parents. I didn’t question why I had to make the phone calls or interpret, I just did it because they were my parents and I wanted to make sure that whoever they needed to talk to understood that they were deaf and that I would be interpreting the conversation for them.


KHN:  On a relationship tip:  As a White non-disabled woman going out with a Black disabled man give us what kind of reactions you got from being in public with me.


Darla Lennox: Oh man, that look when we are walking down the street and you put your hand on my shoulder for support, it’s the “oh she must be his caretaker” look. Or that time we took the bus to Golden Gate Park and there were no more seats so you sat while I stood and held the strap and you were rubbing my thigh and this older lady just stared us down especially when I leaned over and kissed you. Yet she didn’t bat an eye when a couple sitting right next to her were on each other’s lap! I’m going to kiss you on the city bus, in a restaurant, or as we’re walking down a street and I don’t care who looks!


KHN: What kind of insights you have witness from going out with a Black disabled man?


Darla Lennox: That I’m still learning about aging and disability and I see it when you’ve walked too much in a day, your hips start hurting, especially your lower back and I saw this for myself one visit when we spent the day in San Francisco to see Candy Kane at Biscuit N Blues. The next day we got together with your sister, Melissa and the boys at the park and it took you a little longer walking back to the bus stop afterwards. That evening I just massaged your hips and lower back the best I could so that you weren’t in so much pain and we just chilled at home the next day.


KHN:  What does the world needs to know about dating a person with a developmental disability and what are the general assumptions in the general public about intimate relationships when it comes to non-disabled dating a person with a disability?


Darla Lennox: The world needs to know that just because someone has a developmental disability or any other type of disability doesn’t mean that they don’t want a relationship and it certainly doesn’t mean they can’t have one either.  This is my first time being in a relationship with a disabled man and what I’ve found is you gotta be honest and ask questions if you don’t know, particularly when it comes to getting intimate. You can’t act like the disability isn’t there because it is and while one sexual position may not work (yes, I said it “sexual position”) because it doesn’t feel right physically, there are others that may and you go for it! Touch itself can happen in a variety of ways and as long as you are both open and honest with each other about what you do or don’t like, its all good.  And on that note, don’t underestimate the power of a good phone sex call!


KHN:  What are your thoughts about marriage and the state knowing the fight for people who are LGBTQ and the penalties against people with disabilities if they get marry.


Darla Lennox: I don’t think the state or anyone has any business dictating whom people can and cannot marry whether it be man/man or woman/woman. How does one gay marriage affect a heterosexual couple’s marriage? It doesn’t! People need love and they should love whom they want to love. Now as far as people with disabilities getting penalized for getting married? That’s a load of bullshit because people with disabilities who get SSI or SSDI need it to pay for their housing, meals, transportation, clothing, etc. and to say “Well if you marry your disabled or non disabled partner, you will lose your check”.  It’s rare for anyone to be able to live on one income in a relationship, not to say it can’t be done but with things being as high as they are these days, a couple needs their income. People with disabilities want marriage just as much as gays/lesbians do, to have their relationships recognized and be given the same rights as nondisabled married persons: the right to visit their husband/wife in the hospital, to be added onto their insurance policy, etc.


KHN:  Is it true that mothers who have children with disabilities are nine times out of ten are their full time advocate even in a marriage?


Darla Lennox: I would say more times than not, this is true not to downplay the role of fathers because there are many fathers who do so much for their children. I know for myself, there could be 2-3 adults in the room who can give Daniel a hand but he always comes to me to help him. Mom is who more children with disabilities gravitate to, mom is the one who keeps the records of doctor visits, who knows what the child can or cannot have as far as allergies go, and who the child will go to when they are sick and tired.

KHN:  You’ve been writing lyrics to your own songs.  How many songs have you written and what subjects you write about?

Darla Lennox: I would say it’s about 30-32 songs I’ve written and many of my songs are about love, falling in love (gee, I wonder who the inspiration was for those songs?) finding strength in yourself and finding yourself again, having faith when life gets you down, and the power of sisterhood.


KHN:  You have sing at weddings and other events.  Where else do you want to sing and where do you want to take your singing talent?


Darla Lennox: See earlier question—jazz clubs and The Voice!


KHN:  Who are your top three singers and why?


Darla Lennox: 3?? Really Leroy, like I can limit this to 3 singers?! 1. Tie between Nina Simone-because of her politics, her artistry, and amazing voice and Aretha Franklin because she is the reason why I wanted to sing and her powerful voice.  2. Stevie Wonder-because no one else can play the harmonica like him, because I love his songs and politics, and if I have to pick a final 3rd singer, 3. Peter Gabriel because he is an amazing lyricist who knows how to write songs that pull you into the human condition—grief, love, despair, hope, I love his voice and his ongoing work for Amnesty International.


KHN:  You are also a poet.  Do you turn you poems into songs and do you see Poetry and Songs interchangeable?  Share one of your poems/songs with us.


Darla Lennox: Yes, sometimes. I’ve got a poem that is leaning towards a song and it’s about Daniel. I’ve got to get back to it and see where I can go with it.


Okay, here’s a poem that was inspired by my son. I don’t have a title for it.


What is “normal”?

Who decides it?

How is it that you, he, she, society seems to know what it is and compare and

contrast him to it?

Do you think if you look up autism in the dictionary-you will find a picture of my son?


I think not yet loved ones fret when their friends’ young grandchild is twirling in circles in the backyard

“Oh no, the child has autism!”

Taking a simple childhood pleasure and make it clinical slapping the label of autism on it

“Oh of course it’s autism, “normal” children do not spin around.”

‘Can my child catch it?”

“Catch what?” I ask.

“That, that autism thing?” they ask as they look at my child.

“No!” I answer in a defiant, disgusted tone

Thinking to myself, “Damn movie, “Rainman!” makes people ask me stupid questions about my son, “Does he have special skills?”

I say, “Well he seems to know where I hide the Oreos, does that count?”


They shake their heads incredulous at my flip remark

Perhaps I’m not anguished enough

They’re no longer blessing my heart or “blessing his heart”

when I say my son has autism

Damn that Autism Speaks!

They do not speak for me nor my son

Commercials that talk about the warning signs of autism

I understand and can appreciate now

As I did not get these warnings twelve years ago

The diagnosis was autism

but life was not over

as many thought it would be

Yet here I am today

growing disgusted

listening to experts who say a child with autism doesn’t return smiles

Says who?

One child with autism is just that-one child.


My child with autism smiles, he laughs, he loves, he speaks with his eyes

when the words don’t come, he sprints through the house

he shrieks in joy, happiness, frustration and anger

He knows and understands a lot more than people

give him credit for

He can be goofy and he can be a little shit

And it has nothing to do with autism

It is a 15 year old boy named Daniel

who loves Swiss Cake rolls, his mom, dad, and sister, Anna,

to ride on go karts,

and oh yeah, he also has autism.


So again I ask, “What is normal?”

And who are you, he, she, and society to compare my son

To this word, this standard?

Who are you to define my son by this label-“normal”, “autistic”?


His name is Daniel, thank you very much,

and he’s my son.


Darla J. Lennox


KHN:  What is in your future when it comes to your family, career, music and your relationship with Leroy Moore?

Darla Lennox:  For the near future, continuing my work in vocational rehabilitation working with persons who are Deaf and who have Autism find employment that is meaningful and tailored to their needs; getting my daughter through these last couple of months of high school as she graduates in June; getting into some open mics and possibly The Voice, continuing writing and finishing my book about growing up with and around disability and securing a job and resources for Daniel in California so that within the next 2 years, so I can move there and be with Mr. Leroy Moore all the time!


KHN: Tell us a cute thing/and on the other side what piss you off about Leroy


Darla Lennox: A cute thing? Oh the way your voice becomes soft at the end of our nightly calls when you say “Good night”. What pisses me off about Leroy? When you get heavy into your work and projects and forget to give me a call or say hey. I know you’re a hard workingman baby, but dang, throw your girl a bone or better yet a kiss sometimes! 


KHN: Any last words?

Darla Lennox: Thank you for being who you are and giving recognition to all of the amazing women in your life and in the world for this month. Thank you for interviewing me, I really enjoyed it. Much love baby, always


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