On Wednesday, October 15th, 2014, videographer Rogelio Barrera and I visited Employment and Community Options (E&CO) in San Jose, California, to interview employee, client, and poet Kristopher Peterson. E&CO is a nonprofit organization that develops contributing members of communities by providing low-income adults with intellectual disabilities the skills to obtain employment and self-reliance. For the past twelve years, Kristopher has done everything from clerical work to community outreach helping other adults with disabilities.
Kristopher and I had previously met at E&CO’s annual Taste and Toast fundraising event, where we both worked as volunteers, quickly striking up conversation. We discussed many topics, but it wasn’t until Kristopher was on stage reciting a poem that I learned that we shared the love of writing. As we discussed our individual motivations, the idea of filming an interview for the Engage Educate Empower project naturally emerged. Kristopher was excited about the project and eager to be filmed.
Kristopher grew up in institutions, group homes, and independent living dormitories and has experienced many difficulties; however, poetry has empowered him to transform the ugliness of the world into Art. With titles like “Love Should Rule,” “Differabilities,” and “Dancing Dream,” Kristopher transcends pain, uncertainty, and fear while creating new viewpoints and possibilities. He believes that the Arts can serve as a powerful form of therapy that can be as helpful as speaking to a professional. As he discussed the power of poetry and his aspirations to help people with physical and cognitive challenges, he supplanted the term ‘disabilities’ with his own phrase ‘differabilities,’ explaining,
“No one is perfect. We all have barriers in life, whether medical, physical, or emotional; everybody has differable handicapabilities.”
Kristopher explained that labeling a person “disabled” veils other strengths and abilities that they possess, discounting their worth. Challenging and amending deep-seated social norms is the spirit of the Arts, and Kristopher’s subversion of commonly-used phrases provides a voice for the millions of marginalized individuals around the globe. I asked Kristopher what Art is Power means to him and he answered that Art is creativity; the “is” functions as an “equal” sign, and “Power” is the ability to express creativity and possibilities through any Art form, be it poetry, pictures, paintings, piercings, tattoos, or any other creative medium. If you are interested in the poetry of Kristopher Peterson, click here.