Friday, March 16, 2012
Meet author Rhonda Johnson
Thanks for having me! It was a blast. I'll do it again any time.
I have read many autobiographies in the last two years that I have been reviewing books but non so compelling or thought provoking as Speaking for the Child by Rhonda Johnson. Rhonda is both hearing and visually impaired and she has really proven that courage, hard work and believing in yourself wins out over non acceptance and lack of understanding by others. Rhonda went through many different changes in her life and she shares her story with readers to let everyone with disabilities know that there are many mountains to climb and you can climb them and make it to the top and come out ahead. Please read about her and listen to my show from March 15 and get to know Rhonda Johnson.
That was marvelous. What a great host you are. Thanks so much for the
opportunity to speak on your show. Thank you Rhonda for your kind words.
What made you want to share your story?
I share my story because I have a story to share. When I look back on
My experiences and realize that I still have those memories and the
Words to express not only the events but also the emotions and thoughts
That accompanied those events, that is like a summons from my Creator to
Why did you choose the title?
The title, Speaking for the Child, came right out of the book. Children
experience many things, anger, pain, fear, feeling misunderstood, etc,
But may not have the words to express what they feel or even fully
understand what they feel. The book is a way of expressing for the
child that I was what I could not express or speak for myself.
How did you deal with school and your family when they thought you were
not smart or had no common sense?
I tried to ignore them or at least I thought the things they were saying
were just passing over me but really, I was absorbing their words. I
didn't feel like there was anything I could do so my attitude was like
if you reject me, I reject you back. I tried to carry on. to do what I
had to do. Though as a child, there was a limit.
Who supported you the most?
Why did you write the book using the places you lived as the chapter
My aunt Angie suggested that to me. She has been a part of my life
since I was a baby, so she understood the significance of those
streets,having lived with me up to the time I was about ten years old.
Many autobiographies are organized according to years,, dates or age but
it was easier to organize Speaking for the Child according to the places
where I had lived. I did this when we lived there. We lived on this
street before we moved to that street, so I must have done this before I
did that, etc.
Which street is the most memorable and which event the one you always want
I'd say Fort Totten Drive in Washington D.C. That's where I learned
about my father. I was about nine years old. I had known this man as
my mother's cousin. Then one day they came and said this man is your
father. That really turned my world upside down.
You had a friend named Mary. At what point did you realize she was not
We became friends over the summer. We did everything and went everywhere
together. When school started, it was business as usual as far as the
other kids were concerned. "We heard about you." All the rejection and
stuff that I was used to. I found Mary in the lunch line and thought she
was my friend but she turned to another girl and told her that I had no
sense. I knew then that I was alone.
When did you realize that your hearing was failing and why didn’t anyone
else notice or do something about it?
I was about twelve when my hearing loss became noticeable. There was a
problem before that but everyone had an explanation for it: "You don't
pay attention." "Wasn't nobody talking to you, anyhow so you don't need
to hear what was said." When I was about twelve my mother took me to
the hospital where a technician put a tuning fork behind my ear and told
her there was nothing wrong with my hearing. So it gradually continued
to go down.
If you could ask the people you had known before—say if Mary or anyone
were standing before you right now, what question would you ask them?
I would ask "Are you happy now? Did the way you treated me make you feel
like a better person?"
Everyone realized that you were very smart, why didn’t they realize that a
smart child, teen and adult must have tons of intelligence and common
sense and there had to be another reason why you did not catch what the
world was saying around you?
It takes effort to see what's really happening with a person. Most
people just don't care enough to make that effort. Especially when
there is a ready explanation: "Everybody knows how you are." "Everybody
says this." "Everybody knows that." Few people bother to look deeper
Working at many different jobs was not easy tell our listeners how many
college degrees you have and about all of your successes?
I have a Masters degree in English. I have had several short stories
and poems published in publications at school, including the prestigious
literary journal at Cal State, Los Angeles. I've won the Henry Coulette
Memorial Poetry award and had a paper published at the graduate
conference where I served as a moderator. I don't know how I did that
since that was before the operation that restored my hearing. I never
asked how I could do it. I just did it.
Why did you keep going back to your mom? What is and was your relationship
with your younger sister Makeda?
She is twelve years younger than I. When she was a child, she was more
like a niece than a sister, though now that she is an adult, we can
relate on a sisterly level. We had to struggle together because we both
had to deal with things. My hearing and visual loss and her diabetes. It
was difficult because her diabetes manifested itself as—well I'm not a
professional, so I don't know if it can clinically be termed bipolar, but
it seemed very close. Sometimes she would get so upset and when I tried
to stay calm that made her even more upset. In the book I tried to be
fair but also tell the truth about what I saw as I saw it. A friend of
mine told me a story about a man who went to a psychiatrist with a duck
on his head. The psychiatrist said "Wow, we really do have a problem
here, don't we." The duck said, "Sure do, Doc, I can't get this man off
my foot for nothing."
Writing this book really took courage and sharing it with the world even
more: Do you have more stories that you want to share and will you
continue to write?
Yes, I'm working on a second book now. It will be fiction with maybe a
touch of autobiography in it.
Where can everyone learn more about you?
You ended the book with a poem, On the Wings of a Wild God. What made you
I wrote this poem many years ago. It reflects the spiritual transitions I
experienced throughout my life. As a teen I was deeply involved in the
Word of Faith movement. I was told that God would heal me. When He did
not, people started blaming me and wondering what I was doing wrong. I
could not help noticing the dichotomy between what I was being told to
believe and the reality around me. I began asking questions no one else
seemed to be asking. I could see there is a God—a Creator because things
happened that I could not explain away as mere coincidence. Yet, I began
to question if the Church had anything to do with the Creator.
What message do you want everyone to get from reading your story?
Know that people who have disabilities are just that—people. Know that
whatever challenges you may experience in life the strength to deal with
them is within.