Hi, my name is George Brummell. I was wounded in the Vietnam war and have been blind for 44 years.
For most of my life I have enjoyed pulling myself up by my boot straps to publish a memoir, help improving Government policies relevant to blindness and teach creative writing to school kids. Did you ever think that a blind person could do all of these things?
I have also earned a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work and had a 20 years career with the Blinded Veterans Association retiring as National Field Service Director. My motto is: “do the best you can with what you’ve have to work with, and experience the beauty of this world.” It works for me.
Life before Blindness
My mother was considered unfit to raise me so I was raised by my grandmother whom was uneducated but a hard working woman. I started working in the fields at a very young age, hoeing, picking cucumbers and tomatoes and working in vegetable canneries. My childhood lacked encouragement. I felt unloved and unworthy and far from being competent and was placed in a foster home. Less than a year in my new residents I decided to join the Army at barely 17 years old.
Life with Blindness
The Vietnam War
After four years in the military I was wounded in battle in Vietnam. It was there I lost both eyes and the use of my left hand by an enemy land mine. Nevertheless I returned to Vietnam in 1998/99 to bike with some disabled and able-bodied combat Vietnam Veterans from both sides of the war. We joined forces to bike 1,200 miles across Vietnam from Hanoi to HoChiMin City placing the bitter war behind us. This journey in time helped normalize the relationships between the two countries, the United States and Vietnam.
Making a difference: writing and teaching
I worked for the Blinded Veterans Association for 20 years making sure blind veterans know of their veteran’s benefits and helping them to apply and receive them. I proposed improvements for policies administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs such as improving accessibility of prescription drugs information and helped improved policies related to health screenings for blind vets.
Retirement seemed like a good opportunity for other adventures so I continue to write, a fiction novel this time. I’m now a motivational speaker to both blind and sighted audiences about my journey, my struggles from living in a segregated town to fighting in a war becoming blind and how others can benefit by pressing on. I also incorporate inspirational messages to help Elementary; Junior and High school children deal with adversities.
How does a blind person write a book? And how can a blind man with only one hand accomplish this task? It is done like any other writer, sentence by sentence, Paragraph by paragraph, day by day, help from Friends and with computer assistive devices. I published “Shades of Darkness”, a memoir about learning to live and love in the darkness. It’s about my journey, a black man’s journey from modest roots, to combat in Vietnam, sudden blindness and beyond. I have nearly finished my second manuscript. It is fiction and also about a blind character and his challenges in the work force, dating and years of tracking down a lost love affair. The story sites struggles of Philippine women leaving their families and their country to work abroad and with the help of stories borrowed from my Filipina wife and friends.
Teaching creative writing to 3rd grade students might seem like an ambitious goal. How would you do it? I did it by bringing several fresh red roses to class. I encourage them to experience the roses by using all of their senses but not the sense of taste. I requested them to describe in writing the beauty of them, describe how they sound rustling in the wind, describe how they smelled and describe how the petals and thorns felt.
About love and experiencing the world.
I like to travel abroad and have taken numerous trips. I like meeting new people making friends, communicating with them, and learning their cultures. You might wonder how I can enjoy traveling, considering I cannot see. I can smell and feel what’s around me. I can listen to other people describing the wonderful things they see, and I can taste cuisines of each place I visit. I’ve already visited France, Italy, Russia, Spain, Portugal, and several countries in Asia.
I also enjoy my comfortable home like many of you. I enjoy listening to music and TV and working in my workshop when something needs to be repaired. I especially like dancing. My favorite dance styles are hand dancing and dances with Latin American movements. I recently taught hand dancing to some blind women during a blind rehabilitation conference because I think dancing is a great social and physical outlet; especially for blind women because they only need to follow the man’s lead.
I love riding my tandem bicycle. In addition to riding across Vietnam I rode from New York to the Pentagon commemorating 9/11. I have also ridden in the Lance Armstrong Ride for the Roses in Austin, Texas raising money for Cancer research. I also had the opportunity to ride with as my Pilot Greg Lemond.
I met Maria, my second wife, nearly 21 years ago at a reception in Washington DC. She is from the Philippines, a wonderful person, an ideal soul mate. We both are seniors and very active, exercising and or walking every day. She enjoys gardening more so than I but I sometimes help.
My goal now once finishing the fiction novel is to write a third book--- a children’s book. I want to share my childhood challenges about living with grandma, in a foster home and dealing with school life in a segregated community. Maybe young people can learn from my experiences and decide to use them for the betterment of their lives.
For those that are, or becoming visually impaired, you should build a network of people who can support you. Surround yourself with good friends. Learn what resources and benefits are available to you. Learn to be Mobil, and learn independent living skills. Relearn patience and don’t waste time with negatives for they are a waste of energy.
Now that you have the skills, don’t be afraid to test your limits, try something new and push your boundaries. Try living adventurous and start giving back and consider connecting with other blind people and see how you can help.
Read about George Brummell's book, Shades of Darkness.