This post is by Autism Speaks staffer Ali Dyer.
For most of my life, April 2nd was just another day, but that all changed five years ago with the birth of Light It Up Blue which marks World Autism Awareness Day. My older brother is affected by autism, so my family and I have always been “aware” – I never thought the world would be too.
Literally all over the world thousands of iconic landmarks, hotels, sporting venues, concert halls, museums, bridges and retail stores are among the hundreds of thousands of communities that go blue to help raise awareness about autism. It is always a very emotional day for me, as I swell with pride for my brother and I realize just how far he has come.
This year, I spent the day at the Converse Rubber Tracks studio in Brooklyn where I organized a collaboration with four musicians: Jodi DiPiazza, Ashley Koeppel, Bradley Valentin, and Yohimbe Sampson. Jodi is on the spectrum and Ashley has relatives who are affected; both are deeply committed to advocating along with Autism Speaks. Bradley and Yohimbe are the Brooklyn-based duo of the rock band Meridian. It was humbling for me to be in the presence of such talent.
To say that I was anxious about everything going smoothly is an understatement. Jodi, Ashley, Bradley and Yohimbe had never met - let alone played music together. Would they gel? Plus, Converse generously gave us studio time and I wanted to be sure that we made the most of it. I don’t really have much background in music production, but I knew that I wanted to create a safe place for the artists to flex their creativity. That anxiety quickly turned to amazement as I began to notice how well the foursome was working together, their voices and instruments meshing almost seamlessly. I discovered what Yohimbe and Bradley already knew – that music is a universal language and it has the power to unite people. It was a really productive session: in less than five hours they recorded 14 tracks. Wow. I know.
Some say that autism is isolating, but through my work at Autism Speaks, I have experienced quite the opposite. I have met people from all walks of life and that has afforded me the chance to connect individuals who are affected by autism in various ways. The Converse Rubber Tracks opportunity illustrated just that, bringing together two professional musicians with a 16 and 12 year-old to make magic. I’m so grateful for each person who was involved in the process.
Listening to the tracks gives me goose bumps, not only because of how good they are, but also we were able to give these musicians a chance to SHINE. And isn’t that what Light It Up Blue is all about?