In this recently posted YouTube music video, rapper and day habilitation specialist Marquis Julien performs “I am Abled,” a song inspired by his brother Mariano who has autism as well as all the young adults with special needs he works with at the Nyack Studio Arts day program run by services provider Jawonio in Nyack, New York.
Julien, who goes by the stage name Marqui, wrote, produced, starred in and directed the music video that celebrates diversity and promotes the acceptance and inclusion of people with special needs. The music video was also produced in response to the recent New York State budget cuts to Medicaid services for the disabled, with footage filmed at a rally protesting the cuts at Letchworth Village, a former residential institution for the physically and developmentally disabled in Rockland County that was shut down in 1996 following repeated allegations of rampant neglect and abuse.
“This music video was made in response to the New York State budget cuts for people with disabilities,” Julien said in an interview. ”I wanted to do something above and beyond the normal rally cry. It was also inspired by my daily work, and my brother in California who has autism. I want to do what I can to unify people through music, the universal language.”
Many of the young adults with whom Julien works in Jawonio’s Nyack Studio Arts program, which helps individuals who have completed high school build life, financial literacy and social skills, are featured in his music video. “This was a volunteer project and a big commitment that Marquis made, and it’s really a gift to the community of people with disabilities,” said Diana Hess, chief communications officer at Jawonio, which provides lifespan services to people with developmental disabilities, mental illness and chronic medical conditions in the Hudson Valley. “We think his music video spreads important messages that we can all share of hope, celebrating diversity and people’s strengths, and working together as a community. We’re really very proud of Marquis in this effort.”
Julien, who moved to New York from South Central Los Angeles to escape gang violence and to be able to generate his “creative juices without getting killed,” said the special needs community has received his music video with “open arms” and is pushing him to promote it as much as possible. “I wanted to make positive hip hop. I put it out there hoping people with greater financial resources and influence can help out because financially I can’t do this all by myself. ”
The music video opens with the lyrics, “I wrote this song for my brother Moe and anyone who’s ever been stigmatized with a label; They say you have a disability but I'm here today to say you are abled.” In the chorus, Julien repeatedly raps the powerful lyrics, “Don't dis me; I am ABLED,” and in the final verse of the song he raps lyrics that sum up his lifelong dream for his brother and all people with special needs, “I have a dream one day the division is done and I pray we live as one all under the sun.”
Julien is hoping the music video, made by his music production company RoyalTLife, will help him eventually achieve his much loftier goal of producing an inclusive nationwide concert series that helps end discrimination against people with disabilities as well as a documentary capturing the project from start to finish.
“My plan is through the music, through the concerts, to let everyone know that it’s okay to socialize with people with special needs,” he said. “I want to promote socially inclusive events. Through my work I have seen that there are not enough recreational outlets for individuals with disabilities, especially on weekends. I hope they will be able to attend these concerts with anyone else who can appreciate good music. I want to integrate my 9 to 5 work along with my music passion to create an environment where all people can be part of a concert experience. I want to use these concerts as a means to travel the nation and touch people with disabilities through music.”