Activist Leroy Moore, who lives in Berkeley, says the disability rights movement began in the Bay Area. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Krip-Hop Nation’s Leroy F. Moore Jr. is a born fighter

Pandemic won’t slow this artist, disability rights educator and activist

Leroy F. Moore Jr. is not one to let a physical disability nor a pandemic get in the way of fulfilling his destiny as an artist, a disability rights educator and an activist.

“We’re poets, painters and artists. It’s what we do,” said Moore of the writers and artists affiliated with Krip-Hop Nation, the project he cofounded to unite hip hop performers with disabilities, providing an international platform for their work. Last week, Krip-Hop and the Paul K. Longmore Institute at San Francisco State University hosted its first international livestream concert, the Corona19 Artistic Flow Benefit, featuring 16 hip hop artists including voices and visual art from Tanzania, Brazil and all points across the U.S.

“It’s not just artistic, it’s political,” said Moore of the organizing and educating he does not only with Krip-Hop, but at the center of the disability rights movement. Whether on the board of Disability Voices United, or making films, books and presenting talks and workshops from New York University to UC Berkeley, Moore pushes back against societal bias, police brutality, racism and wrongful incarceration. The reason he does the work is a little more personal.

“Within two hours after the concert, I got an email from a teenage boy, thanking me so much, saying he was a poet, had never seen anyone like himself before and he was going to write more poetry,” said Moore, who is also a poet performer. “This is the reason we do what we do, to get emails like that,” said Moore.

The three-hour event that included DJs and dancers was dedicated to the memory of Krip Hop co-founder Rob Da Noize Temple and his wife, bassist Judy Smith, who passed away in April. With Moore serving as emcee, the concert’s proceeds benefited The Reality Poets, young brown and black men in New York who use their art to heal from assault, and Warriors on Wheels, a disability organization in Detroit currently committed to pandemic grocery deliveries.

“We’re been live streaming for several years, serving a community whose members can be dealing with chronic illness and are bedridden,” said Emily Smith Beitiks, the institute’s associate director. Mobilizing its livestream capabilities to program their annual Disability Film Festival immediately after the shutdown, the Institute was a natural fit for Krip-Hop’s ambitious project.

“We know how to bring together people in this environment,” said Smith Beitiks, who provided an ASL interpreter for the event and has been taking persistent how-to-stream calls from other organizations since the start of the pandemic.

“This is nothing new for us,” said Moore. ”We’ve been asking for a long time for the technology to work at home,” he said, noting that as recently as last week, the state of California announced proposed budget cuts due to the drop in tax revenue that could impact disability funds. And yet, now is the time people with disabilities, many of them elderly, need more protections.

“It’s interesting now that the whole world is bored at home, all of a sudden there is attention and money being put toward virtual access,” he said.

Born with cerebral palsy in New York City, Moore and his siblings were raised by parents in an environment rooted in black consciousness.

“Leroy’s done the work of telling the stories of disabled people of color,” said Smith Beitiks. “He’s an important figure in disability scholarship and organizing in the movement that has often focused on the stories of white disabled people.”

Moore’s interest in the arts was stoked by the music of his era, from Stevie Wonder to metal and hip hop; he’s gone back in time to write about blues and rock’s foundational musicians like Blind Willie Johnson, and taken side roads to highlight the work of Teddy Pendergrass and Curtis Mayfield, soul singers who became disabled later in life. He’s also uncovered the stories of hidden figures of black disabled arts history: his film about blind studio technician and musician Joe Capers, who among other credits recorded Tony Toni Tone and Digital Underground in his Oakland studio was set to premiere in August during Oakland’s annual Joe Capers Month. (It will be rescheduled due to the coronavirus).

Poet and disability rights advocate Leroy Moore outside his Berkeley apartment on May 21, 2020. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

As cofounder of the performing stage ensemble Sins Invalid (emphasis on the middle syllable and the word meaning void), Moore has for decades promoted disability visibility along with the reclaiming and changing of language. Today, mainstream disability activists embrace the reclaiming of the word crip and Krip for crippled,

“The Bay Area and Berkeley is where the disability rights movement started,” explained Moore. “You can learn about it in Crip Camp, the movie that just came out,” he said, referring to the film directed by Nicole Newnham and James LeBrecht and produced by Barack and Michelle Obama. The documentary includes never-before-seen archival footage from a 25-day sit-in at San Francisco’s City Hall in 1977 that was allowed to unfold, without use of force, on then-mayor George Moscone’s watch. It was a pivotal event on the road to the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, though then as now, disability rights are a constant struggle. It takes people like Moore to keep on pushing.

“We see the number of houseless disabled people increasing every day, even before the virus,” said Moore. “We see a lot of profiling, against black and brown disabled men. The Bay Area is known as a disability utopia but it still needs to learn a lot about police brutality.”

The Longmore institute is planning several events to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the ADA in July. This evening, Moore is giving a virtual talk on his most recent publication, “The Po’ People’s Survival Guide Thru Covid19 and the Virus Called Poverty,” a handbook he co-edited with Lisa Tiny Gray-Garcia (featured in a previous edition of this column).

“The issue I feel saddest about is that after an emergency like this, everything goes back to normal. People forget what they’ve learned from the crisis and from people with disabilities,” said Moore. “We can’t go back to normal because normal was never there.”

Denise Sullivan is an author, cultural worker and editor of “Your Golden Sun Still Shines: San Francisco Personal Histories & Small Fictions.” A guest columnist, her point of view is not necessarily that of the Examiner. Follow her at www.denisesullivan.com and on Twitter @4DeniseSullivan.

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