Hey there MindsEye friends, Paul here yet again to share with you the “wonders” of the blind community. Last week we zoomed in, highlighting the game of Goalball and how staff and volunteers from MindsEye are working towards expanding the game and lifting it to new heights. Now, let’s zoom out a bit and talk about one of my personal heroes, Stevie Wonder.
Not So Humble Beginnings
Stevie Wonder was born several weeks early on May 13th, 1950, with retinopathy of prematurity or ROP, which is an eye disorder that can happen in children who are born prematurely or who are less than 3 pounds. What’s more, he was given too much oxygen during his incubation leading to his blindness.
Of course, that didn’t stop Wonder from seeing the beauty in the world, and fell in love with music at a young age, getting involved with his church choir at only four years old and then teaching himself piano, drums and harmonica as he got older. By the time he was 11 years old, Ronnie White and Berry Gordy Jr. of Motown Records had signed him and he was making records. Believe it or not, one of Wonders’ first albums was titled “Tribute to Uncle Ray” an album where Stevie did covers of songs by his idol, Ray Charles.
The Man Behind the Music
Most people know about Stevie Wonder the musician, I mean, how could you not? But what makes him one of my personal heroes, is the work that he does off of the stage and behind the scenes to make the world a better place for everyone.
When Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, Wonder took some time off of his music career to fight alongside those who pushed to make MLK’s birthday a national holiday, but this was only the beginning of social efforts that Stevie was a part of.
He served on the president’s committee on Employment of People with Disabilities, Children’s Diabetes Foundation, Junior Blind of America and created The Wonder Vision Awards Program which helps integrate people who are blind or partially sighted into the workforce.
But did Stevie stop there? Absolutely not, in 2005 he donated all the proceeds from his single “Shelter in the Rain” to hurricane relief efforts right after Katrina hit, and to top it all off, the United Nations bequeathed to him the title “UN Messenger of Peace”.
He was a staunch opposer of apartheid and stood with protesters as often as he could, even though the risks were high. Later, he was awarded the Nelson Mandela Courage Award for his devotion to the cause.
He was also one of the first, if not the first people in mainstream music to put out an audio described version of a music video, watch it here.
Where is He Now?
Stevie Wonder is in his 70s and isn’t slowing down at all, in 2013 he played at Global Citizen Festival and in just one sentence, inspired thousands to action by saying.
“We can end extreme poverty in our lifetime, because together we can work it out, and we will reach our higher ground.”
And it’s on higher ground that he continues to lift people up, standing as a monument for equity, inclusion and community.
In 2020, during COVID, he performed in the One World Together at Home broadcast, in which he did a cover of Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me” which you can listen to here.
Recently, he played at the 2024 Grammys, leading the “In Memoriam” segment where he did a video duet with the late Tony Bennett and blowing the audience out of the water, making clear that he’s nowhere near finished.
I know some of you might be thinking that there is some very superstitious writing in this blog, and that I might be using this story as a little inspiration package, signed, sealed and delivered directly to your heart. Or you might be thinking that I’m spending too much time on finding a way to implement these puns into this paragraph and that for once in my life I should just get on with it.
Either way, the message is the same, we all have something we believe in, and we all have something that is worth fighting for, and Stevie Wonder is an example to all but especially in the blind and minority communities that there is power in unity and standing up for what is right.
I hope you all find a way to make a difference this weekend, and as always, hope you enjoyed this week’s blog.