Blind Trinidadian runs for Philadel­phia City Council seat

Trinidad-born Archye Lea­cock, 65

(Trinidad Guardian) Trinida­di­an-born Archye Lea­cock, 65, is run­ning for an elect­ed City Coun­cil 9th Dis­trict Seat in Philadel­phia, Penn­syl­va­nia, USA, on May 21, 2019. He is al­so blind, hav­ing lost his eye­sight to glau­co­ma at 14.

World Glau­co­ma Week was ob­served from March 10-16, 2019.

Lea­cock is the first blind or phys­i­cal­ly chal­lenged per­son to con­test this post in Philadel­phia.

He at­tend­ed the T&T School for the Blind, which was lo­cat­ed in San­ta Cruz, from Sep­tem­ber 1963 to June 1972.

Lea­cock had no idea what he want­ed to be­come grow­ing up as a boy in Bel­mont, but his de­ci­sion to run for the Philadel­phia seat emerged as he did not like the out­come of the re­cent Coun­cil elec­tions.

He has been a pub­lic ser­vant for the past 27 years and de­spite the chal­lenges of be­ing to­tal­ly blind, he has nav­i­gat­ed his way through life.

In time, through his many com­plex civic du­ties, he be­came co-founder/ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor for IDAAY (In­sti­tute for the De­vel­op­ment of African-Amer­i­can Youth) along with a friend Steven Robin­son. Lea­cock said he was so im­pact­ed by the is­sues of crime and vi­o­lence con­fronting the youth in his North Philadel­phia neigh­bour­hood that he put his am­bi­tions on hold and be­gan IDAAY with a sin­gle pro­gramme called the MAIN Col­lege Bound Pro­gram.

Us­ing JAWS (Job Ac­cess With Speech), a screen soft­ware pro­gramme that en­ables him to read text that is dis­played on the com­put­er screen with a speech syn­the­sis­er or braille dis­play, Lea­cock spoke to the Sun­day Guardian about his jour­ney to the US, his ac­tivism and com­mu­ni­ty work in Philadel­phia.

Lea­cock said “This be­came a log­i­cal next step in my per­son­al and pro­fes­sion­al jour­ney to em­pow­er and train mi­nor­i­ty youth, in par­tic­u­lar, African-Amer­i­cans five to 25 years to over­come by util­is­ing the ex­ec­u­tive lead­er­ship and com­mu­ni­ty de­vel­op­ment work I have been en­gaged in since 1991.

“In 2012, out of the blue, I de­cid­ed to run. Through­out this pe­ri­od 1991-2018, I was quite en­gaged in lots of week­ly tele­phone con­ver­sa­tions and month­ly or­gan­is­ing and lead­er­ship train­ing trips to Trinidad. This in­clud­ed me com­ing to Trinidad for sev­er­al months all paid for by me to help the T&T Blind Wel­fare As­so­ci­a­tion’s ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer Ken­neth Suratt and oth­ers to pro­fes­sion­al­ly ar­tic­u­late the chal­lenges and or­gan­ise my blind friends at the as­so­ci­a­tion in the 1990s.”

He said his jour­ney to reach the US start­ed quite in­no­cent­ly; his moth­er who passed in 2010, in Philadel­phia, like many oth­ers yearn­ing to grab an op­por­tu­ni­ty to mi­grate and do bet­ter, brought her en­tire fam­i­ly of sev­en chil­dren over a ten-year pe­ri­od.

Lea­cock said he was in the sec­ond batch of his moth­er’s visa ap­pli­ca­tion for her chil­dren—she was able to se­cure two Green Cards for his sis­ter and him to en­ter the US and they left Trinidad in Jan­u­ary 1972, when he just turned 17.

He said he was quite for­tu­nate as his moth­er, Myra, had arranged for him to en­ter Over­brook School for the Blind in Philadel­phia; and there was no time to ad­just but just jump in and keep mov­ing. From there, he went on to col­lege and his per­son­al/pro­fes­sion­al de­vel­op­ment in­cludes: Tem­ple Uni­ver­si­ty in 1975, BA in Mu­sic; In­di­ana Uni­ver­si­ty in 1980, MA in Eth­no­mu­si­col­o­gy; sum­mer 1979 in Ger­many at Goethe In­sti­tute, study­ing in­ten­sive­ly the Ger­man lan­guage; and back to Tem­ple Uni­ver­si­ty to work/teach and earn an­oth­er Mas­ters in Pub­lic Ad­min­is­tra­tion and on­to his Doc­tor­al pur­suits in Po­lit­i­cal Sci­ence be­gin­ning in 1991.

Lea­cock is al­so a sin­gle par­ent; Kieron, his son, just turned 26.

He said Kieron ini­tial­ly lived in Do­mini­ca with his moth­er. His son lat­er joined him in Philadel­phia in the late 1990s when he was nine years. Lea­cock said with the help of his moth­er, who lived 15 min­utes away, he took care of his son.

When asked how the cam­paign was go­ing, he said like most cam­paigns it was ex­cit­ing but rough.

Lea­cock said his goal was to at­tain 3,000 in­di­vid­ual sig­na­tures—750 ‘flaw­less’ in­di­vid­ual sig­na­tures were need­ed by March 12. He said along with a train­ing street team, he was out dai­ly hunt­ing for sig­na­tures.

On the cam­paign trail, Lea­cock is at­tend­ing or­gan­ised meet and greet events, host­ing and ex­e­cut­ing fundrais­ers, par­tic­i­pat­ing and plan­ning sev­er­al com­mu­ni­ty group meet­ings, con­duct­ing vot­er reg­is­tra­tion dri­ves and dai­ly pe­ti­tion­ing street can­vass­ing among a longer list of both planned and spon­ta­neous ac­tiv­i­ties.

Lea­cock said he was al­so in need of fund­ing, as run­ning for an elect­ed seat in the US was cost­ly to pay for mar­ket­ing, pro­mo­tion, ma­te­ri­als, and oth­er ex­pens­es.

He was go­ing up against in­cum­bent coun­cil­woman Cherelle Park­er for the seat.

Lea­cock said Park­er came with a back­ground of po­lit­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence be­ing one of for­mer coun­cil­woman Mar­i­an Tasko’s as­sis­tants for sev­er­al years. Tasko held the seat for the pre­vi­ous 28 years un­til her re­tire­ment in 2015.

Along with sev­er­al oth­er con­sult­ing jobs through­out the Delaware Val­ley in the greater Philadel­phia re­gion, Lea­cock keeps him­self busy teach­ing in Trinidad as a mu­sic teacher at his al­ma mater Bel­mont Ju­nior Sec­ondary School, me­dia in­ter­views, a keynote speak­er, pan­el­list, work­shop in­struc­tor.

Lea­cock said there were more chal­lenges for a blind per­son run­ning for this of­fice, like hav­ing ac­cess to peo­ple who can help him both per­son­al­ly and pro­fes­sion­al­ly.

He said it was dif­fi­cult to find in­di­vid­u­als who be­lieved it can be done de­spite his to­tal blind­ness and re­mind­ing vot­ers that he was an Amer­i­can though still hav­ing a Caribbean ac­cent. Lea­cock not­ed that in­di­vid­u­als from all over the Caribbean were mov­ing large­ly from Brook­lyn and New York to the Philadel­phia re­gion.

Go­ing up against an Amer­i­can-born can­di­date was al­so a big chal­lenge.

About his per­son­al life, Lea­cock said he ex­er­cised dai­ly since he has lots of equip­ment in his house, he hiked through­out ma­jor parts of Amer­i­ca with friends and was now plan­ning to com­mence his train­ing on a tan­dem bike ride for an an­nu­al race from down­town Philadel­phia to At­lantic City in New Jer­sey this sum­mer, the 62 mile one-way Tour de Shore.

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