This week I continue to celebrate African American History Month by focusing on individuals who have made a positive impact by overcoming barriers and changing perceptions by disclosing their disability at the same time showcasing their ability and success in their field. I had a rare chance to meet my next subject, Nick Cannon: film star, comedian, TV and radio host, musician, writer, director, executive producer and philanthropist.
In August of 2003, I was fresh out of college and on my way to Hollywood to live out my dream to be a screenwriter. Immediately I was thrown into the LA lifestyle. I moved in with an actor who had been there for years. He had his ups and down – working as a production assistant on Entertainment Tonight brushing shoulders with all the celebrities, crashing Oscar parties and numerous self-defeating casting calls. With all his experience schmoozing in Hollywood he had connections including tickets to Hollywood premieres. My first premiere was Love Don’t Cost A Thing, a modern twist on the 1987 film Can’t Buy Me Love, starring Nick Cannon. There are four things I remember about that night, which included a screening with free popcorn, soda and an after party. The first is a young lady who called out the fact I had left the tag on my recently purchased suit. The second is the feeling I had sitting in the infamous Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood surrounded by people I had watched on the movie screen and television. The third was sideling up to the bar, realizing I was ordering next to Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the creators of South Park, and spending most of the night getting up enough courage to talk with them. I never did speak with them, but I did have a quick moment with Nick Cannon.
To be honest, his past work never really connected with me although this movie was somewhat entertaining. I’m not sure if it was my first experience understanding all the work and celebration that goes into getting to that final product in the entertainment business, but I felt I had to take the opportunity to tell Nick that I thought he did a great job and should be proud of his work. I did not think my opinion would matter to him but apparently he thought it did. Nick shook my hand with passion, looked me in the eye and thanked me for the kind words. He then asked my name, said it was nice to meet me and that he was glad I enjoyed the movie. After that quick moment I watched for a few minutes as he humbly continued through the party greeting guests with sincerity and pure enjoyment talking to strangers and coworkers. Although I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen a Nick Cannon show or movie since besides a few parts of America’s Got Talent while sitting in my hotel room catching up on work emails, I’m not surprised America enjoys this young gentleman on several different mediums. Now years later, it’s funny to see Nick Cannon has come up on my radar again as I’m researching people with a disability who have used their celebrity to create awareness. In 2012, Cannon was diagnosed with lupus nephritis (kidney disease), an unpredictable and misunderstood autoimmune disease that ravages different parts of the body and affects an estimated 1.5 million Americans. This diagnosis could have easily slowed Cannon down, but it did not. He has continued his fast paced lifestyle, high celebrity status and dedicated himself to so many projects that I’d go over my allotted word count if I listed them all. Seriously, just visit Macy’s for his line of Nick Cannon’s ties.
Most importantly, Cannon has been the voice of lupus awareness. In 2014, he was honored at the 6th Annual Get Lucky for Lupus celebrity poker tournament and was the Grand Marshall at the Walk to End Lupus Now at Exposition Park in Los Angeles. In the summer of 2013, Cannon told the magazine Lupus Now®, “A lot of people told me that I shouldn’t share and I should keep [my lupus diagnosis] private—that it could affect my work and all that,” Cannon says. “But I feel like this happened to me so I can be an inspiration, and I can talk about it.” The article also describes Lupus as “difficult to diagnose, hard to live with, and a challenge to treat. Lupus is a cruel mystery because it is hidden from view and undefined, has a range of symptoms, hits out of nowhere and has no known cause and no known cure. Its health effects can range from a skin rash to a heart attack. Lupus is debilitating and destructive, and can be fatal, yet research on lupus remains underfunded relative to its scope and devastation.” As I read through Cannon’s life before and after lupus it brings me back to that night in Hollywood and makes me smile that I had the honor to shake the hand of a young man, who now moves forward in his work to entertain America and makes me proud to see him all grown up pushing the limits, and disclosing his disability as a way of increasing awareness. Nick Cannon is another great example of how disclosure can serve to increase awareness of a disability while focusing on ability.