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Tribute to my hero

equalbutanotherlindaToday I have a lot to be proud of. I never dreamed of or saw myself as a columnist or an author until a friend pointed out my writing skills and noted that I would do well if I started to write. I will be forever grateful to him for giving me that push because this is my 100th article and I’m very proud of that accomplishment! Thank you sir.

So since this is pretty significant for me, I’m dedicating this week’s article to my hero who has changed my entire life. She doesn’t know and probably never will, but I want the world to know that Linda Bove has played a major role in who I am and the path which I’ve chosen to walk. While some of you may not be familiar with the name, I’m sure if I said “Linda from Sesame Street” you would know exactly who I was talking about.

I first saw her when I was six years old while watching Sesame Street one afternoon and my life has never been the same since. After that first introduction to her, she became the highlight for watching every evening. I wondered who this woman was and what it was she was doing with her hands which moved through the air with such style, elegance and grace while her face and entire body gave such expression that it was hard not to watch the entire package as opposed to just her hands. I would later learn that what she was doing was called sign language and that it was the method used to communicate with people who were deaf.

I now had a new found purpose for watching that show. I longed to see my “star” move her hands through the air as though it was poetry in motion. However, this wasn’t enough. Since she wasn’t shown in every episode, I had to find out more about this language which gave voice to the voiceless and brought understanding to those who could communicate in this way.

After realising that a family member attended a church where there was a deaf ministry, I literally begged my parents to allow me to go to at least see more than what I was seeing on my tv screen. When they gave me the green light, I went and sat through an entire two-hour service just watching the interpreters on the platform. I felt like a kid in a candy store. Interpreters interpreting music, a sermon, announcements – everything that I could hear was literally being interpreted for a very appreciative deaf audience.

Soon afterwards, I joined a beginners’ sign language class and then went onto the intermediate and advanced classes. By the age of 12, I was on that same platform interpreting for a people I had grown to love and who had accepted me into their community. Learning the language was one thing, but understanding and learning the culture and way of life for the people I served brought even more meaning to my life.

At the age of 18, I won a scholarship to a college in the US where I pursued an Associate of Arts Degree in Interpreting for the Hearing Impaired and those two years were eye opening for me as I not only got a formal education but lived and interacted with deaf people from different countries, and got to hear their experiences, dreams and aspirations.

Since my return I have worked as a freelance interpreter in just about every capacity you could imagine. Not only that, but my greatest satisfaction comes when I get messages whether it be via BB or WhatsApp from the deaf community asking me to assist them in just about anything under the sun like interpreting their baby’s christening, or interpreting at their child’s school with the teacher or principal, or interpreting a relative’s funeral or even explaining details contained in certain literature which they may not fully comprehend.

I say that is where I get my greatest satisfaction because it means that I have something which is of high value. People’s trust. Nobody could ever pay me enough money for that. Once you win the hearts of a people, it means that you’ve built something which is priceless.

So what is Linda doing these days? She is a stage actress and works closely with her husband Ed who is also in the arts and who she’s been married to since 1970. She continues to fiercely portray a positive display of the deaf community and she and her husband set up a company in 1991 called Deaf West Theatre in Los Angeles which puts on plays and musicals, performed simultaneously in ASL and spoken English.

She has starred in movies and even on a soap opera, won several awards for the adaption of Big River, and is also a big supporter of an organisation called the Non Traditional Casting Project, which encourages the casting of minorities and people with perceived disabilities.

I can never thank Linda Bove enough for what she did for me. Seeing her over 30 years ago was a defining moment in my life. Her love and passion for the deaf of which she is a member was able to touch a six-year-old girl all the way in Barbados so much that it charted the course for her life.

I sometimes think back to that defining moment in my childhood while sitting in my living room and wondered if I hadn’t seen Linda what my life would’ve been like, but it doesn’t matter. I’m living my dream. Working with the people I love. I was born for this and desire nothing else. Absolutely nothing.

* Bonnie Leonce is a qualified Sign Language Interpreter with an Associate of Arts Degree in Interpreting for the Hearing Impaired.

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