Sherwin Strong knows a thing or two about resilience
February 4th, 2022
Sherwin Strong's a man with a fitting name. The self-advocate and musician from Comox has been through a lot in his life, including a premature birth and 39 surgeries, but he's used it as an opportunity to learn and help others.
We talked with Sherwin, also known by his stage name Sherwizzle, about overcoming adversity, his journey as a self-advocate, and the important role that music plays in his life.
Sherwin Strong Fast Facts
Heroes: My parents are my heroes; if it wasn't for them I wouldn't be who I am
Hobbies: Music, humour, movies , coffee, walks, gaming, hockey, chores
Favourite foods: Pizza, cheeseburger and fries, anything with peanut butter
Favourite movies: Any with Elvis, anything about Muhammad Ali, gangster movies
Tell us about yourself
Sherwin: I'm a self-advocate liaison, story teller, and lover of doing the right thing.
I was born prematurely with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and ADHD, and as a result needed 39 surgeries, on my ears, nose, as well as my legs for injuries from cerebral palsy. I have so many implants in my body that I joke about being the steel man.
I grew up in the foster care system, and lived with many other kids, from many different backgrounds. All of this forced me to grow up faster and helped me gain life experience at a young age.
Had I not faced these obstacles I don't know if I'd be where I am today. There have still been setbacks I had to recover from, like alcoholism when I was younger, but these all helped me see how important it is to make the most of life, because it can be gone tomorrow.
How did you get started in advocacy? Sherwin: When I was around 21, I began thinking more about how grateful I was for the support I'd received growing up, and I asked myself how I could help people in the same way. It led to me becoming involved in self-advocacy and supporting others trying to find their voice.
When the pandemic began, I started asking myself these questions again, thinking of how I could adapt and still be able to help in the pandemic setting. This is always on my mind as a self-advocate liaison for Vancouver Island Community Connections.
My music's also part of my advocacy - to express myself creatively and reach people in a different way.
Dance Alone by Sherwizzle
What have been the biggest memories for you as a self-advocate?
Sherwin: It was the aha moment I had at the first Inclusion BC conference I attended. I was sitting in the crowd, watching self-advocates like Shelley DeCoste, Michelle Goos, and David Johnston up there doing their thing.
As I watched, I was impressed by how they set such good examples to follow, and also how each of their personalities came through in a different way.
I cherish being part of that conference and at the time couldn't even describe the experience. It felt like a blanket of love and care wrapping around me. I was in awe of so many people advocating for common goals, but in their own way. I'm forever thankful that I've gotten the chance to sit down and talk with so many dedicated people in the sector. If you're not in this work for right reasons, you're not going to last long.
What are the most important issues facing people with intellectual disabilities? Sherwin: The obvious one at the moment's COVID.
But the basics of life are the longest standing issues: having a place to sleep, food to eat, clothes to wear, mental health and healthcare, and having the financial resources to obtain these. There's so much need still there for persons with disabilities, and to address this we need to be selfless - to help out and let our focus on ourselves go.
What are the pressing issues facing Indigenous persons with disabilities? Sherwin: They are relatively the same, but some things like intergenerational trauma, alcohol, and abuse are particularly prevalent among indigenous persons, and most still don't have access to the supports needed to deal with these. As an Indigenous person, I carry a weight, but not a bad weight. It means it's up to me to help topple barriers for myself and other Indigenous persons, to help them beat addiction, overcome mental abuse, stand up, and find their power.
I carry a weight, but not a bad weight....it's up to me to help topple barriers for myself and other Indigenous persons
What are your goals for this year?
Sherwin: Being able to sit with people and talk - being there to support advocates, and help create more opportunities for people to feel welcome and appreciated for the work they've done and want to do.
Helping make mental health and healthcare more accessible are goals of mine too, as well as building a more supportive system for people with disabilities who are aging. Outside of advocacy, music's also a huge thing for me, both playing and being able to share it. I make hip hop music under the name Sherwizzle, and I'm learning the technological aspects of putting songs together.
When I make music, I'm always mindful about the message and image I'm sending, and what I want to convey to people this year is: don't be afraid to do well, don't be afraid for others to do well, and think of how you can help each other achieve that.
See more from Sherwin at www.youtube.com/user/Thesherwizzle2013
Spencer van Vloten is the editor of BC Disability. To get in touch, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org!