FAMILY COMES FIRST – SIDIKI CONDE
INTRODUCTION IN ORDER OF APPEARANCE:
VINCENT J. RUSSO
VICTORIA ROBERTS DROGIN
.. 1 SUSAN S. RUSSO
DEBORAH ROSS CONDE
MONSIGNOR JAMES McNAMARA
~ 1 MR. RUSSO: Welcome everyone to Family Comes
2 First. I’m Vincent J. Russo.
3 MS. DROGIN: I’m Victoria Roberts Drogin.
4 Thank you for joining us.
5 Today we will be sharing the story of a
6 most spiritual and amazing human being. Like
7 his smile, his love of life is truly contagious.
8 MR. RUSSO: Sidiki Conde was born in West
9 Africa, and his journey not only spans America,
10 but the world. He’s an accomplished dancer,
11 singer, musician and songwriter. He is very
12 proud of his African dance troupe, Tokounou,
( 13 and Sidiki has been paralyzed since childhood.
14 MS. DROGIN: Before we meet Sidiki, Vincent,
15 I have to ask you about your tie. I know most
16 of your ties have stories that go with them, and
17 I’m wondering if this one does.
18 MR. RUSSO: This is one of my favorite ties
19 from Ghana. This tie was a gift to me from Father
20 Marsalis, who works in Africa. He came to the
21 Theresa Foundation and shared his story that in
22 the village in Ghana they had lost the top of
23 the roof to the school, and now the school had to
( 24 close. He was one of the supporters who ‘helped
25 put a roof back on the school and also to
provide monies for the children with disabilities
to be able to get to the school.
MS. DROGIN: That’s wonderful. It’s a
great story and a great tie.
MR. RUSSO: Thank you.
MS. DROGIN: Now we are going to meet with
two professionals who will share with us
the challenges and successes of performing artists
Please join me in welcoming Christine Bruno,
a disability advocate for Alliance for Inclusion
in the Arts, and Vincent’s better half.
MR. RUSSO: Better half.
MR. DROGIN: Other better half, Susan Russo,
the Director of the Theresa Academy of Performing
MR. RUSSO: Thank you both for being here
with us today.
MS. DROGIN: Welcome. Christine, what is the
Alliance? Tell us about your organization.
CHRISTINE BRUNO: Alliance for Inclusion
in the Arts is a national nonprofit organization
that was established in 1986. Originally it
was established to address and seek the solutions
to the problems of racism in film, television
r~ 1 and theatre and the exclusion of those artists
2 being part of the entertainment industry, and
3 very shortly after expanded the conversation
4 to include artists with disabilities.
5 MR. RUSSO: Interesting. So it’s a
7 CHRISTINE BRUNO: Yes. It wasn’t tbat much of
8 a progression. The current executive director,
9 Sharon Jensen, became the executive director
10 three years after the organization started in
11 1989, and she had brought with it disability as
12 part of the diversity picture to the table.
13 Although she does not have a disability
14 herself, was very involved with the disability
15 and felt that that was an important part of the
16 conversation that needed to be added.
17 MR. RUSSO: Wonderful. What are the goals of
18 the Alliance?
19 CHRISTINE BRUNO: Several goals actually.
20 The first goal obviously is to advocate for artists
21 of color and artists with disabilities in whatever
22 that means, whether it be establishing awareness
23 that these people are still underrepresented in
~ 24 the industry, particularly artists with
0, 1 Also bringing decision makers to the table
2 and making them aware that particularly with respect
3 to artists with disabilities, that artists with
4 disabilities are out there. They are
5 professional. They are trained, and they have
6 a wealth of experience, and disability is an
7 important part of the diversity picture and
8 should be accurately and authentically
9 represented on our screens and stages.
10 MR. RUSSO: Are we making progress?
11 CHRISTINE BRUNO: Yes, we are making progress.
12 MR. RUSSO: Good.
13 CHRISTINE BRUNO: Although we still have a
14 very long way to go.
15 MR. RUSSO: Really.
16 CHRISTINE BRUNO: Yes. Yes.
17 MR. RUSSO: That’s unfortunate, but I’m glad
18 to hear we are making progress.
19 MS. DROGIN: It’s an important conversation,
20 and you wouldn’t necessarily be aware of it
21 unless someone brought it out there and had the
23 CHRISTINE BRUNO: Just to give you an
( 24 interesting perspective on it, 20 percent of
25 we are America’s largest minority. You wouldn’t
know it from my sitting here, but I have
2 cerebral palsy and I’m a professional actor and
3 director which is why I say we. We are America’s
4 largest minority. Twenty percent of our population
5 in this country identifies as having some sort
6 of disability. Couple that with the fact that
7 only one percent of what we see on representation
8 on television are characters with disabilities
9 so that we see —
10 MS. DROGIN: Played by actors with
11 disabilities, as well.
12 CHRISTINE BRUNO: Yes.
13 MR. DROGIN: Well, thank you.
14 CHRISTINE BRUNO: Thank you.
15 MS. DROGIN: Susan, congratulations on the
16 Theresa Academy.
17 SUSAN RUSSO: Thank you.
18 MR. DROGIN: It’s an incredible program.
19 Would you tell us a little bit about it,
20 where they are located, the students, the programs?
21 SUSAN RUSSO: We are going into our third
22 year. We are located on the south shore of
23 Long Island in Lido Beach, and it’s a
~~ 24 beautiful facility. It’s very clean. It’s very
(‘ 1 Our parents love the fact that we have
2 parking so when they are loading and unloading
3 the children who may be escape artists, it’s nice
4 to know that they can do it safely.
5 We run an after-school program during the
6 week, a Saturday respite program, a summer
7 camp which has been fabulous, and Sidiki
8 has been our guest artist at our summer camp
9 two years in a row now.
10 MR. RUSSO: Awesome.
11 SUSAN RUSSO: Which is amazing, and he’s just
12 amazing with the children and also seasonal
\ 13 Sunday afternoon workshops which seem to be a lot
14 of fun for the kids.
15 MR. RUSSO: So the younger student to the
16 oldest student, age wise?
17 SUSAN RUSSO: The youngest are five. Actually
18 this year we have 3-year-olds in our program.
19 We have some three-year-olds. I am very
20 excited about that. And the oldest are in
21 their 40s or 50s.
22 MR. RUSSO: Artists.
23 SUSAN RUSSO: Artists, painters. Amazing,
( 24 amazing people.
25 MR. RUSSO: Is there room for more children and
2 SUSAN RUSSO: We have space for more children,
3 more students in all of the programs.
4 We have amazing faculty. They are all
5 state certified in their genre which you don’t
6 find in many places like this.
7 MS. DROGIN: Sure. Well, I have to say
8 having been to your facility it is a
9 remarkable place, the children and the
10 faculty. It’s incredible.
11 SUSAN RUSSO: It’s truly just wonderful.
12 MR. DROGIN: It is. The energy and the
13 parents are so grateful to have a place that
14 supports their children.
15 Are there other places? You seem unique and
16 I know your focus is unique.
17 SUSAN RUSSO: We are unique in the fact
18 that we are offering music, art, dance, drama
19 all under one roof. There are many places where
20 you can take an art class or a dance class
21 or perhaps a music class, but we are trying
22 to make it one-stop shopping for the parents,
23 just one central location.
(~ 24 MS. DROGIN: It’s an academy.
25 SUSAN BRUNO: We are serving an underserved
population. The kids don’t have that after-school
club experience that a typically developing
child has the ability to do that at school.
MS. DROGIN: But they can come to you.
SUSAN RUSSO: But they can come to us.
MR. DROGIN: Christine, you are an actor and
a director. Why is it so difficult for artists
with disabilities to get roles? Is it the
viewers, is it the institutions, why?
CHRISTINE BRUNO: Well, that’s an interesting
and very complicated, complex questions.
MR. RUSSO: We always ask the complex
CHRISTINE BRUNO: As concise as possible.
It’s tough — I would think mainly it’s tough
because of the myths and assumptions that people
carry with them that are so deep-seated about
people with disabilities in general, and Susan
can attest to that as well that one of the
reasons why schools like Susan’s are so
important and what Sidiki is doing is so
important is because it really does shatter
those myths and assumptions that people
with disabilities are less than, that they need
to be taken care of, that they don’t have
r 1 joys and interests of their own and so that is
2 I think a central part of it in terms of the
3 entertainment industry. It’s just that they
4 are unaware that people with disabilities are
5 even out there as part of the talented pool
6 of artists.
7 I think as an artist myself and also
8 as an advocate, the audiences are much more
9 savvy and sophisticated than we give them credit
11 MS. DROGIN: What needs to change in order
12 to make this more equitable?
13 CHRISTINE BRUNO: I think that people
14 particularly employers in the industry
15 need to see this as a civil rights issue, not as
16 artists of color and people of color
17 because until they see it for what it is, they are
18 not going to understand the need for the change.
19 MR. RUSSO: Just real quick because we are
20 running out of time.
21 Share with us the hurdles that these artists
22 are facing.
23 CHRISTINE BRUNO: Okay. Very quickly I
can sum that up in three words; accuracy, access
25 and inclusion.
0 1 This year I’m the co-chair of a three-year
I \ I
2 global civil rights campaign that was created
3 by the three entertainment unions, Actors Equity,
4 AFTRA and SAG, that was specifically designed
5 to promote awareness and increase employment
6 opportunities for performers and
7 broadcasters with disabilities.
8 MR. RUSSO: Great.
9 MS. DROGIN: That’s wonderful.
10 MR. RUSSO: I want to thank both of you for
11 all that you’re doing, first of all, and for
12 being with us today.
13 MS. DROGIN: Both of you, thank you so much.
14 CHRISTINE BRUNO: Thank you.
15 MS. DROGIN: We visited with Sidiki at the
16 Theresa Academy of the Performing Arts where he
17 was teaching a master class in drumming.
18 Let’s take a look.
19 SIDIKI CONDE: My name is Sidiki Conde.
20 My full name is (inaudible) Sidiki Conde.
21 I’m born to West Africa. The town is called
22 Guinea (inaudible).
23 When we come from a school to go home it
L 24 was like 2:00. We were little hungry to get
25 home fast. My friend come and get my school bag
and run behind me in front of me so I went
behind them to go get my school bag. I said I
fall down, and my stomach fall down, and when I
fall down I cannot move any of my body. Yeah, I
was just — my breathing was so hard for me so
my friend got scared and wanted to call my
parent. My mother said, Sidiki fall, and they
come to pick up me and with the desire to take me
to the hospital. They took me a lot to give me
some medicine, some shot and then I stood in a coma
like three months, and after that I got my
dream. After that coma I got my dream and
this dream I tell my mother. I got a dream, and
my dream said why I’m sad. Why? I tell them.
I said look I don’t know what I am. I cannot
survive this way, and the dream tell me, you
don’t make yourself. You must follow your heart.
You must follow your heart. I awake up and when
I tell my mother, it take me in a different
sickness in hospital, so many different people,
how they survive in the hospital. So after that
I tell my mother, take me home. I’ll be okay.
Take me home.
When I had my disability, they had people
didn’t understood. Some people got to die.
The family don’t understand. Sometimes they
think you are a ghost. You are not a human
being, and they give you by the trees, some give
you by the water, some give you some medicine
to make you pass.
(Inaudible) this was coming to show
them disability is not changing human being.
You still human being. Yeah, yeah. Before the
ship come in Guinea there was a lot of
problem. Yes, there was lot of problem. And
take my mother so much. She was still my hero.
She never let me go and she show me everybody,
took me so good, take me to the village and
do everything to make my mind, you are Sidiki.
You are not disabled. You are not handicap. You
Sidiki. Just put that in mind. The time I
take that in my mind, yes, I try to learn
myself. (Inaudible) a bigger festival
international in West Africa (inaudible).
That was the festival (inaudible)
to come present itself in the west African
(inaudible) so that’s how they see me (inaudible).
They say, wow, this is the first time we see
somebody move his two hands like this. That’s
how they want (inaudible) to come here to the
DEBORAH ROSS CONDE: I met Sidiki soon after
he came to America. I had been approached by people
because I used to get the Africans medical, the
dancers because I was a dancer. They were
always having injuries and so they told me
about this guy in a wheelchair.
One day I was in the subway, and I saw two
Africans, one pushing another in a wheelchair,
and I said — I work in Africa a lot so I said
that’s an African in a wheelchair there so I
called out his name, and he answered me.
He said, yes, you know, and he didn’t speak
any English so I kind of sign languaged to him.
That’s how I met Sidiki, and in the process
of getting him to the doctor again, again and
doing all this stuff, we got to know each other so
I said, you know, you got to do for yourself, and
he formed his own company, Tokounou, and
started writing music.
SIDIKI CONDE: For me it was hard it was
to be — difficult to make a frown, enjoy the
life so that’s what my message is nobody can
present your face. You must present this face,
and by what, by smiling. Whatever you are,
(~ . 1 you must be smiling because nobody can smile
2 for you. Nobody can cry for you. You must
3 cry yourself. You are must smile yourself so
4 that moment you have to looking for smiling and
5 that’s why I play my music for the disabled or
6 not disabled and make them forget their
7 problems and smile with me because that’s how all
8 we can enjoy life by smiling. That’s all.
9 MS. DROGIN: Today we are talking
10 about artsability and the many opportunities
11 for people with disabilities to express
12 themselves through the arts.
\, 13 MR. RUSSO: Sidiki has dedicated himself to
14 young children in his home country of Guinea west
15 Africa as well as allover the world to find a
16 way to express themselves.
17 MS. DROGIN: Joining us now in the studio
18 Sidiki Conde and his wife, Deborah.
19 Thank you both so much for being here.
20 SIDIKI CONDE: Thank you.
21 MR. RUSSO: Thank you.
22 MS. DROGIN: And welcome.
23 MR. RUSSO: Welcome.
~- 24 SIDIKI CONDE: Thank you for having us. I’m
25 happy to be here.
MR. DROGIN: The pleasure is ours.
MR. RUSSO: You come to New York and from a
3 village in Africa.
4 What was that like when you first came into
5 New York and what were you thinking?
6 SIDIKI CONDE: It was wow. You know, that
7 was so big for me because — and in the home where
8 I was I didn’t see the world too much. My mind
9 of the world was so small but when I come here it
10 was big. I was panic. I was saying I can’t
11 stay there. This is not a place for me.
MS. DROGIN: It’s scary.
MR. RUSSO: But you are still here many years
15 SIDIKI CONDE: Yeah. Thank God because my
16 first show some woman who was seeing me in
17 (inaudible) his son was disabled so he left his
18 son home to come see our show. After show he beg
19 my boss. He say, wait for me. I want to take my
20 son to come to see this guy.
21 MS. DROGIN: He brought his son back to see
23 SIDIKI CONDE: Yes. He brought his son back
24 to see me so my boss say, okay, we have to
25 repeat the show for him. I repeated the show for
him. The guy was so happy so I was seeing the
2 guy lay down in the chair and he looked happy
3 to me so I said, I can stay here too so I started
4 changing my mind.
5 MS. DROGIN: One of the things that really
6 touched us as we watched the segment was you
7 spoke about your mom, and she’s your hero, and
8 she gave you a message that shaped your life.
9 SIDIKI CONDE: Thank you so much. I tell
10 you my mother is my hero. I thank God my
11 last conversation with her, I said, my mother,
12 you are my God. I love you forever. She cry
13 because my mother teach me to be me, Sidiki, and
14 my mother teach me to think what I want to do
15 and what I want for.
16 MS. DROGIN: She told you to think about
17 where you wanted to go and so you could go.
18 SIDIKI CONDE: I could go.
19 MR. RUSSO: I have a joyous question to ask
20 you because you’re a master teacher, a master
21 teacher at the Theresa Academy of Performing Arts
22 working with these children with special needs,
23 how does that make you feel?
l’ 24 SIDIKI CONDE: It makes me feel comfortable.
25 It makes me feel so happy because when I see
this kid, they just look in my eyes and my heart,
2 that’s what I want to work for, and we communicate
3 just the feeling and the looking and talking, it
4 make me confidence to get a message from them and
5 my message go to from them.
6 MS. DROGIN: So the connection.
7 SIDIKI CONDE: The connection and that makes
8 me so wonderful and great.
9 MR. RUSSO: It’s a two-way street.
10 MS. DROGIN: And for them too. For them to
11 see someone who accomplished what you have gives
12 them hope.
13 SIDIKI CONDE: That’s great.
14 MR. RUSSO: I have a question for Deborah.
15 Deborah, what makes Sidiki special because he is?
16 He’s a gem.
17 DEBORAH ROSS CONDE: He’s special all right.
18 The thing that I felt when I first met Sidiki
19 that intrigued me because I could feel it right
20 off, there was no darkness in him. He truly,
21 truly cared about people and how to make the world
22 a better place. And if he has a conflict, he
23 never has grudges. He never thinks darkly. He
only thinks about how can I help pull this
person out of the darkness.
(~’ 1 MR. RUSSO: You talked about his soul.
2 DEBORAH ROSS CONDE: He has a beautiful soul
3 that just reaches into others. I’ve seen him in
4 dozens of situations where I say, write that
5 person off. He says, no, only by me giving
6 them hope, will I be able to bring them back to
7 the world again.
8 MS. DROGIN: So a model for all of us not just
9 children or people.
10 DEBORAH ROSS SIDIKI: Definitely.
11 MS. DROGIN: It’s the way to live.
12 MR. RUSSO: Sidiki, tell us about your dream
13 for the future.
14 SIDIKI CONDE: Thank God too that you ask
15 me that question. My dream about now my life,
16 I just want to build the school.
17 MR. RUSSO: Beautiful. A school in Africa?
18 SIDIKI CONDE: A school in Africa. I just
19 started. I have (inaudible) now so I want to
20 build this school to help my friend disabled
21 to survive and the kid, you know. The kid can
22 come (inaudible) how make the family, how use
23 your mind to survive, how do you measure,
( . 24
you know, how big the community because you can
25 go begging in the street every time (inaudible)
(~ 1 and then not a school. They behind every time.
2 They loss the life by you. It’s only you
3 disabled. Your kid is not disabled so that way
4 I can if I have this place, I can tell them to
5 come, walk with me and put the kid there to
6 bring hope.
7 MS. DROGIN: For the parents and the
8 children to teach them how to think, how to
9 survive with their disability.
10 SIDIKI CONDE: Because if they are disabled,
11 you cannot do anything (inaudible).
12 MR. RUSSO: You want to eliminate that.
13 SIDIKI CONDE: I want to eliminate that.
14 That’s my dream. I want to build together, and
15 it will happen because everybody can do
16 something about life.
17 MS. DROGIN: That’s a beautiful dream.
18 MR. RUSSO: Sidiki, we have a little gift for
19 you and the gift comes from the Theresa Foundation.
20 Someone donated to the Theresa Foundation a
21 power wheelchair, and we are going to give you
22 that power wheelchair which I know you will use.
23 SIDIKI CONDE: Thank God.
MR. RUSSO: How will you use that
SIDIKI CONDE: Thank you so much. I’m
2 here about — I think about myself as a messenger
3 from disabled (inaudible).
4 MR. RUSSO: You are going to help someone else
5 with this.
6 SIDIKI CONDE: Yes.
7 MR. RUSSO: You are incredible.
8 SIDIKI CONDE: God take me to Africa.
9 (Inaudible) the person I’m going to give to
10 (inaudible) he would be happy because it’s hard
11 to have the chair. It’s hard to get down on
12 the ground because the ground is so dusty, you
\ 13 know, so that’s why when I get a wheelchair here,
14 if I got time to go home, I take it there to
15 give somebody (inaudible) a little bit.
16 MR. RUSSO: Well, you have inspired all of us.
17 SIDIKI CONDE: Thank you.
18 MR. RUSSO: Thank you so much, Deborah.
19 Thank you for being here.
20 MS. DROGIN: Thank you both for being
22 MR. RUSSO: Thank you for being on Family
23 Comes First.
L- 24 MS. DROGIN: Now, we turn to Monsignor
25 McNamara for a spiritual reflection.
(~ 1 MONSIGNOR McNAMARA: For my yoke is easy and
2 my burden light. It this last of the current
3 series Family Comes First, Sidiki knows more
4 than most of us that life can be burdensome.
5 He has a wonderful spirit and a joy that should
6 keep me from feeling sorry for myself. He has
7 a dream in which he was told to follow his heart
8 which reminds me of Saint Francis of Assisi in
9 this regard. Not only does he leave the hospital,
10 he leaves his country in West Africa and comes to
11 the United States. He discovers that he is not
12 a disability. He is a human being. He is Sidiki.
\ 13 Good for him.
14 He also reminds me of Saint Francis of
15 Assisi as he dances with his hands, he then
16 composes and plays beautiful music. Like Francis
17 he is a troubadour of God. I wouldn’t be surprised
18 if the birds came and listened to him play.
19 MR. RUSSO: Those with disabilities who wish
20 to pursue a career in the arts, the Alliance for
21 Inclusion in Arts can be a great resource, and for
22 children with special needs, the Theresa Academy
23 of Performing Arts.
L 24 For a list of resources, please, visit my
25 law firm website at vjrussolaw.com.
/~ (- ,
1 MR. DROGIN: Vincent, it’s been wonderful to
2 share Sidiki’s story today. Clearly a disability
3 is not a barrier to being an artist.
4 MR. RUSSO: Sidiki is certainly an
5 inspirational teacher.
6 You can support Sidiki and his dance troupe,
7 Tokounou, by making donations to the Theresa
8 Foundation designating Sidiki.
9 MS. DROGIN: We are very fortunate to have
10 him in our world to remind us how life is truly
11 joyful and blessed.
12 MR. RUSSO: Thanks to all our viewers for
( 13 joining us and remember family truly does
14 come first.
FAMILY COMES FIRST – SIDIKI CONDE