CHARLES KONG SOO
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.