By Jacqueline Scholten |Staff Writer|
Over 60 percent of capable, educated Americans are unemployed right now. The national unemployment rate is only 8.3 percent, but is more than seven times larger among disabled citizens. To raise awareness, a disabled CSUSB alum will embark on a 20-day cross-country journey from the Santa Monica to Chicago.
Chris Russell leaves April 20 and will travel via the historical Route 66 where he plans to stop at universities and meet with various media giving the message that “Minds Do Matter,” which is the name of his speech.
Russell was a passenger on a plane that took a nose dive into a hillside. He was left in pieces and had to undergo over 30 surgeries.
“When I started looking for work, I did all the right things. I started getting responses, interviews, even being told ‘welcome aboard.’ Yet nothing happened. It was like I fell off the face of the earth,” Russell wrote on his web page.
Unemployment is 65 percent for those that are disabled according to Russell who cites Cornell University’s unemployment and disability study performed in 2009.
He thinks that it is important for universities to get involved in the march against unemployment among the disabled. He believes it will resonate with them and that they are the most likely to listen.
“We are intelligent. Even though we are disabled we are still capable of doing jobs. But as soon as they hear ‘disabled,’ jobs close up. That is historic, not because of the recession,” said Russell.
Universities in Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona have agreed to let him speak on his personal experience. He is still waiting to hear back from the University of Chicago but plans to make that his last stop.
“I can’t explain it in any other way. After something like that happens to you, your life drastically changes and you realize who you are,” said Russell.
It took Russell 15 years to be able to walk again without braces or boots.
Before the accident Russell worked as a peace officer. But after the plane crash, he was left without a job and could no longer work out, dance or play guitar.
He was given the opportunity by the rehabilitation department to attend a school of his choosing on a full ride. He said that he chose CSUSB because of the accommodations they offer disabled students.
Russell graduated from CSUSB in 2007 with a degree in communications and plans to return this spring for his master’s degree.
“I want people to see that people with disabilities are not mentally disabled,” said Russell. “We are more than capable of getting good grades and performing well.”
He believes he is blessed because he was told that he was not supposed to be able to ride a motorcycle, let alone across the country. With the help of B&B Motorcycles, Russell will be riding a classic 1997 Honda Valkyrie on his long journey.
He hopes to take his Minds Do Matter campaign to a national level and pave the way for others with disabilities.
He launched a website, mindsdomatter.org, to document his journey and will be putting updates on Facebook and Twitter. He is still hoping to raise money for his trip. Donations for his trip can be given on his website.