Franklin Countys First News

Mt. Blue ASL students host deaf rapper

Sean Forbes talks with MBHS ASL students Friday.

FARMINGTON - A unique performance at Mt. Blue High School on Friday aimed to bridge the gap between local community members and those who are audibly impaired or deaf.

The performing artist, a deaf rapper from Detroit, Mich., was invited by MBHS American Sign Language students for their Mt.Blue ASL Day. This is the fourth year that the students, along with teacher Gail Carlson, have organized MAD. The event consists of performances by ASL students followed by the evening's featured guest and is completely student-run, from lighting to sound to programs.

Sean Forbes was only an infant when his parents found out that he was about 90 percent deaf due to spinal meningitis. Born into a family of musicians, a young Forbes was drawn to the beats he picked up despite being deaf and was given his first drum set at five years old. Forbes became a fluent lip reader and learned how to easily carry on a conversation with people who weren't deaf. It wasn't until he was 11 that he learned to sign in order to communicate.

Forbes thrived off music, connecting to the rhythms and beats and physically soaking in the bands played by his parents, but at the same time felt like a huge part of the music wasn't accessible to him as a deaf fan. He knew what his life's dream was and felt determined to make it happened, despite the common response from people around him: a deaf musician? Impossible.

He started college at the Rochester Institute of Technology, where the musical options were next to none, but the assistance for deaf students was huge. Forbes wavered between school and Detroit, where his musical career was beginning to take off. A lucky break found Forbes standing in a room with Eminem and his manager as they watched a video Forbes had made singing one of Eminem's songs.

"It was a perfect example of a world famous hip hop artist who had no idea that there is a deaf community wanting to access his music," Forbes told MBHS ASL students Friday.

Things began falling into place after that and Forbes created the Deaf Professional Arts Network, a website dedicated to making the media more accessible to the deaf community. He started out with popular music, translating with videos, but has since moved on to provide news and popular TV shows, all in ASL.

"My goal for this program is to bridge the worlds between the deaf and the hearing. The only thing we can't do is hear. We can do everything else," Carlson said. "I can teach, I can make things. We're all equal."

Carlson works with a group of over 20 students, a few of whom are deaf or hearing impaired. The class qualifies as a world language credit at MBHS and Friday's show featured performances they have been preparing all year.

"The deaf community in Franklin County is hidden. It's not like in the bigger cities, it's more isolated here," Carlson said. "It's really good to have this program to bring everyone together."

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2 Responses »

  1. The show was fantastic! The students who performed did an amazing job. I also enjoyed Sean's performance.
    A special thanks to Gail for the countless hours she dedicated to organizing this event.

  2. This was a really great show. We are lucky to have someone as great as Gail teaching sign at the school and putting in the hard work for this show.