Role models in the dwarfism community: Sofiya Cheyenne

People with dwarfism are often misrepresented in popular media and culture. Yet our own voices are rarely heard. That’s why we embarked upon the RGA Dwarfism Role Models project – to amplify the voices of figureheads in our communities. One person we’ve been admiring for a while is the performance artist and educator, Sofiya Cheyenne, who recently appeared in the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Richard III. Here’s what she told us.

Please introduce yourself: who are you and where are you from?
My name is Sofiya Cheyenne and I am from Brooklyn, New York.

And what do you do?
I am a performance artist and educator.

Do you enjoy it?
Are you kidding!? I love it! I am so grateful that I have found something that I love and can pursue a career in. Even though I am still growing, learning and developing my own work, it is the best feeling in the world!

How did you end up doing it?
Performing has always been apart of my life. I started dancing at the age of two years old. I went to The Professional Performing Arts High School, majored in Drama Arts. Then went on to graduate from CUNY Brooklyn College with a BFA in Acting & BA in Psychology. And, outside of school, I did dance shows, community theatre, not to mention that my dad is a visual artist, my mother a dancer, and my brother can pick up any instrument and play it. The arts have always been apart of my life.

My passion for educating came from a combination of my performing and life experience.

As a person with dwarfism I am constantly educating others about my lived in experience.

Peoples’ curiosities often become a moment to engage and shift perspective. So, as an actor and an educator, I find comfort in educating others. I started teaching dance classes at a young age, I tutored students in college and now ultimately work as a Teaching Artist in different schools in NYC.

If you were 21 again, would you do something different? NOT ONE THING DIFFERENT.

What’s the best thing about your job?
I’ve found inspiration in other role models, who teach me that being a storyteller is a vital part of the human existence. There is so much power in storytelling; without stories we don’t learn, we don’t grow, we don’t build empathy, we don’t change. We need those things in life and that is the best part of this job. Impacting someone else’s life through a story is what I LIVE FOR! Even though the Entertainment Industry is a tough business, I hope to break barriers and stereotypes to change how the world views people with dwarfism.

What’s the worst job you’ve ever done?
I would have to say that it would be the jobs where it feels like I am the “diversity check box” Its pretty easy to tell when that is the case. Things are changing, but unfortunately its happened to me all too much.

What are the best and worst aspects about being small?
The worst is that we constantly have to deal with the ignorance of the world. The best is that I have an incredible community that lifts me up and they are from all across the globe.

If you could pass on one piece of advice to your teenage self what would that be?
I would say … LOVE YOURSELF. You are exactly who you are supposed to be and you don’t have to pretend to be anything you’re not because you are worth it!

Which living person do you most admire and why?
Oh this is a hard one! I admire so many people for so many different reasons. But the first person that is coming to my mind is my grandmother. My mothers mother, she is a survivor, having her first kid at the age of 17, living in rough neighborhoods raising a family, getting divorced, remarried, became a widow and now battling breast cancer for the second time. She is my hero truly!! And she is such a positive, giving and creative person. She means so much to me.

How do you like to pass the time, outside of work?
I am always working… all the time, everywhere! But I do love to read stories about different people, and history. I love to cook and do DIY projects. I also do a lot of volunteer work for Little People of America as the Chair of Dwarf Artist Coalition.

What’s your favourite book?
Right now I have been digging deep into my roots and learning more about my history and the history of Tainos (Indigenous tribe of the Caribbean). Reading a series called “Taino Ni Rahu” Series written by Lynne Guitar – an archeologist and scholar that I have had the pleasure to know since a young age.

What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?
I think my greatest achievement would have to be my recent credit on Audience Network. I booked my first recurring role ‘Louise’ on a TV show called Loudermilk, which airs on AUDIENCE Network on DirectTV Ch 239 or AT&T WatchTV. It is very exciting because Louise is a strong fierce female character, the role is written for a woman with dwarfism and it is good storytelling over all in the show! I hope to be back for the next season!! *fingers crossed*

When your time comes, how would you like to be remembered?
That I made a positive impact in peoples lives.

Spread the Word: template tweets, facebook posts, and emails to libraries

Copy, paste, and send (or print and send) the template Tweet, Facebook post, and email / letter below to your local school or public library to ask them to help combat stereotypes by taking part in RGA UK’s ‘#SpreadTheWord’ book campaign!

To find your local library visit https://www.gov.uk/local-library-services or http://www.findmylibrary.co.uk/.

For EMAILS, please put **FAO Librarian in charge of Children’s Stock Selection** in the subject.

Note: the email to school libraries is at the bottom of this page.

 

TWEET

Hi @xxx. I support @RGAUK #SpreadTheWord campaign. Do you stock these books? http://rgauk.org/spread-word-template-tweets-facebook-posts-emails-libraries

FACEBOOK POST

Hi [INSERT LIBRARY NAME]. I’m supporting RGA UK’s ‘Spread the Word’ campaign. We want to promote more positive and accurate depictions of people with dwarfism who are otherwise often widely mischaracterised as people from fairy tales, myths, and fantasy stories. Do you stock these books (http://rgauk.org/spread-word-template-tweets-facebook-posts-emails-libraries)? If not, please could they be ordered? It’d be great if we could get the authors in to visit!

PUBLIC LIBRARIES EMAIL

[BEGINS]

Dear Sir or Madam:

I hope you’re well.

I’m writing to suggest the items to be ordered by [INSERT NAME OF LIBRARY HERE].

My request comes as part of the ‘Spread the Word’ campaign, led by dwarfism charity RGA UK, to promote positive and accurate depictions of people with dwarfism who are otherwise widely mischaracterised as people from fairy tables, myths, and fantasy stories. We believe such misrepresentations can perpetuate stereotypes and prejudice. Books such as these help introduce children to dwarfism, disability, and difference – in a positive and realistic light.

These books are:

  • Strong and Mighty Max / Kristina GRAY / Matador /ISBN 9781785890468
  • We are Giants / Amber Lee DODD / Quercus Children’s Books / ISBN 9781784294212
  • I can’t not never be very tall / Susan HATTON / CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform / ISBN 13: 9781499717747
  • The Thing About Georgie / Lisa GRAFF / HarperCollins / ISBN 13: 978-0060875916

Strong and Mighty Max is a children’s story aimed at Early Years and Key Stage 1. Max was born with Achondroplasia, a form of dwarfism. He explains that Achondroplasia is a ‘big word’ and not a special ‘superpower’; it simply means his bones grow differently. This is a wonderfully illustrated story encouraging discussion about how everyone is born different.

‘We Are Giants’ is for readers aged 9 and older and written from the view of a young girl called Sydney, who lives with her sister Jade and her mum, Amy. Amy was born with a condition called dwarfism, which means that she got to the height of 4ft then stopped growing altogether. Her deceased husband also had dwarfism so when Amy gave birth to two average-sized daughters, lots of people were sceptical about whether she could take care of them adequately. Perfect for young fans of Jacqueline Wilson, who has endorsed this debut author. Click here for The Guardian’s review of We Are Giants. It was also nominated for a number of national awards including the 2017 Branford Boase award for most promising children’s debut novel and Longlisted for the 2017 Waterstones’ children’s fiction award.

I can’t not never be very tall: is aimed at Early Years and KS1. Jessica was born with Achondroplasia, Dwarfism. This book is designed to help others around her to understand a little more about her and how imperfectly perfect she really is. Being small means she only needs a little more time to do everything the other children can do.

The Thing About Georgie: is aimed at Primary School children. A warm and humorous story starring an unforgettable young boy with dwarfism, from acclaimed author Lisa Graff.  “As far as Georgie is concerned, everyone has a “thing.”  The thing about poodles is that Georgie Bishop hates to walk them.  The thing about Jeanie the Meanie is that she would rather write on her shoe than help Georgie with their Abraham Lincoln project.  The thing about Andy’s nonna is that she kisses Georgie’s cheeks and doesn’t speak one word of English.  The thing about Georgie’s mom is that she’s having a baby—a baby who will probably be taller than Georgie very, very soon.  The thing about Georgie . . . well, what is the thing about Georgie?”

Both Kristina and Amber have some availability to visit libraries and schools and talk to children about their books as part of the ‘Spread The Word’ campaign and it would be fantastic if you or a member of your team could look into arranging this

I hope [INSERT LIBRARY NAME HERE] will be able to accommodate my requests and I look forward to hearing from you.

Much appreciated.

[INSERT NAME HERE]

 

[ENDS]

————————————————————————————————————————————————-

SCHOOL LIBRARIES EMAIL

 

Dear [INSERT LIBRARIAN / TEACHER NAME HERE]:

I hope you’re well.

I am a / my child is [DELETE AS APPROPRIATE] pupil at [INSERT SCHOOL] NAME.

I’m writing to suggest the items to be ordered by [INSERT NAME OF SCHOOL LIBRARY HERE].

My request comes as part of the ‘Spread The Word’ campaign, led by dwarfism charity RGA UK, to promote positive and accurate depictions of people with dwarfism who are otherwise widely mischaracterised as people from fairy tables, myths, and fantasy stories. We believe such misrepresentations can perpetuate stereotypes and prejudice. Books such as these help introduce children to dwarfism, disability, and difference – in a positive and realistic light.

These are:

  • Strong and Mighty Max / Kristina GRAY / Matador /ISBN 9781785890468
  • We are Giants / Amber Lee DODD / Quercus Children’s Books / ISBN 9781784294212
  • I can’t not never be very tall / Susan HATTON / CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform / ISBN 13: 9781499717747
  • The Thing About Georgie / Lisa GRAFF / HarperCollins / ISBN 13: 978-0060875916

Strong and Mighty Max is a children’s story aimed at Early Years and Key Stage 1. Max was born with Achondroplasia, a form of dwarfism. He explains that Achondroplasia is a ‘big word’ and not a special ‘superpower’; it simply means his bones grow differently. This is a wonderfully illustrated story encouraging discussion about how everyone is born different.

‘We Are Giants’ is for readers aged 9 and older and written from the view of a young girl called Sydney, who lives with her sister Jade and her mum, Amy. Amy was born with a condition called dwarfism, which means that she got to the height of 4ft then stopped growing altogether. Her deceased husband also had dwarfism so when Amy gave birth to two average-sized daughters, lots of people were sceptical about whether she could take care of them adequately. Perfect for young fans of Jacqueline Wilson, who has endorsed this debut author. Click here for The Guardian’s review of We Are Giants. It was also nominated for a number of national awards including the 2017 Branford Boase award for most promising children’s debut novel and Longlisted for the 2017 Waterstones’ children’s fiction award.

I can’t not never be very tall: is aimed at Early Years and KS1. Jessica was born with Achondroplasia, Dwarfism. This book is designed to help others around her to understand a little more about her and how imperfectly perfect she really is. Being small means she only needs a little more time to do everything the other children can do.

The Thing About Georgie: is aimed at Primary School children. A warm and humorous story starring an unforgettable young boy with dwarfism, from acclaimed author Lisa Graff.  “As far as Georgie is concerned, everyone has a “thing.”  The thing about poodles is that Georgie Bishop hates to walk them.  The thing about Jeanie the Meanie is that she would rather write on her shoe than help Georgie with their Abraham Lincoln project.  The thing about Andy’s nonna is that she kisses Georgie’s cheeks and doesn’t speak one word of English.  The thing about Georgie’s mom is that she’s having a baby—a baby who will probably be taller than Georgie very, very soon.  The thing about Georgie . . . well, what is the thing about Georgie?”

Both Kristina and Amber have some availability to visit libraries and schools and talk to children about their books and it would be fantastic if you or a member of your team could look into arranging this

I hope [INSERT SCHOOL LIBRARY NAME HERE] will be able to accommodate my request and I look forward to hearing from you.

Much appreciated.

[INSERT CHLD / PARENT NAME HERE]

Leave.EU ‘Turf out the dwarf’ campaign ‘disablist’ and ‘disgraceful’, says RGA UK

A leading charity for people with dwarfism has slammed a Leave.EU social media campaign – which showed a photo-shopped image of the House of Commons Speaker, John Bercow MP, as a dwarf about to be thrown by a group of men, with the banner and hashtag ‘Turf Out the Dwarf’ – as ‘disgraceful’ and ‘disablist’.

The image and slogan were tweeted by @Leave.EU, supposedly in response to Mr Bercow’s recent comments about US President Donald Trump speaking in Parliament.

A RGA UK spokesman said: “Whatever your politics, we hope most people would agree that using the term ‘dwarf’ as a slur and celebrating – as this picture does – acts of physical violence against people with dwarfism is disgraceful and disablist.

“This isn’t about ‘political correctness’; it’s about dwarfism still being an acceptable target for prejudice and abuse.

“It’s a sad reminder that we still have far to go, as a society.”

At the time of writing, the Tweet can still be seen on the @Leave.EU twitter feed.