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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 be 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 suppose to be and you don’t have to pretend to be anything your 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.

Role models in the dwarfism community: Kiruna Stamell

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. To mark the start of Dwarfism Awareness Month 2018, we spoke with Kiruna Stamell, actress and disability rights activist. Here’s what we learned. Read More

Important update about Mega Weekend 2018 and crowdfunding appeal

For several years now, we’ve been fortunate enough to receive support from Children In Need to subsidize children’s places at our events – allowing them to come for free. Unfortunately, this year our application for Children In Need funding was not successful​.​ Sadly, this will affect the prices we must charge our members to attend our 2018 Mega Weekend.

This year, for the first time ever, we are asking for outside help.Read More

Dwarfism, gaming, and the ‘butterfly-effect’ – a blog by Jacob Gould

My name is Jacob. I always introduce myself as a twenty-something software developer, gamer; who has a Christmas cracker sense of humour; a slight affinity for caffeine; and who just happens to have Achondroplasia.

I saw the RGA was running the #SpreadTheWord campaign – asking libraries and schools to stock books that show a positive image of dwarfism. I wanted to take part and contacted my old primary school to see if they’d welcome the books into their library. The current generation there would not have grown up with any real-life representation of dwarfism. They accepted my request and wanted me to revisit the school to deliver a presentation.Read More

Dwarfism: what a Lego figure taught me about power

“You’re attention-seeking!”, “these characters are fictitious!”, “they’ve existed for years!”. These were some of the charges levelled at us this summer when we spoke out about an ‘Evil Dwarf’ collectors card, based on the popular LEGO figures. Here I must express an interest: I am the charity’s Vice-Chair and have dwarfism myself. From that position I feel it’s important I address these criticisms – not because I’m ‘sensitive’ or ‘a snowflake’, but because they provide a valuable lesson in power.Read More

RGA UK and ground-breaking children’s authors urge libraries to help combat dwarfism stereotypes

School and public libraries can help combat prejudice by promoting positive portrayals of people with dwarfism, according to the new ‘Spread The Word’ campaign launched today by leading dwarfism charity, RGA UK.

The charity – which campaigns to ensure people with dwarfism have the same opportunities as everyone else – has teamed up with two ground-breaking authors to encourage school and public libraries to stock children’s books showing dwarfism in a positive and realistic light.

Supporters are encouraged to contact their public or school library to request they stock ‘Strong and Mighty Max’ by Kristina Gray and ‘We Are Giants’ by Amber Lee Dodd, as well as ‘I can’t not never be very tall’ by Susan Hatton.

Template emails and letters to send to libraries – as well as Tweets, and Facebook posts – are available from the RGA UK website. Click here.

The aim of ‘Spread The Word’ is 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.

RGA UK believes such misrepresentations can perpetuate stereotypes, prejudice, and misconceptions among children at a young age.

Books such as these help to introduce children to dwarfism, disability, and difference in a positive and realistic light.

Both authors have some availability to visit libraries and schools and talk to children about their books.

Chair of RGA UK, Gillian Martin, said: “There is an urgent need to address depictions of dwarfism, in our media and popular culture, which too often misrepresent members of our community as people out of myths, fairy tales, and fantasy novels.

“Introducing children to dwarfism and disability – of all sorts – at a young age helps them to become familiar with and accommodate difference and diversity, which we believe should be celebrated and embraced.

“These authors have done wonders to help us achieve this and we are very proud to support their books, which should be in every library across the country.”

Commenting on the campaign, Kristina said: “I am thrilled to be part of the RGA’s campaign to combat negative stereotypes of people with dwarfism. Educating young minds with positive role models is the key to empowering the next generation to value each other’s differences as something to be celebrated and respected.

“For a child who is born with a rare condition there is no greater feeling than picking up a story book and finding out that the main character is just like you.”

Amber Lee Dodd said: “Children’s fiction can often be a powerful medium for positive social change, which is why I’m very honoured that ‘We are Giants’ has been picked by RGA to promote positive representations of dwarfism – especially as ‘We are Giants’ is about never needing to be anything other than who you are.”

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

‘We Are Giants’, for readers aged 9+, is written from the view of a young girl who lives with her sister and her mum who has dwarfism. Her deceased father also had dwarfism. When her mum gave birth to two average-sized daughters, people were sceptical about whether she could take care of them. It has been endorsed by best-selling author, Jacqueline Wilson, and reviewed by The Guardian.

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.

Template emails, Tweets, and Facebook posts are available from the RGA UK website. Click here.

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

Are there other books that you think positively portrays people with dwarfism? Why not add these to your list and let Team RGA know via office@restrictedgrowth.co.uk.

ENDS

Notes

RGA UK is in no way commercially connected to the authors nor does the charity benefit financially from sales of these books.

We are Giants / Amber Lee DODD / Quercus Children’s Books / ISBN 9781784294212

Strong and Mighty Max / Kristina GRAY / Matador /ISBN 978178589046

I can’t not never be very tall / Susan HATTON / CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform / ISBN 13: 9781499717747

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