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Lawrence Brown’s dream of becoming a professional drummer isn’t out of reach because he’s blind.
Brown, a Latino man from El Paso, said it only forces him to work harder.
“My disability is not a disability, it’s just an inconvenience,” said Brown, now a professional drummer in two bands.
At four months old he was diagnosed with optic nerve hypoplasia, a condition that caused him to go blind.
His mother, Georgina Brown, decided shortly after his birth that he wouldn’t be raised differently.
“I cried for about a week, and afterward I decided it was what it was and that I was going to stimulate Lawrence and support him the best that I could,” she said.
Georgina, a literacy coach at an El Paso elementary school, would play music for Brown when he was a baby to distract him from his frustrations.
It was then that his passion for music began.
“I started noticing that he would make music with anything,” his mother added.
She recalled her son making tunes by pressing down on the buttons of his Buzz Lighyear doll and by opening and closing ring boxes. At age 4, he got his first drum set.
He took lessons and used brail-printed music, but Brown told Fox News Latino that he learns better by listening to the beat and sounds of music.
Georgina kept pushing him even though some days his challenges would aggravate him.
“I used to tell Lawrence, ‘you pick your head up, you walk high and you keep on [going].’”
He attended regular classes in public schools and received some additional help from a brail teacher.
Brown continued to play music through middle and high school. He credited his high school band teacher, Aaron Works, who died in 2010, for pushing him along the way.
“[Works] really gave me structure,” said Brown, adding that he teacher encouraged him to pursue music professionally.
Now, he plays in several gigs in El Paso and is a member of two bands: New Breed Jazz and Fat Cats.
The University of Texas-El Paso sophomore is a music major, but he also has a passion for radio.
“I got teased a lot, for about the last three years, about having a really good radio voice,” he said.
He wanted to get active at his campus radio station, KTEP, but there was no brail on the equipment. So this summer Brown is getting paid by the Texas Workforce department of assistive and rehabilitative services (DARS) to brail the studio. He plans on starting a radio show featuring modern jazz music in a few weeks.
Dennis Woo, operations director for KTEP, is inspired by Brown’s story and is impressed with the changes he’s making to the station.
“Broadcasting is a trade that for the longest time sight-challenged and blind people never really go into because they quite frankly never had the opportunities to get into this and be a part of the society that is broadcasting.”
Brown is giving opportunities to people who have been shied away from radio because of their poor sight.
“He’s teaching a lot of the folks that [being] blind isn’t so much a reality, that it is just a concept,” added Woo.
In 2009, Lawrence traveled to Qingdao, China to get stem cell treatment to improve his sight at the Chengyang People’s Hospital. He received nine injections, five in his spine and four into his hand.
To finance the treatment, the Brown’s raised $75,000 through public fundraising – which included a gift of $20,000 from an anonymous donor. They only needed $60,000 for the hospitalization and travel, so the remaining funds are going to future treatments.
After 40 days in the hospital, he came home with depth perception and he can now recognize basic colors. He can even walk around his college’s campus without a cane.
Brown plans on getting his next stem cell treatment sometime in the next several months. He doesn’t know what will come of it, but hopes his story empowers other people struggling with a disability.
“I just hope that I provide inspiration,” he said.