Interview with An Artist Advancing Democracy
June 22, 2021
Derek Heard, a young Black Autistic artist from Albany, Georgia, uses his talents to get out the vote in Georgia. Derek and his mom Teresa Heard, a member of the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities, participated in the Georgia Disability Vote Partnership (GDVP) to help motivate people with disabilities to vote and provide them with the tools and information they needed to make sure their ballot counted in 2020. Derek was integral to the Georgia Disability Vote Partnership, and the partnership wanted to find a way to share Derek’s art widely and highlight the power of Derek’s work. My colleague Keri Gray and I connected with Derek and Teresa after the 2021 runoff election in Georgia, and talked together about how they got connected to the GDVP and also learned more about Derek and his love for art. Afterwards, Derek and Teresa provided insights in a written interview so that Derek could share a bit about himself and some of his favorite artwork with our audience.
Where are you from? Albany, Georgia
How old are you? I am 20 years old
How would you describe yourself? I am a self-advocate and confident. I have autism. I am funny. I like to help people. I like kids. I like to garden and cook. I want to do character design in video games. My best friend is Carley. I love my teacher Mrs. Tomlinson. My friend Gabby helped me and likes to draw things like me. I am part of Uniting for Change with Katie Chandler and Michelle Schwartz.
Additional information from Teresa Heard: Derek is self-taught primarily. He has taken art classes previously but since COVID 19 and doing virtual learning, he has been taking consistent art lessons year round. Derek has always enjoyed art as a young child and that was how he related to the world when he was young and before he could speak verbally. I once told Derek that communicating can be done in pictures as well as words. That his words are an explosion of colors, lines, shapes, and shades. As Derek grew, I thought his love of art was a hobby but he gradually let me know that it was more than that. Also the fact that we have boxes of cut out characters that he has drawn over the years.
How did you get involved in voting outreach in Georgia? My mom told me about REV UP Georgia. I spoke with a lady who told me about it. (Stacey at [The Arc Georgia]). I want to know more about voting and why it is important.
Why does voting matter to you? Because it is important for all the people and for the world. You choose who you want to vote for. I want lawmakers who will help me and not hurt self-advocates. My voice is my power.
How did you help the Georgia Disability Vote Partnership get out the vote? I helped by drawing voting pictures and art for it. I wanted to show my dreams in my art.
Additional information from Teresa Heard: Stacie Rameriez with The Arc Georgia sent me an email about REV UP Georgia. Derek was a new voter and was just beginning his journey to understanding why voting is important not only as an American, but as an African American man. I told him about how so many people did so many things to help him be able to vote from the past. But I also wanted him to see how people were doing things now as well. His involvement was life changing. Derek now talks about voting regularly and how his voice matters. I explained to Derek that sometimes people make laws and they don’t know it will make it hard for him to get a job or go to school. So he has to speak up and let people know.
When did you start drawing and what do you draw about usually? I started drawing characters when I was a little boy. In the beginning, I would draw mainly characters from cartoons. Now, I like to draw pop art and what makes me feel happy. I draw about things I like and how I feel.
What materials do you usually draw with? Pencil, colored pencils, crayons, and paint.
Why is drawing important to you? Because it helps me raise up my voice. It helps me to get people to vote. It makes me happy and I talk to people with my pictures.
How do your identities as a young Black disabled artist influence your drawings and your drawing process, or do they? I draw pictures about my family. I love being myself. I love to be brown. I love who I am. When I want to draw something. I go to the internet to look up about it. It gives me big ideas.
Additional information from Teresa Heard: Derek as a child would draw fantastical characters and cut them out and save them. He gradually started drawing other pictures. When I started buying him drawing/art books, I could see a change in how he was drawing. He enjoyed art classes so much and we kept a house full of paints, paper, markers, crayons, and other art supplies for him. Derek would draw pictures in the past to tell me how he was feeling. I recall moments when he would get frustrated and a picture would slide under my bedroom door with a frowning face staring back at me. When Derek wants to draw something, he needs literal references. So we search the internet to look at images of things relevant to what he wants to draw about. So for example, when he wanted to [draw] about going to vote and looking at Georgia’s My Voter Page. We looked at the website and talked about what it does. We would look at other references online as well. He said that it is like a map. I told him yes, it was like that and it helped people know where they had to go to vote. From there he would draw out the concept.
Blog edited by Lilian Aluri, REV UP Voting Campaign Coordinator at the American Association of People with Disabilities.
Derek Heard is a 20-year-old young man who attends Lee County High School in Georgia. He is a blossoming self-advocate and artist who enjoys food, graphic design, and playing video games. He is a recent social butterfly and enjoys teaching people about his love of art. Derek began his journey being involved in community programs through Easterseals Southern Georgia since he was 7 years old through their Family Support Program. As a young adult, Derek is now actively involved in groups that believe in furthering causes for people with developmental disabilities. Derek is now a member of the Uniting for Change Network of self-advocates and REV UP Georgia. Derek is an enthusiastic person who doesn’t mind jumping in and helping out any way that he can. He has a love of people and has an extreme passion for art. He inspires to become a professional artist and be involved with character design for game designing companies like Blizzard. He lives with 2 younger brothers and parents. His other key allies are his grandparents and his best friend, Carley Holland.