Daryl "Chill" Mitchell

Daryl Mitchell interview
Daryl “Chill” Mitchell is something of a Renaissance Man. His career as an actor, director, producer, writer, musician, public speaker and comedian might strike others as overwhelming, but to Mitchell it’s all part of the game. For years, he enjoyed recurring roles on shows like Veronica’s Closet, Ed, and The John Larroquette Show. But after a spinal cord injury changed his life, Mitchell found himself wondering if he’d ever recapture that kind of success. Fresh off his FOX sitcom Brothers, in which Mitchell tackled his disability head-on, the entertainer took time for a phone interview with ABILITY Magazine’s Chet Cooper and discussed how fighting his way back into the mainstream isn’t entirely a new experience.

Chet Cooper: You call Georgia home now?

Daryl “Chill” Mitchell: Yes, sir. Sugar Hills, Georgia. I’m from the Bronx, but I’m just like everybody else, man. After we make it big in New York, we come to Georgia and hide out.

Cooper: It was good to see you at the Department of Labor event the other day. You’re a pretty strong advocate for employing actors with disabilities.

Mitchell: Oh, yeah, yeah, definitely. You meet with these Labor Department guys, and you can tell everybody is enthused and ready to go. That’s the main thing, really. Their willingness to fly out from Washington and see us in Los Angeles and speak with us says a lot about them. But it’s really a matter of what we need to do, what we’re willing to do as people with disabilities. We need to be more boisterous. We need to let the world know that we’re here.

Cooper: When did you become a person with a disability?

Mitchell: I had my accident November of 2000.

Cooper: Were you involved in anything related to the disability movement in your pre-accident life?

Mitchell: Well, prior to that incident, a friend of mine was a victim of random violence. He was standing around with a friend of his when some guys driving by just opened fire. I think the shooters had had a problem with a rival group of people, went to retaliate, but didn’t realize that the group they were firing on definitely wasn’t the one they were looking for. So my friend got hit.

That all happened maybe eight to 10 years before I got hurt. So being with my friend and doing things with him and going places with him opened my eyes a bit. He used to visit me in Los Angeles when I was doing The John Larroquette Show and doing movies with Martin Lawrence. He’d come out and hang, and I could definitely see how important accessibility was, just by being with him. When I got hurt, it was a blessing that he was one of the first people to show up at the hospital.

Cooper: That’s great he was there for you.

Mitchell: He was there for me. And from day one, he showed empathy, but he didn’t show sympathy. Man, he was like, “Get it goin’ right now.” He was very much of the mindset, “This is just what it is and you deal with it.” He was there for me, as any good friend would be.

Cooper: How have your feelings changed about disability after an experience like that?

Mitchell: You know, it’s interesting. I look back now at a person like Stevie Wonder. I look at a person like Ray Charles. Those were really the only people with disabilities ever put in the front of me, but their situation was never presented to me—or, I think, to anybody in the black community—as a disability. Because when you are a person who is already kind of socially disabled, who sometimes doesn’t count, disability is just another sense of not being able to do something.

So with African Americans, to some extent we’re talking about a whole race of people that was already given a disability because of various social issues. When it came to Stevie Wonder or Ray Charles, I never looked at them as people with disabilities. It might have been a great educational tool for me if I had, you know, in the sense that I would know that this is what a person with a disability is, and this is what he does to overcome his disability. But to me they were just Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder. They were blind and they were talented. But they were never “disabled”.

So I just never thought about it. Because when you’re busy grindin’ and tryin’ to make it happen, you don’t have time to stop and look at certain things in a certain manner. You just look at those guys and think, “Okay, they make it happen. Let’s just keep it movin’.” Those two men have been blind as far back as I can remember, but they were primarily two black men who came from the bottom. They were just part of another set of people on the bottom.

Cooper: It’s interesting that you’re able to relate this to the reality of racial differences. Do you notice much difference between issues of disability as a general grouping and issues of minorities with disabilities?

Mitchell: Oh, definitely. I know The Christopher Reeve Foundation has statistics on that, and has documented evidence of African American and Hispanic wheelchair users who are not being counted.

Cooper: They’re not being counted?

Mitchell: They’re not being represented, no. When surveys take a look at how many people in America use a wheelchair, a lot of times the African American and Hispanic populations are not being counted.

Cooper: I’ve definitely seen data that would suggest that the more minority categories a person belongs to—because as you know, disability crosses everything—the more difficult it is for him to find employment.

Mitchell: Definitely. But that ain’t no news to me, you know what I mean?

Cooper: Is there a part of your personal mission, if you want to call it that, that feels a responsibility towards helping African Americans with disabilities?

Mitchell: I don’t know. I mean, that would be like saying I would advocate only for people with disabilities who happen to use wheelchairs. But I can’t be like that. It’s not only people in wheelchairs who pay attention to me, who pay attention to my movies, to my work. So I can’t just advocate for people in wheelchairs. In the same sense, I can’t just advocate for black people.

But at the same time, I suppose I give the African American and disability angle some type of special attention because these are the things that affect me as well. But it ain’t gonna be the only thing that I advocate for, personally.

Cooper: I have the same issue. I have to advocate for people who are really attractive, because I am what I am. (laughs)

Mitchell: You know what I mean? (laughs) “Hey, baby, it ain’t my fault! God made me like this!”

Cooper: I’ve met a lot of people who have acquired disabilities later in life, rather than having been born with them, and there often seems to be a sense of awareness: “I think I need to be an advocate.” But thinking back on your pre-disability life, what could have motivated you to get involved in a movement that you might have assumed was never going to be a part of your life in the first place?

Mitchell: You’re asking, if I don’t have a disability, why would I want to get involved?.... continued in ABILITY Magazine

Articles in the Daryl "Chill" Mitchell Issue; Humor — Laziness is the Key to; Ashley’s Column — ESPY Time!; Timothy & Anthony Shriver — Eunice’s Legacy; ABILITY Facebook Contest — “This is How We Roll”; Augie Nieto — Excerpt from Reciprocity, Incorporated; Dr. Ericha Scott — The Fine Art of Addiction Therapy; Alicia Rojas — Portrait of an Artist as a Young Woman; Daryl “Chill” Mitchell — Cool, Calm and Collected; Spinal Cord Injury — Stem Cell Research Gaining Ground; Medicare — Competitive Bidding and Cost Reduction; Anthem Blue Cross — The Patient Safety First Project; It’s Our Story — A New Chapter in Disability Representation; ABILITY's Crossword Puzzle; Events and Conferences... subscribe

Aug/Sept 2010

Excerpts from the Daryl “Chill” Mitchell Issue:

Daryl "Chill" Mitchell — Interview

Alicia Rojas — Portrait of an Artist as a Young Woman

Timothy & Anthony Shriver — Eunice’s Legacy

Anthem Blue Cross — The Patient Safety First Project

Spinal Cord Injury — Stem Cell Research Gaining Ground

Itís Our Story — A New Chapter in Disability Representation

Humor — Laziness is the Key to

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