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Blind Man with Vision

A Blind Man with Vision

Bakersfield Magazine - Summer 2001

By Delia Latham

Today I will commit one random act of senseless KINDNESS ...  Will you?


These 12 words, along with the Random Acts of Kindness campaign, have resulted in the declaration of official Kindness weeks by many states.
 

And Bakersfield is home to the man who started it all!

Chuck Wall is the current Professor of Business and Communications at Bakersfield College, with a long list of hard-earned accomplishments to his credit (see sidebar).  The degree of success this amazing man has achieved is no less than phenomenal; but getting there was no walk in the park.
 

Wall's family found their way to Bakersfield in 1949.  His mother, having been advised to move to "a dry area" due to health difficulties, took on a nursing position at Kern General Hospital (now Kern Medical Center).  Mr.  Wall opened Hillcrest Patio Furniture, a small business located on Niles Street

"I made my first $100 sale when I was 9 years old," Wall said.  "That's what I did as a kid.  I built patio furniture, assembled it, sold it.  It was just part of my life."

Wall lost both of his parents prior to their 6Oth birthdays.
 

"They were hard-working people who felt that what they had to do was raise their two boys and set aside all enjoyment in life until they could retire, and both of them died before they retired," Wall said.  "Which has really given me quite a message," he added.  "You will live every day as if it were the last one - because it may be! I never put things off; if I want to do something, I do it now."

Perhaps it is that philosophy that has made him the success he is today.  Wall is clearly a man of vision - never mind the fact that he can't see. 

Wall was able to have a normal childhood prior to the severe onset of retinitis pigmentosa (RP), a term used to define a group of diseases that attack the retina.  The effects of RP were so gradual that neither Wall himself, nor his parents nor teachers, were aware of what was causing his educational difficulties. 

Wall was actually losing his sight in high school, but was still able to "fake it" to some extent.  However, the problem was even then severe enough to adversely affect his grades to the extent that he was placed in "underachiever" classes.
 
"I was treated as if I were mentally impaired throughout my high school years," Wall says matter-of-factly. 

He had graduated from high school before being diagnosed with RP.  Surprisingly, young Wall found the diagnosis "very exciting."

"It was just such a relief!" he said.  "I came home and told my parents, 'The only thing wrong with me is I'm going blind!'" That's when he started his life over. 

For awhile, barely scraping by academically, Wall was still "trying to play." But he vividly recalls the incident that changed his life.  Having graduated from East High School in 1959, Wall was attending Bakersfield College.  He was the only visually impaired student in a facility which, at that time, had few provisions for handicapped students.  He sat in one class listening as the professor outlined an assignment.
 

"Your assignment is …" he said, and Wall heard the scribble of chalk on the blackboard.  "And this is the page number you'll find it on …"scribble, scribble, scribble, "...  and this is when it's due ..." more scribbles.
 

Wall was teetering on the very edge of blindness, and extremely shy, but he knew his only hope of getting through this class was to ask for help.  So he made his careful way to the front of the room, swallowed his timidity and managed to speak to the "great professor."

"Sir," he said, "I really don't know what you've written.  I can't see it."

"That's your problem," was the curt reply.  "You figure out how to deal with it."

"At that moment," Wall says now, "I knew I had a choice.  I could crumble -- as  many would - or I could say, 'You son of a gun.  You are not going to destroy my life!' And fortunately, I chose that."

Faced with fight or flight, Chuck Wall chose to fight. 

"And it has been a lifetime fight," he says.  "Because no matter what I have done, there's always been somebody there to tell me, You can't do that, you're blind!'"

"But every step along the way," he was quick to add, "I've had somebody who's been willing to say, 'Yes, he can, and with a little help he will achieve it.'"

Wall continued to struggle throughout junior college, barely maintaining a C average.  Nevertheless, after graduating from BC with an associate of arts degree, he was accepted into San Francisco State University "on a hardship."

"They said, 'Ok, we'll see what you can do, but you'll probably not make it," Wall remembers.
 

They were almost right.  "My first semester, I was really failing out," Wall admitted.  "Because, man, that was hard work!"

Fortunately, Wall had a friend who really knew how to be a friend.  Rod Williams, who later became a prominent Bakersfield attorney, told the dean of students he thought Wall would "do all right" academically if he had some help.  The dean responded by personally introducing Wall to all the help available to him.
 

As a result, he was able to get his bachelor's degree, still maintaining that stubborn C average.  Then, caught up in the novelty of "all that help," he applied to get a masters degree and was accepted - on probation.
 

"Well, I completed three masters," Dr.  Chuck Wall says now, with quiet pride.  "An M.A.  in Marketing, an M.S.  in Management and an M.B.A.  in Marketing/Management and Group Dynamics - with a 3.95 GPA.

"Then I went to UCLA and took a Ph.D.  with a 4.0," he added.  Wall credits his outstanding academic achievement to one thing: "I got help!" he said.  "Otherwise, I'm just a failing-out kid."

Wall says many people who could be successful accomplish little.
 

"They' re too proud or too embarrassed or too unwilling to ask for help," he said.  "As a result, they never achieve their fullest abilities."

His advice: "If you need help, seek it!"

Wall owes Rod Williams for far more than an admirable list of degrees.  Williams also introduced Wall to his "very own Princess Di."

Di is deeply involved with the Kindness campaign, and often travels with her husband to his numerous speaking engagements. 

This part of the Walls' lives came about quite by surprise in 1993, when Wall gave what he thought was a routine assignment to his Human Relations & Communications class.  Having heard a radio news spot that highly disturbed him with its announcement of "yet another random act of senseless violence," Wall set out to make something positive of that unfortunate phrase.  He challenged his students to go out and commit one random act of senseless kindness, which they were then to write about as their assignment. 

One student thought the idea newsworthy and, without the professor's knowledge, contacted a reporter at The Bakersfield Californian.  Following a brief, unenthusiastic telephone interview with Wall, the reporter pounded out a story zesty enough to run on the front page of a Saturday edition. 

Fun.  The students loved it.  But it would have ended there had the story not been picked up by The Associated Press (AP), who sent its own reporter to Bakersfield to see what all the fuss was about. 

The ensuing article generated world-wide publicity.  Phone calls jammed the switchboard at the college; interview requests began to pour in and Wall found himself in demand for numerous radio programs; letters arrived by the hundreds; a number of television shows garnered even more attention.
 

In a personal phone call to Wall, Congressman Walter Tucker (D- California), announced his intention of introducing a congressional resolution to the House of Representatives, declaring one week each year as Kindness Awareness Week.  Wall helped write that resolution.  He also suggested the week of Feb.  14, which was accepted, presented to Congress, and approved with a unanimous vote on the floor of the House.  Pennsylvania jumped on the bandwagon with a state resolution, and became the first of many states to declare Kindness Awareness days or weeks. 

Wall's slogan, 'Today I will commit one random act of senseless kindness ...  Will You?" has now been printed on more than 250,000 bumper stickers, as well as T shirts, posters and magnets. 

Wall has since authored The Kindness Collection and co-authored Selling Lemonade for Free with local writer Kimberly Walton.  The Kindness foundation's two Web sites provide information on how to be a part of what truly as become a world-wide movement. 

Many countries, among them Japan, Australia, Thailand, Korea and Canada, have embraced the idea, using kindness as a core ingredient in their national efforts to curb violence.  Nov.  13 is now World Kindness Day; the United States continues to celebrate kindness awareness during the week of Feb 14.
 

"I'm the official book seller," Di Wall says modestly.  Actually, Di is much more than a bookseller, handling the finances and heavy correspondence - in addition to being the  "eyes" of the president.  Wall, however, refuses to take credit for the Kindness explosion, saying he simply gave an old idea some new recognition. 

At home, the couple lead a very quiet life.  Wall prizes time alone in his workshop, where he makes redwood bird feeders.  He often works on the them in the evening, and is amused at the oddity a passerby might find in hearing his electric saws running at night - in a dark garage.
 

Di adds, "And he's only cut a finger off once!"  Thanks to modern medicine, the finger was successfully reattached, and Wall continues to work his creative magic in the dark.
 

"It helps with the PG&E bill," Di teases.   "We've all got to do our part."

Wall sells the bird feeders, with the profit going to the Kindness foundation and the Center for the Blind.    "I sold about a hundred of them last year," he said.   "That's about all I can build and still teach full time." 

Teaching is of utmost importance to Wall.   And with no supporting statistics, he nevertheless feels safe in saying he is one of "a very small number" of blind professors.
 

"A lot of people want to make you feel good, but forget that when you get out into the real world, it may not be that nice," Wall said.  "You 'd better face the reality that there are going to be some tough times, and you're going to have to be tough yourself in order to survive."

Wall laces his honesty with genuine concern for his students.  He harbors no ill will towards the professor who was so unkind to him, but says he would never advocate that behavior.
 

"For me, it worked," he said.   "For another, it a may well have destroyed them."

Wall's students wonder at his ability to know what they are up to in the classroom.  One class member recently attempted to deliver his speech without the note cards, reading from a book instead. 

"Dr.  Wall asked him, 'Are you reading from a book? Are you looking down at the podium? Move your card up to the top.' And we were all asking, 'How did he know that?'"

It appears Dr.  Chuck Wall's students must continue to tread lightly in the presence of this kind blind man with vision. 



(Article from Bakersfield Magazine, SUMMER 2001; By: Delia Latham.  Used with permission.)

 

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