Jayden Ferrell knows a thing or two about beats.
It's not just about the beats of your favorite rap songs or the lyrical fluidity of your best melodies. It's the vibrations of your Xbox controller and the sounds of video game characters colliding during a fight. It's the tapping of your fingers on your iPhone as the screen is read aloud to you, the bouncing of your cane, and the clicking of the buttons on your BrailleNote, which is like a laptop that lets you surf the web. It's the rhythm of a strong legal argument in court and the comedic timing of jokes that keep your loved ones smiling.
The cadence of 16-year-old Ferrell's daily life is marked by laughter, joy, family and friends, even in difficult times. Almost completely blind from birth due to a congenital disease, Ferrell doesn't think much of his sight. His mind is on his interest in musical theater; is a huge fan of actor, composer, and playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda. Ferrell can rap and sing parts of "Hamilton" by heart.
Ferrell is thinking about his goal of becoming a lawyer. He has been reading cases to prepare for a mock trial in one of his classes at Coral Shores High School in the Keys, where he lives. Watching "Law and Order" is a weekly ritual.
He's also been teaching himself to cook through lessons at the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, despite his affinity for ordering food. In the junk food category, Wendy's beats McDonald's, but now that she's honing her cooking skills, she talks a lot about her home cooking. He acknowledges that his mother Sophia Baker's lasagna is better, but the chili he made at the Miami Lighthouse last year was a contender.
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“Sorry, Mom, I made better chili that day than you did,” Ferrell said from the couch in her mother's Key Largo apartment during a recent interview. “And we had no condiments or anything. I just did great."
There are also the girls she chats with on Snapchat, like the old friend from middle school she ran into on a summer trip to Bird Bowl. Ferrell was so busy chatting with her, a bowling alley cashier, that her friends had to keep calling him when it was his turn to throw the ball. He's not one to waste his chance to flirt with a girl.
“Every time it wasn't my turn to bowl, I'd go back there just to talk to her and buy things,” she said. “I spent like $20 that day. But I also got his Snap, so it was worth it."
The bowling trips are part of a series of activities sponsored by the Miami Lighthouse, where Ferrell has been involved in rehabilitation and education services since he was a baby. He has grown into a charismatic teenager with a zest for life and a playful attitude that charms most of those around him, including his Miami Lighthouse counselor, Betty Chavarria. Inspired by his joyful spirit and dedication to his education and family, she nominated Ferrell for the Miami Herald's Wish Book this holiday season.
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Chavarria has seen Jayden grow and sharpen her wit, along with a sometimes dry sense of humor.
“Once, a person asked him: ‘How come you see if you are blind? "He replied: 'I see everything dark.'"
Overall, Ferrell comes across as confident and unflappable, but it's not always easy.
“He's had his doubts,” Baker says, recounting the rare moments when he shows frustration at his blindness. "There are days when she doesn't know why she touched him."
In casual conversation, Ferrell doesn't get to that point, but when asked to share some of the moments of his day that he finds difficult, he opened up a bit.
“Well, at least in my opinion, you'll always be seen by a lot of people as... maybe 'less than'. Most of the time, they will see you as a person who can't make their own decisions, and that's very upsetting. It's not fun," he says. "Also, there are a lot of people with like 50,000 questions that I don't want to answer, and it's overwhelming when you hear them."
How to help: Wish Book is trying to help this family and hundreds of others in need this year. To donate, you can do so safely here.
A somewhat stinging response, perhaps, to more than half of a 45-minute interview, but a real response from someone who is as genuine as can be, according to loved ones. Ferrell is very focused on his family, and the past two years have seen some difficult times for this tight-knit group.
In October 2019, Baker's best friend, one of Ferrell's “aunts,” passed away, and just two months later, the boy's grandfather died. The same week the world was turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic, in March 2020, Ferrell's grandmother, Mary Crawford, was diagnosed with breast cancer. The young man decided to move in with his grandmother.
“I thought I'd stay here in case something happened,” he said, sitting on his single bed while the wall air conditioner hummed. Her voice quavering for a moment, she recalled her earliest memories of him: Crawford taking him and his little sister, Jahniya Ferrell, out for soup and chicken wings at his favorite Chinese restaurant.
She underwent chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and a double mastectomy before being declared cancer-free. He still lives with Crawford, his grandmother.
Staying with her grandmother is also a statement to her parents, who parted amicably last year. She didn't want to choose between the two.
“This is how we met in the middle,” Ferrell said.
Looking to the future
Chavarria and Baker said the young man is serious about working toward an independent lifestyle when he goes to college and, eventually, law school.
To help you get it done this holiday season, a new black Jansport backpack, hygiene kit and electric razor, and some new clothes like black dress shoes, size 10 1/2, and oversized polo shirts. He also needs bedding, pillows, and a new set of towels.
How to help: Wish Book is trying to help this family and hundreds of others in need this year. To donate, pay securely at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook.
To fuel his hobbies, he would like a Playstation 5 with action adventure games and some Apple Airpods Pro to listen to his music.
“Music is his life,” Baker said.
His dying wish is to meet Miranda, one of his musical heroes, the creator and star of “In The Heights” and “Hamilton.” After singing part of "The World Was Wide Enough," Ferrell imagined meeting Miranda.
“I would probably pass out with excitement,” Ferrell said. In this hypothetical scenario, he quickly regains his trademark confidence. “I would kind of make a bet with him that I could do 'My Shot' better than him…and then I would do better than him. Then he'd make me play Hamilton in the next Broadway show, and then I'd wake up from that dream."
How to Help
Wish Book is trying to help hundreds of families in need this year. To donate, pay securely at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook. For information, call 305-376-2906 or email email@example.com. The most frequently requested items are laptops and tablets for school, affordable furniture and vans.
This story was originally published on January 10, 2022 1:58 pm.