Fat Joe isn’t a celebrity I actively follow so when I saw his Facebook photo pop up in my feed, I clicked out of curiosity. I didn’t even know he was a parent, let alone a special needs parent. And I was moved by his honesty and tenderness toward his eldest son, Joey.
I’m very private with my first born. Joey is special kid full of joy and Love. there’s no way you could understand unless you have a family member who has challenges in life. He’s my angel and the reason for all my blessings. I Love him to death #godisgreat
The photo has gone viral with more than 450K likes, 28k shares and thousands of comments. Even the comments have comments! And the comments are equally heartfelt. Many are written by special needs parents, sharing photos of their children. Some are written by individuals with special needs, inspired by Fat Joe to share their own story.
Fat Joe has ignited a conversation within a community that typically considers disability to be a taboo topic.
In a 2010 interview for urblife.com, Fat Joe admits to the challenges he faced as a new special needs parent.
When I had [Joey] I was very young. I love my son dearly, but I didn’t feel like I was ready to have kids at the time…He was a special needs child, I raised him with my parents. His mom couldn’t handle him, and instead of him going to a center we raised him all of his life. I had to learn the responsibilities of being a parent the hard way.
In the Latino community disability or any kind of special need is misunderstood and stigmatized. Many parents fear the label that comes with special needs. What they fear is someone thinking their child is dumb, weird or less than. They fear the “r-word” and all the cruel implications that come with it.
And when it comes to special needs services, schools and resources, The Bronx (where Fat Joe was born and raised) is grossly underserved.
There aren’t many Latino celebrities talking about special needs. There aren’t many Latino dads talking about their children with special needs.
I understand Fat Joe’s need for privacy and wanting to protect his son.
In the hip hop community, individuals with special needs are often the brunt of a joke. It’s dismissed as “slang” or “just jokes.” In the past, I’ve written about celebrities like Steve Harvey and rappers like 50 Cent, T.I., Drake and J. Cole ridiculing individuals with special needs. Even D.L. Hughly – who has a child with autism – uses the r-word in his routine and makes no apology for it.
But it’s important for us to share our stories, to create awareness, to promote acceptance. It’s okay to talk about disability. Special needs parents shouldn’t have to learn the hard way, we should be able to learn from each other.
I admire Fat Joe for sharing such a sincere message with his fans, for giving some insight into his life as a special needs dad. And I hope it’s not the last we hear from him.