Bold Blind Beauty On A.I.R.

Episode 7: Success In Plain Sight Featuring Dan Berlin & Jack Chen

July 09, 2022 Bold Blind Beauty
Bold Blind Beauty On A.I.R.
Episode 7: Success In Plain Sight Featuring Dan Berlin & Jack Chen
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Date: 7/9/22

Episode title and number: FSuccess In Plain Sight Featuring Dan Berlin & Jack Chen Season 2 - #7

Brief summary of the show:
Welcome to Season 2 Episode  7 of Bold Blind Beauty On A.I.R.  Today we're talking with former Iron Men, Dan Berlin and Jack Chen about their soon-to-be-released  documentary on their experience during the Race Across America. Known as the World's Toughest Bicycle Race, Race Across America is a grueling coast-to-coast 3,000-mile cycling event.

Dan and Jack's tandem team consisted of physically fit sighted pilots and blind stokers.  This interesting conversation draws parallels from the boardroom to interdependence and the capabilities of blind people.  If you've ever doubted what blind people can do, this episode will challenge you to see those on the blindness spectrum in a new light. 

Bullet points of key topics & timestamps:
0:00 | Welcome
2:17 | Meeting Jack Chen
4:10 | Meeting Dan Berlin
7:21 | Race Across America
18:08 | Beauty Byte With Dana Hinnant
20:25 | The Documentary
23:53 | Learning More About The Movie
25:24 | Connecting With Dan & Jack
27:08 | What's Next

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Calls to action:

Music Credit: “New Inspiration” by BasspartoutX

Connect with Bold Blind Beauty to learn more about our advocacy:

Music Credit: “New Inspiration” by BasspartoutX

Thanks for listening!❤️

Steph  00:18

Welcome back to another edition of the Bold Blind Beauty On A.I.R. podcast. The show that’s clearing the air for more A.I.R. (Access, Inclusion, and Representation). I'm Stephanae McCoy, and with me are my co-hosts,

Nasreen  00:33

I'm Nasreen Bhutta,

Sylvia  00:34

and Sylvia Stinson-Perez.

Steph  00:41

The overall purpose of A.I.R. Access, Inclusion, and Representation is to fully acknowledge value and respect people on the blindness spectrum. To create an inclusive culture, meaningful steps must be taken to fully integrate blind people from the boardroom to entry-level and throughout. In today's podcast, our guests will touch on this topic, as well as shift perceptions on how blind people are seen. Since Nasreen, Sylvia, and I are very excited about this episode, we forego our banter so that you can experience the full conversation.

Sylvia  01:28

We are thrilled to have on Bold Blind Beauty On A.I.R. today two magnificent gentlemen who are just incredible. They are amazing and they've done some amazing things, things that I would not even consider. So welcome, Dan Berlin and Jack Chen, who I also am just so fortunate to know as we are on a couple of boards of directors together. Dan and Jack, tell us a little bit about yourselves, your vision loss journey, and what you do. Let's start with Jack.

Jack Chen  02:17

Sure, hey, Sylvia, really great to be here chatting with everybody. I'm totally blind, I've lost my eyesight, completely an eye operation that didn't go well back in 1991. And that wasn't when I was a sophomore in high school. And my sort of journey through blindness started much earlier than that. And the thing that has kind of marked and motivated me to continue was a conversation that I had with a fifth-grade teacher, you know, being a son, son of an immigrant family, you know, grades in school was really important to me, and I was just very stressed out as a low vision person back then, I was frustrated with how difficult school was. And she told me, No Jack, you don't have to really worry about working so hard because you know, the government's always going to be there to take care of you as you need it. And, you know, it became an inflection moment for me as I thought about it and I never wanted to be that person who needed help, who to be you know, underestimated. And it's been kind of a life's journey of mine to go outside of other people's expectations. And to, you know, approve what I can do on my own, outside of what other people might expect me to be able to do. I gave the commencement address when I graduated from the College of Engineering at UC Berkeley with a master's degree in computer science. The title of my talk was “Do What The World Tells You, You Can't Do” and that that'd be a motivator to you.

Sylvia  03:59

That's fantastic Jack you are you're such a mentor to so many including me. Dan, tell us a little about yourself and your journey.

Dan Berlin  04:10

Sylvia, you're way too kind. I gotta say you know I want to get this recording just for your introduction. Thank you for that and really appreciate being here. Yeah, this is awesome what you guys are doing. And for me, my blindness journey started when I was seven I was diagnosed with Stargardt's eventually rediagnosis cone-rod dystrophy. But I pretty much hate it. You know, I faked it all through middle school, elementary school, and high school and dealt with that transition before it got to a point where I had no central vision left and really couldn't fake the fact that I couldn't see my computer screen or drive or do things like that. And I took an almost 180-degree turn and started using a cane and told all of my co-workers at the time that “oh yeah, hey, I'm blind” and it was revolutionary. Because I had several of them come up to me one woman in particular. So wow, why didn't you tell us because, for the past three years of working together, I just thought you were the rudest person in the office because I always I would wave at you and you never waved back. And that, to me was a changing moment where I said, Okay, you know, I'm just who I am, I was built this way. It's a hand dealt, it's like good and or bad hands just is. And it's just our job to go out and make the most of it, you know, so I went to graduate school, and then 12 or so year career in corporate America, with a couple of international companies working in different parts of the world, and then co-founded my own vanilla extract company, ran that for several years, before selling and exiting that in 2018, which was fantastic. But those experiences were incredible. And you know, much to what Jack was saying about breaking preconceived notions, I don't think I've ever been in a board meeting, or a boardroom or even a conference room with another professional that's been blind. And that's my goal is to, to change that, to make a difference, to create an environment that really allows us to fully utilize the strengths that we have.

Sylvia  06:17

Jack and Dan, you both defy expectations and encourage the world to do so. And I appreciate you so much for that. Steph, I'm passing it off to you to ask them the next question.

Steph  06:32

Thank you so much, Sylvia, first of all, thank you, Jack and Dan, it is so wonderful to have you join us today for this wonderful conversation. Just listening to your stories just fires me up because Bold Blind Beauty On A.I.R. is all about what you two basically talked about in your introduction, Access, Inclusion, and Representation. And really changing the thinking, instead of focusing on our weaknesses, or the things that we can't do, let's focus on our strengths. One of the things that you two did was the Race Across America in 2018. And what I would like to know is first, how did you get into tandem biking? And what made you want to do this? Dan let's start with you.

Dan Berlin  07:21

Yeah, definitely. Um, so Jack and I met a couple of years before 2018 on a really cool podcast that he was working on. And we found that we got along great and have very similar points of view about the world and our places in it, you know, are both Ironman triathletes. And we decided to look for something that was just really challenging to do that would really help to highlight the perceived limits that are put on people who are blind out there in the world, and something we could use to just destroy those perceptions out there. And we came across Race Across America, as the toughest bike race in the world. It's a single-stage race, meaning you don't stop. And it goes from basically just north of San Diego, Oceanside, California, to Annapolis, Maryland. So 3100 miles and we have nine days to complete this nonstop race. And we put together a team of four blind cyclists, riding tandems with four sighted pilots, and just decided to really put everything into this physical challenge that many serious cyclists, you know, look at as the pinnacle of cyclic endurance.

Jack Chen  08:39

Well, if I could add on to what Dan said, and just share a little bit about kind of mood and motivation a little bit more, be more drilling down. Let me tell a story. That just happened to me. I just went to my 25th college reunion at Harvard, about three weeks ago. And I'm going into an old friend of mine, his name is Edwin Lin. He's a senior executive at City Corp. and I was standing by my tree outside in Harvard Yard. And he came up to me just, you know, out of random and said, “I have one big regret at Harvard. My regret is that I couldn't help you more.”  What do you mean? Edwin roomed with me for a summer after I believe, after freshman year where I took multivariable calculus and differential equations. Edwin is a math whiz. And I needed help because the professor was writing all this stuff on the board and I couldn't follow it yada yada, everyone knows the drill. He came to class with me, and he sat with me and he said, I can't do this. I can't explain this to you. The teacher is going so fast. I have no idea how you did this. And, you know, I graduated with honors, and Edwin and I stayed friends. But he told me that that experience and having known me really changed him. When he was at Citibank, he had an opportunity to interview someone who's blind for a role on his team. And his other team members questioned whether this was a wise thing to do. And he stood up and he said, absolutely not. I've seen it done before. And that experience that he had, that Edwin had working with me, was powerful to change his perceptions of what blind people could do. And what was necessary to help them to be able to be successful. It didn't take much, but it did take an advocate. And he became that advocate, mainly because he knew someone who was successful, who was blind. And so when you think about blindness, you think about success, and you think about other people's perceptions, we can do the same thing. We need to replicate Edwin's experience. And we need to make it possible for everyone in America and everyone else around the world to be able to see success in plain sight. And that was Dan and my sort of impetus behind doing this race and also creating this full-length documentary. Because we didn't, we didn't want the opportunity to go past for some people to not have the experience of seeing disability normalized and success normalized in the disability community in the blindness community. And so that is the way that we want to disrupt the perceived thinking about people who are blind in America. That's why we did the race. And that's what I want to do is put this in front of every person in America and every person in the world so that people can see that people who are blind can be successful, and what they do,

Sylvia  11:41

We have an opportunity every single day to do that in our lives. We are on stage and people are watching us. When we can connect with them and show Hey, we are just as capable of you as you are, we might just do things differently. And help people understand that it's such a great moment, but that they do carry on to every other opportunity that they have to interact with someone who's blind or with any other disability, they see the potential.

Nasreen  12:14

Hi, Dan and Jack, this is Nasreen. You know, I absolutely love listening to what you guys are talking about when Sylvia brought this to our attention that there are tandem cyclists, they're doing some great work, got excited, because one of the things I love doing growing up was riding a bike, I was always riding my bike everywhere I went, and it's something I miss doing. And you guys have just now sparked an interest in me again, to get back on the bike. But this time, you know, maybe do what you guys are doing a tandem bike, and you guys are truly breaking perceptions, and shattering the limits that are put on blind people or people with visual impairment. And I need to ask you guys, what were the major lessons that you learned about yourselves as a result of the ram?

Dan Berlin  13:00

I could start Jack. What lessons are Yeah, we're always learning lessons about ourselves. And I think my lessons have nothing to do with blindness. It was such a challenging race. It's rare in life that we ever have experiences to be put under such a level of stress and duress, or lack of sleep for multiple days, four or five, six days in a row plus physical stress plus a camera crew plus expectations of hitting a time goal. And working together as a team. One of the lessons I learned, I don't know if it's me, myself, or just in general, but it's really how important it is to be with people that are supportive, and to really create or have an impactful team that we're members of and that we work together with. We are just so much better. Everybody blindsided, you know, any situation, we do so much better when we're with a collective group of people. And we have an environment that can recognize everybody's strengths and play to the collective team strengths, versus always trying to be an individual, and make the best of it out there on our own all the time,

Sylvia  14:13

Then that just made me think of this whole independent slash interdependence. And people always want to be so independent, and no person, not one single person can be totally independent. We all need each other. And so recognizing our streets, and that importance of that team that you're saying is so valuable. I'm so glad you brought up that point.

Dan Berlin  14:38

Yeah, I mean in this race, I mean it was all in it together if one of the cyclists wasn't going to finish you know, we were all struggling to finish. So it wasn't about a person getting a fast time. It was about everybody pulling together to get the team across the finish line. And as you can imagine, in environmental events like this people who are training again, competitive athletes, you know, riding 3,000 miles and a couple of days, a little over a week. You know, we're competitive people, you know, individually competitive, and then channeling that into a team competitive attitude was one of the best lessons I learned about true success.

Sylvia  15:19

Well, what about you, Jack? Lessons learned?

Jack Chen  15:23

I very much agree with what Dan said about teamwork and, and working together as a team. And you know, you can do so much more when you do it together. One of the things that that sort of came clear to me as you know, thinking back on this project, you know, what we want the team accomplished as a whole, not only in the race but in the sort of post-race, post-production creation, creating of this film that's actually going to launch next month, is the idea that we should never be afraid to take on things. I think one of the folks in the movie, one of Dan's friends, Charles said, you know, if you're not uncomfortable about what you're about to do, then you're not doing a big enough, what we try to do should make us uncomfortable, there should be some possibility of failure. I mean, there were so many possibilities of failure all along this route. But it's really going from one of those to the next, and really knocking those down, where you actually able to find success and accomplish things that you didn't even think you could do. I very much agree with the point that I believe you made Silvia earlier about the fact that we are all on display, as people who are blind and visually impaired, we have the opportunity to redefine how we want people to think about us. And for me, I want to take on those challenges that even I think are difficult or impossible. So I can demonstrate, you know, and continue to be that that person that represents the community and brings us to a better place when it comes to what other people think about the community. And just to round out the discussion about the film we had, we didn't have such a difficult time finding people who were blind, who were athletic, who could do this race, the tougher thing we had was finding people who are blind and visually impaired, who both had athletics, as well as the sort of professional profile that would help to highlight what the full capabilities are of people who are blind or visually impaired. And that's something that we also want to change, we call it taking the 70% unemployment rate and bringing it down to 7% or lower. And that happens when we bring people in who are blind or visually impaired. We give them big responsibilities, we see that they can do it. And it brings everybody up in the organizations. And so that was what part of our goal was to highlight the big the top end of professional society and say, put it in front of people and say these people are doing it. People who are blind, they're accomplishing this stuff.

Dana Hinnant  18:08

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Sylvia  19:37

Dan mentioned being competitive and the whole time you're talking Jack. You know the word that keeps running through my mind is courageous. And it definitely takes a significant amount of courage to really get out there and live a full life as a person who's blind You do have to get out of your comfort zone. I think it takes courage to just live life period. But especially when you add vision loss to that. And speaking of being on stage, you guys are fully on stage in your upcoming movie. So share a little bit more about what's the movie about what are some highlights of that, that we can expect?

Jack Chen  20:24

Yeah, cool project. Yeah, this was a true labor of love. It's been a team effort as the race was. And we've got a full crew of folks doing sound design and editing, and, you know, music score and all that. And it's been just a great journey of working with all these people to craft this vision. And so the vision of the film really is, the race is actually a backdrop, it's kind of a meta-story about, you know, what people would not ordinarily think of, that a blind person can do, which is ride their bike across the country, but a metaphor to what people also may not expect, which is that people who are blind and visually impaired can be successful in their careers. The blind cyclists, were lawyers, a CEO, marketing professionals, you know, there are people who have come through their journey and are kind of you know, they're finding success. So the movie is about them. It's about the success journey of people. It's about kind of pulling back the curtain a bit to see what is life like for them, to demystify blindness, to interview them, and to say, Okay, well, like, what is your life like, you're successful? Now? What did it take to get there, and both from a family perspective, from a work perspective, from an accessibility perspective, all these things, to kind of normalize the conversation around blindness, and success for people so that what happens at the end of the movie is that people can see that, okay, I may have an open role. Or I may want to consider bringing someone on to fill a role. And now I know that people who are blind and visually impaired can do this, I want to open that up. And so our vision is not only for sort of general public to view the film, but we're also looking for inroads to corporate America, to HR executives, to corporate executives, to show this film to them. And to have that conversation with them about blindness and bringing people in who are fully capable of doing jobs at the highest levels, and changing the sort of fabric of hiring as a whole. In, you know, in the US and around the world.

Dan Berlin  22:40

Such a good description of it. And I love the way you put it to Jack, we're spending a lot of time talking about the film. It's not about inspiration. It's about demystification, I think is a really great way to put it that I like you were that that way, I think that captures our vision for what we're trying to do with this film is to show getting back to the team example, again, very few corporate jobs or public service jobs do we work alone, you know, we're often as part of a collective high performing team. And this idea about somebody's blind, they have excellent problem-solving skills or excellent other skills, or just, it could be anything, you know, great listening skills, it could be anything that doesn't require sight. But it doesn't mean that all these other things are lacking. In fact, they oftentimes are enhanced, and we compare it to like a football team, you have a 300-pound defensive tackle, he's probably not going to be the best wide receiver, but you don't need them to be you need them to be really good at what his job is on the field. And that's that demystification of employment roles and athletic roles that we're really looking to highlight here. So I love the way you describe it that way. Jack,

Steph  23:48

How can people learn more about the upcoming movie?

Jack Chen  23:53

I think that the website is probably the best way to learn about there. Actually, there are interviews that other interviews that we've done, there's definitely footage on Facebook. On the website, there's even the trailer for the film. There's a listing of sort of who's been involved in this project. But you know, there's more to come to the new website with more of the new information is coming. Because the film is just about to be finished. It will be launching as a sneak preview at the NFB National Convention. On July 9, we're trying to get a space and movie theater, close to the conference and trying to do it that way.

Dan Berlin  24:34

And we'd like to put our practice into the process too. So in addition to this being about blind cyclists, we also have a composer for instance, who did an original motion picture score that's composed by a blind composer. We've been using other people with different disabilities, including blindness and other aspects of the film. So we're really trying to live up to our own stand Words of inclusivity and showing how a great team can be composed of a diverse number of team members.

Nasreen  25:07

This is a really great movie I can't wait to kind of see this, as it encourages me to become more courageous as somebody said, so did and Jack, if people want to connect with you or follow you on your journey, how can they find you, then?

Dan Berlin  25:24

Well, we have a website that is being further developed, which we'll be launching soon. Right now, they can find us on Team however, that is quickly changing to surpassing So the name of the film is going to be surpassing sight. And the best way to reach us is going to be through that website. In the meantime, finding us on Team on Facebook is the best way to stay in touch to follow along to see what's happening. And that's team S-E-A, T-O, S-E-E, we were making a play on words there with the “sea” to “see” because we're going from ocean to ocean, basically, and highlighting, of course, the visual aspects of the journey.

Sylvia  26:14

I am so excited. I just love you guys. You are true mentors to me. Listen, every time I spend time with you, I'm like, man, I gotta get up and run, walk.

Jack Chen  26:28

Not when it's 115 degrees outside, no.

Sylvia  26:36

So I love your competitiveness, and it does inspire me. But I love your courage as well, and your commitment to making this world a better place for people who are blind and low vision. I just thank you so much for your commitment to being positive role models and just truly making a significant difference in this world.

Nasreen  27:02

Absolutely. And I just need to ask you guys, what's next for Jack and Dan?

Jack Chen  27:07

Yes, so currently, I lead a team of lawyers at Meta or formerly known as Facebook, supporting the online advertising business 97% of the company's revenue comes through the product team products to the product team I support. And I don't know, I mean, we certainly being able to have more impact. I really enjoy leading teams, I enjoy being a strategist. And so finding more opportunities to do that. I am just into doing this movie and finishing up a book on disability and success and what the success factors are for people with disabilities that's in progress. So hopefully, that will be finished. Not too long from now, but looking to kind of expand some of this same message across other news and other media as well.

Sylvia  28:01

Great. So Jackie left, what's the next physical challenge?

Jack Chen  28:06

Well, I've got four, four young boys. So I think that's pretty, pretty physically challenging in and of itself. But seriously, yeah, I just enjoying, you know, going running with them and that kind of thing, and just kind of taking things slowly, with with the guys and learning and growing with them.

Dan Berlin  28:27

That's a pretty huge physical challenge keeping up for two I'm sure. I'm on the other end of the spectrum, I just had three graduate to high school and when, when University this past May. So I'm on the other end of the child's spectrum and taking a deep breath, saying, Wow, what's this look like? I know, it just doesn't seem to end up. There's always something new. And I do a lot of work in Africa. Now. I mean, having co-founded a company in Madagascar and joint ventures, in Uganda. Now back on to that. So run an accelerator program for tech-enabled startups on the continent looking for black African founders, and working on creating an African-based venture ecosystem that can help perpetuate the use of technology. Yeah, on the continent. And really, I mean, it's kind of a 30-year vision here. But the goal is really to get a self-perpetuating finance-enabled technology system that allows the use of this ubiquitous technology to solve these huge issues that are prevalent all throughout the continent over there and tremendously smart people bringing more education, bringing technology bringing that, you know, in line to solve some of these really big, really big issues in the world. And so yeah, I love that, you know, and again, being blind and you know, spending time traveling to places like Senegal and Nairobi, Lagos, sunny, it's always challenging but tremendously fulfilling and you know, See that, you know, just being that role model unexpected when I get over there, and it's an interesting reaction to working with folks.

Nasreen  30:10

Well, thank you guys for sharing your journey with us today. Thanks so much for your time today.

Sylvia  30:16

Thank you. Thank you just you guys are truly courageous and you're just amazing role models and friends. So thank you

Nasreen  30:31

Thank you for listening to this episode of Bold Blind Beauty On A.I.R. Please subscribe, and if you enjoy this show, do recommend it to your friends and family. Thanks for listening everyone.

Transcribed by

Meeting Jack Chen
Meeting Dan Berlin
Race Across America
Beauty Byte With Dana Hinnant
The Documentary
Learning More About The Movie
Connecting With Dan & Jack
What's Next