by Kyle Barnett from the St. Charles Herald Guide:
Craig Blackburn has a motto by which he lives.
“Never give up. That’s my message. Never give up,” he said. “If you have fears don’t look back, look ahead.”
is a message the 34-year-old Hahnville High School graduate has been
carrying through his entire life, and Blackburn has had to overcome a
lot. He was born with Down syndrome as well as a heart defect that had
to be repaired through open heart surgery when he was an infant.
Now, Blackburn has been able to accomplish so much that he has become an advocate for others with disabilities.
is on the board of the Down Syndrome Association of Greater New Orleans
and regularly travels the region and country giving speeches to
educators and those within the disabled community. In recent years, he
spoke to a crowd of 1,300 at Tulane University and also traveled to
Qatar to give a speech.
“It’s about educators and families and
their child’s future to tell them they can do it and not to give up on
their dreams. When I do my presentation it is like making them believe
what they can do and don’t look back,” he said.
For many years,
Blackburn said he did not notice there was a difference between him and
other kids. It was not until he was older that he realized what Down
“When I was younger I wasn’t functioning that
much,” he said. “Later on I did know what Down syndrome was after my
parents explained it to me.”
After he found out what his condition was, he did not let it deter him from living a normal life.
me it has been not as scared as much as being happy that I know I have
Down syndrome and I would like to help other people in the community,”
Balckburn’s first step towards being able to help others
was to help himself by getting a good education and taking the same
courses as any other high school student. He said it was difficult for
him, but he stayed true to his motto.
Throughout high school he said he followed a pattern every day.
I got home I usually cracked the books and then had something for
dinner and then got back to the books. By 10 p.m. I was in shutdown
mode. Then I started fresh again the next day,” he said.
Following that pattern, Blackburn was able to complete his required courses and pass the graduate exit exam on the second try.
had tutoring in and outside of classes. I pushed to help me to pass. I
never failed any classes in my entire time in high school,” he said.
his demanding educational schedule, Blackburn also participated in
numerous extracurricular activities that included serving as the
football team manager for two years at R.K. Smith Middle School and for
four years at Hahnville High School, playing saxophone in the band and
participating in Junior ROTC.
With dreams of becoming a
meteorologist, Blackburn enrolled at Nicholls State University where he
also served as the football team’s manager for one season, but after one
semester he decided not to pursue his college education further.
was frustrated. I had a schedule and a full load of subjects like
social studies, science, math and English,” he said. “I was placed on
probation with my grades. I told my parents that college is not for
everyone and I had to drop out.”
Although he felt like he was not cut out for college, he did not let it get to him.
worked at Winn-Dixie in Luling for 11 years before he moved out of his
parent’s house and into a condo in Metairie. He was able to purchase the
condo through the help of Jefferson Parish’s “A Home of My Own”
Now Blackburn is almost entirely independent. The only
thing he relies on outside help for is a ride to and from work at
another Winn-Dixie he transferred to when he moved.
said he hopes to continue helping others with disabilities as long as he
can. That includes inspiring other families who have disabled children
for whom he has a few words of wisdom.
“My advice to a new parent
is to educate and keep on advocating to let them know that your family
is there for your child to remind them to be happy and to make them a
hard worker at school and to influence other families to support them.
Never give up,” he said.