Episode 41 – Intersecting Oppressions of Race, Disability, and Mental Health During COVID-19

Guest: Joe Sparkman

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Today, I introduce you to one of my oldest friends, Joe Sparkman, one half of The Nasiona Podcast’s music production team, The Heavyweights. We’ve got Joe and Marcus Allen to thank for our new musical vibe. Later in February, Aïcha Martine Thiam and I are going live with our new The Nasiona music series, where we will center, elevate, and amplify Black, Indigenous, and People of Color musical artists, and shed light on their experiences. Be on the lookout for music by William Broughton, Whitney & The Saying Goes, Stephanie Henry, Tony Tennyson, Isabella Fong, Chromic, Beezy Montana, Mallika Vie, Annah Sidigu, Eki Shola, Samantha Pearl, and Jinnat. On today’s episode, you will hear music produced by The Heavyweights, including songs by Jovi Rockwell and Nicole Scherzinger.

But the focus of today’s episode is Joe Sparkman. As a Black-Filipino United Statesian man with multiple sclerosis, Joe Sparkman talks about the “Scarlet Letter” of his diagnosis, the challenges he has faced getting a job, interactions he has had with doctors, and how his life and mental health have been impacted during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a candid conversation about the realities and the insidious nature of intersecting systems of oppression in the United States.

I have known Joe since 1994, when he first moved to New Hampshire and I moved back there from Colombia in the middle of 8th grade, and we have a couple other episodes in store for you dissecting our experiences as people of color living in a predominantly white state. So be on the lookout later this year for those episodes.

Today’s conversation in particular, however, is a special partnership with the Adira Foundation, whose mission is to invest in better lives for people with neurodegenerative diseases about living with multiple sclerosis; and with StoryCorps, whose mission is to record, preserve, and share the stories of Americans from all backgrounds and beliefs. Toward the end of the interview, you will also hear Morgan Feigal-Stickles, a StoryCorps facilitator, who also asks Joe a couple of questions. Joe and I spoke on October 14th, 2020, and we are happy to share that StoryCorps has entered this interview into the Library of Congress and has also submitted it into the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Here’s my conversation with Joe Sparkman.

This episode is brought to by The Write, Publish, and Shine Podcast and The 50FIFTY.


Joe Sparkman decided to follow his dreams in music after he got his multiple sclerosis diagnosis. He started working with Ne-Yo and went on to produce several prominent artists, such as Rihanna, Mary J. Blige, Joe, Snoop, Christina Milian, Heather Headley, Emeli Sande, Nicole Scherzinger, Missy Elliot, Prince Royce, among others. He won several awards: Grammy, ASCAP Award, multiple Platinum and Gold plaques, and an African Music Award. After his music career, he continued to dream big and co-founded a million-dollar medical and pharmaceutical company (Medsav). He’s currently an advisor to the board at Roche, a district activist leader for the National MS Society, a member of the Government Relations Advisory Committee, and during the 2020 elections the Georgia Democrats delegated Joe as a precinct chairman. As The Nasiona Podcasts music producer, Joe returns to his musical roots.

Twitter: @JoeSparkman7

Instagram: @jojobeats


Julián Esteban Torres López (he/him/his/él) is a bilingual, Colombia-born culture architect with Afro-Euro-Indigenous roots. For two decades, Julián has worked toward humanizing those Othered by oppressive systems. He is the founder of the social justice storytelling organization The Nasiona, where he also hosts and produces The Nasiona Podcast. He’s a Pushcart Prize and Best Small Fictions nominee, a Trilogy Award in Short Fiction finalist, and the author of Marx’s Humanism and Its Limits and Reporting On Colombia. His work appears in PANK Magazine, Into the Void Magazine, The Acentos Review, among others. Julián holds a bachelor’s in philosophy and in communication and a master’s in justice studies from the University of New Hampshire and was a Ph.D. candidate at the University of British Columbia Okanagan, where he focused on political science and Latin American studies.

Twitter and Instagram: @je_torres_lopez


The Nasiona Podcast amplifies the voices and experiences of the marginalized, undervalued, overlooked, silenced, and forgotten, as well as gives you a glimpse into Othered worlds. We focus on stories that explore the spectrum of human experiencesstories based on facts, truth-seeking, human concerns, real events, and real people, with a personal touch. From liminal lives to the marginalized, and everything in between, we believe that the subjective can offer its own reality and reveal truths some facts can’t discover. Hosted, edited, and produced by Julián Esteban Torres López

Please follow The Nasiona on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook for regular updates: @TheNasiona

Original music for The Nasiona Podcast was produced by the Grammy Award-winning team of Joe Sparkman and Marcus Allen, aka The Heavyweights.
Joe Sparkman: Twitter + Instagram. Marcus Allen: Twitter + Instagram.

The Nasiona Magazine and Podcast depend on voluntary contributions from readers and listeners like you. We hope the value of our work to our community is worth your patronage. If you like what we do, please show this by liking, rating, and reviewing us; buying or recommending our books; and by financially supporting our work either through The Nasiona’s Patreon page or through Julián Esteban Torres López‘s Ko-fi donation platform. Every little bit helps.

Thank you for listening and reading, and thank you for your support.

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