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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014

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In Arts & Entertainment

The inspirational and witty Geri Jewell.

Jewell to share a few facts of life at Power Dinner


When Geri Jewell was cast in "The Facts Of Life" in 1980, she became the first person with a visible disability to become a regular performer on a national, prime time television show. She played "Cousin Geri" on the popular show – that starred Milwaukee native Charlotte Rae – for four seasons and became a leading force in disability advocacy during that time.

Since then, Jewell, who has cerebral palsy, has continued to build a successful career as an actor, comedienne, writer and motivational speaker. She provides a strong voice for people with disabilities and will serve as the guest speaker for Independence First's annual Power Dinner that will take place on Wednesday, May 23 from 5 to 9 p.m. at the Potawatomi Bingo Casino, 1721 W. Canal St.

The event will feature a silent auction and a dinner prior to Jewell's speaking engagement and book signing of her memoir, "I'm Walking As Straight As I Can." Jewell will share her personal story of growing up with cerebral palsy, her challenges and the successes she has accomplished.

Jewell says that during her presentation she will emphasize the importance of forgiveness, the ability to move forward at all times and the necessity to define yourself based on what you can do, not by what you can't.

"Hopefully the message I convey will be that regardless of what obstacles get in our way it's important to believe in yourself even when others don't," says Jewell.

Jewell grew up in Buffalo, N.Y., and says the strength and humor she received from her family shaped the confident, successful woman with a sense-of-humor she is today. She was teased and bullied as a child, but she did not let the experience adversely affect her then or now.

She says her mother was a huge source of strength for her. Wise and confident, her mother always convinced Jewell, metaphorically and literally, to get back up when she fell down.

"My mother was an amazing, amazing woman. Without my mom, I would not have done half the things I have done in my life. She taught me the importance of perserverence. My mom's strength is a part of my own strength," says Jewell.

Jewell has certainly had her share of hardships. She reveals in her memoir that she is gay, at times faced discrimination, had tax problems, a broken marriage and a problem with addiction. However, friends, fans and family are often awed by her positive attitude and ability to see the humor in life. Again, Jewell credits her family for her sense of humor.

"If you want to analyze my going into stand-up, you could say that I turned the laughter around and made it work for me instead of against me," she says.

Jewell started her stand-up career in 1978 at The Comedy Store in Los Angeles. This is where she was discovered by "Facts Of Life" producer Norman Lear. Jewell says she reunited with the "girls" from the show last year, when they were awarded a TV Land award for the best pop culture television show.

"We all went on stage together to accept the award," says Jewell.

Jewell continues to act – she appeared in HBO's "Deadwood" – but has been very focused on her writing. It took her about a year-and-a-half to write her memoir and she says it came very naturally because she has been a writer since childhood. She says she learned a lot about herself during the book-writing process.

"Truthfully, I am probably a better writer than stand-up comic," says Jewell. "I learned through writing the book that in 20/20 hindsight, you see the past differently than when you were right in it. It also reminded me how strong I am. I am a very strong human being."

Jewell says her goals for the future include writing one, possibly two, more books. She is also working on a one-woman show. When she's not writing, acting or speaking, Jewell says she enjoys spending time with loved ones, reading, Facebooking and playing Scrabble. As a gifted and avid player, she says she would like to enter the national Scrabble competition someday.

"Mostly, I want to continue living life to its fullest and hopefully to help others live life to its fullest through my example," she says. "I'm finding my truth."


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