12/10/2013 01:30 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Shannon Williams: Atlanta, November 6, 2011


When I was a kid in New York, my late Grandpa Charlie (my mom's dad), would avoid panhandlers, homeless and street people. He wasn't cruel, I think this came from his generationally imprinted self-image and distancing from what he strove never to be. My dad in his final years used wheelchair assistance at the airport, but did not want me to photograph him like that. He confessed also to instances of losing his balance and being scared by it. Both of these men, whom I love and idolize, seem to have forged the path upon which I have further advanced, for unlike grandpa, I speak freely with people on the street and unlike dad, I am okay with using wheelchair assistance and with my condition of imbalance.

All of which leads me to meeting Shannon, a young man of strong spirit and presence, who gives me wheelchair assistance from the landing gate to ground transportation at Atlanta Airport. On the long trek, which involves a train ride, we chat. I tell Shannon about my current film job in Atlanta, which like most non-industry people, he seems fascinated by. I like to ask people about their aspirations and objectives, and am often impressed and surprised by the answers I get.

Shannon is in pre-med studies, and wants to be a surgeon and also gain his pilot's license. He is articulate, forthright, yet humble. We arrive at the taxi stand and I give him my business card. He likes my self-proclaimed title of "One Tuff Mutha," and I tell him how while filming Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen in the intense desert heat, the transportation coordinator saw me lugging all my gear even with my impairment and called me that. In the ensuing days, Shannon texts me to stay in touch. "Your words were very encouraging and healing," he says. I reply that I was encouraged and inspired by him as well, and that I know he will have opportunities to pass kindness and empowerment on to others. The night before Thanksgiving, he texts: "Tomorrow I need you to consume as much turkey as humanly possible." "Doctor's orders?" I reply. "Yessir!" "Thanks, Doc... or should I say Captain?" "Both" he says. "I'm trying to get a lot done."