'I just feel like a person': Milwaukee rapper with cerebral palsy dreams of performing on stage
MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- For 24-year-old Milwaukee native Jaquawn Gaston, rap music is more than just a beat and some rhymes.
"My music is my everything," Gaston said. "Whenever I'm doing my music, I just feel free; like I don't feel like I'm in a wheelchair or like I have a disability."
Diagnosed with cerebral palsy, Gaston is physically confined to his wheelchair. Psychologically, there's nothing that's holding him back.
"I accepted early in life that this is my condition," Gaston said. "I have to make the best out of what I'm put in."
In the bedroom of his Milwaukee apartment, Gaston, better known in the music industry as Rap J, will find a beat he likes and begins to piece together lines.
"If you have the mindset that you're going to be truly great at something, then you can be great," Gaston said. "I've just kind of always had a positive mindset to always keep pushing through any challenges that come, and to prove people wrong about me."
His hours of dedication to his music, something he's practiced for 18 years, has led to the release of two albums and over a dozen songs. His music serves as an outlet for a young man who refuses to let the world win, even when his back is against the wall.
"I would love to give credit to my mother. She recently passed," Gaston said. "My mother and my grandmother. They both meant the world to me, and they pretty much raised me with the mindset that the world is going to keep moving regardless, so you have to put your best foot forward and anything you put your mind to is possible."
The loss of his mother, Tracy, proved to be a tough time for Gaston. He felt lost and trapped. Still, one thing remained constant: his love for rap.
"Losing my mom was and still is one of the toughest things, if not the toughest challenge, that I've had to overcome," Gaston said. "Losing my mom was like the whole inspiration behind my newest album. I would just play beats and listen to them, and it has kind of helped me keep going and push through it."
Along with his musical support, Gaston has the help of close friends, including his caregiver, Wanda Webb.
"it's been magical just watching him grow as a young man into a young adult," Webb said. "Just watching his determination; him never giving up."
Like Gaston, Webb has experienced personal tragedy with the loss of her mother and her son. She says caring for Gaston has been as much help for her as it has for him.
"Meeting him gave me a lot of strength. It made me overcome a lot of grief that I was carrying on because I still had somebody to care for," Webb explained. "Somebody young, somebody still to inspire, somebody that looked for me every day, somebody that counted on me every day. I still found that in him when I came here every day."
Five and a half years later, Webb continues to act not only as Gaston's caregiver, but J Raps biggest cheerleader, continuing to inspire him to continue making music and to achieve his dream of one day performing in front of a live crowd.
"He is very talented and he's sticking to his talent and his dream, and that's what he wants to be successful at," Webb said. "I think that he's going to go, I think he's going to go very far with it. I think he's going to meet a lot of his expectations; I really do."
It's a dream Gaston is determined to achieve, no matter what kind of curveballs life throws at him, including the recent breakdown of his electric powerchair, forcing him to remain in his apartment. Still, it doesn't' bother him.
"When you're younger and the chair breaks down, it's like the end of the world. Being at the age I am now, I understand that chairs are going to break down," Gaston said. "Everything man-made breaks down. I know that I can't break down because if I break down, nothing good is ever going to come out of anything."
It's that inspiring attitude that he hopes to share with the world, one song at a time.
"I just want to show the world like, 'Hey, I'm here and that I'll never quit. I'll never give up.' If I can do it, you can do it and we can all achieve our dreams together," Gaston said. "That's my biggest dream, is to spread that message to the world."
A GoFundMe has been set up by friends of Jaquawn Gaston to provide him with a new electric wheelchair. Those interested in donating can do so here: https://www.gofundme.com/f/jaquawn-wheelchair-fund?+share-sheet&&