The Journey of a Hip-Hop Diva
Editor's Note: Auti Angel passed away from cancer on March 23, 2022. Last summer, our team member wrote the following piece on the adventurous life of Auti Angel. Her impact on the everyone she touched was as profound as the spirit that drove her, and we thought it was the perfect memorial to our friend, gone too soon.
Ever met an angel? Not a wussy, namby-pamby angel in white robes with a smile, but the real thing: scary amounts of power crossed with furious energy surrounded by a deep abiding love. That's Auti Angel.
Tackling Life with Auti-tude
When you see early pictures of the able-bodied Auti, there is a cherubic sweetness to her face that is hidden now. As she says, "It's been a hell of a ride!"
Even early on, as a principal dancer with such iconic performers as Eazy-E, N.W.A, Kid n' Play and LL Cool J, you can see it—that Auti-tude. The woman rivals Elvis for an iconic sneer.
But that's on the outside. You can learn about the inside easily enough. Auti speaks willingly about the road that got her here. She grew up in Torrance, California, to very young parents—her father was 16 when she was born. He worked in the entertainment business which led her to "The Industry."
She also grew up in a home plagued by domestic violence, which was to be an ongoing challenge for her to face and overcome. "It seems like I kept manifesting domestic violence until I learned how to heal it," Auti explains. "I grew up with it and didn't even see it in my relationships until it was too late. I'm just grateful that eventually God showed me how I was drawing it to myself."
Life-Changing Accident Strengthened Auti's Resolve to Touch the World
Talking to Auti, you hear a lot about God. She has had a close relationship with God all her life, praying with Him moments before the car accident that permanently paralyzed her from the waist down.
"I said a prayer just before my car accident. I had made a mistake, something I wished I could take back, and I prayed, 'God please forgive me, all I want to do is be different and touch your people.' I was driving, alone in the car, thank God, and then the crash came. Apparently I died, because I remember looking down from outside my body, seeing the traffic begin to clog up behind my crashed car on the 101 Hollywood Freeway."
Auti's voice is confident and clear—she has told this story many, many times. "I had blacked out when I felt these strong hands grab my shoulders and yank me up out of my body. I cried out, 'I didn't get to say goodbye!' and the Voice said 'Don't worry my child I'm giving you what you asked for. You will go through many trials and tribulations, but you are becoming one of my chosen. Now go touch my people!'"
She was only 22, but her close connection with God didn't allow for any poor-me dilly dallying.
"I was dancing as soon as I could get out of the hospital bed. The PTs were very informative back then. Once they taught me how to pop a wheelie, I was off! I'd sneak out of the hospital and go host my own music video show and when I was finished with the interviews, I would hear the dance floor calling me …so off I went."
Like a lot of new wheelchair users, Auti found the bowel and bladder issues the biggest obstacle to overcome. But even that didn't slow her down very much. "I knew that God had preserved me to serve. And I knew I could serve this calling best through dance. That's what I know best how to do! I do," Auti admits ruefully, "yell at God now and then. Like what happened with that agency. Oh, this is a good story!" I can hear Auti snuggle down to share another great anecdote of how she got here.
"Certainly, I've yelled at God! I yelled 'put me back in the game!'"
"There was this agency, I auditioned for their dance department. They watched me do my thing and then said, that was very cool but I don't think we'll ever have anything for you. Afterwards I went home and yelled at God to put me back in the game. Three days later that same agency called me and said we've just had a call from a choreographer who needs a Latin Female in a wheelchair who can dance and do tricks." As I marvel at the serendipity of the event, Auti continues, "You see I went to the audition and Hi-HAT (the choreographer) turned and said, 'I was looking for you!' I had never met her before—she was choreographing a music video for Ludacris. The song was," Auti laughs uproariously, "rather ironically called Stand Up."
With her flashing dark eyes, a mouth that can grin or sneer convincingly and her screaming pink-red hair, Auti isn't likely to be overlooked. She has been a ground-breaking force for people with disabilities long before it was acceptable or even heard of in the industry.
Once a Dancer, Always a Dancer.
It was no accident that a wheelchair developer named John Box hired her to be his spokesmodel for the fledgling Colours Wheelchair Company.
"John asked me to be spokesmodel, but I got bored just sitting around at trade shows. I asked him, 'Can I bring a mini boombox and dance? Once he saw the crowd it pulled in, he was all for it! Everybody would come and it was a showstopper."
That was the birth of the famed Colours Girls—Auti with long dark hair and Briana Walker with long blonde hair.
I ask Auti how the Colours Girls came to be. "I don't think I've ever told anyone this story before!" Auti laughs. "It was at a trade show. I was in the Colours booth doing my thing and Briana came up and said OMG, I used to be a dancer!' I said, 'What do you mean used to be? Once a dancer, always a dancer!' and she asked if she could dance with me. I said sure, so Brianna would come to my house, and we would dance. We'd been rehearsing together for about three months, I guess, when HI-HAT asked me, 'Want to do the Vibe Music Awards?' Of course and then I told her, 'Hey, I've got this girlfriend I'm working with now, you want to see her?' So, we danced!"
I asked how it went and Auti pauses, searching for the right words. "Briana is so, how do I put this in words? She's beautiful, and she's your typical Orange County girl, so she would be smiling throughout." Auti is laughing louder now. "With hip hop, you have to make all these faces— we don't smile so much. So I went to Brianna and said, 'You've got to look tougher and not grin all the time! She did it and we did the gig together. It was awesome."
This was all a lead-in to the groundbreaking Push Girls TV series, which ran for 2 years on the Sundance channel. Knowing Auti has been asked plenty about the series, I just brush lightly on what the experience had meant to her.
"Really one, no two things. Well, three actually—the most important one was Sisterhood. We were all best friends prior to shooting. Season two tried to destroy that sisterhood. The producers wanted conflict. They planted seeds and because of some immaturity at the time we took the bait, however there was no way they could destroy what we had."
"Number two was that we got to show the world how frickin' amazing the disabled community is and number three is we got to show how the disabled community can do anything. Yeah, they call us inspirational and all that, but these individuals were doing amazing things prior to the wheelchairs."
Knowing that Auti has been through recent surgeries and health crises, I ask if her faith has been shaken on her journey. Has she ever had doubts?
"Doubts? For some crazy strange reason, I don't. Every single time God has pulled me through. The gift of dance has saved my life over and over again. Even though this last surgery that was so traumatic, you know deep down inside there is an inkling of that feeling that everything will turn out ok."
"Last surgery God said, 'Trust my Process.' No matter what you believe in, trust God's process. Trust God's process within yourself, with circumstances, with your loved ones. Everyone has their own individual walk with God. I don't press my beliefs on anyone; however I will always share what worked for me. Jesus is my Lord and Savior; that's what works for me. How can you deny something that blesses you? I couldn't deny it if I tried."
"I wish I could describe that feeling I had when I died (in the car crash). There's no physical feeling, there's just peace and joy. I wish the world wouldn't judge religion! If people realized that we each have our own individual walk with God, then there would be peace. Don't judge it."
Auti Teaches the Disability Community to Express Themselves Through Dance
Over the past few decades, Auti has also given of her time and talent to teach dance moves to people in wheelchairs at various trade shows including the Abilities Expos.
As she shows the wheelchair community that they can dance in their chairs, the joy in unmistakable.
And now? Having recovered from a difficult surgery that led to seizures and eventually a spinal fusion from T-8 all the way down to her tailbone, what is next for Auti Angel?
Auti casually replies, "I'm writing a book based on my life story and writing a screenplay, also based on my life story. And I think it might be time for a converted minivan for this multi-faceted Hip Hop Diva in this industry that we call entertainment."
She pauses, considering the images this conjures.
"Or maybe an SUV. Not sure I'm ready for a minivan."
This article was originally commissioned by Urostat Healthcare, nationwide urological supplier:
Pre-Register for Abilities Expo Today...It's Free!