Emotional Song Calls for People to See with their Hearts

By Annivar Salgado, United Cerebral Palsy of Greater Chicago

Look Into My Eyes is a song that was written for children and adults with disabilities as a way to get all people to take a moment and look beyond the sometimes mangled wrappers in which we are all born.

Taking travel risks

Look Into My Eyes: Origin Story

The idea for the song came from a brochure that I saw at United Cerebral Palsy of Greater Chicago where I was working as a freelance video producer. At the top of the brochure were the words, "What do you see?" above a picture of a person in a wheelchair. These are just four simple words that convey such an enormous and important message for people with disabilities.

The words stuck in my head and on the train ride home I came up with the chorus to the song. 

What do you see?
If all that you see is the outside of me,
Then I think you might be surprised
That inside of me lives a spirit that's free
A spirit that soars through the skies
It's right there before you, it's easy to see,
When you look into my eyes.

Over the next few weeks after meeting and talking with several of the UCP clients the verses literally wrote themselves.

Janet Alikpala wrote the score and we initially recorded a demo using a male and female singer. We presented it to the CEO who loved the song and asked if UCP could use it as a sort of battle cry at their meetings and presentations. I agreed but felt that, because the song is written in the first person, it really needed to be sung by someone with a disability. The search was on!

The Search for Singer Eric Brandt

The female singer on the demo, Gussie Mastroantonio, referred me to Eric Brandt, a young man with cerebral palsy and who was also legally blind. However, that did not stop him from teaching himself two languages, performing in musical theatre and working as a DJ. 

Taking travel risks

I called Eric immediately to see if he would be interested. His mother, Nancy, loved the song but told me that it would have to be up to Eric. She put Eric on the phone and we spoke for about ten minutes. I played the chorus of the song for him on the phone and when I came back to the phone, there was nothing but silence.

Then in a very soft and somewhat emotional voice, Eric said, "That's what I have been trying to tell people my whole life. I would love to sing this song."

Taking travel risks

We set up a rehearsal time at the church where Janet worked and as I sat there listening to Eric sing the song, it all came together and I am not ashamed to admit that my eyes were filled with tears as were his mom's and Janet's. Shortly after that, we had Eric sing the song at the end of one of our events, which was attended by more than 200 CEOs and business leaders from around Chicago. There was not a dry eye in the ballroom. The applause was deafening and the standing ovation lasted almost two minutes. 

We have since used the song on numerous occasions and have gotten the same reaction each time. 

Taking travel risks

In the 30 plus years that I have been involved with UCP, I have met thousands of children and adults with disabilities and each time, I am truly surprised by what they can do when given a chance. Look beyond the head pointers, wheelchairs, braces, drooling mouths and contorted bodies and see the person there inside.

It's easy when you look into their eyes. 

About the Author:

Annivar Salgado is a 30-year video producer who began his career at ABC TV in Chicago in 1985 as a special events and documentary producer. While there he produced the UCP Chicago telethons as well as produced numerous mini-documentaries on families living with children and adults with disabilities. During his ten years at ABC, he was nominated for three Emmy awards and was the recipient of the Excellence in Media Award. In 2003 and he joined UCP as executive producer of their production division, Infinitec Media. Since then he has received seven national Telly awards for his video work, including one for the original music video for "Look Into My Eyes." 

He is also a percussionist and award winning lyricist who won second place in Latin category of the Billboard Magazine National Songwriting Contest. 

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