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  • Emily Van Gorder-Pantig

Kumi


Technically, Jennifer. But, I don't think I've ever called her by her first name since that's not how she introduced herself to me. I met this beautiful soul almost 20 years ago in choir at my days in city college. Right off the bat, I was drawn to her sense of humor and her infectious laugh. She introduced herself to me and we became fast friends. She was open and honest. She was kind and empathetic. I think at one point, we took an Anthropology class together. She kept me awake and sane during the absolute boredom. In addition to being ridiculously hilarious and having some of the most beautiful handwriting one could ever wish for, the girl could SING. She would make history when she was the first ever performer in a wheelchair on any Disney stage worldwide. During our semester together she auditioned for the new musical at California Adventure and was cast in "Aladdin; A Musical Spectacular". She left LBCC and was with the show in its entirety until it closed in 2016. I sincerely missed her when she had left but I was so excited for her when she had been blessed with this groundbreaking opportunity. Years later, our paths would cross again when I would run into her backstage at Disney. I started working at Disneyland as a singer as well and I couldn't have been more excited to see her. She was just as funny, just as kind and just as phenomenal in spirit since the last time we had spoken. I was at Disney for roughly 5 years and everyone I knew, who knew her, loved her as much as I did. She just is one of the best.

From her singing with Idina Menzel to being cast in a feature film, to being an advocate for individuals with disabilities and being Miss. Wheelchair California, this woman has been a trailblazer. Now that she has come to this place in her life, she has decided to go back to school and finish what she started before "Aladdin". Over the years, we have stayed in touch and talk every so often but she is one of those people who it feels like yesterday when you see each other. I love the person she is and all that she has become. I count myself incredibly blessed to know her and be her friend. Thanks for being a Queen, Kumi. You truly, are royalty.

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What is your name and how do we know each other?

"We met each other in jazz choir at Long Beach City College. 20 years ago. Jeezus, Em. That's a long time ago."

How old are you?

"40"

What are you currently doing with yourself?

"I am the special projects manager for a local council woman. I am in my 2nd semester or restarting junior college, because I didn’t do it right the first time. I am communications major. I tell all the young kids to get it together. "(she laughs)

Are you where you hoped you would be? If not/ Why? If so-what do you love about it and could you see yourself doing anything else?

"First of all, you didn’t tell me this was gonna be this deep. (she laughs again). When I turned twenty five, I realized life is less about what I wanted it to be and more about what God wanted it to be in certain stages of my life. I have found the happiness in the gifts that I have received from God in the changes in my life. I still want to get married. Being a mother is something that I have wanted in my life and it something that I am not. God has put people in my life that I can use those maternal instincts on and that is what gives me joy.""

Women are becoming a resilient sound that cannot be silenced. What are you doing to contribute that sound?

"Lifting up other women. I think it’s really important for women to be there for other women. I feel like we’ve come a long way but the only way we can really get through everything, is through sisterhood."

What is something you learned from a younger age that has stuck with you?

""The true meaning of forgiveness. But at the same time, trusting people when they show you who they really are."

Who is an individual who made a profound impact on you and why?

"I think my grandma, Francis. She was super strong and an empowering woman. She didn’t take mess from anyone but at the same time was full of grace and laughter.She had the weirdest cackle ever. It sounded like a witch.""

What is a weakness or something that exposes your vulnerability and what do you do to combat/embrace it in order to grow?

"I think a huge weakness is second guessing myself and feeling that I am not ready for certain things when I’ve already handled big things in life. I try to remind myself that I am not a young girl anymore. I have lived experiences and those are useful and valuable."

What is something that you want to accomplish and what are you doing to get to that place, if anything?

"I really want to finish school this time around. I owe it to myself to just finish it."

And now..a few questions to lighten the mood...

Dogs or Cats?

"Cats"

Cheeseburgers or Salad?

"Cheeseburgers,girl. But salads for health and longevity."

Beach or Mountains?

Mountains

Sweet or Salty?

"Can't we have both?"

Lose all of your old memories or never make new ones?

"Never make new ones."

Disney..or is there any alternative?

"Disney"

What is a fun fact that someone may not know about you?

"I am the oldest of 6 kids. I used to have mole between eyes and brothers used to call me cyclops."

And the final two important questions...

What is a common misconception about you that people make based on your appearance? What is your truth and how do you personify strength?

"I think I can relate to you on the RBF. People tell me that I look sad and that I look down too often but the honest to God truth is that I’m just looking for dog poop and i don’t want to roll in it. My truth is that all love is universal. I try and personify strength by loving the people that I live with in my community and making their lives better."

You have inspired me. What about yourself do you hope to put out in order to inspire other young people?

" I feel like as a young person that I both knew and that I didn't know what inspired me to do a lot of things from singing to style choices. I feel like it’s my job to give that back. Inspiration is so meaningful. I feel like in order to get it back, you have to give it out. It’s like a Karma thing."


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© 2017 by Emily Van Gorder-Pantig.