Those were the words of Helen Keller, who is regarded as one of the most courageous figures of the 20th century. Blind and deaf from the age of 19 months, her mission to remove stigmas associated with sight and hearing disorders took her worldwide.
But not many people are aware that she called Forest Hills home from 1917 to 1938. On June 14 at 9 a.m., the Helen Keller Forest Hills Tribute Mural will be unveiled on the west wall of the Ascan Avenue LIRR underpass, commemorating her humanitarian spirit.
It will be painted by muralists Crisp from Australia and Praxis from Columbia, and will be 48 feet wide and four feet high. The project is coordinated by this columnist through the Rego-Forest Preservation Council in partnership with the Queens Economic Development Corporation and LIRR.
“The Long Island Railroad supports community-driven beautification projects at our stations and underpasses, and it’s great to get community members involved and be part of project that instills community pride,” said Community Affairs manager Ryan Attard.
It is funded by Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz, residents, local retailers, and community organizations. A plaque, designed in partnership with Continental Photo in Forest Hills, will feature Helen Keller's signature and photos.
The public is invited to witness the mural’s creation on June 12 at 3 p.m. and on June 13 at 11 a.m. at The Reform Temple of Forest Hills at 71-11 112th Street, which is where Helen Keller lived.
“People don’t always see the technical process and details that entail creating a mural,” said Crisp, who has worked on two other murals in the neighborhood. “It’s an honor to be invited once again by the community to create another beautiful piece of artwork to reflect on Helen Keller’s vast contribution to not only the neighborhood, but the world.”
“This is a beautiful project that covers angles of Helen Keller’s work around the community and her role as a civil rights activist,” added Praxis. “There is a strong amount of research before we start planning the design. It’s a long process that we follow, and it’s good to work on murals that have so much meaning and history.”
Every year, The Reform Temple of Forest Hills annually hosts the Helen Keller Shabbat of Inclusion.
“We always invite a guest speaker who faces a challenge to discuss their experiences and how they have worked to live their life as fully as possible,” said Rabbi Mark Kaiserman. “People everywhere have a responsibility to help each other, and Helen Keller is a model of someone who helped herself into creating an amazing life, and she is an inspiration for all of us to improve our lives and help others.”
At a young age, Keller was examined by Alexander Graham Bell, who was also a pioneer in teaching speech to the deaf, who in turn referred her to Perkins School for the Blind.
At seven, she met “Miracle Worker” Anne Sullivan Macy, who was partially blind and later lived with her in Forest Hills, becoming her teacher and closest companion. Keller and Macy would attend Sunday services at First Presbyterian Church of Forest Hills.
Keller mastered the manual alphabet and learned to read Braille and print block letters. At nine, she began to read lips and communicate. A graduate of Radcliffe College in 1904 at age 24, she became the first deaf and blind individual to earn a Bachelor of Arts.
In 1913, Keller began lecturing on behalf of the American Foundation for the Blind. She also advocated for labor rights and women’s suffrage. On her Forest Hills lawn, she celebrated birthdays with large parties for the blind, and held fundraising tours to benefit the American Foundation for the Blind.
In 1917, she welcomed members of the Rainbow Division of Camp Mills, which consisted of 1,200 soldiers from 27 states, in Station Square. In 1924, Keller delivered a Thanksgiving address to children of The Church-in-the-Gardens.
In 1926, Keller and Macy lectured at the Forest Hills Theatre to over 1,000 guests. Keller also spoke at The Community House, becoming the first woman to address the Forest Hills Men’s Club in 1928. With her Great Dane by her side, she presented “How Parents Can Help Their Children” at a Public School 3 Mothers Club meeting in 1931.
Mark Twain called Keller “one of the two most interesting characters of the 19th century” alongside Napoleon. Between 1946 and 1957, she went on tour seven times and visited five continents, totaling over 30 countries. She met with world figures like John F. Kennedy, Charlie Chaplin, and Grover Cleveland. She worked with seven American presidents and was the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964.
She was also the recipient of the Lions Humanitarian Award for her lifetime service in 1961, and was elected to the National Women's Hall of Fame at the 1964 World's Fair in Flushing Meadows Corona Park.