Jerry Farris is an entrepreneur, conservative blogger and disability advocate, who engages political and social issues that affect the heart of American entrepreneurship and the disability community.
Jerry was born on August 21, 1971 in Birmingham Alabama. After he turned 1 and was still not crawling, much less walking, his parents knew something was wrong. He was diagnosed with Werdnig-Hoffmann Syndrome, and only given a year to live. Desperate for a miracle, his mother wrote to the National Enquirer asking for the one thing that could grant that miracle… the prayers of its readers. Deeply touched by his plight, The ENQUIRER sent Jerry and his parents to a specialist at the National Children’s Cardiac Hospital in Miami Florida. Unfortunately, this only confirmed the prior diagnosis. The specialist now suggested Jerry had 1 to 10 years to live.
Knowing now that only a miracle from God could help her son, The Enquirer granted his mother’s wish, and asked its readers to join together and pray for this little boy that only a miracle could save. So at precisely 12 o’clock noon on Sunday, November 18, 1973, Jerry and his parents bowed their heads in church, and with the congregation as a whole, joined thousands of others across America in prayer to the Almighty.
The day of prayer was an emotional milestone that gave everyone a renewed sense of hope. Many years later, Werdnig-Hoffmann Disease would be known as one of 2 types of Spinal Muscular Atrophy. Type I. Although Type I does take its victims at a very early age, Type II has a much longer progression. Although no one new it at the time, God answered everyone’s prayer. Jerry would not die an early death. Jerry had SMA Type II, which falls, in most cases, under the category of Muscular Dystrophy.
By now, Jerry had already had several highly dangerous attacks of pneumonia, something that would be a recurring and frequent battle for the remainder of Jerry’s life. However, with his bible at his side, and his mother forever helping him fight the fight, he would continue to beat the odds and pull through it every time.
Since Jerry couldn’t walk, he would use a tricycle and other riding toys to get around. Once he was old enough, and with a new manual wheelchair provided by the Muscular Dystrophy Association, Jerry was enrolled in kindergarten. That same year, he was also blessed with a new baby brother, Brian Keith.
Over the next four years, Jerry attended public school in the Birmingham City School system. Jerry and his parents became more involved with the Muscular Dystrophy Association and Jerry made many new friends at MDA Summer Camp. Every year on Labor Day weekend, he and his camp friends would make appearances on the Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon, where Jerry met quite a few celebrities from the late 1970s. People like comedian Archie Campbell and singer Demetriss Tapp. He even developed a special penpal friendship with 13-year-old banjo playing, country singer Wendy Holcombe, who sadly would pass away 10 years later from a congenital heart defect.
In 1979, as Jerry was approaching his 10th birthday, Jerry’s grandfather, Charles Farris, purchased over 10 acres of undeveloped land in rural Pinson Alabama. Together, with his grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, the entire Farris family moved to the country! Living in the wide open of grass, trees and dirt roads was a lot different than city sidewalks and sounds of airplanes flying over. The following year, Jerry got his first motorized wheelchair, which changed his world forever. Now, instead of just watching other kids run around outside playing, he could now join them as well. He was enrolled into the 4th grade at John E Bryan Elementary, and made many lifelong friends. With a new interest in learning history, and living through the excitement of watching a nation elect a new president, Jerry took great interest in Pres. Ronald Reagan. He watched intently, with his grandmother, all the coverage of Reagan’s recovery after being shot. At some point Jerry mentioned how exciting it would be to meet him.
Always up to a challenge, Jerry’s grandmother sent a letter to the office of Alabama Sen. Jeremiah Denton explaining Jerry’s miraculous story and his wish to meet the president. After 3 months of negotiations, and many failed attempts in planning a visit to the White House, it was arranged for Jerry to meet the president during a planned visit to Montgomery. Finally, on March 15, 1982, after giving a speech to Alabama legislators at the state capital, the president attended a fundraiser at the Montgomery Civic Center, where Jerry and his grandmother had the chance of a lifetime and met President Ronald Reagan. To this day, This two-minute visit remains to be one of the most exciting moments of Jerry’s life.
While continuing to battle pneumonia almost every winter, Jerry was determined to live the life of any normal kid. He took part in school plays and choir, participated in his elementary school pageant. Without realizing it, Jerry was learning that hard work and determination pays off.
It was with this determination, and with the encouragement of his PE teacher, Pam Horton, Jerry started competing in the Special Olympics. Over the next several years, he would compete and earn several local and regional ribbons and medals for various categories of competition. His favorite being wheelchair racing!
By now, Jerry had discovered his love for music and singing. Already singing in church and the school choir, he now started performing at MDA Christmas parties, and had an impromptu performance with the legendary Country Boy Eddie Band at a rally for Governor George Wallace. Drawing from influences such as country artists Alabama and Eddie Rabbit, he would even compete against his own elementary school teachers at the schools Fall Festival Talent Show.
By the end of 1984, Jerry was officially a teenager and was attending Mortimer Jordan High School. Years earlier, his parents bought him an electronic keyboard, and with a natural ear for music, he could play just about anything he wanted. by now, he had written his first song and decided he wanted to be a professional singer. However, over the next several years his musical influences would change. Leaving behind country music, his attention turned to the 80s pop culture of Michael Jackson and Madonna. He still played his keyboard, but would now sing songs by Journey, Lionel Richie and Chicago.
Jerry’s seventh-grade year would be his last full year in public school. In the winter of 1985, he would once again become terribly sick with pneumonia. Schooling became completely homebound and Jerry lost all contact with his friends and social life. By 1986, he was very frustrated and unhappy with school. After a discussion with his homebound teacher and his parents, Jerry quit school halfway through his ninth grade year.
While still greatly interested in music and singing, It was about this time that Jerry would discover his passion for Computers. With school no longer occupying his time, he turned his full attention to learning everything he could about computers. His parents had bought him a Commodore 64 computer back when he was 11. Now setting up a permanent desk for his computer, and by checking out books from the library, he started teaching himself computer programming. He would spend every hour of every day in front of his computer, first learning basic and eventually dabbling in machine language. After buying his first modem, he quickly became involved in the online BBS scene of the late 80s, even running his own BBS for a short time.
In the summer of 1990, when Jerry was 18, his brother Keith started showing an interest in music, and borrowed their aunt Linda’s acoustic guitar. Although never being able to play himself, Jerry started teaching his brother all about chords and strumming. As the years passed, Jerry was no longer a solo act. The brothers played and sang together wherever they could.
In 1994, together with Keith’s high school peers, the brothers started their first band, a short-lived “garage band” called Liquid Metal. Jerry wrote two new songs for the band. while together for just three months, and having only one performance, it served as a great experience of creativity and collaboration, and is remembered fondly.
In 1995, together with two of his computer friends, Jerry started his first business. A computer sales and service business called Computers by Design. For the next four years, he would sell custom-built computers to individuals, businesses and local school systems, learning firsthand about marketing and advertising. He was among the first to sell products through the brand new World Wide Web. Unfortunately, by 1999, other businesses such as Dell and Gateway started streamlining “custom-built PCs”, and it became a buyers market. Competition was crippling. Eventually, Computers by Design was forced out of business.
In 2000, Jerry became a client of the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services (ADRS). By now his muscles were much weaker, and he was no longer able to type on the computer or play the keyboard. ADRS was able to pay for the very expensive Assistive Technology that would allow Jerry to keep using his computer even without the use of his hands. They would also work as a liaison with employers to help him find work.
Jerry spent most of the early 2000’s making a living as a freelance programmer, web designer and small business owner. In 2006, thanks to his ADRS case manage, Marilyn Long, he was hired to manage (from home) a real estate valuations business in Foley Alabama called Walnut Ridge. For the next six years, while still fulfilling his role as manager, he contracted his services as a web developer, database designer and programmer, and built Walnut Ridge an online system to manage and streamline the day to day operations of its employees. Now earning a steady salary, Jerry could finally afford to rent a place of his own. He was able to step away from government SSI, and hired his own caregivers, which allowed him the freedom to get out and accomplish even more things.
He started attending the MDA telethon again, and was asked to speak at the first annual Young Adults Retreat hosted by MDA and the Lakeshore Foundation. He was also asked to appear on two episodes of Mike Royer’s TV news segment, Spirit of Alabama. In 2010, Jerry was awarded the Robert Ross MDA Personal Achievement Award for the state of Alabama, and was a national finalist for its national counterpart. Later that year, he also received the J Merrill Taylor Achievement Award from the Alabama Rehabilitation Association.
The next seven years brought some very hard times. A very tough bout of pneumonia in 2012 cost him his job at Walnut Ridge. Without the income, he lost his caregivers. Another dangerous case of pneumonia and flu in 2014 set him back even further. With no caregivers, Jerry was forced to move back in with his elderly parents, located where there was no Internet. In 2015, due to a kidney stone blocking his left ureter, he had to have a nephrostomy tube placed in his back to drain urine from his left kidney.
Despite the last seven years of illness and misfortune, Jerry is making a comeback! Starting over with only a $753 per month disability and SSI income, Jerry is making great strides toward several new businesses that will pave the road to a secure life, hiring his own caregivers. This undertaking is Jerry’s most ambitious venture yet. He calls it “The Endeavor”.
To stay up-to-date on “The Endeavor“, you can follow Jerry’s blog and newsletter of the same title by clicking here.
1942 Glennwood Rd.
Morris, AL 35116
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