R&B and soul singer Aziza Love remembers a childhood growing up in Bond Hill, Walnut Hills, and Westwood attending events for the deaf community. Her mother was working toward her deaf interpretation certification and encouraged Love to partake in the social gatherings and even take interpretation classes herself. From an early age, she says, her mother instilled a passion for celebrating what makes each individual unique.
“In my household, learning how to expand our minds to different folks and their different abilities was essential,” says Love. “My sister has an autoimmune disease, and we’ve had to communicate with her differently throughout my life. So being aware of different kinds of people in this world and figuring out how to communicate was always really important.”
As a result, Love’s recent collaboration with Netflix’s Deaf U became a personal and emotional project. The eight-episode reality show follows a group of students attending Gallaudet University, a private university for the deaf and hard of hearing. Executive produced by model, actor, and activist Nyle DiMarco, Deaf U follows the students as they navigate the college environment in Washington, D.C., while focusing on arts and cultural interests. DiMarco is a Gallaudet graduate and became the first deaf contestant to appear on America’s Next Top Model and Dancing With the Stars.
Love, 25, is known in local music circles for her work with the hip-hop trio Triiibe, and has been creating solo work as well. Last year, after she released a solo album and directed a short film for one of the songs, Phoenix Rising: Ashes to Ashes, the Deaf U team reached out and asked her to sing at a small performance at Gallaudet alongside an interpreter. Initially, says Love, she didn’t realize that her performance would be featured on the show. It wasn’t until a year later that a friend called to inform Love that her interpreted performance actually appeared in episode seven of the new Netflix series.
“At the time, I was just really excited because my mom studied sign language for all of my life,” says Love. “It was a beautiful experience at Gallaudet. I got to meet the folks who were part of the show and understand the struggles they have as college students with a language barrier.”
According to a 2011 Gallaudet study based on self-reported hearing trouble, approximately 600,000 Americans across all ages are deaf. Deaf adults have lower college graduation rates and higher unemployment rates when compared to the average U.S. adult without a disability. In order for members of the deaf community to not feel isolated from other parts of society, it’s important to emphasize that their everyday tasks, interests, and lifestyles aren’t so different from those in the hearing community. “Deaf U gives you a look into the lives of folks in order to normalize this world that we all coexist in,” says Love.
Prior to her performance for the show, Love says she’d considered interpreting some of her songs but never made it happen, and now she wants to collaborate with her mother to interpret her new work.
“It’s necessary and important because everybody deserves the opportunity to experience music and to experience other social gatherings,” she says. “I think there’s a way to include everybody, from people who are differently abled to people who have physical ailments or whatever it may be. Having platforms like Deaf U really shines a light on different communities so we know how best to show up for them.”