(Photo by BJ Mac Photography)
Q&A: Angela Ray and Grace Anna Rogers
By Sarah Komisky
Grace Anna is a girl whose got spunk, sass, steadfastness, and survival instincts. Born with a rare form of dwarfism called Conradi Hunermann Syndrome which affects the eyes, spine, and scalp, Grace Anna has not lost her joy! In fact, before she could talk, she could sing! This in and of itself is a miracle since her hearing is limited. Capturing the heart of millions, Grace Anna’s video singing the Star Spangled Banner at age four became a viral sensation. At nine-years-old, Grace Anna now has over 1 million social media followers as well as a highly successfully YouTube channel, “Grace Anna Sings.” This October, alongside her amazing mama (Angela Ray Rogers), the two are releasing the children’s book, “What Do You See When You Look At Me?” You go girls! Now, the worldchaning mother-daughter duo took some time to chat with MM on the subject of joy despite adversity, what it means to love others with differences, how to support others with physical challenges, Christmas favorites, and of course, singing.
First, so great to meet you both! I LOVE your new book so much. To get started, share with us, Angela, how this book came about?
Angela: We were sitting outside after a doctor’s appointment and Grace Anna asked, “Mom, what do you think people think when they look at me?” At first, I didn’t have any idea what to say, but it resulted in a long conversation about God having a person for everyone. We both decided it would be nice if people really got to know somebody before judging them by their outside shell.
Grace Anna, this question is for you! Singing has meant so much to you. What do you love most about it?
Grace Anna: It makes me feel special and happy at the same time. There is something inside me that has to let it go. It’s like I can’t hold it in.
Angela, I’m going to pull a book quote. It reads, “God has given us each a purpose – our own special light that burns bright if we let it. We can all change the world with love and respect for each other.” You are an advocate for educational and recreational inclusion for children with physical challenges. How do you hope we can begin to make strides towards that?
Angela: I’m hoping every community and school playground can have the ability to incorporate equipment where kids of all abilities can play together. It may have to begin in small steps, like a piece of equipment or some rubberized flooring. I also believe we can encourage corporations and charities to see the importance of making playgrounds for everyone to enjoy life together. It is so difficult for children with physical limitations to sit back and watch everyone else play when they can’t.
Grace Anna, you have been so brave and so courageous. How do you think Jesus makes you brave?
Grace Anna: I feel Jesus in my heart and spirit. I like to sing Christian songs when I get nervous; it really helps me feel better.
Grace Anna, your YouTube is AMAZING! You’ve covered so many different artists and songs, so I wanted to know, who is your favorite artist?
Grace Anna: I really like Justin Bieber. My mom said he has become a Christian too; maybe we can do a song together sometime.
Angela, this issue is Holiday themed and since Christmas is about joy, talk about how joy has played a role in your life and how Grace Anna has helped you experience that?
Angela: Some of the most stressful times in our lives have been met with some of the most joyous, tender moments. That’s not me – it’s God. When I accepted Christ as my savior, a joy was placed in my heart to help me face the mountains and storms that would surface in my life. When I would drift away from my relationship with Christ, not reading my Bible, not praying, etc. life became harder and less enjoyable. It’s so important to keep working on my relationship with the Lord daily. It is that relationship that keeps joy alive in my soul. Both of my children have taught me so much about joy. Grace Anna came into this world fighting for every bit of progress she would make. Through it all, she has this amazing zest for life. She will smile through things that would bring many adults to their knees. Her brother Isaiah is not much different. He walks around with this huge smile on his face all the time. His motto is “It’s all going to okay.”
Grace Anna, what are you most excited about celebrating Christmas this year?
Grace Anna: First thing is that I’m glad I’m getting my Spica cast off the week before Christmas. I also am so excited about the food and opening presents. I also get to see all my family and sing at church.
Angela, you’ve said that your hope for this book is that it will “encourage readers to realize when we get to know someone, we discover we have more similarities than differences.” Share about what that means to you.
Angela: So many times, in society we are judged by what we look like. It’s especially hard for kids with intellectual and/or physical disabilities to feel important and be included. When we get to know the person on the inside, his or her core, we can find we have so much more in common than most would think. We all experience the same emotions and feelings. Grace Anna has hopes and dreams like any other kid. She loves playing sports, singing, and cooking. There are many kids just like her. We must encourage children and adults to realize that. Children are the building blocks for change. If they learn as children that all people were created by God, He loves each of us, and has a purpose for each of us then we have made a huge step for all children and their futures.
Grace Anna, what do you want people to know about you when they visit your YouTube or meet you?
Grace Anna: I love singing and being funny. I love my life and being happy. I hope everybody likes my videos. One day I’m going to have my own show where I act and sing, while being a chef! It’s going to be amazing!
Angela, thinking about the new year coming up, what are some ways we can partner to support others with physical challenges and giveback?
Angela: The first thing people can do is to include them in our communities and activities. Invite people with disabilities to be on boards, committees, and in other leadership roles. They have a voice and perspective that others cannot understand fully because they don’t live it. They can offer insight into things that is very valuable. I also encourage communities to make playgrounds, community centers, schools, gyms, arenas, and other facilities to be fully inclusive, not just accessible. Donate to organizations that offer grants and programs that help communities become more inclusive for those with disabilities. Most of all, treat them with dignity and respect.
Grace Anna, besides singing, what are some of your hobbies?
Grace Anna: I love to cook, explore our farm, play with my service dog Smitty, play ball with friends, have sleepovers, swim in our pool, go to the beach, playing the piano, gardening, and dancing.
Grace Anna, one last question – a fun one. Since it’s Christmas, we want to know what your favorite Christmas song is?
Grace Anna: I have two, “Silent Night” and “All I Want for Christmas is You.”