Our creator Matthew Fuller suffered for over a decade with disability before coming up with the initial ideas that would become The Entertaining Oddballz. In 2010 his first child was born and that became the most precious part of his life where the pain would temporarily subside to enjoy parenthood. The precious moments with our kids that all parents treasure. Matt volunteered in education, working with a literacy program in D.C. public schools. A former member of the Grammy Winning children's group "The Maryland Boy's Choir" with a lifelong love of music who also worked with some of the nations biggest acts across genres including Lil Wayne's Young Money imprint in hip-hop and country music legend Mindy McReady, he played classic kids’ music around the house for his daughter, “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” etc. We didn’t know that those moments of family fun would eventually lead to The Entertaining Oddballz. But in 2015, the 25th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act, the time was right and Matt went from active dad to activist.
On the creation of The Oddballz he had this to say - "As a parent and music fan, I was a heavy consumer of children’s music. My daughter had tons of kid’s CD’s. But as a producer and audiophile, I was surprised by the outdated sound of most of the offerings. They were passable for road trip sing-a-longs, but when I shared the more upbeat versions I was creating at home with friends in the music industry I was encouraged that my renditions of these children’s classics might be commercially viable for Generation Y parents and be able to compete in the marketplace. But in general, to market music one needs a vehicle, a cast of characters, something compelling to attach the audience emotionally to the music. I knew immediately that I wanted disability to be my vehicle."
For the specifics, The Entertaining Oddballz takes place at a fictitious school for disabled children, Fairmore Academy. The series’ protagonist is Willie, a disabled boy who dreams of being a sports star despite disability necessitating the use of a wheelchair. But Willie's not the oddball. Neither are any of our disabled characters. The Oddballz are sports balls and equipment that come to life in Willie’s imagination when he spins them on his finger, and then as with other shows in the genre, the group engages in educational adventures for our audience.
Matt's musical history led to that being the "in" so to speak for The Oddballz. With his musical resume and newly spun takes on kids' classics, his instrumental "Oddballz" rendition of "On Top of Spaghetti" was played on U.S. radio that same summer. While the instrumental renditions were met with praise, Matt sought a singer to give the songs more complete depth. After a search, it was announced that former "Mickey Mouse Club" star, American TV show "Star Search" Teen Champion, Broadway headliner and Hollywood actress Raquel "Roque" Herring would be the lead vocal perfomer for The Entertaining Oddballz. New songs were recorded with Roque's vocals, and The Entertaining Oddballz' "Hokey Pokey" became the first Oddballz song played on European radio.
Ms. Herring was chosen both for her vocal talents, and for her history as a groundbreaking artist. As Lesley Abravanel noted in a Miami Herald article that you can read on our website's "Press" section, Roque was the first African American female cast by Disney to appear on "The Mickey Mouse Club" television show. In trying to break down barriers for the disabled and encourage the integration of disabled people into American society it seemed an ideal fit to have someone with experience in breaking down barriers in entertainment. The Entertaining Oddballz look forward to providing the worldwide public with new and exciting recordings by Matt and Raquel.
The new successes of The Oddballz led to new opportunities. Just two months after joining Twitter, The Oddballz page gained 28,000 followers including celebrity followers, not only musicians like Tupac Shakur’s former music group Digital Underground, but also sports stars including Baltimore Oriole great Gregg Olson, former NFL star and NFL Network analyst LaVar Arrington and Mark Johnson, the first African American flyweight champion in boxing history and boxing hall of famer, as well as TV and film actors like Taye Diggz, media members such as the several from Fox’s L.A. based KTTV news, and even politicians like California Senate Leader, Kevin DeLeon and one of Los Angeles’ leading radio personalities DJ King Assassin.
More importantly, The Oddballz reached members of the disability advocacy community like North Carolina special education teacher and Autism mom Dr. Marquis Grant, who was the first to note the concept's music as effective as therapy for children on the Autism spectrum. With a small name made for The Oddballz, we sought to use the power of our new programming for social causes. The first public performance of Oddballz music was at a children's event fundraising and collecting food for a local food bank, drawing over 200 people. The message was getting out that there was a new children's entertainment concept focused on bringing awareness to disability also participating in community activism.
The Oddballz partnered with The University of Maryland Baltimore County's renowned Art's School to offer internships and opportunities to the school's students to be a part of our team. The effects of this program were fourfold. First, we were able to offer internships to disabled college students and provide professional experiences that we hoped would help those individuals overcome the barriers to employment that many disabled students face. Second, the program enlisted non-disabled interns, providing on the job education about life for people with disabilities, so that the next generation of media makers might have a better understanding of disability rights issues. Third, it allowed us to expand, with the help of these new staff members and interns doing great work assisting us with everything from graphics, to writing, to assistance with publicity and social media and finally with actual animation for the potential series. In 2016 when contacted by the United States Olympic Committee to assist with social media promotion for the 2016 Paralympics, The Oddballz were able to utilize our interns to help us help the USOC and US Paralympics program. Finally, fourth, our program allowed us to provide work references for our interns and we are proud to say many have secured wonderful opportunities in the work world, with companies like Lego and in public education.
Having sent several of our interns on to successful careers to us is a measure of the success of our program, whether it be in being able to attract desirable candidates, or to allow individuals to build impressions among employers that people who come out of professional experiences with our company are highly seasoned by the experience, no matter their disability status. Our specific merits were also tested. The Education Department Duke University, for example, undertook a study to determine the efficacy of our programs. The outcome was the creation of a complimentary program "The Fairmore Friends," which, uses characters based on the original Oddballz concept and places them in more specific educational settings with an emphasis on creating understanding about disability among general curriculum K-8 students.
In the summer of 2016 the first Fairmore Friends animated lesson plan was created with the assistance of Dr. Marquis Grant (who also operates her own site mylifemyautism.com) and the UMBC arts program, for use in public schools absolutely free of charge. During 2016, The Oddballz were also used as a conduit for free toys generously donated by Ikos Toys to provide that company's fun new learning toys to organizations across the United States, from the Salvation Army in Compton, California, to public schools in Philadelphia Pennsylvania, and at St. Judes' centers for children's wellbeing. The Fairmore Foundation also partnered with the Action Faith Outreach program to get Oddballz/Fairmore Friends learning materials in the hands of African schools and organizations in Uganda and Kenya where disability education is desperately needed.
The Oddballz, and their new iteration The Fairmore Friends remain committed to our initial ideal which is to create the first prominent entertainment concept for children that contains images of disability and normalizes disabled identities thus ending discrimination against disabled children. We are excited by the potential of The Fairmore Friends to enter schools and engender change, while simultaneously continuing to develop The Oddballz as an educational entertainment concept with the power to permeate popular culture and change the world for disabled children and future generations of disabled people.
The Entertaining Oddballz
DISABILITY INCLUSIVE EducATIONAL CHILDREN's PROGRAMMING