De Shjon Mitchell, a.k.a. Spectrum, is a wheelchair-bound hip-hop artist who became paralyzed after the van he was in went out of control and rolled down a 45-foot drop. He wasn't wearing a seat belt.
"I thought without use of my legs my life was over at the age of 17. I had dreams like most teenage boys to be a professional athlete. It was the most difficult transition I ever made in my life." Mitchell says he used writing as therapy.
"After the accident, I felt more inspired, like I can reach down and just pull out a lot more frustration or pain from things 'cause I kind of held a lot of it in when everything happened and I wondered why all of this stuff happened -- a lot of my songs are about this. However, I feel some frustration for not being able to simply stand or jump and give the energy I would like to."
With a group of college friends at SDSU, Mitchell formed the band Four Stars before going solo. Accessibility became an issue.
"Playing the keyboard is different because I can't use the foot pedal and carry equipment.... I traveled, and obviously this world isn't designed for wheelchairs. One of my friends, who is also bound to a wheelchair, always says, 'You should be called the Black Pharaoh because they carry you onstage if there's no access....'
"It's pretty much wheelchair-friendly in San Diego, though. As far as going to other places, going to New York they have elevators to some places, but the underground scene has deep staircases."
Mitchell has been working with a group called Think First, which advocates seat belt use.
"When I'm talking at the high schools, I get a lot of high school students that come check out the website. It's a good way to get my name out, besides the message of safety...."
Mitchell, who is working on his second album, has played the Honey Beehive, Hot Monkey Love Café, and Rosie & Joe's (in Kearny Mesa).