The Braille Monitor                                                                                         October, 2003

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Atlanta Entertains Its Own Jewel

by Empish Thomas

Jewel Harness
Jewel Harness

From the Editor: Empish Thomas is an active member of the South Fulton Chapter of the NFB of Georgia. Here he writes about the life and work of another member of the chapter. This is what he says:

Jewel Harness, president of Jewel Entertainment, is no stranger to a challenge. He has been living with blindness since he was a child growing up in Lansing, Michigan. "I noticed something was wrong when I failed my school's eye exam," Harness said. At the age of eleven he was diagnosed with the dry form of macular degeneration, a disease that affects the central vision of the eye. At first Harness rejected the idea of being blind but later accepted it.

From the age of thirteen Harness was fascinated by music. It started when his mother gave him a tape recorder. "I would walk around the house tape recording everything," he said. His interest in music expanded, and he started spending his Saturday mornings at a local recording studio. There Harness learned how to do sound checks and set up microphones and sound boards. His confidence increased, and he was soon a sought-after disc jockey for school events. He also worked at a local radio station.

While majoring in audiovisual communications at Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Michigan, he continued to DJ and helped to establish the campus radio station. Until that time Harness had faced very few challenges because of blindness in pursuing his goals, but that soon changed. In 1995 he moved to Atlanta and worked in the distribution department for Ichiban Records. This company promotes, advertises, markets, and distributes music. In order to complete his duties, Harness had to use magnifiers to read labels and other information. This was challenging and motivated him to establish and operate his own recording studio. "That experience was the pivotal point for me. I had to decide if I was going to do this or not," Harness said.

Seven years later, focused and determined at age thirty-two, Harness created Jewel Entertainment, an all-in-one recording studio that allows artists to create, produce, record, and replicate their own music. Jewel Entertainment has five departments: an entertainment magazine, recording and replication studios, an audio media area, graphic design, and photography. Harness decided to approach his business from this angle to keep cost low and be competitive. "In order for any successful company to get on its feet, it must have either all the finances or all the resources. I decided to have all the resources," he said.

Once the artist completes the recording, Jewel Entertainment Magazine highlights him or her as a featured story, providing an opportunity for needed exposure. In addition, the magazine includes valuable information about the music industry. The Audio Media Department also provides opportunities for the blind community by recording books and magazines on tape and CD. Harness says, "When you are blind, you have to create your own environment." Other services he provides include copyrighting, trademark registration, and legal advice supplied by an entertainment attorney.

When asked to list the most important things in starting a business, Harness said, "First, decide how committed you are. Second, figure out how much you are prepared to dedicate to the project, e.g., finances, time, energy, and other resources. Last, be flexible and willing to improvise."

Harness did not achieve his success by himself. He has received support from organizations such as Project Exceed and Cobb County Vocational Rehabilitation Services. Project Exceed is a nonprofit organization that gives financial assistance to people with disabilities who are starting their own businesses. Cobb County Vocational Rehabilitation Services is a state agency that offers training and financial assistance to people with disabilities who want to be business owners. One of Harness's most fervent supporters has been his mother. "My mother has been a pillar of strength for my life. She would always say, `Take what you have and do the best you can with it,'" Harness said.

Harness is a member of the National Federation of the Blind, South Fulton Chapter in Atlanta. He currently lives in Marietta, a suburb outside Atlanta, with his wife and two sons. For more information about Jewel Entertainment, call (404) 255-6700 or e-mail him at <[email protected]>.

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