Who is Jackie Roth?
My name is Jackie Roth, although my birth name is Jacqueline – it's French. But everyone calls me Jackie. I sell real estate here in New York City; I'm a real estate broker with Douglas Elliman and I've been doing this with 12 years. But honestly, my work really encompasses many different fields. I also produce films. At the moment, I’m writing a screenplay. I'm always engaged. I guess you would say that I am enjoying life. I’m Type A. I’m an extrovert. I'm an overachiever. I'm a dreamer. I'm kind. I have so much love in my heart. I'm curious.
My legacy – I've been thinking about that a lot. It's hard for someone in my position right now to have a legacy unless I win the Academy Award. And then they would say on the screen ‘she passed away last year, (claps) she made a movie’. You know what I mean? I want to be able to create a foundation so that other deaf children can get some support to pursue what they want. Children that don't have the resources - the financial or familial resources – I'm still working on that. But you know, they always say that in movies you're never forgotten. If I had kids, it would be different. They're going to remember me – hopefully – but anyway, my story different. I don't have anyone to pass anything on to. And I am not a recluse. I want to be remembered for something, so I keep telling myself, ‘You better finish this movie, you better finish your book, you better finish them.’ I haven't finished anything yet, but I will. I guess that's my work going forward.
Tell us about your career journey.
My career began right after I graduated from college. This was like 40 years ago - oh my god, 40 years ago when I graduated from college. I had no clue what I wanted to do, but then I was recruited to become my University’s recruiter and that was how I began. I toured the country, gave presentations to the students and to their parents to try to get them to come to Gallaudet University. And from there on I had a very eclectic career, from being a public speaker to a trainer to an actress. I went for many different things, but in every job or an every career that I had, I learned something from it. And then it made me better at what I do, it made me more confident, and I kept growing with each change. And interestingly enough, I'm always with people, I communicate with people; so everything that I do has to do with people. Whether it's running a non-profit to running my own business as a real estate broker.
What are your top accomplishments?
You know, there are a lot of things that I've done. It's funny – some of the things I've done, I don't think of them as ‘Wow’ accomplishments. Although I know that they’re very impressive. But I still have a few dreams that have not been accomplished. And I still carry them with me from the days I was a little girl. I still want to win an Academy Award. I mean little things like that. But I'm very proud of my documentary, which made it to the Academy Awards – we were nominated for Best Documentary in the year 2000.
There were a lot of things l’ve done. I started up one of the first national conferences that have to do with deaf and other themes, for example - substance abuse. Before, there was very little attention to deaf people about alcoholism and drug abuse and all of that. Nobody thinks that deaf people really have a lot of problems, but we do. It happens in every community. I always saw myself as a bridge, because I understand how hearing people think and how to communicate with them. I also understand and know my community. So the language failure is real if you're not fluent in English and your first language is American Sign Language; there may be some misinterpretation or, for lack of a better word to describe it, for a meeting of the minds.
I always saw myself as somebody who can maybe make that happen. Not maybe, no. I know I can. And make sure that we partner on a lot of different issues. I’ve worked with many parents. I’ve taught. I’ve trained a lot of medical professionals about how to work with deaf and hard of hearing people; how to recognize a deaf patient when they walk into an ER or when they're not conscious – things like that. There are so many things that I've done that haven’t gotten recognized. I just did them. But now I realize, wow, yeah. I didn't realize I graduated 40 years ago! That’s a lot of time and a lot of different events in my life.
Right now I'm writing a screenplay, which is so important to me. It's so close to my heart. I have to finish it. I have to produce it, because I know this movie has never been made before. The story may not be that unique, the conditions around the story, but the way it's going to be told will be very different. So that is something I'm really excited about. The universal theme? It's about a boy’s quest for his mother's love. That's what the story really is about. But ‘how’, ‘what’ - I'm not telling you! I'll invite you to the premiere.
How has your background influenced your success?
I’m a native New Yorker. I grew up here. My parents were deaf. And I grew up in Brooklyn – one of the best places to grow up. And I must say my background here – growing up in New York with deaf parents has made me stronger, believe it or not. Because I felt very protective of my mom and dad. They didn't speak, they only signed. So I was their voice from the when I was young – not the day I was born, obviously, but young enough. And I learned so much at such an early age because I was their interpreter.
Back then, it was usually the children of deaf parents who were the interpreters. But today, it’s a profession and you have to be certified and all of that. But back then if you were the child of deaf parents, you could probably become a very skilled interpreter. Anyway, I think I learned a lot more at five years than many five year olds would. Just being with my parents – going to the doctor’s, their attorney’s, whatever. But, you know, I was so independent when I was growing up. And I think if I had grown up in a different city or state, my life would probably have been more sheltered. But here in New York you just go out there, and you do things, and you try things. You don’t think about it. I have fallen on my back so many times, and yet I’ve gotten up. I’ve had to climb over hurdles all of the time.
It was never easy being deaf, even though people don’t see me as being deaf. But I was never hearing enough, and I was never deaf enough. And so all of that has made me tough in some ways; but it also has been very painful. I think if I had grown up in some Midwestern city with a very nice, beautiful backyard, I would have probably sat on the swing all day long. You can’t do that here.
I have an ego. That’s the truth. That’s it. I just have an ego. It’s important for me to make a difference and to be remembered for it. Make a difference and not be remembered – that’s okay. But there’s a part of me that always loved the limelight. Always. Ever since I was a little girl. Because I was never accepted, you know? So I always had to find a way to be accepted. It was just a way to compensate for what I didn’t have. ‘You’re not deaf enough, you’re fat, you’re not pretty – blah blah blah.’ So I think, growing up, I always felt like I had to prove that I am good.
What are your thoughts on the P.O.L.I.N.G.® principles?
The foundation of this organization is the P.O.L.I.N.G.® principles. I'll tell you why it means a lot to me. I'll go through each one. ‘P’ – ‘Priorities’. You talk about truth; to me, my passion, my purpose everything – it's really changed over time. How I came to think twenty years ago, it's not what I think today, but the guiding principles are the same. My values, everything came from my mother – mostly my parents. But I think what happened today that I've become more and more true to myself. I am living my truth. ‘O’ - helping ‘others’. I think my whole life has always been about that. In different ways, I have always helped people. Sometimes it's a conscious thing and sometimes it's not. But today, I'm more interested in mentoring. I want to help, guide, teach, and share my knowledge. I think that’s very important especially to deaf people. That's my passion.
‘Inspire!’ That's my favorite. You know what - if I see inspiring others makes a smile or results in an action; I see a difference in others because of what I said or what I did, yeah that makes me happy. That's kind of like a reward that comes with nothing – no financial gain, nothing. You don’t need that. For somebody to say me, ‘Jackie, thank you.’ Like wow, you're welcome. Yeah, that feels good. I’m in sales, so if I believe in something, it’s easier for me to sell it. If I don't believe in it, forget it. I’m terrible at lying, for one thing. I can’t lie. So if I'm going to inspire, it’s because I believe in it.
‘Network.’ I have to admit because my deafness, I often shy away from loud places. And I miss out on many important networking events, because often times when I go, everybody's talking in each other's ears - okay, it's not going to work if you speak in my ears. It's too dark for me to lip read. I'm just going to stand there, laugh when everybody laughs, it doesn't work for me anymore. I used to do that a lot in college, but I don't like that. So because I'm in my own business, it's important to me to keep meeting people introducing myself as a real estate broker and as an expert in the field. I need to go to different foundations, even in bars and Starbucks, things like that, and meet people; and just jumping into a group, it's so hard for me.
But the interesting thing is when I'm in a deaf environment like my University in Washington DC, when you have a large group of deaf people, I'm home. I'm in control. I'm speaking my language and I'm at the top of my game. But when I don't know what's going on around me it's so hard to network, unless I find one person who is interested in chatting with me. So my ability to develop my allies is slower, but I get there.
And ‘Grow’. I think I will never stop growing. You stop growing when you leave this planet! Not until then. But that's me. If I can learn something new every day, every minute - I love it. I mean I'm like a sponge like a little child you know? I like that. I want to know more, I want to understand more.
What challenges have you face because of your background?
How did I overcome a lot of the challenges? Today, ‘bullying’ is a very hot topic. Back then, when I was growing up, no one really identified that as ‘bullying’. But I was bullied all the time. I was very heavy, for one thing; so I never got selected for games. I have a speech impediment, so all of my hearing peers made fun of me. Because I could speak, all of my deaf peers said I wasn’t deaf. Everywhere I turned, I was always trying to say that I am okay. And it was very painful.
So there were times when I just broke down, but I always had my mother's arms to comfort me. Even though she got angry and she felt bad for me, but you know what? I grew up with that kind of pain. And so my identity journey was kind of a mess. A mess. “ I'm not deaf, no I'm not. I'm not hearing. I'm hearing. No, it can't be. I'm hard of hearing. No, I'm not hard of hearing. I look at the hard of hearing people, they don't talk like I do, so I’m not hard of hearing.” And I still – even to this day – I just see myself as that. So it was all of that that impacted my journey.
And I just kept going because I wanted to prove everyone wrong. That I can do it. My parents really did not believe that deaf people could amount to anything. When I was growing up, it was a very different time in the deaf community. Back then, we had nothing. We had no technology to help us communicate with the hearing people. We were not encouraged to sign in public – “stop it, don't sign in public”. Things like that. It was always pulling back, mainstreaming. Back then we had a huge deaf community here in New York. Today its different, but back then it was just all of us – we embraced each other, we got super nice 600 deaf Jews hanging out at Brighton Beach – it was just a different time. But that was my journey, and that’s what made me.
Even today – it’s something that happens to me that could penetrate me - make me question my self-worth, my ability to do something, but then I get over it. It’s an ongoing journey. I don't think I’ve ever stopped thinking about that, you know? I mean even now in real estate, I have to be smarter than my clients. I have to do more, because I don't want them to think that I can't do it; because I don't hear as well as another person, or because I don't speak 150 miles an hour. Does that make me stupid? Does that make me less qualified? Absolutely not. I know that. But do I think that they may think that way? Yes, I do.
Who has influenced you?
It’s hard for me to say that I’ve had one person. But who has been a powerful presence in my life? There have been several. Both my parents have influenced me in different ways. My dad always believed that I could be something. “Go for it,” he always said so to me. “Don’t let anything stop you. You have to get an education. You have to go to college. You have to.” My mother? “No, no. Just get married, have kids, two cars, and teach. Why do you want more? You’re a deaf person – you can’t do anything more than that.” But the interesting thing is that it was my mother who instilled the values in me. My mom was really my teacher in so many ways, of right and wrong. But it was my dad who inspired me, who kicked me out the door. So they were both very important to me for different reasons.
Then, along the way, I’ve met individuals. A teacher, a friend, someone I saw on television, a biography I read – there were so many different people I learned from. But I cannot think – honestly – of one person who’s been with me since I was in college until today, who had my back. There are people I knew from back then, who are now very important to me. But back when we were in college, absolutely not. I have an amazing group of friends today – I am so grateful, because I’m all by myself.
I thank my friends for their support, for their understanding; and from every single one of them, I get something special. But every time I fall – and I still do – I always have to think, “Tomorrow is another day.”
What career advice would you give your younger self?
If I had to go back in time and become young kid again, what advice would I give myself? I think I would tell myself, ‘Be braver.’ Don't let anything pull me back. Just go forward, try it. You know, there were many times that I stopped myself because I was afraid – and I didn't have anyone to really push me enough. I had a lot of disappointments and it was easy for me to stop - instead of conquering those disappointments with another try. That's what I would tell me if I went back in time.
What surprising fact can you share about yourself?
Most people think I’m really strong, and I’m tough. I guess I give that impression, “I can do it on my own. I’m fine. I’m okay.” No. I’m really not that strong. You know, sometimes I miss being pampered, I miss being cuddled, I miss being taken care of. I don’t have that. So what do I do? I just keep going. And people think I’m so popular and so busy, and never free; there are many times during the holidays – I don’t get invited. They assume I have something else to do. I end up staying home.
What are your thoughts on the iD community?
I think that Inspiring Diversity is sharing with everybody, with each other, the people that would never have gotten recognized. I think that it is bringing to the surface so many wonderful individuals. I think many of us need help to move forward and oftentimes we feel like we work alone, we work behind closed doors, we don't have the kind of acknowledgement; so with the Inspiring Diversity organization, we have a place to tell our stories. I think that's the most important thing and I think it's very important. It's just another way to introduce some wonderful people and I think that the message – a lot of us feel that way, but we don't do anything with it. You're giving us a venue.
What is your call to action?
My call to action to make a more inclusive world for deaf people doesn’t exist. If I was a politician, I would have one answer for how to become more inclusive of deaf, hearing, hard of hearing, all of that. If I was a parent I would have another. If I was a teacher I would have another. There's no one answer how to make everyone, ‘One.’ Because there are so many different ways to define deafness. There's a lot of seniors now who are losing their hearing; they don't see themselves as deaf. They have nothing to do with our community. They don't want to have anything to do with our community. And then you have parents who give birth to a child that is deaf; the world’s ended for them. Then you have people like me, my parents, people who grew up in that community – they embraced it.
How do you take everyone’s ideas, their ideals, and make it into one conclusive approach? You can’t. But I think what's most important is that people keep an open mind. They have the right attitude, and they don't judge. That is something I think is dangerous – when we assume, we label, we come to conclusions without understanding or experiencing what that individual has to say. I think today, sign language is very popular, is very sexy – everyone embraces sign language. It’s wonderful. And we happen to have very successful individuals who get a lot of national international attention being a deaf dancer, being a deaf film star. But when you come down, when you break it all down to having a deaf child, or a deaf person who wants to become a CEO of a hearing corporation; it’s still like, “A deaf person could do that? Seriously?” There’s still that adjustment, there's still that question.
I think it will happen that things are going to change with individuals. There will be one individual who will hit the big time and that will change the others. It’s slow, but I think we are currently living in the best time for deaf people than we ever have. And I think it's going to get better.