Tell us a little about yourself (Name, hearing status, where are you from, training experience)
My name is Antonio Burkett. I was born and raised in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and moved to the District of Columbia metropolitan area in 2010. I am a hearing ASL-English interpreter, 2018 graduate of the Community College of Baltimore County’s interpreter training program.
What inspired you to become an interpreter?
My best friend, Bart Williams (Deaf), first exposed me to sign language in 2008 and we went to DC’s Open Mic Night in ASL at Busboys and Poets and I became enamored with what I saw: a mixture of hearing and Deaf people performing songs in sign language – rap music, R&B, pop, etc. There were also skits and poems. I had such an amazing time and was so inspired that night that I knew I HAD to become an interpreter.
What was your first offiicial interpreting experience?
My first paid, professional interpreting experience was in January 2018, the year I started my practicum. I was fortunate to receive an ongoing opportunity interpreting for a small group circle at church, focusing on life development and becoming better people in the world and to the world.
Do you have a preference as to what settings you like to work in most, or desire to work in, in the future? (e.g. Medical, Performance, Legal, etc.)
I worked for the Federal government – non-interpreting – for 13 years (2006 – February 2019) and during that time I saw many government interpreters who were staff. I said that I wanted that life. Now that I am out of the government and mostly a freelance interpreter, I don’t think I can go back to that life; however, I do like government, business, and non-profit settings because of their general structure.
Is there a golden rule to maintain longevity in this profession? What is it?
In my short career, one golden rule that helps me on a daily basis is to take care of yourself first because if you’re no good to yourself, you can’t be any good to anyone else.
What advice or words of encouragement do you have for students or people who are interested in becoming an interpreter?
Keep reaching because the sky is the limit. Be open to learning and constructive criticism but never let anyone tear you down. Stand up for yourself, believe in yourself and do what’s morally right. Know that you will not be a match for every consumer AND THAT’S OK. There will be tons of consumers who you are a match for, some who will even become friends and request you for different assignments.
How would you suggest that the interpreter preparation process become more inclusive of individuals that are a part of an underrepresented population?
I suggest established ITPs go to diverse, urban elementary, middle, and high schools and expose students and faculty to Deaf people and interpreters. I didn’t have that experience growing up and if I had, I imagine my entire life would be completely different by now.
If applicable, as an interpreter or aspiring interpreter, what would you like to share with the outside community as it pertains to being a part of a marginalized community in the profession of interpreting?
Interpreters of color (IOC) are out there and available. Oftentimes, we may not even see the same opportunities as our European counterparts because of implicit biases, prejudices, and/or racism. Also, if you team with an IOC, and you know or notice the IOC is treated differently by the consumer (Deaf or hearing) stand up for that IOC. Acknowledge it and ask how you can be supportive. Don’t take over or dominate the situation and do what you think is best. We need to move away from that paternalistic mindset as a community and as a society.