One night five years ago, Ron Blake settled down in his seventh story loft in downtown Phoenix. He decided to skip a holiday party downstairs because he was not feeling well. That night, three men entered his loft and drastically changed Blake’s life forever.
That night, he was raped.
“You become a shadow of who you used to be. I became so angry with the world and it was so uncharacteristic of me,” Blake said. “It was because I wasn’t talking about the sexual assault.”
After the assault that took place Dec. 21, 2011, Blake was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a disease commonly seen among war veterans. PTSD is not often associated with trauma other than war, but it is just as common among sexual assault victims.
“Am I happy I went through PTSD and was sexually assaulted? No, but can I learn something from it? Yes,” Blake said.
Blake is a mental illness and sexual assault activist from Phoenix, but grew up outside Chicago. He now travels across the state, soon to be the country, to spread awareness about sexual assault and PTSD, as well as to follow his dream: to be on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert for his cause.
In order for his dream to come true, Blake carries around poster boards titled “Blake Late Show” for people to sign and show their support. As people scribble down thoughts of encouragement, Blake vividly relates his story to open ears through his outgoing and strong personality. Conscious of his surroundings, Blake is always sure to approach people with an inviting smile and cheerful persona.
“This has been a fun way for me to take back my life — I go out every day, I meet new people, and I ask them to sign the board to get behind my ambitious goal to get on The Late Show as the guest,” Blake said. “I want to be able to tell my story of the trauma, and much more importantly I want to focus on the fun and the hope that’s on the other side of PTSD.”
Although Blake is now therapeutically sharing his story, it was not easy to come to terms with the past. Blake knew something terrible happened that night, but it took him some time to identify what happened as a sexual assault.
Around May 2014, “I was reading an article in Time Magazine, a cover story called ‘sexual assault on campus,’ and I had to re-read it a couple of times. I remember exactly where I was when I read it.”
At the time, Blake had a cleaning business and he recalled that a large group of employees came together to eat lunch in the kitchen. Once everyone left, Blake stayed back to finish his meal and pulled out the article and started reading. After re-reading the article, he just knew—
“That day, I realized that I was sexually assaulted.”
His mind flashed back to that night, remembering like it was yesterday — he was sick in bed, when his life partner at the time came into their loft with two other men after a holiday party. Before he knew what was happening, his covers and clothes were off as he was in a headlock, his face being pushed into the pillow.
“In some cases, people are raped by one person and that’s horrible enough — in this case I was raped by one, but two others did nothing to help me,” Blake said. “It was sheer hell.”
A big part of Blake’s activist outreach is to tell people that it is hard to get better if you cannot identify what happened. Blake relates PTSD to cancer, explaining how a doctor would not be able to help a cancer patient if the patient did not know it was cancer. This is similar to any mental illness, says Blake, including PTSD.
Two months after Blake identified that he had been sexually assaulted, he reached out for help because he was having a difficult time working through everything.
“So I started talking,” Blake said.
He started opening up to family, friends and therapists in order to start processing. It had been two and a half years since the assault.
“Over time that’s tough, because it’s become so imprinted in who you are,” Blake said. “There are days where it feels like it happened yesterday. But I’m still here. I’m still working on it.”
Now Blake is on a journey to share his story and make an appearance on The Late Show. His empowering voice easily captures the attention of any bystander as he incorporates optimistic hope with a hint of humor, turning his dark tragedy into a hopeful future.
“I still remember the first person who signed my board — his name was Joshua and we were on Arizona State University’s downtown campus,” Blake said.
Over the course of visiting 38 cities, Blake has filled a total of 230 poster boards, covering around 2,000 square feet of inspirational signatures.
Each signature holds a message of hope for Blake to carry on his journey. One particular message stood out to Blake — “Dear Blake, it takes courage and a huge heart to do what you are doing. You are an amazing individual and you should never forget that. Human to human, brother to brother, I love you,” said supporter Jalen Zambrano on Blake’s board.
“It’s hard enough for a guy to say that to his mother, sister, brother — but he said that to me. So that was very powerful to see someone express themselves like that,” Blake said.
Having already toured Flagstaff in May, Blake is planning on spreading his story to New York City in September, where he will put up his boards in Central Park to reach out to more listeners.
“Sometimes there’s no medicine in life, but we always have people,” Blake said. “That has been my therapy and medicine — going out and talking to people.”
Since Nov. 12, 2015, at the start of this project, Blake has met over 16,300 new people to support his project to send him to The Late Show. On average, Blake meets around 60 new people every day, each who are receptive and open to hearing his story, some even reciprocating their own traumas.
“Take away your work, your regular life — how many people do we truly meet in any given day that has nothing to do with work? Just to go off the beaten track to talk to somebody, that’s the beauty of it and it’s become a lost art,” Blake said. “So maybe I can encourage others to take up that art again, the courage of walking up to a stranger and saying, ‘How’s your day going?’ I think it would surprise people.”
While visiting new people, someone asked Blake if he thought it would be worth it, to only be on the show for a short amount of time, after all this time and energy. Blake responded that “it’s not about the destination, it’s truly the journey.”
From overcoming fears to fighting PTSD, Blake has come a long way in the past few years. While his mission to get on The Late Show is constantly driving him forward, he does not plan on stopping there.
“For the first couple months, that’s all I wanted to do, just to get on the show,” Blake said. “Just a happy goal, something to push me forward and give me something to be excited about every day and show people that there is a positive side beyond PTSD.”
But now Blake realizes that his story has become much more than that. A few months ago, a supporter sent Blake a Huffington Post article about Michelle Obama raising awareness about mental health. The supporter asked, “Why don’t you do something with her?”
“And I thought, all right, if Stephen Colbert asks me what’s next, I’d like to collaborate with first lady Michelle Obama,” Blake said. “Because why not?”
Blake wants to continue to expand awareness about mental health, and to do so, would like to turn his outreach into an art project with the help of the first lady. As a team, they would take stories of traumas and turn them into an art show, using the boards and messages as guides to hear more perspectives and life stories.
“[The boards] are a good reminder to keep going — these are people who support you and who have stories that they want to share,” Blake said.
With his powerful will and momentum, Blake will do what it takes to get on The Late Show to share his story. He realizes that “all of us want to fill in the darkness with light,” and that’s what he would like to do — Blake is living proof of optimism and hope.
Every night, Blake reads the messages he gets from the people he met that day. Full of support and inspirational thoughts, the messages to him are constant reminders of his place and purpose.
“You’re on this earth once, I don’t know how many times we’ll each go around the sun, but I’m here so I might as well have a good time,” Blake said. “And I’ve been having a great time meeting people — those are my happy thoughts that keep me going."