Never in his worst nightmares did the famed graffiti artist and Castle Hill native Tony Cruz think that he would be losing his eyesight before the age of 50.
He also never envisioned his case of type two macular telangiectasia leading him to a speaking engagement before the United Nations on Friday, February 1.
Cruz addressed the international delegates on issues of computer and LED lighting’s harmful effects during the UN’s 1 Million for 1 Billion global impact summit, sharing his own harrowing, personal experiences with the ‘blue’ light.
“In 2009 I was looking at a computer and saw a little dot appear on the screen, at first I thought it was the computer but it wouldn’t go away, then I realized it was my eyes, that’s when it all began,” said Cruz.
Things only got worse for Cruz’s sight. Now he has completely blurred vision in his right eye, and limited sight in the left; Cruz even gets pain in his chest and stomach when looking at something too bright.
Eventually, his condition will likely lead to total blindness.
Cruz created a vision awareness campaign in 2018 titled, ‘Do Not Kill Your Vision, Protect Your Eyes,’ etching that same message onto a wall mural on the corner of Westchester Avenue and Theriot Avenue in Soundview last May.
It was around that time when Cruz came in contact with Kareem Hertzog, a founding member of 1M1B; then his campaign saw nothing but success.
“When they told me I would be speaking at the UN, I thought it was just going to be a small panel in some conference room,” Cruz said, unaware that he would be speaking in one of the general assembly’s rooms.
After he spoke, warning the youth especially about blue light danger, Cruz’s message was received with a thunderous round of applause as other delegates told the artist they would be consulting him on upcoming vision awareness projects.
“God was my editor that day and graffiti got me to the United Nations,” the artist said in near disbelief at his turnaround from unfortunate circumstances.
Prior to Cruz’s struggle with vision loss, he painted over 200 murals around the Bronx, the rest of New York City and elsewhere.
He used the south Bronx and the hip-hop culture of the 1970s and 1980s that he grew up in as inspiration for poetry through his painting; Cruz’s late mother, Felisia Colon also served as the greatest support he could ever ask for.
It was then that he coined his graffiti moniker RAM2, coming from his birth name, Ramon.
Later on, Cruz did years of publicity work with famed blind guitarist Jose Feliciano, who he stills stays in touch with and is proud to call a friend.
“I guess it’s ironic what’s happening to me now. When I told Jose that I couldn’t even drive a car anymore he joking yelled back ‘I never could!’” Cruz laughed. “He always used humor to deal with his blindness, which is something that he taught me to do as well,” he mentioned.
Next up for Cruz is a new campaign with the Metropolitan Museum of Art to teach graffiti art to the blind.