Drake was willing to do whatever it takes to get Jimmy Brooks out of his wheelchair.
We all know the story — before he was a multi-platinum recording artist, Aubrey Graham, AKA Drake, starred as Jimmy on the iconic Canadian teen drama Degrassi: The Next Generation. Not only was he part of the OG cast, he had one of the most memorable storylines. Jimmy was shot by a classmate in one of the most intense episodes in Degrassi history, an event that left him paralyzed and in a wheelchair for the rest of the series.
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It was a defining moment for the character… much to the young performer’s apparent chagrin. In a new oral history of the show (commemorating Degrassi‘s 20th anniversary) from The A.V. Club, writer James Hurst revealed that Drake was determined to get Jimmy walking again. He explained:
“There was a letter from a law firm in Toronto, and it was from Aubrey. It was an odd letter that said, ‘Aubrey Graham will not return to Degrassi season six as Jimmy Brooks unless his injury is healed, and he’s out of the wheelchair.’ I said, ‘Get him down here.’ He came in and was like, ‘What letter? I don’t know about that.’ And I said, ‘All right, I understand. But how do you feel about the wheelchair?’ He’s like, ‘All my friends in the rap game say I’m soft because I’m in a wheelchair.’”
“I said, ‘Well, tell your friends in the rap game that you got shot. How much harder can you get? You got shot, and you’re in a wheelchair.’ He was like, ‘Yeah, yeah.’ He was so nice and apologetic about everything. He instantly backed down. I was very passionate about it, and I said, ‘Aubrey, there’s some kid somewhere in a wheelchair, who’s completely ignored, who’s never on television, never gets represented. I need you to represent this person. You’re the coolest kid on the show, and you can say there’s nothing wrong with being in a wheelchair.’”
We’re glad the Grammy winner was convinced because Jimmy’s storyline was so important to the show!
And he clearly didn’t hold any hard feelings against his fictional high school after that, since he returned — along with some key classmates — for the I’m Upset video, years after becoming a chart-topper. (Even Rick, the school shooter, got a cameo!)
Still, his co-stars recalled the actor struggling with Jimmy’s physical challenges. Shane Kippel, who played Jimmy’s BFF Spinner, shared:
”[There’s] the apprehension of having your character confined to a wheelchair, or even not really feeling like it’s right to be portraying someone who is confined to a wheelchair if you’re fully abled yourself. But that pertains to [Aubrey] and how he felt with that.”
And Lauren Collins, AKA mean girl Paige Michalchuk, remembered:
“I think [Aubrey] struggled, just physically with having to all of a sudden do everything confined to a chair. That was really hard for him. I definitely have a few memories of him toppling the chair over and falling off of makeshift ramps that they’d constructed for him.”
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“I don’t want to speak for anyone, but I think [Aubrey] probably struggled with the idea that he was one of two Black characters on the show, and that he was the one who was winding up shot and in a wheelchair, which obviously is part of a much larger conversation.”
That context definitely sheds a different light on Jimmy’s wheelchair. The conversation on representation has come a long way since the peak of Degrassi in the early 2000s. But as Hurst pointed out, a lot of kids — Black wheelchair users included — could undoubtedly see themselves in Jimmy’s story. At the end of the day, it’s an unforgettable part of the show’s history and of Drake’s early career.
[Image via Euan Cherry/WENN & Degrassi/YouTube]