Hello everyone, and greetings from the suburbs of Long Island, New York!
I would like to welcome you to the inaugural posting of my blog. If you stutter, please take a moment to realize you are about to become part of a truly amazing, inspirational community. You're going to find out that people are going to want to hear you speak, but most importantly, they're going to need to hear you and the message you have to say.
I'd like to introduce myself. My name is Steven Kaufman, and I am the leader of the Long Island chapter of the National Stuttering Association. I am 30 years old, and have accomplished many things in my life, both personal and professional goals. I was the first member of my family to graduate with very high honors. I am a friend to some, a confidant to others, but most importantly, and this is the proudest title I have held, I am a chapter leader. I am a person who has embraced leadership, although at one time I was reluctant to do so. But now I have discovered who I really am, and what I am capable of. I have found a purpose in life, and something that brings me a tremendous amount of joy, and that's helping my peers who stutter, as well as speech therapists (current and training) who will embrace their challenges to help the next generation of people who stutter. Whenever I hold my NSA chapter meetings, one rule above all else is followed, and I make sure everyone respects it: We will never, ever, use the word "stammerer." It is always a "person who stutters." When people hear the words "stammerer," they automatically assume a person will resemble Porky Pig or a certain character from the 1988 movie "A Fish Called Wanda," which are two of the worst examples of stuttering under the sun.
As a chapter leader, one of my main responsibilities is to think of pertinent topics and discuss them as it relates to stuttering. Since we are now in October, one theme that comes to mind is Halloween and stuttering. Stay with me on this....for some, we think of Halloween and the images of trick-or-treating, dressing up in outrageous costumes. But we also know it can be a scary holiday. Some of us have all nighters where we watch every gory movie possible...hell, one of my friends last Halloween watched the "Saw" movies, cut and then the uncut version. And that leads me to my thought: What scares you as a person who stutters? Maybe it's walking up to the multiplex box office on a Saturday night when so many other people are there. You know the feeling...your heart starts to race. Everyone's eyes begin to fixate on you. You feel like you are petri dish on a microscope, being examined and probed every which way. Or perhaps you're waiting to order in a restaurant, the server comes up to you, and the words can't come out. You've become the human version of a car, spinning its wheels in the snow, en route to destination nowhere.
For me, what scared me more often than not was the reaction of what people might say, or do, when they found out I stutter. Growing up, I felt like my stuttering was my cross to bear throughout life. I will never forget one time this past May when I was taking a trip to Boston on Amtrak and I went in the snack car to buy a container of yogurt. I was trying to say "blueberry" but it seemed like when one technique failed, another one would be put into play by me and that failed too. The person behind the counter said "Are you s-s-s-s-ure?" followed by a snicker. If that was me five years ago, I probably would have really lost it. I am someone who is very levelheaded, and it takes a lot to irritate me. But joining the National Stuttering Association, among other things, has given me the power to embrace my stutter and not be afraid. It's allowed me to grow and flourish and know I have a place where I can go to and express myself without being judged and ridiculed. Some people search all their lives for that one place, and never find it at all. I am one of the lucky ones, and more on that in my closing paragraph.
Our speech patterns, depending on how your stutter is, can vary from mild-to-moderate, which is what mine is, to very severe, including facial tics and gestures. I would like to think the world is a tolerant and understanding place. We all know otherwise: there's issues involving so many things-racism, discrimination based on height, weight, gender, and so on. But what I have found is my stutter has showed me how to be compassionate, and not just toward my peers who stutter-toward other people in general. We all have our battles to fight-health, mental, and otherwise. It took me something nearly fatal to make me realize that the most important thing in life isn't what car you drive.
An interesting topic that I wanted to address at my NSA chapter meeting in October was the presidential debate. The NSA is a non-political organization and even though I could, I am not going to use my blog to determine who the next Commander-in-Chief should be. This year Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY, hosted the debate, and I studied the candidates communications to each other and the moderator. Nobby Lewandoski is a motivational speaker and someone who, if you ever make it to the NSA annual conference (Scottsdale, Ariz., here I come 2009!) should meet and observe. He founded his own accounting firm and made a very interesting statement which I believe runs far deep than when you first look at it: "Do not confuse the difference between speaking and communicating." I do not have a problem communicating-I am very outspoken and passionate about the NSA. Yes, I may have an issue speaking, but I have achieved a level of comfort about it. For some people who stutter, this is a journey we all must take. I promise there will be hard times. And I promise there may be occasions when you want to scream and lash out at the world. But when you reach that level, oh, how an amazing experience it really is!
Now, I want to apply the debate with a twist. As a person who stutters, what kind of debater would you be? Would you shy away from this kind of scenario? Would you rehearse "talking points" with your coach, Barack Obama and John McCain did? Or would you say "Damn it, I don't care if this moderator cuts me off, I am going to say what's on my mind. You're going to hear it, and you'll like it!" Well, can I be honest with you? A couple of years ago, I would have been the first debater. But now, I'm the third one. I've spoken at graduate-level classes at Mercy College in upstate New York (and will do so again in December!) and I'll be speaking at William Paterson University in Wayne, N.J., next week. There's nothing to be scared of. Don't let fear prevent you from accomplishing what you want and being heard!
Driving home tonight, I had one hand on the wheel and the other on the radio, and I heard "You Gotta Be" by Desiree. Although it's a one-hit wonder, one line in the song stands out to me: "Stand up and be counted." People who stutter should have an obligation to do that. We can make a difference and leave our impact on society. At our annual conference in Parsippany, N.J., we had 650+ people...a record! I know we will have even more in Arizona. Please, whatever it takes, if you are a person who stutters, who feels lost, ashamed, embarrassed, feeling like you have to live outside the rest of the world, I implore you, please come to this event. In a few short days, you won't recognize the person you are. In fact, you won't even WANT to know the person you are.
I will close on this statement: This past year, I was honored and truly grateful to have received the Volunteer of the Year Award for 2008. When I accepted my award, I spoke about a special date in history: July 4, 1939. On that day, Lou Gehrig, the "Iron Horse," retired from baseball due to a condition called ALS, that would later be known as Lou Gehrig's disease. He said, "Fans, I have been given a bad break, but I have an awful lot to live for. Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth." Well, I am the luckiest. I am lucky to have found a welcoming community. I am lucky to have met people from all over the U.S. and the world-New Zealand, Canada, Australia, Ireland, Sweden, Minnesota, California, Texas, Massachusetts, and the list goes on. I am lucky in so many ways. I have bad speech days too....but I also know I will never be alone anymore.
My name is Steven Kaufman....and I am a person who stutters.
Until next month.........stand up and be counted. Make your voice heard.
And please, check out the National Stuttering Association's homepage at http://www.westutter.com too!