Good morning everyone,
It's 12:30 on a Monday morning, only the start of life after the midnight hour, and as I am writing this latest edition of my blog, I'm listening to "Party In The USA" by Miley Cyrus and trying my hardest to understand why America seems to be in a snit about her performance on a certain awards show recently. So many parents can't understand why their teen daughters worship the ground that Miley Cyrus walks on, and why she's regarded as a "role model." And that brings us to the topic of today's blog-just who is a role model? Well, it sure as hell isn't Miley. If you asked me that question a few years ago, maybe I'd have said Derek Jeter. But the truth is now we're all role models. All of my teammates are role models, and although I am a chapter leader, I hold myself to an even higher standard. But even if I wasn't, as a teammate who stutters, I know I have to represent myself as a member of society who showcases all that he is: and my stuttering doesn't make me any less of a citizen.
For a long time in my life, throughout the days of high school and college and feeling tormented, building walls of emotional hurt and wreckage in my own prison, I could never accept being given a compliment. Even in the classroom I still struggled with social demons, imagined or not. If I received a compliment on a good paper I wrote, I'd be the first to say "Well it was someone else" rather than being acknowledged for my efforts. It would have been hard for me to see myself as someone who should be emulated. It wasn't until I took an introductory journalism class in college that I saw the true definition of a role model-one whose door was open to me at all times, one who bared her soul and was not just my professor, but my mentor. It's hard to believe in anything these days with all the negativity flying around, but I believe in the National Stuttering Association more than anything else.
I also used to be one who felt justified in putting others down to make me feel better about the fact that I felt like a weirdo and "freak" who stuttered. At these NSA conferences, a common theme expressed by parents and teammates who are first-timers is that "They wish that an organization like this existed long before," or that "We wish we found out about this sooner." I felt that if I had to suffer through a painful existence of spitting my words out and trying in vain to unlock the physical wheels spinning in my throat, then I'd make others feel my pain. The only thing I did accomplish was alienating my peers. How I wish I could change those times.
I am a firm believer that trauma does not have to be negative. In some ways, it can act as a blinding light, shining its soul onto us to do things with our life to better the quality of others. Sometimes the blows are harsh and very brutal to bear-the sudden death of a loved one, which was a thunderbolt out of a clear blue sky. The loss of a job we love. My feelings of emotional trauma and a sheltered world of hurt, loneliness and tears led me to the National Stuttering Association. At this past conference, when I meet teammates for the first time, I identify myself as an NSA chapter leader. Of course we all wear ID badges and all, but to say that also shows my teammates that I refuse to give in to my stuttering. I stand up for others, and whenever there's a challenge with stuttering, I'll be there.
If you have the chance to attend an NSA conference, I want you to look around at all our teammates-it's not just those presenting workshops, or speaking at an Open Mike session, or volunteering at a table. The fact that all our teammates are together speaks volumes about the mission of the NSA, the desire to be something bigger than ourselves. I can show you role models from all ages and all backgrounds: How about a speech pathologist who was actually told by an SLP program she'd never make it because she stutters? How about an attorney who is going into lobbying? I am a role model....and all my NSA teammates are.
In a recent article, there was an interview with Drew Brees, the quarterback for the New Orleans Saints, and when talking about his charitable work, he said "We're all role models. Some of us just realize it before others do." Yes, I am a huge fan of Derek Jeter. But as for being a role model....I think Derek Jeter couldn't hold a candle to 600+ teammates.
My name is Steven Kaufman and I am a person who stutters. Until next time, stand up and be counted. Make your voice heard.