This year I had the honor of attending the American Institute for Stuttering's Freeing Voices, Changing Lives 9th Annual Benefit Gala.
As most of you know, I attended their intensive 3-week program last August in New York. I didn't realize it at the time, but going through the program completely changed my outlook on stuttering and acceptance.
In fact, I'm more open than ever about my disfluency. My mission is to hopefully educate others on what stuttering really is and how it affects millions around the world.
For that same reason, I applaud when celebrities use their influence to bring awareness for charity events such as this one.
This year, world-renowned singer/songwriter, Ed Sheeran was honored with the Annual Leadership Award, in recognition for his achievements and inspiration to those who stutter.
Actress Emily Blunt served as the mistress of ceremonies, a role she gladly takes on every year for AIS.
Many may be surprised to learn both Ed Sheeran and Emily Blunt struggled with stuttering early in their childhood. Even I wasn't aware until a few months ago. This just goes to show that no matter what difficulty or setback one may face, we have the power to rise above it and not let the disorder dictate our future.
This message was reinforced by everyone who graced the stage during the ceremony.
Gala co-chair Arthur Blank (founder of Home Depot and owner of the Atlanta Falcons) talked about the positive impact AIS has for people, like himself, who stutter.
A video message from Vice President Joe Biden was played for the audience. Mr. Biden expressed his support for AIS and shared about his struggles with stuttering growing up, which resulted in him becoming a more compassionate person and gave him that determination to succeed in life.
"Our stutter doesn't define us, we define ourselves." - Joe Biden.
Past AIS clients, Jack age 11, Molly, age 10 and Rahima Dosani, took the stage to share about their experiences and the help received in their intensive programs. AIS Director, Heather Grossman, introduced these speakers and shared how inspiring it was to see people who stutter turn “I can’t” into “I can” and “I will.”
The most touching part of the night, besides Rahima's incredible speech, were the three words she said to me before going on stage.
You see, when I found out she was going to be the next speaker, I turned to her and said, "Wow, I'm so proud of you! I don't think I could ever get up there in front of all these important people and give a speech!"
She looked at me, smiled and simply said, "Yes, you can!"
And you know what? She's absolutely right!
“Believe in yourself and all that you are. Know that there is something inside you that is greater than any obstacle.” - Christian D. Larson
The man of the hour, Ed Sheeran, gave an inspirational acceptance speech for his Leadership Award. He actually didn't know he was receiving the award up until that evening. He thought he was just there to support the cause.
His humble down to earth personality mixed with his courageous words, made me an even bigger fan of his.
"I wanted to not necessarily shed light on stuttering or make it a thing, but stress to kids in general to just be yourself, even if you have quirks and weirdness, embrace them because there's no one in the world that can be a better you than you."
"And from a stuttering point of view, don’t treat it as an issue—work through it and get the treatment that you want to get, but don’t ever treat it as an issue, don’t see it as a plight on your life, and carry on pushing forward."
During the auction portion of the evening, a surprise item was offered: a C. F. Martin & Co. Ed Sheeran X Signature Edition guitar, signed by Ed Sheeran.
The money raised during the auction goes directly to fund the scholarships for the AIS intensive programs. If you would like to make a donation to the American Institute for Stuttering, please click here.
The gala concluded with AIS Chairman, Nolan Russo giving thanks to everyone who helped make that night come into fruition.
The evening was filled with so many special and unforgettable moments. I left feeling inspired and motivated to continue on my journey of acceptance.
The AIS past client speakers, Board of Directors, Ed Sheeran, Emily Blunt, the sponsors, and everyone involved in making this gala a success, earned my respect and admiration that night.
This event helps bring hope and resources to those who live in fear or embarrassment of the way they speak and for people as myself, that have attended the intensive program, a sense of reassurance in the belief that we are capable and deserving of greatness.
A special thank you to my AIS family for believing in me every step of the way. Even living hundreds miles away, I still continue to feel their love and support. Without their guidance, I wouldn't be the person I am today.
Photo Credits: AIS