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Friday, October 9, 2009

BET, Shelia Johnson, Creigh Deeds, Politics and Stuttering

Why is it that billionaire co-founder, Sheila Johnson of the Black Entertainment Television (BET) has mocked Democratic Candidate for Gov. of Virgina, Creigh Deeds' occasional stuttering at a fundraiser she held? Read more on how the BET founder mimics Va. gov candidate's speech.

AAPP: As one who has worked with young people who stutter, I find it insulting that she would play the "stutter card" against Creigh Deeds. i'm glad to hear Ms. Johnson apologized after mocking Deeds at fundraiser.

I'm also glad that fellow blogger and blogtalkradio host , Kenda Bell wrote the BET co-founder regarding her disparaging actions in regards to stuttering.

You see, Kenda like thousands of people who stutter, have made it a point to address the hatred behind the actions of those who would insult people whether they are child or adult.

I hope Sheila Johnson and others who may not understand stuttering will read the below open letter from Kenda. It just may open your eyes.

Ms. Sheila Johnson,

I sincerely wish I was writing you this letter under better circumstances; I truly do. I am a resident of Maryland; I was unaware of Creigh Deeds and his campaign bid for the governorship of Virginia, let alone his speech impediment until your mockery of something I have battled with daily since childhood. In light of the Bob McDonnell fundraiser incident, I could not sit silent. This is something I have done much too often as a stutterer; today I choose to be heard. I hope you read these words and listen with an open ear and receptive heart.

Being an African American woman, I am sure you can identify with the desire to not be limited or judged because of presumed deficiencies. As a trailblazer in your own right, I am sure you have had to debunk and dismantle many prejudicial psychoses, many times shrugging aside ridicule and humiliation. I don’t have to cite numerous studies that postulated that African Americans were mentally inferior or women by virtue of birth were best relegated to the kitchen and the bedroom. Make no mistake, everyone has a right to their own opinion; what I ask is that it be a fair and educated one. Approximately 50 million people world-wide, 10.5 million of which reside in the United States, battle to not only be heard but to be respected a viable member of society. Allow me to share from a personal account, what it is like to be one of 50 million stutterers.

I have stuttered for as long as I can remember. I can think of very few moments in my life, where I have not felt a tinge of anxiety before I spoke. Can you imagine being forced into introversion…choosing to keep silent when you wanted to speak. Not because you didn’t have anything worthwhile to say but because you felt the presentation was not worthy. I use to preface and footnote every stammer with “I’m sorry”; I have to catch myself from apologizing even now as an adult when I am in conversation. I pause as I re-read that last sentence and think of that skinny fuzzy haired little girl, bubbling with thoughts , who would cried profusely in kindergarten when she couldn’t make it through the whole alphabet…chocking and sputtering at the letter D. Kids laughing, my teacher with an awkward stare , I stood eyes full of tears, vulnerable and ashamed. In my head all I kept saying was “I know it! I am smart! I can say them from A-Z, in my head, just not out loud!” Thus began, my quest for expression without fear of reproach.

Now pause for a moment, think back to a time when you had to present an idea and anxiety gnawed at your insides mercilessly. Not quite sure of what your audience’s disposition maybe; thoughts loomed in your head “How do I look?” or “What will they think?” Did you ponder if you would “sound good”…would your words matter to the listener? What you though and had to say did have meaning; every word; every inflection of your voice matters. Imagine if you had a stutter? Should you have resigned to keep silent?

As a natural extrovert and people person, stuttering was an aggressively hurdled stumbling block that never ceased to strengthen my humility and challenge my ego. Elementary school was the vestibule of hell but junior high was slightly better. By time I reached high school, I had a host of friends and was fairly popular. Some of the 50 million people I represent share similar triumphs; many I know personally are successful educators and preachers; while some in that group not so lucky. Many are reclusive and socially mitigated due to a culture that deems us inadequate and less intelligent; a source of comedic relief through mockery and disparaging treatment because we may not be the “smoothest talker” on queue. Can you imagine that?

Fast forward to adulthood… still stutter. While 75% of documented stutterers outgrow it by adulthood, I remain in that 25%. As a woman and African American; studies show that I am less likely to stutter BUT here I am. When my phone rings at work, anxiety sometimes chokes me…other days I flow with ease. I have good days and bad days, more good than bad as I get older and more confident in whom I am. Yet and still, calling my son’s school … ordering food … asking for directions…simple task for some; can be an intricate dance between words and the tongue. Don’t even ask about when I have a job interview. How many times I have wondered if my qualifications were disqualified because I stutter; was I a subject of “a funny thing happened at the office” during dinner. I can only thank God that I have been afforded the opportunity to temp to perm most of my jobs; at least the employer was able to see me in action and see my assets.

At present , I have much to say and much more to do. My pen had become my best friend, allowing me to express my thoughts with more ease and confidence than my tongue sometimes allows. Make no mistake, once I get my stride you may forget I even stutter... it’s the mounting up that can be tricky. Facing it head on and jumping over it. Yes, it is daunting but can I allow that to hold me from moving toward my goals. No way!

I have decided speak up. My thoughts and words are relevant and have meaning; both verbally and written. I do workshops, book-signings, host events…even have a little internet show…yet and still …I fear reproach and mockery…but I must press on. I have a vision of myself being a motivational speaker to not only stutterers but anyone who feels as though they should resolve to be silent and hide quietly on the fringes of society.

As I close this letter, I sincerely hope that some of these words have provoked thought and consideration for people such as myself who aspire to do great things. I humbly hope that stutterers or anyone who feels maligned based upon gender, race, creed, class, age or presumed disability can be judge by the content of our character and our works; with respect and not mockery. I also hope, you would not find in robbery to help me in this cause whether through words of encouragement or social influence to bring a message that every person is viable and relevant to society. I look forward to hearing from you soon.


Kenda Bell




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