Steven's Success Story
Last Friday at a seafood buffet in Washington D.C. I got a phone call. It was from a publicist for my school, Texans Can! Academy at Carrollton-Farmers Branch. Over the past week, I had been blogging about my experiences at the Stephen Tyrone Johns Summer Youth Leadership Program at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in the nation’s capital.
She told me that she had read my blogs and wanted me to write an autobiographical article. It was like a dream, I was happy enough having my blogs published on the internet. Now I'm going to have my work published in a real newspaper. Although I may have procrastinated, I believe I do my best work in the clutch. So here is my story.
Born a healthy seven pounds, six ounces on the morning of September 6, 1991. I came into the world with a loving family, and a wonderful community to help raise me. My parents were both deaf, and as you can imagine, this can make things difficult when it comes to communication. Luckily, I learned sign language at a young age. When I was only seven or eight months old, I learned some simple signs from my parents and grandparents. I can’t imagine how exciting it must have been for my parents to communicate with their hearing child.
As I grew older, my knowledge of sign language gained momentum and grew like a snowball tumbling down a powdery, snow-blanketed hill. I was a bright child, and drank in knowledge like a dry sponge. Even though I knew sign language, there were still communication issues. My hard-of-hearing mother could speak, but had a speech impediment. When you cannot hear your own voice clearly, it’s hard to correct your speech. My favorite anecdote illustrating this happened when I was 4. I remember my mother was cleaning my ears. When I asked what was in them she replied “earwax.” Because of my mother's speech impediment I heard her say “ear rats.” From then until I was six I believed that there were rats in my ears.
Reading and spelling came easy to me, so if there was a word in ASL I didn't know, I could always spell it out. This helped me a lot in school. I was proud of my ability to spell and write, but school often bored me. I did well on tests, projects, and other assessments, but rarely turned in homework. People always told me that I was smart, but needed to apply myself more. Doubting my own intelligence, I thought that’s what they told everyone. I still loved reading, writing, and learning, just not school.
I learned a lot about life and the world from my parents and would never trade them or their disability for anything. I have them to thank for my concern for others and my ability to empathize. They are very caring individuals who would do anything to ensure the well being of those around them. I inherited this skill from mom and dad, and it is part of the reason I can convey and understand others’ emotions so naturally. I am fond of telling people that sign language is body language’s most extreme and thorough manifestation. To communicate what the hearing can with tone and pitch, the deaf communicate so much more emotion in their facial expressions and movements.
Because of their lack of hearing, they have to be so much more attentive to non-verbal cues than the hearing , and growing up in that kind of environment allowed me to more readily be able to pick up on those things. Growing up, religion was a big part of my life. As a child, I served as an altar boy and sang in the choir. Although I liked being a part of the church, and the praises I got from my family and church community, I think it was too much responsibility at a young age. I remember how easily I could be distracted during choir practice. My eyes would drift from the sheet music as I thought about how much fun I could have had I skipped practice that day. I stopped going to choir practice, and eventually church altogether. This is when I entered the somewhat rebellious stage most do. I started hanging out with the wrong crowd, smoking cigarettes, and skipping school. This only got worse when my parents separated. As in many situations where a parent leaves, I could not help but blame myself. Between my brother and me, I took mom and dad’s separation the hardest. I started smoking pot and drinking, probably to cope with my mother’s departure. This in turn had a more dramatic effect on my school attendance. I normally passed most of my classes, but because of my poor attendance my high school career was badly derailed; I only had two credits earned with twelve weeks left in the last semester of my sophomore year. I would have dropped out, but thanks to my counselor at Thomas Jefferson High School, I was given a second chance.
She told me that I could either go through truancy court again, or go to a charter school in Farmers Branch called Texans Can! Academy. Realizing this was my best option, and only chance to graduate on time, I jumped on the opportunity and straightened up my act. My attendance improved greatly and despite a few bumps along the way I am now officially a senior. I should be graduating in the next year and I'm ready to start college soon. I have not found the right university for me yet, but I do know that I want to become a deaf education teacher. Jesse Jackson said once, “The problem is not that the students cannot hear, the problem is that the teachers do not listen.” I feel like Reverend Jackson was speaking directly to me; demanding I become a teacher to help shape young minds, especially those of the deaf. I have the advantage of being a hearing person in possession of a special understanding and deep relationship with the deaf community cultivated in my upbringing. I can relate and communicate with students, and have the caring attitude it takes to empathize with them. I have learned so much from the deaf community and the only thing I would like more than to give back to that community is to teach it's most important lessons and skills to the hearing. Teaching has always been that option that sat patiently in the back of my mind, a plan-B where I knew I could succeed but not necessarily what I wanted in a career. I have only recently discovered it as my true vocation. I have always enjoyed educating others and felt I was very informative. I have also had many inspiring teachers over the years. Foremost among them is my current History and Journalism teacher, Mr. Aubrey Leveridge. I have only known Mr. Leveridge for a year; 2009-2010 was his first year teaching and even though this is only his second year as a teacher at Texans Can!, I have adopted him as my official role model. I can only hope that I can become half the teacher he is.
Teaching is more than my calling, it is also my familiy’s legacy. My grandmother taught science, and my aunt teaches special education. I come from a long line of educators. A gift has been given to me in my ability to sign and understand the deaf. Manifested in my heart is a great concern for others and I have seen firsthand the mistreatment of deaf people; ranging from staring and poor service in stores and restaurants to great difficulty finding work. I have had a terribly difficult time finding a job this summer probably because of the economy and am very well aware how difficult it is for my father. I remember reluctantly tagging along on job interviews with him because there was no interpreter. He has been out of work for some time now, and I hope he can find the right job. For the most part, the treatment of those with hearing disabilities has been sub-par from my perspective. It is my goal to change that, if only for a few people. My recent trip to and participation in the Steven Tyrone Johns Summer Youth Leadership Prgram at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in D.C. has inspired me to found a deaf awareness group. I plan to teach my peers sign language and the progression and treatment of deaf people throughout history. Also, there will be events where hearing and deaf students can come together and just have some good old fashioned fun like when my parents would take me to the deaf chat at Starbucks every Saturday. This is where I got the idea for the awareness group.
I often reminisce about attending and fondly remember the fascinating stories I heard. Watching a deaf person tell a story is a very engaging experience. You can almost feel the same emotions they did at the time. I want to show others the attentive and caring nature of the deaf community. Hopefully through education and sympathy, I can make a difference for deaf people. I have many aspirations for the future including starting a deaf friendly non-profit organization that will offer employment opportunities and aid for the deaf and the hearing alike. I want to make a contribution to society in the best way possible, and that is through action. In the community of Holocaust museums and historians, this is called being an “upstander” instead of a bystander. In order to make a change, you must actively pursue life and never stop until you achieve your goals.
I have been through a lot over the years. I was evicted from my childhood home, and again from my first apartment. My parents split up, and my mom moved away, but I never let those things get me down. I have been inspired by my own hardships, and the tribulations of those around me to better myself and set the stage for a bright future. I just hope that my story will communicate this inspiration to others. It is the nature of man to struggle, and without it we are nothing. There would be no life lessons or morality, and the world would be a boring place. I have lived my life to the best of my ability, and I have no regrets. I may be young, but I have learned a lot about life through experiences. I always try to remember Otto von Bismarck’s admonition, saying fools learn from their own experience while wise men learn from the experience of others.I want to live this adage as an example to people in a manner suggesting they learn from my mistakes and build on my successes.
Despite my shortcomings and setbacks and because of the man they have made me, you are reading my words, but they could be someone else’s. I am not the only young person to have suffered in life and then grown from it; I am not the only young person with a voice; and I am especially not the first young person to want to change the world, yet here are my words. For those of you who have not suffered and grown, for those of you who have not found your voice, and for those of you who have never wanted to change the world; you will. You will suffer and you will grow; your voice is there, but you have to hear it before anyone else can; and when you are ready to change the world, let me know because I will help you if you help me.
For those of you who have done all these things already, remember what it was like to be me and help me help you. In closing, I would like to thank my family, my teachers, my community, and anyone who helped raise me along the way. For they are my guides and I the true maker of my destiny. They inspire me to better myself, and I want to make them proud.