Category Archives: Uncategorized

Fund Community College Gov. BROWN!

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Jerry Brown needs to hear that Disability Service Programs need to be better funded in California.  With funding more students can access and succeed.  Implications include independence, quality of life, and all that good stuff.  Write to him and let him know to support accommodations and services!

I got the following letter from College of Alameda’s DSPS office so I thought I would share it here with others.   Fax to 916-445-2841.  

 

The Honorable Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr.

c/o State Capitol, Suite 1173

Sacramento, CA 95814

 

Dear Governor Brown:

 

I am a(explain that you are a student with a disability, DSPS Coordinator or counselor, representative of a disability rights organization, family member, interested citizen, etc. and briefly describe your organization, or why you are interested in services for students with disabilities.)

 

I am writing to ask you to approve the budget for the California Community Colleges sent to you by both the Senate and the Assembly. I support the Legislature’s decision to restore funding for several critical student service programs including a $50 million augmentation for Disabled Students Programs and Services (DSPS). I realize you have many difficult decisions before you but believe the approval of this item is particularly compelling for the following reasons.

 

First, the 40% cut to DSPS and other student service programs, which was made during ”the great recession”, was never intended to be permanent. Senate President Pro Tern Steinberg and other leaders who participated in the budget negotiations in 2009 have confirmed that their intention was that the funding for these critical programs would be restored when the state’s economy and budget recovered.

 

Second, this staggering cut to DSPS and other student services programs was disproportionate to the 12% cut taken by the California Community College (CCC) system as a whole. Moreover, significant funding increases have almost fully restored the cuts to the rest of the CCC system and funded new programs such as Student Success and Student Equity, but insufficient funding has been provided to DSPS to provide for the basic services and accommodations needed by students with disabilities if they are to complete college successfully.

 

Third, a study by the Community college Chancellor’s Office and numerous discrimination complaints filed with the U.S. Department of Education document that students with disabilities are not receiving timely or effective services to which they are entitled by state and federal laws. This puts individual colleges and the state of California at legal risk. Examples of the service deficiencies include long wait times for services, lack of alternate media such as braille, electronic text, or large print books, lack of sufficient test proctoring services, lack of notetaker and disability related tutoring services and closure of DSPS offices during certain hours or days of the week.

 

Fourth, while we understand that local flexibility in determining spending priorities is generally desirable, this flexibility has never benefited students with disabilities who are far too often at the end of the list for or not on the list at all. For this reason, the Legislature passed AB 77 (Lanterman) in 1976 and you signed that bill into law establishing the DSPS program to ensure the consistent and equitable provision throughout the state of services essential to effectuating the civil rights of persons with disabilities mandated by Government Code Section 11135 et seq., the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

 

Finally, restoring funding to DSPS is an investment in California’s future because it will provide students with disabilities, including thousands of ”wounded warriors” returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the services and accommodations they need to help them succeed in college. Research shows that the completion of higher education significantly increases the chances that a person with a disability will become employed and contribute to California’s economy rather than remaining dependent on public services.

 

For these reasons, the Board of Governors, the Community College League, the California Association for Postsecondary Education and Disability and many other community college and disability rights organizations support restoration of funding for DSPS. The Legislature clearly saw the value of this investment and the need for fairness and equity when it voted to augment the DSPS budget by $50 million. I urge you to consider these same factors and support this augmentation as part of the final budget.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

Sign or type your name Indicate your address if the letter is not on letterhead

When Funny Isn’t Funny

Make Room For The Stuttering

I went to the theater last night. We have a vibrant arts culture in my community and I often go to see live performances. There is nothing like live theater.

The show was “Figaro” and was billed as a comedy, which it was.

There was a character of a judge, who I’ve always visualized as serious and smart, someone we respect.

The play had the judge character stuttering – loudly, pronouncedly and spitting on others while stuttering. He particularly stuttered on “p” sounds and the other characters finished the words for the judge. Most of the time, the other character guessed the word right, one time it was wrong. The audience laughed at these moments.

This stuttering, spitting male judge character was ridiculous. He was portrayed as stupid, and disgusting for spitting on those close to him, who reacted in disgust.

My friend who was with me stutters too. Both…

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Funding Disability Awareness Events on your College Campus

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I receive many emails and phone calls from colleges who want to have me speak or perform but aren’t sure how to fund travel, lodging and speaking fees.  This is especially true of programs for students with disabilities whose budgets are strapped and rarely have funds for guest speakers.  I have wanted to share some ideas that I oftentimes share in scenarios like this.  If you have other ideas, please share them in the comments section.

 

Disability as Part of Diversity and Multiculturalism:  Disability is a culture and people with Disabilities are part of the largest minority group in the United States.  Sometimes they are not included in events around diversity.  Having speakers who represent the Disability community can contribute to the conversation on diversity and also acknowledges the multiple minority status that many people experience.  Some schools have diversity committees that can contribute funds for a speaker and be a co-sponsor for the event.

 

Student Life:  Many colleges have Student Life departments that book shows and speakers for campus events.  Student Life often has the money to fund the events but they may not know of performers and speakers with disabilities.  Many entertainers are part of a larger organization to get their gigs but performers with disabilities may not have access to this organization because of the expense or lack of an agent to represent them.  Referring a performer with a disability can bring diversity to the Student Life department.  Although every month should be disability awareness month (in addition to Black history/ Gay pride month, etc…), it may be a good argument to get performers in October and April when many schools have or should have Disability awareness events.

 

Explore Multiple Speaking Opportunities:  When I do a show at a college, if the schedule permits, I am open to talking to other groups or classes (of course you will have to pay performers-just because we have a disability doesn’t mean we are giving it away for free!).  In negotiating with the performer, you might pull together a schedule where they are making different appearances throughout the day.  Some performers may be open to getting $100 as a guest speaker and then $800 for a big show the next night.  Thinking creatively can help entice a performer to your college, even if you are not able to pay their top dollar price.

Speakers May Not Mind Doing Double Duty:  Many performers and speakers are multitalented.  They may be performers by night but teachers, motivational speaker and trainers by day.  For example, I could do comedy with the Comedians with Disabilities Act at a night time show but be available to train faculty on universal design in teaching, speaking to fluency classes on stuttering or having a meet and greet with students who have disabilities.  Wearing multiple hats may mean multiple funding streams to support the transportation and lodging that come along with hiring a performer.

Collaborating with Student Groups:  Student groups can be a great resource for bringing in speakers.  These groups sometimes include special interests (career oriented), minority status (ethnic, disability, gay/lesbian/bi/trans), or service oriented.  Speakers who represent different groups might be co-sponsored by multiple organizations.  Speakers with Disabilities are primed to be sponsored by groups like Disabled Student Unions, future special education teachers, and social justice organizations (just to name a few).

 

Collaboration with the Community:  In higher education there is a movement toward community engagement.  Schools should be looking at how to engage with Disability related organizations.  Community organizations might have the funds but not have the venue.  Colleges might have the venue but not the funds!  Why not join each other to educate the college and local community!

 

President’s Speaker and Other Special Series: Many colleges have a special series or colloquiums where speakers with specialized knowledge are invited to speak.  These positions are often reserved for big shot academics.  The Disability community often resents “experts” representing their experiences.  A core value in our community is “nothing about us without us,” a moto appropriate from the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa.  So when you approach the president’s office to fund your event, be sure to share this value and why having an activist instead of an academic is appropriate.

 

It is common at colleges for events to be sponsored by many departments and organizations.  For programs for students with disabilities collaboration is especially important because of limited resources.  If your department is able to do the “work” of setting up the speaker, there is oftentimes money that can be mined from different departments.  It could take work and schmoozing, but the students with and without disabilities, faculty, staff and the local community will all benefit.  Plus the more investment by different groups the more people will come!  It is a good way to get butts in the seats and allow other groups become invested in disability awareness.

 

Please feel free to share your ideas for funding in the comments area below.

 

There are lots of comedians, performers and speakers with Disabilities who would love to speak to your college communities.  Here are just a few!  Make sure you make sure they are a good fit for your show before you book.  

 

Comedians with Disabilities Act: A blind man.  A woman who stutters.  A wheelchair user.  A Little Person.  While this may sound like a description of a support group, it is, in fact, the lineup for the “Comedians with Disabilities Act”, a comedy troupe that the San Francisco Examiner called “the most unconventional  comics  to  pop  up  in  2011.”    Made  up  entirely  of performers with different disabilities, the troupe brings their brand of humor to audiences throughout the Bay Area.  www.facebook.com/comedianswithdisabilitiesact

Nina G (hey that’s me):  Nina is a humorist who performs with the comedy troupes The Comedians with Disabilities Act and Feminist Tendencies.  She brings disability awareness to night club and college audiences through comedy.  She is also an educator and disability activist educating via workshops, keynote addresses, and trainings.  Workshop topics include universal design in teaching, disability awareness, and humor as a coping strategy. http://www.ninagcomedian.com

Cheryl Green, MFA, MS integrates her degrees in performing arts and speech-language pathology to explore how story can be used to break down stigma and barriers. She creates films with a disability justice perspective and can lecture on disability representation in the media; brain injury identity and culture; and a variety of technical topics around brain injury deficits, cognitive rehabilitation, and participation level treatment concepts. She is located in Portland, OR.  https://www.facebook.com/StoryMinders

 

Ally Bruener: Ally is a stand-up comedian based out of Louisville, Kentucky. Her sweet and innocent appearance is the ultimate misdirection once she opens her mouth. She’ll steal the hearts of a shocked audience. http://www.allybruener.com/

 

Caitlin Wood: author of Criptiques http://whereslulu.com/

 

Aaron Snyder: https://www.facebook.com/themusclea

 

Queenie TT: http://www.pssistermovement.com/

 

Chris Fonseca: http://www.comedypro.com/fonseca

 

Shannon Devido: http://www.shannondevido.com/

 

Tim Grill: www.Timgrill.com

THE “COMEDIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT” TOUR ROLLS INTO NAPA Thursday Feb. 27 at Bui Bistro’s Comedy Night @ Bui Bistro

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Tim Wolcott
Tel. 707-337-8582
Email: timwolcott79@gmail.com

THE “COMEDIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT” TOUR ROLLS INTO NAPA Thursday Feb. 27 at Bui Bistro’s Comedy Night @ Bui Bistro.

A blind man. A stuttering woman. A wheelchair user. A little person. While this may sound like a description of a support group, it is, in fact, the lineup for the “Comedians with Disabilities Act”, a comedy tour that the San Francisco Examiner called “The most unconventional comics to pop up in 2011”. Made up entirely of performers with different disabilities, the troupe is bringing their “special” brand of humor to Comedy Night @ Bui Bistro, hosted by local comedian Tim Wolcott, on Thursday, Feb. 27 at 7pm.

The foursome, all of them working northern California comedians, met each other through the comedy club circuit and decided to band together to treat audiences to a unique and unforgettable experience.

“Lots of able-bodied comedians out there tell blind or wheelchair jokes and get the audience to laugh AT people with disabilities,” said Michael O’Connell, the group’s wheelchair representative and founder of the troupe. “But wouldn’t it be more fun for the crowd, we thought, to be invited to laugh WITH people with disabilities instead? That’s guilt-free fun right there.”

Since their first sold-out show in Sacramento, the group has been in growing demand, getting booked at such lauded venues as the Laugh Factory in Hollywood and San Francisco’s Punch Line comedy club. Their comedy comes from the lifetime of experiences each has had due to their individual challenges. They see the tour as not only a chance to entertain, but to educate people on disability issues.

“We’re all comedians first,” said Napa native Steve Danner who identifies as a Little Person, “and it’s a comedy show. But who says you can’t make people laugh and send them home with something to think about too?”

Danner’s comedy career began as an audience member at a club. The comedian on stage that night decided to have some fun at his expense, and Danner’s skills in heckling back at him led the comic to approach Danner after the show and suggest he give comedy a try. He did so, and soon began a career as a prolific comedian and producer, delighting crowds at clubs and comedy rooms all over the west coast with hysterical tales centered heavily on his dwarfism. His comic journey keeps him on the road much of the time, but as Danner is fond of saying, “Shrimpin’ ain’t easy!”.

Michael O’Connell was diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy at two years old and began using a wheelchair in 1995. But it wasn’t until years later that a friend dared him to try doing comedy at an open mic night at a Sacramento club, and after ending up winning the competition that first night on stage, he never looked back. He’s played comedy clubs from Seattle to L.A. (including the Hollywood Improv and the Jon Lovitz Comedy Club), been featured in newspapers and on radio and television, and counts several Hollywood celebrities among his fans. His business card reads “100% Comedy, 0% Stand-Up”.  Michael is unable to attend this show but you can check out his comedy at http://www.michaeloconnell.com/michaelocomedy.

Sacramento’s Eric Mee was only eighteen years old when, while protecting a young child, he was stabbed in the chest. Complications resulting from his injury led to the loss of his eyesight. Choosing not to let this drastic life change get him down, he began joking about his condition and giving speeches to groups that were always filled with humor. After many suggestions, he turned his talents to stand-up comedy, and now brings his manic energy and outrageous tales to the stage, both at clubs and college campuses.

Touting herself as “the America’s only female comedian who stutters”, Nina G. hails from the Bay Area and has spent a lifetime dealing with both speech and learning disability issues. A key note speaker and disability advocate, Nina turned her talents to the stand-up stage to help raise disability awareness through comedy, and performs her award-winning work at some of the industry’s hottest clubs (the Hollywood Improv and the San Francisco Punchline) and has shared the stage with some of its biggest names (Dave Chappelle).

The Comedians with Disabilities Act will be joined by special guests Steve Lee and Queenie TT.   Steve Lee, a Hong Kong native, originally came to the US as an exchange student.  His comedy integrates his experiences as a first generation Asian American with a disability.  Queenie is a motivational speaker and a body esteem educator with lymphedema.  Combining comedy with motivational speech, Queenie empowers women to make healthier choices for their lives by embracing the power of self-love.

The show will be hosted and produced by local standup comic, Tim Wolcott. Tim started his standup career in 2003 while attending Pacific Union College, where he also helped form the improv/sketch comedy group, Desperate 4 Attention. After a few years of the journeyman comic life, living in Los Angeles and Tampa, Tim returned to St. Helena’s restaurant scene and the San Francisco/Bay Area comedy scene in 2009. He has since performed at venues all over the bay area, including at San Francisco’s historic Purple Onion.  Tim began producing his own shows in June of 2013, at La Condesa in St. Helena.  This will be the second show he’s produced at Bui Bistro, a French/Vietnamese restaurant in downtown Napa.  The show begins at 7pm and has no cover.

If you’d like more information on this event, or to schedule interviews with any of the comedians please contact Nina G at NinaGbooking@gmail.com or Tim Wolcott at timwolcott79@gmail.com.

 

What’s so Funny After 50?

What’s So Funny After 50?

Event Date:
Friday, February 7, 2014 – 20:00 to 22:00

Dan St. Paul’s “What’s So Funny After 50?” comes to the Pacific Pinball Museum for one night only!   Friday February 7th at 8pm

Aging happens to everybody, but when it happens to comic Dan St. Paul, it’s hilarious. Upon reaching the half century mark, St. Paul had a series of revelations about his body (“I’m a cylinder now. I can wear a belt anywhere on my body.”); his faulty memory (“I have eight pairs of reading glasses and I have no idea where they are.”); and dealing with his teenage son (“I have a bumper sticker that says ‘My Son’s Just Getting By At Hillsdale High’).

Now he has packed his cleverest reflections on going gray into “What’s Funny After 50?” Turns out, getting old has given this former opener for Jerry Seinfeld some of his best material ever. Comedy-lovers from their teens to their golden years will enjoy this solo show.

Dan is a veteran of San Francisco comedy.  After a seven year stint of headlining San Francisco clubs in the comedy duo Murphy-St. Paul, Dan launched his own solo act that was to land him in the finals of the nation’s toughest comedy competition, The San Francisco International Stand-Up Comedy Competition.

Soon after, Dan moved to Los Angles and appeared on several episodes of “An Evening at the Improv.” Plus numerous shows on VH-1, MTV and Comedy Central.  Since then, he has opened for such superstars as Jerry Seinfeld, Natalie Cole, and Smokey Robinson.

Comedy and Pinball for a Cause, a show produced by comedian Nina G, brings Dan St. Paul to Alameda for a special one night only performance at the Pacific Pinball Museum on Friday, February 7.  Proceeds from the show will go to the Pacific Pinball Museum, a 501(c)3 nonprofit.  Learn more about the museum and its mission and cultural events at www.Pacificpinball.org.

The shows begins at 8 p.m..  Show will contain adult content. Tickets are $15 and available at:

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/whats-so-funny-after-50-comedy-at-ppm-tickets-10044161357Image

Nina G’s book helps individuals with Learning Disabilities

Oakland, California— Nina G knows first hand what it means to meet the challenges of having a Learning Disability.  Diagnosed in third grade as well as having a stutter, she has met the academic as well as personal challenges as person with a disability.  Nina is considered the only female stuttering stand up comedian in the world and is also a disability awareness educator.  She uses humor as a tool for activism and education. 

Nina passes her knowledge onto readers in the new book Once Upon an Accommodation: A Book About Learning Disabilities.  Her book is a soft cover with illustrations by comedian/musician Mean Dave.   The latest edition of the book includes a workbook to help the reader better understand their particular needs and how to advocate for them.

“Many adults and children are diagnosed with Learning Disabilities (LDs) but don’t know what that means for them.  They are expected to understand what their LD is, why they need accommodations and then advocate for themselves,” says Nina.  “With all the excellent help I received as a kid from supportive parents and teachers, I don’t think I really understood my LD until my early 20s!”

Nina attempts to demystify what it means to have a LD in terms of the diagnosis but also explains what an accommodation is and why people with LD receive them.  She states, “most people with and without disabilities are not taught about the histories of people with disabilities.  As a result they don’t know how this history is connected to civil rights laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act and 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.  Some powerful activists fought for my right as a person with LD and I want kids with LD and adults who are newly diagnosed to understand this!”

Although the book is written so children can understand it, adults can also benefit from Once Upon an Accommodation’s story and campy humor.  Many books about LD are difficult for children and even adults with Learning Disabilities to read.  Once Upon an Accommodation was designed to address multiple modes of learning.  The writing and illustrations are simple to understand while also conveying complex information.

Once Upon an Accommodation helps people of every age understand the process of being diagnosed with LD, why accommodations are needed and why advocacy is some important.  Nina explains, “it is my hope that this is not only read by kids but also by parents, family members, teachers, and helping professionals so that they understand the context of what having an LD means.”  Nina helps the reader see what it means to have a LD and to be part of a larger disability community.

Nina G is currently living in Oakland, California.  Nina is a humorist who performs with The Comedians with Disabilities Act who bring disability awareness to night club and college audiences through comedy.  She is also an educator and disability activist educating people through workshops, keynote addresses, and trainings.  Workshop topics include universal design in teaching, disability awareness, and humor as a coping strategy. 

Once Upon an Accommodation was published by Create Space and is also available through Amazon.com.  Link to purchase: https://www.createspace.com/4173946.  Contact your local bookstores and libraries to request that they include it in their collection. 

Become a fan of Once Upon an Accommodation at http://www.facebook.com/onceuponanaccommodation.

There is also an effort to get Once Upon an Accommodation into the hands of children at schools and agencies.  To donate go to www.gofundme.com/LDhumor

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Learning to Stutter: What I learned from being bullied by a 7 year old

At the end of my sixth grade year I ran for student government.  The office I ran for was “religious affairs officer” that I would serve during my seventh grade year.  The tasks of the religious affairs officer was to collect mission money and say the morning prayer at assembly.  My primary goal in school was to always get out of class and collecting mission money was a pious manipulation to spend at least 1-2 hours a week outside of classroom.  Time occupied outside of the classroom is always a plus a student with a Learning Disability.  Since I stuttered, the morning prayer wouldn’t be a problem either because most people who stutter do not stutter when they recite a poem or speak in unison with a group.  The speech I constructed for the election campaign excluded all words that I thought I would stutter on with sentences constructed to reduce any chances of stuttering. When I won the election I didn’t know what other speaking situations would be forced on me because the pre-planning of an 11 year old isn’t very good.  I won the election although there was some objection to me winning.  The candidate I ran against objected because she felt that I bribed the grammar school constituents by handing out Tootsie Roll suckers with my name on them.  I drove a competitive campaign.

The next academic year, the new student council needed to be sworn in.  It being a Catholic school, and taking itself much too seriously, over celebrated with a ritual.  During the initial rehearsal for the inauguration, Ms. Casquera lined us up on stage to run through the ceremony.  In spite of it being the mid-1980s, Ms. Casquera looked like the square villainess from a retro Frankie and Annette beach movie .  Polyester blue suit, comfortable nun-like shoes, dark loose fitting nude pantyhose, a dyed black bouffant hairdo and, to top it off, cat eyed glasses.  I remember once staring at her during a windy lunchtime recess.  Garbage was blowing everywhere, but the wind could not penetrate her beehive hairdo.  Not one hair was out of place!  Even though she sounds like she would be potentially awful, she was actually ok in the quiet sort of way.

 

During the rehearsal, I learned that each student had to state, “I (insert name here)” before reading the oath in unison.  Of course no one had a problem with their name.  When it came to me I naturally stuttered on Nina.  The combination of the “I” before my name along with my name made it a stutterpalooza.  You should understand that most of us people who stutter, stutter on our own names.  There is no substitute for our name, unless we straight up change it, which some of us might to from time to time.  But this wasn’t a Starbucks order where I could slyly say my name is Enid instead of Nina.  I had to say “I Nina G.”  When I stuttered in the rehearsal it resulted in laughter for the mostly 7th and 8th graders who were there “leadership qualities”.  What really pissed me of was that one of the girls laughing had a very mild stutter.  Apparently, there was no solidarity in the stuttering dog eat stuttering dog world of the middle school during the 1980s.  Ms. Casquera attempted to intervene by telling the students to shut up, but it didn’t work.  I left feeling defeated.

 

There was one of my fellow student representatives who didn’t laugh like the others.  He was in the 8th grade and tended to be on the hyperactive side (I have always connected to hyperactive men and boys.  The potential to get into trouble with them is just too wonderfully overwhelming!).  I remember that same year this boy dressed like a 1970s Fat Elvis in a white jumpsuit and tiny toy guitar which I saw as evidence of his integrated weirdness, which I was impressed with.  The rest of the year I called him Elvis, thus forgetting his name forever, so from here on out he will be referred to as “Elvis”.  After rehearsal, Elvis approached me and asked, “can you say ninja?  Because if you can say ninja, you just switch it over to Nina instead.”

 

When you stutter, or have any kind of disability, suddenly everyone becomes an expert on your type of disability.  Advice like “just slow down and breath” is common and recommended with great hope that this will be the solution to all your problems, making them your abled bodied savior.  Gee, I guess I NEVER thought of slowing down when talking and this entire time I guess I have not been breathing! (Really, breathing?)  There was even the time when I educated a psychologist about stuttering.  I explained to him that it is a brain based disability in the left frontal-temporal hemisphere.  I went on to share that Marilyn Monroe stuttered which was why she talked in her whispery-sexy voice.  I demonstrated it as well.  His reply? “That is very sexy, maybe you should talk like that all the time.”  Really Mr. Dr. Psychologist?  Because people will take me much more serious if I talked like a baby!  Way to empower women! That’s ok, I think I’d rather stutter.

 

At the time though, the advice coming from this 8th grade Elvis boy was actually ok.  He was attempting to be an ally where I thought I didn’t have one.  Plus he was kinda cute.  Funny how that can get you a pass, even on shitty speech therapy advice.  I did appreciate his attempt to help and I felt that I had at least one friend.

 

All that week I practiced my name alone in my room.  I practiced it with my parents who even drove me an hour away so I could practice my name in front of my speech therapist.  It is funny that my parents would let me take a sick day at a moment’s notice but never introduced this as an option for the inauguration ceremony.  Instead it was assumed that I would attend and participate.

 

Finally the day of the inauguration came.  All the student body officers were in their school uniforms and wearing white gloves to convey the formality of the event.  The program started with the student officers sitting on stage with all the girls crossing their legs at the ankle as instructed.  We sat across the stage from the principal, Sister Theresa, Ms. Casquera and the parish priests.  The entire school was in attendance as well as some interested parents and the local newspaper.  You would have thought it was the frickin’ Kennedys being sworn in!

 

The ceremony started with the priest saying an opening prayer.  We then proceeded to the oath where each of had to say “I (insert name here).”  Again and again I practiced my name along with my speech techniques in my head.  It was my turn to say “I, Nina G” and I proceeded to stutter, “I N-N-Nina G.”  “Did I really do it?  Did I really just stutter on my own name?” I thought to myself.  In my seventh grade girl mind I knew my life was over.  That was it!  I would need to transfer schools, maybe even move.  I mean the newspaper was there!  I immediately saw the headline, “Girl stutters on her own name in front of entire school.”  Keep in mind, this was before the Upworthy website could turn my traumatized experience into a one sentence blurb to inspire people.

 

As I got off the stage I expected a repeat of the rehearsal where the other officers made fun of me except this time it would be times ten because I was exposed to the entire school.  That was when I walked by Sara, a girl from my class.  She said, “Nina, good job.”  I was a bit stunned.  I initially thought that she was being sarcastic, but then I realized that she was just being nice.  “That’s weird,” I thought (luckily Sara is now a teacher in the inner city!).

 

I proceeded with my day waiting for the next person to start making fun of me.  I had not yet had  recess so I was expecting I would get it then.  During recess I was talking to Elvis, the 8th grade boy when a second grader who had seen the older kids make fun of me approached us.  He came up to me and said, “Hey, N-N-Nina” as if to impress the older boy.  This is a comment I still get today.  Assholes of the world–please note, this is hack stuttering material!  Even if it is in the tune of the Chia Pet jingle–I have heard and whatever I say back will sting ten times that.  If you want to make fun of me, come up with something new.  This time was different than the 7 million other times I was made fun of because Elvis did something I had never seen.  He gently knelt down to look the second grader in the eye.  He told him, “If I ever hear you say anything like that again, I am going to tell everyone that your penis is this big” and indicated with his thumb and pointer finger half an inch.

 

Naturally, I thought, “this is the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me!”  I don’t think anyone ever stuck up for me, besides my parents, before this point.  I always had to deal with assholes, big and small, on my own.  My friends never said anything when I was made fun of, especially in middle school where kids didn’t want to stick out their neck in opposition to group think.  This was a truly exceptional moment in the life of a seventh grade girl.  How does a girl process this event?  She has a crush on the boy for the rest of the year, and maybe even researches where he might be when she is in her 30s and single (can’t find him since I don’t know his name).

 

Besides harboring affection for this individual, I learned some important things that day.  The first is that I learned that I could stutter and live.  Before that day, I thought that I had to be fluent and there were no other options.  My speech difficulties are not severe but it is significant enough that if I chose to let it stop me, people might rationalize that this was ok for me.  In fact, it has stopped me from answering questions in groups, flirting and at times ordering at a fast food drive through window.  Stuttering in front of my entire school was the first time that I experienced that I could stutter in front of others and it could be ok.  I am sure it was difficult for my parents to allow me to participate in the ceremony, but they did and I am thankful to have had this experience.

 

The second thing I learned was that I had allies outside my parents and a few wonderful speech therapists and tutors.  My peers could be allies because they had my back.  I didn’t have to be the one who always stuck up for myself.  You really don’t know what this feels like until it happens to you.  It is a shock to know you are not alone in this way and since this time I have sought allies, although it has sometimes been a struggle to remind myself that this can be an expectation to have in a relationship.

 

Lastly, I learned something else that day about comedy.  If anyone, and I mean anyone, makes fun of me.  I do what Elvis taught me that day.  Tell them they “have a small penis.”  And no matter how touching and life changing a story might be, be a good comedian and end with dick joke!

Picture of the ceremony.

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