To inspire, first and foremost, you must be inspired, and to me, that came at such a young age. Being born with a disability (spina bifida and hydrocephalus), my parents have been an interictal part of the man I have grown up to be some 41(ish) years later.
But to be inspired happened to me when I was eight years old. My parents entrusted me to go to this camp, which was inclusive, called Camp Marydale. They had a one-to-one program for kids with disabilities. This was the first time being outside of my comfort zone, with no family or core group of friends. I was starting to carve my own path. My mom dropped me off at the bus stop that morning, and she and I were both nervous wrecks, not knowing what to expect. With staff support, I got on the bus, and the travel began.
As we got to the campgrounds, I was last off the bus as I needed the support. Exiting the bus, I was approached by a man who said, “Hi, my name is John. Welcome to Camp Marydale.” That statement would open my eyes to a whole new world. That statement taught me that I belonged and that I mattered. I would go on 30ish years later to live a life based on how he inspired me and showed me that I belonged and mattered! At eight years old and a kid with a physical disability, belonging is critical to growth and development. John is one of my best friends; he believed in me. I am grateful.
My confidence grew as my life continued, conquering various milestones: high school graduation, college graduation, and employment. Finally, it was time for me to give back. In 2015, in what started as a passion project, I began encapsulating my life in short stories to engage the reader. I had no intention of publishing at the time. But as I continued to write, I met someone who is now a good friend, and they encouraged me to finish my story and publish it.
2016 would be difficult; losing my mom wasn’t easy, but “Above and Beyond” was created in her honour. I became a published author, talk show host and producer, actor, coach, and consultant in access and inclusion. I vowed that lived experience would count for more than it typically does. I have been told that I inspire. In my world, I am grateful that you feel inspired, but it takes a village. I believe inspiration is in allyships, a call to action, and a responsibility for everyone. To lead is to empower, and to empower is to progress and progress with momentum. We must trust in one another and work together. Where there is a win for access and inclusion, there is a win for collective prosperity.