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Acceptance speech transcript as delivered on August 3, 2010 in Orlando, FL

When I was about five or six years old, I remember the neighborhood kids taunting me, calling me a “half-breed”.  I didn’t have a clue what that was, but it didn’t sound very nice.  I remember going into the house and asking my mom what a half-breed was and she told me that it’s a word used to describe a horse.  She then told me that those kids were just jealous because I had TWO different types of family backgrounds – my daddy was dark and my mommy was light – and they only had one type of family background.  Well, I marched outside with a mission to educate them and proudly denounced their name-calling because I had more to celebrate than they did.  In the years that followed, I learned more about what those kids were talking about…what their parents had taught them about.

My dad had jobs where he was called names much more degrading than “half-breed”.  He endured obtuse abuses and micro-inequities with a quiet temperament because at stake was a much needed job to support his family.  He stood in lines hundreds deep to get minimum-wage jobs in the 80s when there were none.  Nearly every year of that decade, he came home deflated by the news of a layoff at Christmas because that’s what happened to people in the steel and mining industries in those economically turbulent years.

I’ve watched my mom get singled out time and time again by family and strangers alike as a target of the one prejudice that remains acceptable in our society today:  that against people of size.  Some of us can hide our differences…and some of us can’t.  Some of us know what it feels like to be looked down on and publicly humiliated…and some of us have watched the people we love most on this Earth go through that heartbreaking fire.  What I’ve learned is that to judge someone by what the eye sees is the mark of ignorance, the sign of a fool.  But, to accept people, to love them, to encourage them, and to embrace them takes courage and heart.

I suppose my mom was right.  I have more to celebrate because I am different.  When asked why I work so hard and care so much, the answer is simple:  I want to be the person my parents didn’t have in this world when they needed support and encouragement.  I want to give to someone else what I wish someone had given my parents:  acceptance and kindness in a world all too often in deficit of it.  I live to be an advocate for people who are overlooked and marginalized simply because they are different…because in their silence burns the desire for acceptance, safety, and opportunity.

We are all at our very best when serving others.  My parents taught me that everyone has a gift that can be used to make the world a better place, even if it means making the world a better place for just one person.  Thank you.  God Bless.

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