I didn't know what to think when I read the headline and heard the news that a cadet from the Cleveland Police Department was allegedly not allowed to graduate with his class (even though he finished his training) because of his stutter.
Jane Fraser from The Stuttering Foundation commented:
If press reports out of Cleveland are accurate, we must be very concerned about the chilling effect this sort of decision will have on the stuttering community, especially those seeking employment. Every day, we hear stories of those who stutter being denied gainful employment. In most cases, unfortunately, it is because the potential employer does not understand stuttering.
I grew up with a stutter. Does this mean I shouldn't have pursued journalism because I stutter? Does this mean I shouldn't conduct interviews, speak up in meetings or ask questions when I want more clarification?
Does this mean that my voice doesn't matter because at times I may need an extra moment or two to get my words together?
I remember in high school and college when, as students, we were preparing to choose what we wanted to do for the rest of our lives. Many of my friends had ambitions -- and are successful at what they do -- in teaching, graphic design, engineering, as nurses and doctors, as account executives and media buyers.
Some of my friends crossed careers off the list simply because they didn't want to pursue that particular field. No ulterior motive. They just didn't want to go down a certain path.
For me, I self-limited options because of my stutter. I crossed off being a television anchor since I would have to talk fluently for long periods of time. I'm clearly not going to be an orator. I shied away from being a teacher and standing in front of a classroom full of students.
As I look back now, I realize that the thing holding me back wasn't stuttering.
It was fear.
Fear of being made fun of because of a stutter. Fear of not being able to achieve my dream because the stutter would hold me back. Fear of having anxiety in a situation where I would have needed to say something but was unable to. Fear of people not taking me seriously when sometimes my spoken words go awry but my thoughts are clear.
Fear should never hold us back.
Words hold so much power, and to read that a cadet wasn't able to graduate in his class because of his stutter has been extremely disheartening to myself and to those in the stuttering community.
"Conflating a person's stuttering with an inability to succeed in professional employment is wrong and reinforces negative and false stereotypes," said Kenny Koroll, chairman of the NSA, in a statement.
This news not only impacts Mr. Jackson and other people who stutter, but countless other individuals with various communication disorders seeking employment, especially those who have proven capable of the career they are pursuing despite their challenge. People who stutter have achieved success in every profession imaginable. Stuttering should not be a barrier from entering any profession.
We should be able to follow our dreams wherever they may take us. Nothing should stop us.
There are so many celebrities and people who have made it despite having a stutter that it gives me hope that I am able to pursue what I want to do, when I want to do it and how I want to do it as well.
Of course, the road isn't perfect. It hasn't been paved in a while, and it needs a bit of upkeep.
Sometimes, I thought I couldn't go on. Maybe I should've picked out something else -- anything else -- and hidden behind a computer screen.
But something in my thoughts wouldn't allow that. This is where I need to be. There is a relentless drive instilled in me that continues to push me toward my pursuit of my goals and dreams.
Through hard work and dedication, I've learned that the sweetest feeling is triumph.
I want everyone to be victorious. I want people who stutter to experience the feeling of victory, the feeling of walking on clouds, of walking into a room of applause, to the adrenaline coursing through as if riding on a roller coaster.
There is nothing like feeling triumphant.
I've pursued the more-challenging career, and I've never looked back.