About the Author:
Hazel Johnson is a 13 year old from Nebraska. Hazel is a young person who stutters. She enjoys dance, theatre, and petting every dog in sight.
This is her story of advocating for people who stutter at a pageant this past summer where she won her first public-speaking competition (with a perfect score!)
Please contact Hazel via her mother’s email address or in the comments below.
Our words are our identity. The key to making friends, stating our opinions and expressing ourselves. For kids who stutter, including myself, facing stigma and ignorance are just a part of daily life and that identity is shadowed and broken by other peoples refusal to listen. I am bubbly, social, love performing and I have SO. MUCH. to say. Do I let my stutter stop me? No. But some days are hard. School days are filled with the mental gymnastics of hiding my stutter to fit in. And in 5th grade, I pretended that I didn’t remember my presentation and was criticized when in reality I could recite it in my sleep. just so no one would hear me stutter. I didn’t want people to think I was nervous or stupid, even though I knew that was wrong. Most people just don’t understand that stuttering is a neurological difference that affects how the brain and mouth communicate and people who stutter know exactly what they want to say.
Talking has gotten easier over the years and my stutter is now practically invisible, however it changes constantly. Stuttering has taught me empathy and patience, and the importance of being kind. I hope that I can translate that to others by advocating and educating about my difference *. Everyone deserves to be listened to, no matter how hard or easy it is for them to speak. All languages, accents, and stutters need to be heard. Instead of fixing imperfections we need to fix how we accept them. It matters what you say, not how you say it. And your voice is beautiful.
One year ago, I never would have imagined myself saying those words to anyone, ever. Especially not in front of a big audience at a PAGEANT. But, there I was, standing up at a podium with the microphone too high for me and the wrong speech put in front of me, in front of over 200 people and 6 judges, telling my story. At the pageant finale, I didn’t get the crown and banner, but that wasn’t what I cared about. I’m not much of a pageant queen anyway, and I placed in the top 5 out of over 20 pageant-pro contestants. My speech won 1st place. And on top of that, it got a perfect score from all 6 of the judges. After I finished, the pageant director told me that she stuttered as a kid and that she got what I was going through and that I inspired her. A dad in the audience told me he stuttered as a kid as well and was on the verge of tears as he told me thank you for telling my story. My voice is powerful. I want my experience to inspire more people who stutter and tell people who doubt them that they can do anything. To top it off, I have the opportunity to share my story at nationals this November in Orlando, Florida. It will take a lot to convince my mom, but maybe I will get to go! I’m so grateful for this experience and I am now more confident talking about stuttering to my peers. To other kids who stutter, be brave! There are more people willing to listen than you think. What you have to say is important.
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