In Your Neighborhood/Opinion

Finding one’s voice and speaking up

Lessons of political empathy

Image courtesy of YouTube video

Brayden Harrington speaking at the Democratic National Convention

By Mary Ann Sorrentino
Posted 8/31/20
A 13-year-old stutterer delivers a message about the importance of empathy.
Why do so many people like to be lied to? How can we learn to listen in 10 different ways? Why is the concept of Black Lives Matter so threatening to the Republican Party under President Trump?
The coronavirus does not discriminate; it is an equal opportunity disease. The failure to create a national mandate around testing and the wearing of mask to help to prevent the spread of the virus, even as the death toll approaches 200,000 lives lost in the last six months, seems to be a death wish.

CRANSTON – The town of Boscawen, N.H., isn’t mentioned in Scripture that I know of, and neither is its now-newly-famous resident, 13-year-old Brayden Harrington. This courageous young man battling a stutter nevertheless touched an entire nation with his determination to challenge – and defeat – his affliction before a national audience on television.

How did he get there? Democratic Presidential nominee Joe Biden – also a stutterer – had reached out to Brayden on a campaign stop in New Hampshire several months earlier.

Biden encouraged the boy, told him they both belonged to the same “club,” and shared with him some tips on speechmaking with a stutter, still used by the former Vice President.

Biden took Brayden under his wing, coaching him for what I imagine may become a lifetime of public speaking.

Say something, do something
Brayden Harrington’s courage is perhaps one of the most important lessons that the late, great Congressman John Lewis told us all we must do if we value freedom: “When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up. You have to say something; you have to do something.”

Braydon was determined to say something, whatever the cost, as someone for whom public speaking was the equivalent of running a marathon with a sprained ankle.

Watching this young man come to a word that he had to struggle to get out, seeing him persist as the syllables got caught in his throat, and then sharing his triumph when the word finally emerged in victory, made me sigh with relief and smile through tears of joy.

The question that needs to be asked
Hopefully, many of us also understood the important question raised by Brayden’s speech. Why are so many Americans – the overwhelming majority of whom have no problems speaking – staying so silent when there are so many issues that demand our response? Why can’t we do what this young man has shown us he is so determined to do, in front of a world he knows may mock him, even as he succeeds?

We need lessons in what Brayden Harrington has shown us, that speaking out requires bravery. Whatever we are determined to protect and defend deserves our strong, sincere, and loudly spoken voices. Freedom cannot ring if citizens do not pull the ropes that cause the bells to clang.

Brayden Harrington, a child for whom speaking out requires and all the courage and strength he can muster, stood up  and pulled the call for freedom and justice out for all to hear.

In his quiet manner, Brayden Harrington "shouted" his message from Boscawan, N.H., to reach every corner of this nation, giving the Democratic National Convention broadcast one of its finest moment.

Somewhere, John Lewis is smiling. He sees a young boy with a speaking challenge that has allowed him to experience some of the same shunning, ridicule, and bullying that Lewis as a young man experienced so often.

That strong boy was able to carry the water, to use his strength to say something important. If you heard it, match it, and pass it on.

Mary Ann Sorrentino is a freelance columnist writing from Rhode Island, Florida, and when there is no longer a pandemic, from Italy and other foreign destinations.

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