In the waning moments of the 2020 Democratic National Convention (DNC) and shortly before his highly anticipated acceptance speech, Joe Biden made the decision to give precious airtime to 13-year-old Brayden Harrington of New Hampshire. What did the kid do with the attention of millions of Americans focused on him? He looked them in the eye and told them that he has a stutter.
Brayden recounted attending a February campaign event with Biden in which he told the presidential candidate that he struggles with stuttering. Instinctively, Biden invited the boy backstage to share his own history of stuttering and techniques he uses to this day to push back on it. As Brayden gave his speech, he often paused, visibly fighting to produce several words. But he never lost his cool.
Brayden’s segment was widely circulated and rightfully praised. Though, here is what you probably didn’t consider: This was a pre-recorded speech. Brayden could have done as many takes as he wanted until he got one with lighter stutters or used clever camera cuts to hide the toughest aspects of his stutter. He did none of that. He put his genuine self out there for literally millions of people to watch. He did so proudly, smiling throughout, never diverting his eyes from the camera. There was no other possible way to conclude: Brayden Harrington is not ashamed of his stutter.
The night following his DNC speech, Brayden spoke to NBC’s Lester Holt and in part explained what having a stutter actually feels like. One thing people do not know about stuttering is that it is not just difficult to pronounce sounds. Per Brayden, “Sometimes it’s hard to breathe. My lungs tighten. Sometimes I can’t like get that extra breath. And it is hard to talk. That’s why I’ve had a therapist for a few years, to try to teach me some words to get past those hard times when I can’t breathe. And that’s just one little thing that some people don’t really know.”
Stronger than a Stutter
Shortly after Brayden’s first encounter with Biden made minor news, Brayden’s father, Owen Harrington, told CNN that Biden “explained that (the stutter) doesn’t define him, he’s stronger, that he’s a good person. It was really overwhelming for Brayden. He started breaking down a little bit.”
There is no debating that what Brayden did at the DNC was a clinic in guts and courage. But it was also so much more. Harrington told Holt that his son was “overwhelmed” before recording his speech but “decided he wanted to push through and continue with this because he wanted to be the voice for those other children that didn’t get the opportunity that Brayden had.”
Just as Biden had told him, Brayden told everyone watching with a stutter that it does not define them. They are far stronger than any stutter could ever be. After all, as Brayden said in his speech, “Someone like me became vice president.”
Courage Beats Stigma
Heroic acts like this are exactly how courage wins and stigma loses. In the hours following the speech, social media platforms were flooded with posts and messages in awe of the kid with some sharing their own stuttering challenges. When someone speaks up about a struggle they have, particularly one stigmatized by society as a weakness, it has a cascading effect. Others in similar situations feel better, that they are not alone, and empowered to speak up. As Brayden shared with the Washington Post a few hours after his speech aired, “I feel very energetic right now. I’m very happy that I got to give the speech. I have trouble talking and that just makes me feel way more happy to be able to talk to the people who have a stutter.”
Whether you struggle with a stutter, a mental illness, or any wrongly stigmatized ailment, consider speaking up. You would be making the difference the world needs. In that vein, Brayden told NBC that “I want to do the same thing that Joe Biden did to me to younger kids who take having trouble talking as the worst thing in their life, but it’s actually a gift.” Suffice to say he is well on his way.
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