Here’s a sentiment we hear expressed by many advocates who’ve been out speaking and giving interviews, some for many years: be prepared to be surprised by the impact you’re really making. No matter how much anyone prepares you for the potential your story has to make a difference, you can’t know how it will actually happen…until it happens. And this is important to remember, because it’s easy to lose steam or worry whether the story of one person really, truly, can have an impact. For LeDerick Horne, advocate for people with disabilities, a reminder came from a young man named Carlos who approached him after a presentation LeDerick had delivered. But first, some of LeDerick’s story:
When LeDerick Horne was in the third grade, he began to realize that his reading level had not kept up with his peers—when he looked at the page, all he saw were groups of letters with no meaning. After a series of tests, he was given the vague diagnosis of having a “neurological impairment.” He was separated from his class and placed in the school’s resource room—in this case, a teacher’s storage closet—then eventually in a special education classroom.
The isolation and separation from his fellow students took a toll on LeDerick socially, and he developed anxiety and self-doubt. Writing was difficult and came slowly. Nevertheless, with the support of family, his own drive, and an increasing desire to fight against a flawed educational system, LeDerick graduated from high school and college. Today he’s a powerful advocate for people with disabilities.
He’s also a spoken-word poet. A counselor at LeDerick’s two-year college recognized his talent early on and urged him to forget about spelling and grammar…and just write. This license unlocked his creativity. He began using his poetic talent to craft and shape his personal story into a tool of advocacy that now empowers and educates others. “I realized early on that’s who I needed to be,” LeDerick remembers. “I’m going to be the poet who speaks to folks with disabilities. I’m going to be the poet who talks and represents the folks who have been through special education and have lived that reality. And poetry would be the tool I use to convey my story.”
After LeDerick delivered a presentation at at Youth Leadership Summit, a young man named Carlos approached him. Like LeDerick, Carlos had a learning disability but had persevered through high school as well as college and now was advocating for others. He said: “LeDerick, the reason I’m at this summit is because I heard you speak when I was in high school. I don’t know if you know this, but I was homeless then. And hearing you let me know I’d be able to go to college. Man, you had no idea. I needed to hear your message at that moment. I needed to hear you to keep me going and to let me know there was more for me after high school.”
“I try to really savor those moments. When you step off-stage and you’re headed to the next workshop, or trying to get to the airport, there might be a student who walks up to you and says, ‘hey that was really great,’ and stops you to shake your hand. That’s a big deal.” —LeDerick Horne
We congratulate LeDerick on his powerful advocacy and thank him for sharing his story with us. You can read more of LeDerick’s story in the upcoming expanded edition of Living Proof. Watch this site for news of its publication in August, or sign up for our newsletter if you’d like a personal reminder.