Katie Mann
March 4, 2014

If you’re familiar with advertising in Metro Detroit, you know summertime Tiger’s baseball isn’t complete without hearing at least one, “Call 1-800-CALL-SAM” commercial.  The lawyer, Sam Bernstein, grew his sole practice into a family law firm with his three children.  When my mother, Diane Mann (aka the Purple Dotter and I went to the POHI/SXI Conference of Michigan with Richard Bernstein as the keynote speaker, I didn’t really know what to expect.

It was amazing.

img_1446Richard’s message was clear:  people with special needs (more specifically students with special needs, since it was a conference for teachers, paraprofessionals and therapists) need to be around.  They need to be seen.  Inclusion, if a viable option, should be taken.  Just their mere presence can offer hope, optimism, and inspiration to those around them.  Why did I believe Bernstein’s message?  Because he was born blind.

Richard Bernstein can be labeled as simply a “blind man.”  But a more accurate description would be a lawyer, a lecturer, a legal advocate for the disabled, a runner of 18 marathons and an Ironman Triathlon.  Inspired yet?  To his point:  That’s why people with disabilities need to be seen and heard, not pushed aside to one corner of a school not to interact with the public.  His mere presence at the Jerusalem Marathon inspired.

I was amazed.

But then that led me to think:  If we live our lives right, with kindness and talent, shouldn’t we all be an inspirational presence?

img_1453After the keynote finished, it was time for my mother and I to give our presentation on theatre’s positive effects in the classroom and the importance of self-care for educators and professionals.  Now, the number of marathons I’ve run is about 18 less than Richard’s number (so zero).  My wheel house is more along the lines of being silly.  Like, ridiculously silly.  We spent our ninety minute presentation trying on viking helmets, acting like cold penguins, happy giraffes, and demonstrating other theatre lesson plans and self-care tips.  My true self is not stoic.  Nor it is a lawyer.  However, after our “lecture” a teacher came up and thanked us, “I got so many great ideas!  You guys were inspiring.”  Inspiring?

Amazing.

Not all of us have huge obstacles to overcome like taking the Bar exam blind.  But we all do have challenges.  And if we overcome them, with the right mix tenacity and gratitude perhaps just our mere presence is enough.  However silly that presence may be.