Possibly the most inspiring course I took in college was a study of W. B. Yeats. The professor, Jack Kelleher, was knowledgeable, but more important, he was passionate about the subject. But he had a severe stutter, and sometimes sitting in class listening to him lecture was a painful thing.
Professor Kelleher's stutter vanished when he recited the poetry. He even sang for us once or twice (some of Yeats's verse was written to go with traditional melodies). Reciting and singing he had no trace of a speech impediment. Later I learned that many stutterers don't stutter when they sing.
Last night's star-studded Our Time gala honoring Bill Withers brought this, and many other lessons about stutterers, home to a big happy audience of family, friends, and donors. Our Time Theatre Company is a performing arts organization for kids who stutter. Most of us at some point in our lives have met someone who stutters, but stuttering kids who don't get emotional support often shut down and stay quiet, so we might not know when we see them. An estimated one percent of the population stutters.
Bill Withers is famous for his hits: "Lean On Me," "Ain't No Sunshine," "Lovely Day," "Use Me," and more. It turns out he also stuttered badly as a youngster. A lot of entertainment royalty turned out to honor him and to celebrate the achievements of Our Time. Providing "an artistic home for people who stutter," the organization has enabled and inspired many a kid to literally find their voices.
Some of the kids who took the stage to speak, emcee, recite, sing, or rap had mostly overcome their stutters, but many had not. Some had been in the Our Time program for years, but Our Time is not a therapist. To the contrary, it's a place where stutterers are given all the time they need to express their thoughts - hence the name "Our Time." No one will interrupt them, finish their sentences, make fun of them, or assume they're stupid because they're slow to speak.