What do Rachel Dratch, Mark Sanchez and Jesse L. Martin have in common? Absolutely nothing. That is, up until this past Monday night when they all came out in support of Our Time, an incredible non-profit organization that helps improve the confidence and communication skills of children who stutter through the arts. The group held its annual benefit concert and gala event in New York City, and Rachel, Mark and Jesse along with a range of other stars came out to show their support. There are obviously countless causes out there, but there is something about this particular mission that really tugs at the heart strings, especially mine.
We all know how cute kids can be, but they can also be surprisingly cruel. And children who stutter are almost always the target of some of the meanest and harshest behavior out there, which leads them to feel isolated, insecure, alone and hopeless – at times even suicidal. I for one cannot imagine enduring, let alone getting past such experiences. But Our Time has created a safe haven like no other for these children, a place where they feel loved, at home, and completely themselves. It has literally saved their lives. Children travel, in some cases, from hundreds of miles away to spend a few short hours each week with the Our Time team, to escape their otherwise painful daily lives. And the way Our Time leverages the arts is key – it’s not well known (unless you saw The King’s Speech) but a surprising fact about stuttering is that it doesn’t occur in singing, so these children transform from being unable to get their words out to singing beautiful songs and comfortably expressing themselves through music and lyrics.
I was fortunate enough to have been in attendance to witness the magic that ensued on the stage at the NYU Skirball Center on Monday evening. Children ranging from age 5 to 18 overcame their biggest fears and stood before a theater full of people to share their personal stories and their beautiful, inspirational original music. And, as they do each year since 2001, the stars came out and stood shoulder to shoulder with the young members of Our Time to perform a range of songs and deliver moving speeches, all the while encouraging the children to aspire to be great and to prevent stuttering from being an obstacle in their lives.
Needless to say, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room.
Now given the musical performance aspect of the whole event, I know you’re probably still wondering what Mark Sanchez, starting quarterback of the NY Jets was doing there. He was actually there to support and introduce his teammate, offensive lineman Matt Slausson, who was being honored that night. Matt struggled with stuttering throughout his childhood and faced his challenges head on, ultimately becoming a professional football player, setting a great example for the kids in Our Time and young stutterers everywhere. It was a privilege to witness the emotion and respect between the two teammates, a truly touching moment. Past honorees have included musical great Carly Simon, Oscar winner James Earl Jones and and Oscar winner David Seidler (screenwriter of The King’s Speech), to name just a few.
To learn more about Our Time, visit www.ourtimestutter.org.
James Earl Jones