I know a young man named Rakeem Bowdry who wants to become a public speaker, and I plan on helping him do it. Rakeem already has a powerful message. He wants to help people see past the wheelchair he sits in and see the person that he is. He wants to do that for everyone in a wheelchair.
We’ve had several conversations in recent weeks in which Rakeem has shared with me his frustration that when people first meet him or first see him they see the chair. They don’t see him. The photo that you see is Rakeem, his brother Tim—his caregiver, and me after a night out together at Cheesecake Factory. Rakeem loves cheesecake! I’ll bet you didn’t think of that when you first saw the photo. Don’t beat yourself up. Neither did I when I first met Rakeem.
He has already taught me many powerful lessons about life, like the gift of mobility that we all take for granted. And I have never met anyone who does a better job of holding eye contact in a conversation than Rakeem. He has powerful presence and spirit that is so joyful. I have no doubt he will have a amazing presence in time in front of the room because he has a focus that I want to share with you. He wants to help others see a condition in a new way. He wants to help others. Before he has even begun the journey to the front of the room, Rakeem already gets it. Public speaking isn’t about the speaker. It’s about what the speaker brings to and for the audience. The same holds for any presentation—in person, on video, in small groups or large.
A drunk driver left Rakeem a quadriplegic four years ago in an accident in Mississippi. He came to Baltimore for advanced care and treatment and he would like to call Baltimore home. He told me, “If ever there is going to be a breakthrough in spinal chord research, it’s going to happen here and I want to be as close to that as possible.” But until then, Rakeem wants to help others see past wheelchairs and understand that wheelchairs help some people but they don’t define them.
I was so moved by Rakeem’s insight and understanding of human nature, not to mention his courage. In the coming weeks and months I will tell you more about the team I plan to help assemble with Rakeem and his brother Tim so they can live independent lives in their adopted home town with the support they’ll need to do that. But first I wanted you to meet Rakeem and Tim. Rakeem is 23. Tim, 24. Tim, a talented artist has put his own life on hold so he can be his brother’s caregiver.
And I wanted you to receive the gift of insight that Rakeem has, a gift we can all use in front of the room: Be very clear what you want to give the audience. And have the courage to help others see the world in a different way. The rest is details.