Young speakers inspire us with their courage

Brayden Harrington, 13, speaks during the Democratic National Convention on Aug. 20, 2020. (Screen shot from DNC livestream)

I’m sure we all have been inspired at one time or another by a gifted speaker.

Maybe it was a pastor or teacher. Maybe it was a leader who is a skilled orator. Or it might have been someone else who connected with us and delivered a memorable message.

In the past few weeks, a couple of speakers have done that for me.

These are not big-name celebrities. Few people had heard of them before their moment in the spotlight. No one would imagine they could be so inspirational before they began speaking.

Let me introduce you to Tybre Faw and Brayden Harrington. I have shirts that are older than these guys. Tybre is 12; Brayden is 13.

But they illustrate what is good and right with humanity. These two provided needed doses of joy to uplift us. They showed class, maturity and determination that should warm our hearts — especially when many of us are downright weary because so much that swirls around us these days is marked by division, dissent and disagreement.

Brayden spoke from his bedroom last week on the final night of the Democratic National Convention. But my interest in him has zero to do with politics or Joe Biden.

My interest has everything to do with this teen’s courage in being in front of an audience of millions. When I was 13 years old, I wanted to melt into the floor rather than stand in front of any group to speak — especially if I believed I was somehow different from them.

But not Brayden. He introduced himself and began, “Without Joe Biden, I would not be talking to you today. About a few months ago, I met him in New Hampshire.”

Then we learned what Brayden meant: “He told me that we were members of the same club. Wuh-we … sssssssss … sssssss-tutter.”

As each “s” sound slowly passed his lips, you could sense a collective gasp across the nation as Brayden soldiered on. What courage it took to refuse to give up, to refuse to let his brain’s lapses deter him from finishing each word and each thought.

“It was really amazing to hear that someone like me became v-v-v-v-vice pre-pre-pre-pre-pre-pre-president,” Brayden said. “I’m just a regular kid. And in a short amount of time, Joe Biden helped me be more confident about something that has bothered me my whole life.”

The back story: After a Biden campaign visit in Concord, N.H., in February, Brayden shook hands with the candidate, whose own struggles with a childhood stutter are well documented. Biden offered encouragement. But Brayden became emotional, so Biden invited him backstage so they could talk privately.

There, Biden told him how he persevered through his stutter when he was Brayden’s age. He showed how he still marks up speeches so he knows when to take a breath. He told Brayden how he was helped by reading poetry aloud, how he learned to speak in phrases, rather than words.

Brayden’s two minutes in the spotlight are a testament that anything in life is possible with guidance and determination. Which brings me to Tybre Faw, whose young life shows us what difference a mentor, even a long-distance mentor, can make.

Tybre lives near Nashville, Tenn. A third-grade teacher sparked his interest in history, especially history of the civil rights movement. His two grandmothers provided the means for him to travel to civil rights sites across the South.

In March 2018, Tybre persuaded them to drive him seven hours to Selma, Ala., where U.S. Rep. John Lewis, a civil rights icon Tybre read about, would lead a group across the famous Edmund Pettus Bridge.

The boy waited outside Brown Chapel AME Church that day hoping to see Lewis. The congressman was meeting inside, just as he had before the famed “Bloody Sunday” march in 1965.

Tybre had a hand-written sign that read, “Thank you Rep. John Lewis. You have shown me how to have courage.” The congressman’s aides saw the sign and guided Tybre to a back entrance. His eyes filled with tears when he saw Lewis approaching. The man who was battered, bruised and bloodied by mobs spoke quietly to the boy.

He invited Tybre to join him and members of Congress and civil rights leaders as they marched across the bridge. Their friendship flourished after that. They FaceTimed each other. Lewis invited Tybre to the U.S. Capitol. He asked the boy back to Selma for events in 2019 and 2020.

When Lewis died last month, Tybre told CNN, “My heart hurts.”

The Lewis family asked him to come to Atlanta for the funeral. They wanted Tybre to read Lewis’ favorite poem.

Standing there in front of three U.S. presidents, leaders of Congress and civil rights giants, Tybre came through. He read the poem and then concluded, “John Lewis was my hero, my friend. Let’s honor him by getting in good trouble.”

As he walked from the lectern, he fought back tears. But he had shown us that he had been paying attention on all those car trips with his grandmothers, just as Brayden had shown us what a big dose of confidence can mean in life.