Brilliantly Proud

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A few years ago, I met Brian. His head was bowed, his shoulders hunched. He wore a thick Christmas sweater with a large, red bow. It was a sweltering March afternoon. No one knew his story. His family was dead and the children’s department had nowhere to place him. I brought him to St. Anthony’s School for the Deaf. I remember the look on his face when he saw his name printed on a blackboard. He was roughly 13, but he was proud to start kindergarten.

I met him again, recently, at ReACT’s New Year’s celebration. When Brian saw me, he broke into a broad smile. He had grown at least a foot, but what was even more striking was his aplomb. His shoulders were broad and square. He grasped my hand with something even greater than confidence - pride, perhaps?

In the past three years, he learned a language - not a second language - he can only now communicate for the first time in his life. This skill has enabled him to have friends. Guests were waiting to be served a mountain of rice, chapati, and freshly slaughtered bull - quintessential Kenyan feast. The loudspeaker pumped upbeat music: synthesizer, drum loop, djembe.

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Suddenly, Brian flipped his hat backward and let it perch loftily on his head, and strode in front 220 spectators, kicking up a heated dance.

His hips gyrated as his arms pumped in the air. The beat of the bass channeled through the ground and cued his feet so that his movements were in sync with the rhythm. I stared, my mouth agape. Then came the whispers: “Isn’t this boy… deaf”?

His audience started clapping and whooping. A woman ululated.

Brian was oblivious to everything but the ground beneath his feet that pumped energy into his limbs. When he opened his eyes, he saw hundreds of fanning hands in the air - crowd cheering in sign language. He laughed, taking it in. Then, he swaggered back to his seat. Yes, he was proud.

Proud, after all these years, to be brilliantly and unapologetically himself.

Manon