Spoken-word poet, advocate for people with disabilities, and motivational speaker LeDerick Horne has appeared at the White House, the United Nations, Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week and State Departments of Education across the United States. He recently spoke at Mitchell College to students, faculty and staff, sharing his poetry and story of growing up with a learning disability as part of a program hosted by the Bentsen Learning Center (BLC) and sponsored by the Aramont Foundation.
Horne recounted his struggles with reading and his fear of being publicly embarrassed during read-aloud time in the classroom, saying he “spent time hiding in the bathroom and at the nurse’s office” and figuring out how to pre-read passages to familiarize himself with difficult words before being asked to read. Labeled with a learning disability in third grade, he was moved to a special education class, which he likened to being in “solitary confinement or a deserted island.” After a few years began to call himself stupid and dumb.
However, later in his school years he felt he was looked at as “an intellectual” in school, enjoying debating with others and excelling in track and cross country, as well as art. Despite these accomplishments, as he neared the end of high school and began thinking about his future he worried about his “sub-par reading skills” and wondered if he could do work that he would be proud of. He struggled with mental health issues and school absences and suffered an emotional breakdown during his junior year of high school.
But with the support of his parents (Horne said he “won the parent lottery”) and his own resilience, he used that experience to redefine who he was, realizing “there was nothing wrong with me.”
Horne decided to pursue college and began at community college at Middlesex County College in New Jersey. There he built up his skills and found a community of other people with disabilities, and together they shared their stories and celebrated their victories. He also developed more of an understanding about how the mind works. He eventually transferred to New Jersey City University, where he graduated with honors and a B.A. in mathematics with a minor in fine arts.
Co-author of the book “Empowering Students with Hidden Disabilities: A Path to Pride and Success,” Horne shared his words of wisdom, encouragement and advice:
- Disability is a natural part of human diversity.
- If there is normal, normal is all discrepancies that happen in human beings.
- Develop an understanding of who you are, regardless of disability or not.
- Be self-reflective.
- Practice an asset-based understanding of a disability—what strengths are.
- There is a need for people to be celebrated for places where they are excellent.
- Be open about challenges.
Finally, he shared his formula for happiness: “Don’t judge yourself by other people.”