In an emotionally stirring talk peppered with humor, Martin Luther King Day speaker Mykee Fowlin encouraged Willistonians to look beyond first appearances, to be curious, and to view stereotypes with skepticism.
“How do I find those things we have in common?” he wondered.
Fowlin explored this idea by embodying four characters, a six-year-old boy with ADD, a straight-A-earning gay football player from the projects, a Mexican young man adopted by Jews raised in a wealthy neighborhood, and a half-Palestinian, half-Korean woman who stands up for what she believes in. These characters all told their stories, and led Fowlin to the idea that by removing the mask we show to others to protect ourselves from potential ridicule, we can take the pain that shapes us and share it with the world, making the world a better place and helping people realize they are not alone. He read the Langston Hughes poem “Still Here” to drive his point home:
I been scarred and battered.
My hopes the wind done scattered.
Snow has friz me,
Sun has baked me,Looks like between ’em they done
Tried to make meStop laughin’, stop lovin’, stop livin’—
But I don’t care!
I’m still here!
To survive early traumas, Fowlin said he built coping strategies that included keeping his pain a secret. He developed an eating disorder. It wasn’t until he was a psychology student at Rutgers University, suffering from extreme anxiety and depression, that he realized that he had the textbook symptoms of someone who was abused and molested as a child. Feeling suicidal as he confronted this truth, he reached out to a youth minister he trusted, and this friend gave him the encouragement he needed to keep living.
Years later, he was sharing his story at a middle school, when after the talk, an eighth grader ran up to him sobbing and thanked him for staying alive. “You saved my life,” she told him through tears.
“My pain is my gift,” he said. “I almost ended my life too soon. I will never take this life for granted.”