Keynote speaker Maya Angelou challenged ASHA Convention attendees to "be a rainbow in someone's cloud," an exhortation still fresh in their minds 36 hours later as former Rep. Gabby Giffords and her husband, Capt. Mark Kelly, accepted ASHA's Annie Glenn Award for their work battling—and public education about—Giffords' aphasia following traumatic brain injury (see page 17).
Maya Angelou challenges ASHA convention attendees to be "a rainbow in someone's cloud."
Angelou and Giffords were but two of the many highlights at the ASHA 2012 Convention, held Nov. 15–17 in Atlanta. From the opening session to the closing party, from the hundreds of education sessions to the awards ceremony, from the flash mobs to bloggers, the convention lived up to its theme: Evidence of Excellence. More than 11,780 members, presenters, speakers, students, exhibitors, researchers, and awardees gathered to showcase the best in communication sciences and disorders, filling cyberspace with 4,472 convention-related tweets and the cavernous Georgia World Congress Center with their presence.
The convention offered 1,833 educational activities—some with overflowing audiences—on the changing health care landscape, emerging therapy apps, new research findings and evidence-based treatments, implementing the Common Core State Standards, and dozens of other topics. The gathering also featured dozens of special events, seminars, receptions, student activities, a research symposium, and a brimming Exhibit Hall rounding out a dizzying array of events.
A Grand Opening
ASHA President Shelley Chabon welcomed the record crowd of 4,500, suggesting that ASHA ask the question: "How can we as an association best approach both the opportunities for and the challenges to our professions with compassion and courage, with trust in our colleagues and with sound evidence that the services we provide are indispensable so that we can sustain the excellent care of which we are capable?"
Chabon indicated that for her, the answer comes back to building partnerships, and cited partnerships forged over the past year with organizations such as NSSLHA, the ASHA Advisory Councils, the Council of Academic Programs in Communication Sciences and Disorders, the American Academy of Audiology, and the Academy of Doctors of Audiology as a foundation for future collaboration.
In their opening remarks, convention co-chairs Celia Hooper and Gregg Givens thanked the members of the planning committee and the more than 400 leaders—audiology and speech language pathology volunteers—who helped create the "outstanding program."
Next to take the stage was Angelou, the celebrated poet, memoirist, novelist, educator, dramatist, producer, actress, historian, filmmaker, civil rights activist, and multilingual speaker. She opened her remarks singing a spiritual: "When it looked like the sun wasn't gonna shine no more, God put a rainbow in the clouds."
Interlacing humor, song, and poetry, Angelou emphasized the spiritual's message: "In the meanest of times, the dreariest, the most threatening of times, there's a possibility of seeing hope...And I know that your organization means to be a rainbow in somebody's cloud."
'We are the Possible...'
Angelou wove a story that chronicled generations and centered on her Uncle Willie, with whom she lived for most of her childhood in Stamps, Ark. She recalled how Willie, a "black, crippled, poor man" in the era of lynchings—"would grab me by my clothes hold me in front of the pot-bellied stove, and he would say, "Now sister, I want you to do your fourses. Sister, do your sevenses. Sister, do your elevenses. I learned my multiplication tables exquisitely. I was so sure that if I didn't, somehow he would manage to hold me, open that pot-bellied stove, and throw me in it. I mean even now, all these years later, after a night of copious libation and loud revelry, I can be awakened at 3 o'clock in the morning, 'Do your elevenses.' I got my elevenses."
Willie's legacy followed Angelou throughout her life. When he died, she stopped in Little Rock en route to Stamps, where the mayor, Charles Bussey—one of the first black mayors in the South—insisted on meeting her. "Because of your Uncle Willie, I am who I am today," Bussey told Angelou. "He gave me a job, paid me 10 cents a week and made me learn to love my times tables."
Angelou recalled that "When I shook his hand, I looked back at Uncle Willie—black, poor, and crippled. And this man has influenced that man to such a degree that he's a mayor." Bussey arranged a convoy to escort Angelou to Stamps. The convoy included "eight huge white men with big guns to look after me," she said. "I went to each one and I gave them a handshake and a big kiss and I said 'Thank you, in the name of my Uncle Willie, I thank you. I thank you.' There, still being a rainbow in my cloud."
Bussey arranged for an attorney to help Angelou in Stamps. Expecting "an older black lawyer with a little paunch," she was surprised to be met by a young white man. "'I'm the only child of a deaf mother,'" Angelou recalls the man saying. "'Mr. Bussey caught hold of me and said I had to love to learn so that I could be something for my mother. And I'm not only a lawyer, I'm in the state legislature.' Willie."
And two years ago, at the dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C., a young white man approached Angelou. "He said, 'Our families have been knowing each other for generations. My grandfather was in the state legislature. He helped you with your property many years ago in Stamps, and I just wanted to meet you and tell you I represent the state of Arkansas now.' Willie!"
Angelou concluded her remarks with "A Brave and Startling Truth," a poem she was asked to write and deliver on the 50th anniversary of the United Nations that says, in part:
We, this people, on a small and lonely planet
Traveling through casual space
Past aloof stars, across the way of indifferent suns
To a destination where all signs tell us
It is possible and imperative that we learn
A brave and startling truth
When we come to it
We must confess that we are the possible
We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world
That is when, and only when
We come to it.
"When the sun won't shine," Angelou said, to a standing ovation, "Someone has got to say, 'I...I am willing to be a rainbow in someone's cloud.'"