We all start out so unabashedly unashamed. Whatever makes us unique, different, special we regard without concern; we flaunt without a care.
Then, we (or our child) change. Someone. Somehow. Sometime. Something. We find ourselves thrust into the world of judgment, or painfully watch as our children face the same. Does it happen to us or do we allow it to happen? No matter. It was always present, but now we care. Consumed by the opinion of others, we might struggle, sometimes for years.
As we turn the page to 2016, I once again choose to highlight those auspicious people that have demonstrated this past year to their family, friends, neighbors and some even to the public at large, that they have learned not to hide, but rather flaunt whatever makes each of them unique and fabulous.
These phenomenal individuals have not only achieved unconditional self-acceptance, but appreciate its value so fully that just by being themselves they inspire others to do the same.
Born in Queens, New York Di Marco as well as his parents, both of his brothers and his grandparents were all born deaf. Raised by his mother, DiMarco never considered his being deaf a disability that should preclude him from following his dreams of acting and modeling. In the Fall of 2015, DiMarco’s perseverance paid off, winning the title of Cylce 22’s America’s Next Top Model. Currently signed with Wilhelmina Models, DiMarco’s flaunting attitude is infectious. “I strongly believe that being deaf gives me a huge advantage because of my native language, American Sign Language (ASL) because it requires the use of facial expressions and body language expressions. With the rules of ASL immersed into my soul, it helps to bring out stories when I’m modeling for a photo, and makes for an interesting character when I’m acting.’”
This year Don’t Hide It Flaunt It partnered with Scholastic and initiated its “Kids Flaunt” contest to 4th grade students in New York and California. Prompted by the theme, “The Things That Make Me Different Make Me, Me,” Callia Kanaaneh from California earned her Best of the Flaunters 2015 nod by winning this year’s contest with her fabulously flaunting piece, “My Brother Makes Me Different and That’s The Way I Like It.” The piece was about her brother Tim who was born with autism. According to Callia, “A 9-year-girl like me might not want to flaunt something like this but I can’t keep my brother locked up so no one knows about him. I want him to SHINE BRIGHTLY! If you have a problem with that, then you try to take my place in the world! All I want is to have the best for my big brother.”
Born without a right forearm, Marine decided to be a model and didn’t let her physical difference thwart her ambitions. Her first big break came with Nordstrom in 2015 when she modeled for the store’s anniversary catalog. And her career hasn’t slowed down since. Marine walked the runway this past Fall with incredible confidence in Vanderbilt Hall at Grand Central Station along with other models with in New York’s Fashion Week. Marine stated after the show, “I think it’s so cool to be at the front of the line of this change, and being able to open the door and inspire others to open their minds to different models.”
Formerly known as Bruce Jenner, the Olympic decathlete who won the title in the 1976 Montreal games, in the eye of significant public scrutiny Jenner courageously revealed her identity as a trans woman in April 2015 and publicly announced her name change from Bruce to Caitlyn in a July 2015 Vanity Fair cover story. Caitlyn’s strength and commitment to accept herself unconditionally, deserves all of our praise. “I always felt that my greatest asset was not my physical ability, it was my mental ability. First of all, I try to be a positive role model.”
Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Jeroboam Bozeman always felt different because he had a passion for dance, unlike anyone else he knew. As a boy, Bozeman was tormented for liking dance and was once so brutally attacked by a group of boys that people jumped out of their car to help. Despite the continued cruelty and attacks directed at him by his peers, Bozeman had an uncontrollable longing, and didn’t allow the judgment and criticism of others stop him from pursuing what he loved the most. Although it took time and a lot of hard work, was granted full scholarships at the Joffrey Ballet School and Dance Theatre of Harlem and is Bozeman is a gold medal recipient from the NAACP ACT-SO Competition in Dance. He has also now performed in Elton John and Tim Rice’s Broadway musical Aida. Bozeman now is a primary dancer with Alvin Ailey Dance in New York. According to Bozeman, “Dance has always been so healing for me….because it has given me so much insight, I feel as though when I dance, I’m sharing who I am. It’s not a facade. It’s me.”
A highly educated and talented football star, husband and father, Greg Gadson is a retired Colonel in the U.S. Army. A decorated war hero, in 2007, while returning from a memorial service for two soldiers from his brigade, Gadson lost both his legs and severely injured his right arm to a roadside bomb in Baghdad, Iraq. Despite this unexpected life experience, Gadson has proven to himself and to all he should be recognized and praised for continued outstanding achievements. In 2012 Gadson made his acting debut in Battleship an American science fiction naval war film, where he played a war veteran. More recently, Gadson starred in a new CBS series this Fall and also has become a talented an avid photographer, with his works featured in galleries in New York City. As Greg wrote in his 2015 Guest Flaunt essay, “These days I wear my scars proudly, and I do not seek to hide them whatsoever. I’ve come to realize that life is precious, tomorrow is not promised, and every day I wake up is an opportunity to make a difference.”
Born with Cerebral Palsy, Abbey Curran considered herself capable of doing a lot more than most would even dream of trying to accomplish. An American beauty pageant contestant from Iowa who competed in the Miss USA pageant in 2008, Curran was the founder and continues to be the chairwoman of her own non-profit pageant, “The Miss You Can Do It Pageant” which was established for young girls and women with special needs. The Pageant was captured the attention of HBO producers who made a documentary film of her Miss You Can Do It endeavors. Most recently in September, 2015, Curran published an intriguing memoir, “The Courage to Compete: Living With Cerebral Palsy and Following My Dreams.” Reflecting in her own 2015 Guest Flaunt, Curran shared her wisdom with the DHIFI audience, “I’ve learned that in pushing myself through the barriers of others sometimes harsh opinions and judgments, I was able to fulfill not only my own goals, living up to my life’s potential, but create a path to encourage countless others to do the same.”
Galloway joined the military in 2001 and became a Sergeant. In December 2005, during his second deployment, Galloway was severely injured in an explosives attack. He lost his left arm above the elbow and his left leg above the knee. Also, his right leg and jaw were also badly injured. Despite the trauma, Galloway has proven he is quite the fabulous flaunter, and worthy of attention and praise from us all. Not only has Galloway become a successful model and spokesperson, in the Spring of 2015 Galloway placed third on the 20th season of Dancing With the Stars, a popular American television show. According to Galloway, “We must appreciate and never underestimate our own inner power.”
Spring Awakenings Cast
For those that saw the original show on Broadway several years ago, Spring Awakening story hinges on whether or not people can understand each other, whether they’re willing to try, how beautiful a person’s life can be when someone, anyone, effectively communicates with someone else, and how tragic life can be when people fail to hear and to be heard. With that in mind, it was extraordinary to learn of Deaf West Theatre’s recent revival of Spring Awakening that opened in September 2015 at the Brooks Atkinson to phenomenal reviews. The production also ran at the White House, where the show was being spotlighted as an exemplar of the push for greater access in the arts for people with physical and other kinds of challenges. When director Michael Arden was recently interviewed about what he hoped people were thinking about when they left the theater, he remarked, “I hope people leave thinking about the importance of clear communication. I hope people take away a sense of questions about how they might parent. And if anything, I hope that people might come to this show and leave it being able to begin a conversation they might have otherwise been afraid to have.”
Profiled in the inaugural Best of the Flaunters, Nick Newell deserves our recognition for his incredible career as a hugely successful Mixed Martial Arts fighter. Born without one of his forearms, Nick persevered even after years of being told that a one-handed fighter couldn’t compete at the highest levels of MMA. Fueled by his unconditionally supportive and devoted mother ,Newell proved doubters wrong by racking up a perfect record en route to an ultimately unsuccessful bid for the WSOF lightweight title. As one article described it, having decided to retire this year, Newell never set out to be simply good ‘for a congenital amputee.’ “I’m not just going to be a good fighter for someone with one hand. I’m not shooting for mediocrity or to prove that people with handicaps can do things because that’s already been proven. I compete to (be) one of the best in the world.” You are one of the greats in this world Nick, in the ring or outside. Mission accomplished.