These two speeches were shared at NFTY Convention 2019 during our closing ceremonies centered around making change. We learn from Glory and Sarah that a big part of making change is understanding that it doesn’t actually have to mean that you’re reaching thousands of people at once. Change can be made by impacting just one person’s life, or a group of people.
By Glory Mayreis, NFTY New York Area Region
My name is Glory Mayreis, I use she/they pronouns, and I have a younger brother, Jesse, by 46 minutes. So I guess you could say that we’re twins… But I’m still older. (Jesse appears on the screens) Oh look, there he is! OOOH! AAAH! Wow, his hair is longer than yours! I’ve gotten all of it. So now that you have that visual I’d like to tell a short story.
Picture this: Middle school-aged Glory and Jesse are bored on a beautiful summer day, so we find a few cans of silly string and decide to duel! Later, as we’re picking up our mess, BAM something smacks me upside the head – my brother had beaned me with one of the cans. While I’m gushing blood from my noggin, my brother begins to hysterically cry and frantically apologize. This pretty much sums up our relationship and the slightly longer story I’m about to tell next.
Sometimes siblings are your #1 BFF, and sometimes your biggest rival. Jesse and I are pretty much on the same wavelength now, but it hasn’t always been that way.
I am a proud queer individual. But back in the days of the silly string can incident, I definitely was not. After a few years of questioning, denial, and exploration, in the eighth grade, I had finally come to terms with my LGBTQ identity. A year later, standing outside our Temple on a Friday night, I came out to my brother. At first, this came as a bit of a shock to him. It’s not a topic anyone in my family was very familiar with, including myself. We didn’t talk about it much, but when we did, it was usually a very short, uncomfortable conversation; we’d change the topic as soon as we could. As I became more comfortable with the topic myself, I tried to talk to Jesse more about LGBTQ rights and pride. I explained why certain words were inappropriate and offensive, such as using the word gay as a synonym for stupid. A common theme in most of our conversations was him making jokes, but not in a directly offensive way – it was his way of coping with what he couldn’t understand. But, I didn’t give up hope.
Eventually, my brother became more comfortable asking questions, especially personal ones. He asked why I wanted to go to Pride [Parade], what different identities meant, and why people use they/them pronouns. I explained to him that this identity has given me a second family and motivated me to speak up on issues, that gender and sexuality are spectrums people can fall on, and that it is okay to not fit in a certain box. As much as I could see him trying to grasp all this information, it still wasn’t quite clicking. I wanted to help him understand as much as I could, but I wasn’t sure by what meant since I didn’t have the resources myself.
Then one weekend in spring 2018, Jesse and I attended a youth leadership event with a guest speaker named Kate Akerman from the LGBT Network of Long Island. We sat listening on long benches, filling this wooden lodge in Riverhead, NY as she explained the definitions and differences between sex, gender, and sexuality, something I hadn’t been fully able to do. Honestly, I was learning as much as Jesse was. After hearing her story and crash course on everything queer, I went up to thank her. But my brother had beaten me to it. He was already engaged in full conversation with Kate. When he was done, he pulled me aside and said the one thing I had been longing to hear since this all began. He said, “I understand. I think I get it now.” And I just hugged him. I might have even cried. It was such a profound moment because it was the first time someone in my close family recognized how important this community is to me. Knowing my twin brother would be there for me, especially for this part of me, was the biggest relief. Soon, LGBTQ topics became normalized with him, and I could talk about it like he talked about lacrosse.
A simple act like this was enough to change one person. That one person can now go on to inform and change another life, or many. So I challenge each and every one of you to live your most authentic lives with intention because you never know who’s watching and who needs it most.
By Sarah Friedman, NFTY Garden Empire Region
As a kid, I always wondered why humans are as close as we are. Why we have this need to be together, why we cannot survive without one another, why we want to find that someone special and let ourselves drown in the love and affection they give. As I got older and wiser (which some would argue), I realized that it’s human instinct to crave deep relation because we need connection. That’s what it’s about. But, connection doesn’t have to be this huge thing. It can be small things, too, that make just as big of an impact.
Think about the people you make eye contact with on the street. Do you smile at them? Or do you just look away? Whatever it may be, that’s a connection. Some good, some bad, some memorable, and some that just pass us by.
It’s what you do with connection that matters most. If you make eye contact with that stranger and look away, it’s just a glance. But, if you do something with that glance, that’s an impact. If you smile at that stranger, you could make their day. Connections lead to impact.
And impact leads to change.
I’ll tell you a story – let’s take it back to 2008. I was eight years old, I had an underbite, I was missing my two of my front teeth, and I had pigtails like you’d never seen before. My mom dropped me off at my first day of cheer practice on a stale, August evening in my hometown of Hillsborough, New Jersey. I looked around at the other girls there and hid behind my mother.
Change is scary. This was my first sport and these were new people and new things I would be experiencing. I don’t blame eight-year-old Sarah for being kind of scared of what was to come. Little did I know how much of an impact cheerleading would have on my life. As I grew older, I stuck with it. I joined a competitive cheerleading team and made tons of friends.
But when I reached 7th grade, my coach approached me with an opportunity, asking me to be a “junior coach” (along with an adult coach) to a younger team. I jumped at coaching because I wanted to spread my love and passion for cheer to others. And also because I like kids. Y ouknow, they’re just so cute.
After an interview, I was offered a position coaching the cheerleading team for students with disabilities. I had grown up with some of the girls, and befriended them – they attended the same elementary school as me; in 1st or 2nd grade, we played jump rope together during recess. I jumped at the chance to coach them because they were a part of my past that I knew could be part of my future.
Flash forward a year and a half: Our cheer team was called the “Gems,” and we truly were the Hidden Gem of Hillsborough. Soon, though, we’d be graduating cheerleading and moving on to High School. The December weather was cold but our hearts were warm as we said goodbye to our cheer team. We rejoiced together as we performed our dance one last time for the other cheerleaders and our parents – but after that day, it seemed cheer was over, not just for me as a coach and as a competitive cheerleader but for the students with disabilities as well.
Freshman year of high school was a breeze. Classes were pretty easy, I joined theatre, and I didn’t continue my cheerleading career, though I did see some of the girls from our squad around school from time to time. Seeing them made my day, and when our eyes met, their smiles lit up the halls. I missed them a lot.
People always say that high school is when you find out who your true friends are, because people can grow apart or become closer. I didn’t want to grow apart from these girls who were my friends – so when I got an email from a mom of one of the Gems asking if I wanted to help her put a team together, I immediately said yes, excited for what was to come. I met after school with her, a resource teacher who would soon become our coach, and a representative from The Sparkle Effect, the organization who helped us kickstart our cheer team.
I was ecstatic to be a part of something so special that would help change our community. This cheer team wasn’t about creating something for people who didn’t have – it was about creating something for all of us to have together.
Soon the legacy of the Rockin’ Raiders began: an inclusive cheerleading team for students with and without disabilities at our high school.
We cheer at football, soccer, and basketball games, for boys and girls Junior Varsity and Varsity teams at our high school. It hasn’t always been easy for us being part of such a huge change at our high school. Some typically developed students weren’t fully prepared for our team and what we had to offer – but because of the kind hearts of our students and staff, our team was ultimately welcomed with open arms. As the years went on, we began to grow, and we are now 18 members strong. We perform our dance – that we all work very hard on – during halftime of the games we cheer at. Recently, the mayor of our town issued a proclamation in support of our team.
I can stand up here and talk about the Rockin’ Raiders all day - believe me. But, why am I really here in front of you? I want to challenge you to make change. The change you discover doesn’t have to be a huge change. Every impact we make can have an even bigger impact on someone else.
You can change a life with just one act of that you commit to and pursue. Maybe you can’t change the whole world, but you can definitely change the world for someone.