Just when I was complaining to my husband that I had writer’s block and wasn’t inspired to post a blog this week, he happened to mention that Kodi Lee, a blind, young autistic man, 22, won “America’s Got Talent.” What could be more inspiring for an autism mom trying to launch her daughter’s singing and acting career? I’m overjoyed for Kodi’s mom, who accompanied her son on and off-stage at each of his performances—not to mention that mother’s courage, determination and hard work that helped Kody become a winner against all odds. I know what that kind of fierce love feels like—years and years of fighting stigma and stereotype—to finally succeed beyond anyone’s wildest expectations. Similarly, I too have blessed by the success of my autistic daughter’s acting debut in Keep the Change. When Samantha’s movie won the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival and earned her a Best Actress Nomination, I thought I would jump out of my skin.
So I can imagine what it felt like for Kodi’s mom, Tina. Not only did her son beat out a Detroit youth choir, a comedian and an acrobatic group, Kody won $1,000,000 and will be headlining at the Paris Hotel and Casino in November. Suddenly, a young, severely disabled young man has launched a career AND has a nice nest egg to support his needs for the rest of his life. Bravo Kody AND Tina! No more invisible labor for Kody and his mom! I can only hope that Samantha and I can follow in their footsteps….
Believe it or not, the American people VOTED for Kodi, and not just the 4 judges! Surprisingly, in our divided (and often superficial) country, people were able to see beyond Kodi’s obvious challenges and appreciate the beauty and the miracle of his amazing talent. This year America did NOT choose the prettiest, the cutest or an obvious minority favorite. Apparently, there is still a sliver of hope in the USA for the disabled and autistic young people, our MOST marginalized population, to live the American Dream. Maybe, just maybe, our country can reclaim its soul in 2020…
When asked how he felt by AGT host, Terry Crews, Kodi replied: “I feel so amazing, unbelievable.” He and his mom were jumping for joy. I remember that feeling. Samantha and I called it our happy dance. Will there be more happy dances in the future for those with autism and other disabilities?
EPIC Players, our neurodiverse non-profit, theater group, is working toward that goal. For the past three years, EPIC has offered free classes and professional training as well as off-off Broadway and cabaret performance opportunities to talented cast members. EPIC actors have already performed in two movies, at the United Nations and on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, and a few have achieved union membership. All EPIC actors who are cast in the company’s main stage productions are paid for their performances and rehearsal time. With the continued love and support of our EPIC audiences, the actor stipends have increased substantially. As a result, EPIC is advocating and pioneering a professional path in the arts for actors with autism and other developmental disabilities.
A big thank you to Kodi Lee, his mom, and the America’s Got Talent audiences for giving EPIC Players and autism moms everywhere the courage to share our voices with the world and dream big. We’re tired of being invisible, marginalized and unpaid.
We want our fair share of the American Dream and can only hope that Kodi’s audience—at least those who live in New York—will also support EPIC Players’ aspirations. Hopefully, some of my readers will be inspired to attend EPIC Players upcoming Cabaret at Joe’s Pub on Sunday, September 22nd.
Come hear Samantha and the rest of EPIC’s talented cast members perform “Songs About Ourselves,” sharing their personal hopes and dreams individually and together. sneak peak of Samantha singing with our Broadway guest – Charles West!