Adversity: Was bullied by fellow students due to the effects of cerebral palsy
Advocacy: Started a nonprofit speakers bureau to educate the public about bullying and overcoming adversity
“By speaking out, I see this transformation. I see people with disabilities become more confident, I see audiences become empowered to believe in themselves and, most of all, I see hope for a better tomorrow. Because the more I speak, the more I learn that we all just want to be accepted for who we are as individuals.”
Beginning in elementary school, Joshua Toch was bullied because of the way cerebral palsy impacted his speech and movement. The bullying carried over to high school when he decided to join the cross country team to improve his strength. Teammates who ran as a pack and supported each other shared no such camaraderie with Joshua. When running hills, for example, team members were unwilling to wait a few minutes for Joshua to meet them at the top and would instead turn their backs when he arrived, taking off before he could catch his breath. There was also lots of name-calling. “I wasn’t happy about my condition and I knew that something in me had to change,” Joshua recalls.
Always seeking to improve, Joshua entered a speech contest in 10thgrade and talked about what it’s like to be bullied. His speech about being taunted, which included the worrisome facts about the pervasiveness of bullying and the resulting thoughts of suicide among teens, left the audience speechless – and earned Joshua third place. Months later, still earning kudos for his presentation, Joshua realized the power that public speaking can have and started the nonprofit Mind Before Mouth. He assembled a panel of young speakers to talk about the adversities they had overcome. Today, Joshua and his colleagues speak at schools, service organization meetings, senior homes and events, sharing their stories and driving home the message: think before you speak. “We share how we got out of situations and we try to bring audiences all around a situation to help them re-evaluate it. We empower people to be the best they can be,” Joshua explains.