This blog series is a focus on people who are working to make a difference. Whether it be on the web or in their local community, by whatever means of action, and no matter what the initiative is, these individuals striving to make whatever change are not on all occasions acknowledged their goodwill and encouragement towards others.
Through these portraits, I intend to illustrate that whomever that is aspiring to make a difference, no matter how tiny, has the power to do so. These portraits will answer several questions, from the person’s own childhood dreams to the launch and subsequent success of her project.
RUSSELL LEHMANN – PUBLIC SPEAKER / AUTISM ADVOCATE
RUSSELL LEHMANN is a 25-year-old public speaker. He advocates for autism awareness, as he happens to have autism himself. He wants to be a ‘voice of the unheard’. He is also a published author. In 2011, he published Inside Out: Stories and Poems from an Autistic Mind which was featured in the LA Times and was recognized by earning an Honorable Mention at the 2012 NY Book Festival and winning the award for Literary Excellency at the 2013 International Autistic People’s Awards in Vancouver, Canada.
I would like to thank him once again for being part of this series.
♢ In your early life, did you have any role models?
In all honesty, I have always looked upon myself has my own role model. I am a man of integrity, principles and morals, and these values have guided me through my darkest days.
♢ What career did you pursue? Was it related to your dreams and goals?
After many hits and misses, successes and failures, I ultimately pursued the career of public speaking, which is taking off like a rocket. It is directly related to my dreams and goals in that I advocate and spread awareness, acceptance and understanding about autism, which has been a huge part of my life and continues to contribute to the man I am today. My life’s goal is to use my experiences on the autism spectrum, and the lessons I’ve learned from these experiences, to help others. I can’t let all the pain and agony I’ve been through, and continue to go through, to be for nothing.
♢ What issues matter to you and why? Have you ultimately decided to shed a light on them? How has it affected you?
The issue of mental health is very important to me due to the fact that it has been a major part of my life. I travel the country giving speeches about not only autism, but other disabilities as well. I take pride in being a voice for the unheard, for I know how frustrating and challenging it is to go unnoticed. I’m honored and humbled to be able to give hope to families and parents who are concerned with their child’s future, just as my parents once were.
The feedback I receive after each speech I give, individuals walking up to me in tears, thanking me for speaking up, is the best feeling in the world.
♢ How did you come up with the idea of becoming a speaker?
I decided to become a public speaker due to the fact that I knew I could help countless families and individuals by simply sharing my story, and the lessons I’ve learned from all the ups and downs I’ve faced. I have come a long, long way in life, from an extremely low-functioning individual with autism, who could barely take care of himself, to a successful, confident young man, who takes pride in embracing anything life may throw at him.
♢ Did you have any objectives in mind when you started?
My main objective when I started speaking, and which still holds true today, is to let others know that there is no limit for how much they can progress in life. When we take the risk of pushing ourselves outside of our comfort zones, the capacity for personal and emotional growth is exponential.
♢ What encouraged you to keep working on such a project?
Knowing how many lives I’ve changed, and how many people I’ve helped, greatly encourages me to never stop advocating for those who are going through dark times. I have been through many, many dark times in my life, and I feel that it is my duty to help show others the light.
AN ACCOMPLISHED PROJECT
♢ Did you encounter any difficulties while advocating for this cause?
It is always difficult to say “If I can do it, then you can do it” because no two people are the same. We all have our unique challenges, and our own way of overcoming these challenges, so when I speak, it is a tricky balance between sharing my story and motivating others to succeed in their own struggles, for I will never know what each individual goes through.
Unifying and coming together to embrace our challenges, and to run towards them, instead of away from them, is a message that I believe everybody can relate to.
♢ What is your favorite thing about taking part in such meaningful actions?
The impact I have on others, motivating them to be the best version of themselves that they can be, is extremely rewarding to me.
♢ As of today, what are you most proud of as regards to advocating?
My proudest moments are when I inspire others to not give up, but to keep going, because life DOES get better, you just have to believe it will. Establishing hope and confidence in others in order to save lives is tremendously gratifying to me.
♦︎ WHAT WOULD YOU TELL A YOUNG PERSON ASPIRING TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE?
Go all out in your endeavors. Give everything you have to your willingness to make a difference in this world. Always follow your heart, and dream big. Believe in yourself, and soon others will believe in you as well.
Thanks again to Russell for accepting the interview!
Missed one post of the Making A Difference — Portrait series? Check it out now:
- Part 1: Dani DiPirro, the author & blogger behind ‘Positively Present’
- Part 2: Chelsie Prince, founder of Proud and Pretty In Pink
- Part 4: Naomi Lea, mental health campaigner & volunteer
- Part 5: Carla, founder of Run The World Association