DJ Savarese’s Speech for ASAN Gala 2018

Photo of DJ Savarese

Thank you for this award.

I’m grateful to be among us tonight.  I’m grateful we are gathered here tonight to celebrate our people. It’s not often that so many of us are able to gather together in the same room to celebrate our neurodiversity, but when we do there’s always hope, kindness, courage and generosity of spirit.

My life has been an amazing journey of opportunity.  And I show some of that journey in my film Deej, Inclusion shouldn’t be a lottery, not to glorify myself but to show the world what is possible, to disrupt misperceptions about us, and to paint a portrait of interdependence.

It’s my way of giving back for all the chances I’ve been given.

ASAN has been a big supporter of my work since the beginning—through the A C I Summer Leadership Institute, through the A S A N Scholar Fellowship, and through collegiality at presentations I’ve given throughout the years. It’s gratifying to be able to give back.

And the Open Society Foundations Human Rights Initiative has given me the support and confidence I needed to see that my artful advocacy can grow into a national campaign and make a lasting difference in the world. Winning the Peabody was a huge victory for us: 16 judges unanimously determined that our stories matter.  And they got it. They really got it. And most importantly, winning this award tonight assures me that I didn’t sell out to the dominant culture’s idea of us or simply create inspirational porn.

I’m hopeful the film will ask us all how we can help make the world less narrowly focused.

Personally, I strive to do that by living rhizomatically. If I’m living rhizomatically then I’m both spreading out and reaching deep into my community to create change.  I’m using art and teaching and community organizing to plant seeds that I may or may not see grow.

Just this year new groups of alternative communicators have sprouted, some boldly and realistically proclaiming themselves college bound typers. Other groups are finding the courage to become more visible and public about their endeavors.

After seeing the film, seven year old Wils in Kansas City  wanted to put the spotlight on his classmates and their segregated classroom, so he led the fundraising efforts at his school, winning the right to run the victory lap in front of his entire community and calling attention to his classmates, who rarely get acknowledged.

Just last weekend, in Rochester Minnesota, the film encouraged high schoolers to determine their own lives, to dream big, and to ask more from life and from their parents, teachers, and communities than they were currently being offered.

Each seed that’s planted makes us stronger and builds connections between us.

Unlike so-called “true roots”, which have single roots and stems, rhizomes persevere by creating an intricate network of multiple, interconnected root bulbs full of nutrients and resources and grow both vertically and laterally. If cut down, they grow back.  If faced with adverse conditions, they can lie dormant underground for up to a year, rejuvenating themselves before blossoming again. So weeding them out is virtually impossible.

And so today I give thanks for our intricate web of interdependence, self-determination, and perseverance.

May hope live on in all of us— messily, imperfectly, and rhizomatically.

Thank you.