We spoke at Temple Sinai in Atlanta this month and they specifically requested a veteran speaker. This was no problem for the Speakers’ Bureau—we have plenty of members who have served. They asked for his name in advance, so that they could have a name tag made for him. So, we told them well in advance that the speaker’s name was Carlito Muhammed. I don’t think it occurred to any of us beforehand the irony of having a Muslim Veteran speaker addressing a Jewish audience. If there was any tension, it didn’t last long. Carlito had the rapt attention of 200 men, women and children, as he told his compelling story which included material success and a stable, loving family, 26 years of addiction and his recovery. Thirty days after becoming clean and entering into a Gateway Center program, his beloved 17-year-old daughter and protégé in the music business was hit in a head-on collision with a semi on I-285. Many people in the audience remembered that wreck. His daughter was flown to New York, but she told him to stay in Atlanta, because he was where he needed to be. One week later she passed away, but Carlito did not let the tragedy block his road to recovery. He was only 30 days clean when the wreck occurred, but that was seven years ago, and the audience bust into applause when Carlito told them he had been clean for all seven years. There were as many coincidences in the audience as there were wet eyes. Our host, the founder of Second Helpings, was born and raised in Flushing, New York. So was Carlito. Not only did many of the audience members remember that horrible wreck on 1-285, one couple had a 17-year-old daughter who was killed in a head-on collision as well. They told Carlito that they, too, struggled to find meaning and the will to carry on after such a devastating event. There were plenty of hugs, tears and smiles after Carlito spoke. The hosts loaded our cars up with donations and we all felt empowered at the end of a long night and a long week. I think this illustrates one of the powerful secrets of the Speakers Bureau. People who appear different on the surface – Muslim or Jew, homeless or housed – are really very similar where it matters – parents love their children and we all make mistakes, and some of us eventually succeed in overcoming our mistakes, usually through the intercession and the encouragement of others.
To learn more about the Speaker’s Bureau at the Gateway Center, visit this website.