NBA veteran focusing on the bigger picture of being the voice of the voiceless
When it comes to reaching the top of the mountain in basketball, most would consider winning a national championship at the collegiate level and then heading to the NBA as an all-timer.
For Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, his calling in life turned out to be much more significant.
Kidd-Gilchrist starred at the University of Kentucky under all-world head coach John Calipari, winning a national championship in 2012 and then being selected second by Charlotte in the 2012 NBA draft. He would have an accomplished professional career, playing eight seasons with the Bobcats (later named Hornets) before a quick stint in Dallas. Through it all, he always remembered his roots, hosting basketball camps and giving back to those in need.
That’s when he took a step back and realized his true calling came in the form of a desire to help others who live with stuttering, something Kidd-Gilchrist has dealt with his whole life and knows just how difficult things can be on a day-to-day basis.
To date, there are approximately 3 million people in the United States who stutter, according to the National Institute of Health. Looking to make an impact, Kidd-Gilchrist established Change & Impact in 2021, an organization dedicated to improving access to healthcare and expanding services and resources for those who stutter.
The organization has seven significant goals:
* Pass a healthcare bill that supports stuttering intervention research and improves speech therapy insurance coverage,
* Explore research funding to expand outcomes data on the efficacy of speech therapy,
* Empower families on how to navigate the healthcare system for speech therapy,
* Work with key stakeholders to establish a standardized definition of stuttering,
* Target efforts towards primary care provider education on speech therapy clinical protocols and referrals,
* Educate insurance carriers on the efficacy and medical need of speech therapy for the stuttering community,
* Enhance speech therapy education and training for the stuttering community and other industries.
Another vital part of his mission includes traveling the country and speaking at camps, colleges, and universities. He visited CSU on July 14, speaking candidly about his mission to help others and tell his own story, including overcoming his fear of speaking to the media while in the NBA spotlight and how he deals with his stuttering daily.
“I have been through being teased, being picked on in the media, went through the school system [and it] definitely wasn’t easy; every day it was something different, [but] when it was Covid, I had seen people in the world, in the place where I had always been,” Kidd-Gilchrist said. “Just being isolated as a person who stutters, we are often in those situations from education and also socially; I was comfortable there and found my voice.”
Cleveland State currently offers a Speech Pathology program, and the department maintains student-training liaisons with many hospitals, clinics, and schools in Greater Cleveland. Students can also gain clinical experience by providing speech, language, and audiological services to clients through the state-of-the-art on-campus Speech and Hearing clinic.
Blare Taylor is a 2021 CSU graduate currently serving as a Speech Language Pathologist. She said Kidd-Gilchrist reached out to her and explained what the goal of Change and Impact was, and since, she has been an advocate for what he has been trying to accomplish.
“I met Michael because he actually reached out, and as a speech-language pathologist, he wanted to reach out to me because he’s an individual who stutters,” said Taylor. “He also told me about his organization which is to advocate, educate, and give voices to individuals who stutter.”
“As an ally (to Michael), I am looking forward to him continuing to reach out to individuals and be the voice of people who stutter because a lot of people do isolate themselves when they do have these speech deficits,” said Taylor.
“I [also] look forward to him continuing to change and impact to reach out to others and provide health insurance and just to educate our staff, future speech pathologists, current speech pathologists, and other faculty members [and even] family members who are experiencing what he is experiencing; I am hoping that we will just make it a change and impact for the community.”
Kidd-Gilchrist also pointed to the fact that being able to speak on campuses across the United States, such as CSU, has helped his cause.
“I appreciate the fact that I do have a platform and a name, and a lot of people ask me why I’m not playing [basketball] right now, [and it’s because] this is something that I go through but not only that, I feel responsible as I see people who stutter in a place where I was and I know that I have the name to kind of move things forward.”
He also touched on the fact as to why it was essential to come to Cleveland, citing his previous link to the city.
“I spent some time here as a senior and leading up to the NBA draft – I went to high school with Kyrie Irving – and I spent a lot of time with [Irving, when he was] here in Cleveland, and there’s not a lot of programs in the country, but also black faces that I have met along the way,” he said. “Also, I’m really tight with Senator [Sherrod] Brown and his team, and he has a strong interest in this [along with] the path and mission that I expressed to him; I want to get a bill introduced at the federal level."
Kidd-Gilchrist's mission was not ignored; Brown has taken the initiative, co-writing a letter with Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA) this past February and sending it to U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, Department of Defense Under Secretary for Personnel and Readiness Gil Cisneros, and U.S. Office of Personnel Management Director Kiran Ahuja. Their mission? To request more information regarding federal health benefits available to those who stutter and to better understand the gaps in coverage.
Some of it reads:
Speech therapy and access to Speech Language Pathologists (SLPs) remains one of the most effective ways to treat and manage an individual's stutter. Through speech therapy, individuals are educated on how to identify when they stutter and how to break down barriers in communication through specialized speech interventions. To help us better understand current coverage policy and supports available to identify any existing barriers to care, we request information regarding federal coverage for the assessment, diagnosis, and follow-up speech therapy under the following programs: Medicare, Medicaid, CHAMPVA, TRICARE, and the FEHB program.
To read the entire letter, please click here.
Kidd-Gilchrist also talked about the support he has received along this journey, making it a point to discuss two people who have made a significant impact through unbridled encouragement.
“[The first is] my speech therapist in Kentucky, whom I was fortunate because she specializes in stuttering because there are not a lot of people who are like that,” said Kidd-Gilchrist. “[The second would be my] oldest daughter; having that bond with her and she [also] understands who I am as a person, and I’m able to show her how to speak up for yourself in moments and face your fears.”
Moving forward, Kidd-Gilchrist will continue to travel and spread the word about his stuttering, hoping he can continue to make a difference and show those going through the same thing that there is, in fact, light at the end of the tunnel.
“All of this doesn’t work without you guys in this room; this path and this mission is something that I am very honored and passionate about,” said Kidd-Gilchrist. “I don’t like attention, but I know that people are watching; those kids in the school systems or college need to be aware [and] hear my story.”
For more information on Change & Impact, please visit https://changeandimpactinc.org/