Twenty-six-year-old Brennan Srisirikul is a singer, actor, and a self-proclaimed roller. At birth he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, requiring him to use a wheelchair. He is also a role model. On Tuesday, April 10, he gave a motivational talk at the MVRHS library. Brennan came to make a statement. He delivered a message of bridging the gap on inclusion, diversity, and equality, and he did so with conviction, gusto, and heart.
Some may consider Brennan to be handicapped, he considers himself to be handi-capable; he considers himself to be differently abled rather than disabled.
Brennan traveled to the Vineyard from his home in Boston. In addition to his acting and singing talents, he is an author who is also a representative for the LGBTQ community. He spoke to a room of mixed-grade students, and held their attention for the full 45-minute block.
“I was given a 10 percent chance of living, but as you can see, I’m still here, and I’m shining,” Brennan said, displaying a self-deprecating wit.
“I tried every trick in the book to hide as a kid — don’t ask me how, it’s not easy when you’re in a wheelchair — but I learned that my diversity is a gift. Looking back, I refused to go to camps for kids with disabilities, that was messed up, just denying or avoiding my disability. I was dying to feel included, but I didn’t want any part of being included with my own kind. I had a prejudice against disabled people because I so badly wanted to be in the majority.”
Brennan continued, “Diversity is the sharpest tool in our toolbox. We must use it as a light to let other people see the way. Your diversity is your gift; it is your catalysis to your success. By the way, I’m gay, if you haven’t noticed.”
Brennan appealed to the girls, asking them to get involved with politics and to break barriers. “We can create more change, more women in public office. When I saw the March for Our Lives, I was encouraged. I hear all the time, ‘What do students know?’ But the truth is in their voice and energy. I say bring it. If we are backed by love, compassion, and kindness, we can only propel forward.
“Everyone wants to feel seen and heard. Inclusion is basic,” he said. “It boggles my mind how basic it is. How I wanted to just fit in as a kid, but finally you wake up and realize you can’t fit a round peg through a square hole.
“When people say, I don’t see color, I say you need to see their color. It is a part of them, their heritage, that’s what makes them a whole person. Once we start to accept people for who they are, we are all shining. Creating space in our mind for everyone makes the world a safer place. Not to survive but to strive. When I see your faces,” he said to the students, looking around the library, “I want to see you thrive, and we need to find a way to say, I am here, and I am beautiful and I refuse to hide.”
“You,” he said pointedly, “are the game changers, literally; don’t let anyone tell you differently. It comes from self-love. You look into the mirror and say, I love you. You are so fabulous you are unreal, and the gift you have to share is earth-shattering. We have nothing to prove, only to share.”
Brennan finished his presentation with, “Why would I ever want to fit in, when I can stand out?”
Q and A with Brennan Srisirikul
Q. If you had to change anything about your high school experience, what would you do?
A. I would have taken ownership of my diversity. People sense insecurity. But after … in college, owning it was a game changer.
Q. What advice do you have to students without diversity, or challenges?
A. We all have some diversity; if not, you are saying you are privileged, and your job is to bridge the divide. Reach out to include. I know nothing about living as a black man or woman, so I lean on my black friends to find out how best I can support them
Q.How did you start with your acting career?
A. I saw “Lion King” at age 4, and have been singing and acting ever since.
A. Can you tell us more about the challenges in the industry for people with disabilities who face being overlooked for able-bodied actors?
Q. Yes, I say if we can’t represent ourselves, you are robbing us of a career, and it is the worst. If we can’t play ourselves, who are we going to play? By having able-bodied actors “cripping up” [playing disabled], we really present the notion that a disability is a costume or technical skill, when it is a lived experience. If you are watching someone play deaf, they are naturally acting differently than someone who has signed their whole life, who has lived in their shoes.
Q. You wrote a book for children. Is it important to you that young people understand early in life how and why it’s important to reach out to everyone?
A. The reason I wrote a children’s book came after I realized there were no publications that represented me. “You, Me, Weeeee!” is about inclusion, and inclusion is about everyone. I want to create further space for representation and the true meaning of genuine inclusion.
Q. What do you say to students with invisible disabilities?
A. They are hard to approach; they are hiding or denying their disability. I say, Ask why? Then lean in and be kind.
Brennan Srisirikul: brennansrisirikul.com.