What is the Summit?
This year’s Summit was one of eight official events. The first was in 2005 with a sort of test event in 2003 that could make this years the ninth overall. On the website, No Barriers describes the event as such: “The No Barriers Summit New York City is the place where leaders, change-makers and aspiring visionaries from all walks of life unite to discover how to bring the No Barriers Life to a world ready for greater possibilities.” However, they don’t tell you about how much the event truly has the ability to change you. I saw people cry tears of joy, I saw them break down barriers that they placed on themselves in their lifetime, but more importantly I saw them break down the barriers others have placed on them. This event offers classes and panels from experts in their respective fields that the attendees can take home and apply to their own lives. These classes are everything from rock wall climbing, adaptive boxing, yoga, and CrossFit to things like Broadway and music classes, new technology and so much more. I’ll let you in on my experiences with the classes I attended and the people behind them.
Innovation, Organization, and Twerking
Let’s start with innovation, because face it, you’re not ready to hear about me twerking and I certainly wasn’t aware I would be learning how.
No Barriers Life Panel
I chose the No Barriers Life Panel for my first class. I was able to hear from masterminds like Chef Michael Lomonaco who is a world renowned chef and the owner of Porter House in New York City. I learned from the creator of the first 3-d printed prosthetic hand and founder of E-Nable that there is an amazing community of people working to help those in third world countries. Dr. Ann Spungen of the School of Medicine in Mount Sinai taught us about the history and future of spinal cord injuries, and the pop culture specialist Mike Muse beautifully moderated the session.
It began with Dr. Ann Spungen, with her esteemed example Mr. Wu seated at the edge of the stage in an exoskeleton suit. Mr. Wu is a spinal cord injury subject and graced us with a demonstration at the end of Dr. Spungen’s educational presentation. We learned of the progression of these devices and also what stands in the way of said progression, mainly funding. The research facilities at Mount Sinai have been working hard to help progress the abilities of those with spinal cord injuries. You can follow their progress and support their development at https://icahn.mssm.edu/research/spinal-cord-injury to help others break down barriers. She shared a video with us of four spinal cord injury patients, which really I prefer to call them athletes, that completed a one mile race in the exo suits. These are people that, without the assistance of the suits, do not have function of the lower portion of their bodies. She informed us that there has yet to be a plateau in the progress these athletes have from utilizing the suit. With proper training, they improve things such as strength, bowl movement, and overall well-being.
Next we hear from Chef Michael Lomonaco and I’m not going to lie about how emotional the man made me. It came out of left field and smacked me right in the face. I had no idea what the man was about to hit me with. He was extremely grateful to be on the Life Panel and even jested that he wasn’t sure why they would select him for the event. He is currently the owner of Porter House New York which Esquire Magazine called one of America’s Best New Restaurants when it opened back in 2006. He’s known for being the chef and director of the once famous restaurant Windows on The World, a restaurant within the first tower of the World Trade Center. This is where he gets me, hook, line, and sinker. He begins by telling us about his upbringing as a New Yorker, how he became a chef, and his passion for food. He then describes, with heartfelt detail, the way he loved his restaurant family. He spoke about his customers only as guests in his restaurant home and his staff as family. When the holidays would arrive, they would all celebrate together, dressed in the festive garb of their own countries. The world was truly represented in this restaurant and it was represented with love. Each word he spoke painted a picture of culture, love, compassion. Then he punched me in the face and made me cry. Nobody makes me cry my own tears, well, almost nobody. He then begin to describe the happenings of September 11th, 2001. How that morning, instead of going up to his office, he stayed on the first floor to get his glasses fixed. How his optometrist held on to his frames as they felt a massive shaking of the building. The evacuation, the realization of what was happening, and the sheer feeling that is your very heart breaking when you realize that your family is up there. My heart broke for him. It broke because I knew I would never be able to truly relate. I know where I was that day. I was in the 6th grade, in Mrs. Novosad’s English class, watching on the school’s news channel. It’s not the same. I didn’t know anyone in New York at the time, I had barely been outside of Texas. There’s no way for me to fully relate. This weekend made it more real though, which I’ll add to in just a bit. Chef, I know why No Barriers selected you. You have overcome, re purposed your life in a positive way, and you continue to elevate those around you. What I learned next was that he helped create a fund, which raised 22 million dollars the first year (they have since stopped fundraising), that would provide funds for the families of the staff that perished that day. Even the new born that was born the day after, which they will send to college with the funding. They started as a family and they continue as such.
Finally to the stage was Ms. Jen Owens. As I was sitting in the crowd, I found her to be difficult to read. Her face was serious, nodding occasionally in agreement to something being said, but still very stoic. Looking back now, I see what you did there Jen. You sly dog you. You show up in your business attire, professional resting face, and sit there like you don’t know that you are about to punch the audience as well. I see you. She stands up and quietly starts speaking into the microphone, like a business mouse. Then they turn up the microphone and she hit me with it. She shows a picture of her and her family dressed in super hero attire, my first thought was some kind of race or event. I was wrong. She then informs us of the beginnings of E-Nable. A non-profit that helps 3-D print prosthetic hands for those in need all over the world. It began with cosplay. Ohh, now the costumes make since. Punches in face. The mouse hath broketh out of its quiet little business suit in exchange for Wonder Woman. And I absolutely loved it. The organization started with a man in Africa seeing a metal hand that they made for a cosplay event. He asked if they could help make him a hand which started probably the busiest but most fruitful of adventures for them. They shared of all the beginning models and how now many people from all over have started helping others with limb differences. They are even beginning to design prosthetic legs with their 3-D printers. The best part is, they made sure that the design is free for others to use. Meaning they don’t profit anything from of the design being used. Now others can improve the design and those in need have access. Some of the things that have stopped E-Nable from lending their “Helping Hands” is things like governments of other countries holding their supplies at an extra cost just because they know it’s needed. Also, it’s pretty difficult to design a custom prosthetic for someone halfway across the world. No matter the obstacle, these super heroes (and villains when they dress appropriately) continue to move the 3-D printing world forward and help those in need. Find out more about the organization here: http://enablingthefuture.org/
Now when I selected this class, I had no idea what to expect. All I knew was that we were going to hear from some very successful women. For me, I selected this class to go past my comfort zone. I’m the girl that has always gotten along with guys easier. Maybe it’s because I grew up with brothers and I feel I can relate. Perhaps it’s because more often than not, women tend to assume I am (insert derogatory term women use towards women they don’t know or like) simply by looking at me. What I did know, was if I was going to test the limits, No Barriers Summit was the safest place for me to be out of my comfort zone.
This class was moderated by the lovely Tonya Dalton, founder of Inkwell Press. She was the one I wanted to speak to from the very beginning no matter how interesting the other panelists were. Why? Because the woman has it together, and I don’t always. Ha! No really, Inkwell Press is about organizing and prioritizing. We walk/roll into the room, there are all abilities at this event, and the first thing on the table is a simple outline to fill out. “Your Ideal Day.” We closed our eyes and thought to ourselves how our perfect day would be. What would we do, or not do? Who was there, or not there? In the end, my day looked very simple, lacked social media, and was nothing like it is now. I’ve got some work to do to get to that but it’s all a process. She moderated the lovely ladies that sat in cream leather chairs. Beautiful faces, smiling. All different from one another.
First was Marshawn Evans Daniels, a woman who started with humble beginnings but who would rise higher than most. She went on the be lawyer, a finalist on Miss America, and a competitor on the hit show The Apprentice. She described how she use to be a lawyer for professional athletes and how she was treated as a woman and a black woman. She gave us insight on how dedicated she was in her schooling and other aspects in life and how at times she wasn’t quite where she wanted to be. She was a people pleaser, which I can relate to. It gets you nowhere and only pushes you further from your goals. She was even set to be married and the day before, she found out he had been cheating on her. Naturally she was heartbroken. She had dropped her goals for this person and suddenly she was lost. A woman who was so accomplished was just stuck. She had to renew her thinking and stop living for others so much and live for herself. Happily, she proclaimed she has found the love of her life and that they had been married. Throughout her struggles, she kept to her beliefs and coaches others how to do what they need to succeed.
Then we have Sarah Herron, an absolutely gorgeous woman who lifts the room with her smile. She was the first woman with a disability to be on the hit TV show The Bachelor. More importantly is the non-profit she created called SheLift. Their mission is as follows: “SheLift is a 501 (c)3 organization that empowers girls with physical differences to improve self-acceptance and confidence through outdoor adventures and body-positive mentorship. SheLift provides experiences to young women with disabilities to help them live authentic lives and connect with others. SheLift aims to normalize differences while developing, challenging, and nurturing girls’ physical and emotional abilities.” Sarah may not have found love on the Bachelor, but she did find love for herself. She had to break down the barriers she placed on herself mentally and find that she is worthy of happiness. Now, she spreads this mission to other girls and women with limb differences and the impact is amazing. Check out the website for more info: http://www.shelift.org/
The next was another one of my favorite moments on this trip. It’s one of my favorites because she was keynote speaker that was breaking barriers simply by sitting in front of a room full of people. Dorothy Beal is the creator of I Run This Body. She has utilized running as a form of healing in her life and spreads that to others. Dorothy describes once having anxiety so bad that she couldn’t even walk into her school cafeteria. As she’s speaking, you can feel her heart pounding halfway across the room. She mentions how nervous she was having to follow after Sarah and Marshawn but I feel she turned the nervous energy into a form of raw emotion that the others in the room could relate to. She has accomplished 36 marathons and I feel that number will only increase as she grows with this life. I absolutely loved being a part of a growing moment for her, another opportunity to break down her barriers and fears. She is stronger with each experience.
Twerk With Whatcha Got