About the presenter: Anthony Valle grew up in Houston, TX in a community that knows drugs and danger. A 20 year police officer working in the Public Affairs Division he regularly does bullying and career presentations throughout the city. He and his wife have raised five children together. A covert stutterer most of his life Anthony has accepted his stuttering, willing to risk failure, standing up to the bullies, learning from other people and having the support of the NSA (which is joined two years ago) has allowed him to apply what he has learned.

You can post Questions/comments about the following paper to the author before October 22, 2012.

Stuttering With an Attitude

by Anthony Valle
from Houston, Texas

Lifelong learning begins with a heart that desires change, wisdom and application. Accepting and understanding my stuttering, having persistence and being the best person I can be no matter the circumstances have helped me succeed. I've also surrounded myself with positive people and have had unending support from my parents, wife and kids. I had to change the way I thought and gain a sense of direction to be capable of succeeding. Self-control and becoming willing to risk failure were traits that I developed along the way. Everyone I encountered has allowed me to learn from them. I've been fortunate to have been allowed to apply what I learned and will continue to learn and grow.

I was born in Houston Texas, raised in the city's Northside. I had always been an easy kid to get along with, raised by my parents who taught me to be a down-to-earth and grounded person. I was taught to be kind and helpful to people, perform unselfish acts of friendship and to be sincere and self-giving. I had not developed an image of myself as a communicator growing up, I believed the whole world communicated and talked like me.

When I began elementary school and started to interact with my peers I realized I was different. Other kids began to ask me, "What is the matter with you? Why do you talk that way? Why do you talk with your hands? Why do you blink your eyes and shake your head that way? Are you retarded?" I did not have an answer and I didn't understand.

My first real painful reality check with stuttering happened in elementary school, the teacher had the whole class take turns reading. I would always read ahead and count the number of paragraphs and the number of students in line to read the story and practice the paragraph in my mind. When it was my turn I would already have the paragraph rehearsed and could read without any major problems. One day the teacher changed the order of the story and asked me to start on a new page. I panicked; "No way this can't this be happening, I needed time to rehearse the story in my mind." I could not back out I had to read the story and I and stuttered horribly. I could not pronounce any of the words. I began to sweat, my heart was pounding, and my face flushed as I covered my face with my hands trying to hide my face so I can push the words out. I remember the pain and embarrassment when the other kids began to snicker. I tried and tried to push the words out -- nothing; just gasps of air. The teacher stopped me and said, "You cannot read, you don't need to be in this class, collect your books and go see the counselor, you need to change your schedule."

I packed up my books and began to cry in class, hearing whispers in the room saying, "crybaby", "stupid", "retarded". I left the class and sat in a hallway crying, asking God, "Why can't the words come out? What's happening to me? What was wrong with me?" I was different - not like other kids. The other kids can say what they wanted to say anytime they wanted to say it. The teachers placed me in special classes for a few days to help me read. I eventually told my parents who came to the school and talked with the teachers and principal. The school agreed to take me out of the special classes and place me in speech class.

When I began speech therapy, we began reading aloud. According to my speech therapist my mind worked faster than my mouth. She said my tongue was lazy and it needed exercise. She had me stick my tongue out and move it side to side and up and down 100 repetitions to start and we ended the day with 500 repetitions. My homework assignment was to practice sticking my tongue out and moving it up and down and side to side. My speech therapist meant well and I tried hard to make this method work but her therapy was not effective! I still stuttered.

Johnny, Mitchell, Keneray, Tony, James and Jesse were the bullies in school and the neighborhood. They would walk around school bullying and teasing other kids. These boys made fun of me constantly. I used humor and laughed as I walked away when they called me stupid, retarded, ignorant and dummy. One day, as we played sports in the playground, I defended myself and spoke up against the teasing. I was angry and tired of the jokes that day and I began to cry fight back. Other friends nearby came to my aide and pushed and shoved the bullies away. One on one I was an even match for any bully kid, it's when the bully's formed into one gang they became a real threat. The gang began to chase me every day during and after school for speaking up and defending myself. The bullying and chasing went on throughout elementary school and on to middle school. I learned new ways and new routes to get home. When the dismissal bell rang I learned to be the first one out the classroom and would climb over a 6 foot chain link fence and run home as fast as I could. I remember seeing the bullies at the end of the intersection running after me screaming "We're going to get you!"

On the last day of school the gang left early and waited behind an abandoned house. I did not run home that day but kept looking over my shoulder and was ready to run at the first sign of trouble. I decided it was safe enough to walk a girl home along with some friends. Johnny, Mitchell, Tony and Keneray jumped out with beer bottles in hand and cornered me against a wall of a house. I did not have a place to run because I was blocked by the house and I was afraid of getting hit with a bottle in the back of my head. I had a better chance of ducking and jumping when the bottles were thrown. The first bottle was thrown towards my legs and I jumped as the glass exploded near my feet. The gang of bullies laughed and said "Let's make him dance." As the bottles landed near my feet, I jumped every time. They threw around 15 bottles and twice as many fake throws just for laughs. When the bottles were done Mitchell, Keneray and Tony held me down while Johnny choked and punched me. While this was going on I began thinking how all this started -- I stuttered. They made fun of me and I reacted. I asked Johnny why he was so mad at me and hated me. He said, "I forgot" as he choked me until I collapsed. Just before passing out I heard Johnny say," I whipped this retarded ass." I awoke a few minutes later and saw what appeared to be the whole school standing around me. I was able to recover and run home. I have never forgotten about the incident.

As the years passed, Johnny, Mitchell, Keneray and Tony moved on to bully other kids, sniffing paint, and crime. But James and Jesse, two brothers, took their place, bullying and teasing in middle school. We began as friends but when we played sports together the bullying would start. Jesse would slap the back of my head during a football game when I had trouble getting words out. Maybe Jesse believed if he slapped my head the words would come out, but I became angry and pushed back. From that point both brothers bullied me.

Despite what I did, the bullying never ended. I would walk home and the bullies would be there. When they saw me they would say, "Here comes the retarded dude, the one that can't talk right." They would toss pebbles and small rocks, and then laugh at me. It was a gauntlet of bullies that would hang out and pick on me and other kids. I began to take the long way home and avoid that route, even though taking the gauntlet of bullies would save you 20 minutes on my route home. I learned and adjusted to whatever the bullies did.

It was during those times I would pray to God to cure me of stuttering. I hated my stutter and my anger became so powerful I could not get past it; my stutter dominated my past, present and future. I also believed I was going to outgrow the stutter or I was going to be cured with a magic pill.

I became embarrassed stuttering in front of friends or strangers. I began hiding my stutter and avoiding conversation with school friends. I didn't want people to call me stupid or treat me differently because I stuttered. I learned how to control the stutter by avoiding words and avoiding situations where I knew I was going to stutter. I avoided conversation with anyone I knew would make fun of my stuttering.

When I was in high school, a police officer came to career day and gave a presentation on "What It Is to Be a Good Police Officer." My first thoughts were, here we go again another presentation on what we should do and not do. Officer Trevino came into our school auditorium and gave an exciting 45 minute presentation. I was impressed with how he talked. He was sincere and had a human side to his police officer personality. He did not talk in a condescending tone like the previous officers I had met in my neighborhood. He was to the point and funny. He had the audience laughing and paying attention. And he did not stutter.

After the presentation I walked up to shake his hand and I told him; "You inspire me, I want the job you have. That was a great presentation, I can do this job." The police officer said, "Thank you! Go for it! We need good police officers." Over time I would see this police officer in the neighborhood doing community events, projects, and presentations. I always stopped, shook his hand and told him I was going to be doing his job one day. He smiled and said, Go for it!"

I began an exercise routine with the support of my parents; I went from a scrawny 145 pounds to a brawny 175 pounds from my junior to senior year. I played high school football, tennis, and won state ROTC championships in the military color guard. I was involved in the Yearbook and photography. I was voted best all-around and most popular in high school. I gained so much confidence that year by just taking chances, having a new attitude and having the willingness to learn and try new things. I learned to control my stuttering through word substitution, avoiding trigger words, hesitating, blocking and pretending to think.

I didn't have my first girlfriend until the beginning of my senior year in high school. I discovered when I acted silly and role played different comedians, actors, sport figures I was fluent which increased my confidence and opened up a whole new world when it came to girls, meeting new friends and trying new things. I never had a "How to" book on stuttering, talking to girls or handling bullies. I simply did what worked for me. I started to change the way I thought and took chances. I still stuttered. I just handled my stutter differently.

When I stuttered or hit a block I just kept on talking confidently as though the stutter never happened. My friends would still make fun of me but I ignored their teasing or bullying and continued to talk, stutter, block and hide my stutter when I could. I was not afraid to poke back with an attitude when others made fun of me.

I attended college, and then joined the Navy. The teasing and the bullying continued, college friends and sailors would make fun of my stutter, but now I was better equipped to handle it. I was smarter and more mature. While in the Navy I met other people that stuttered and we became good friends, although some sailors and marines made fun of me and believed I was less intelligent than they were. While in the military I noticed that the people that stuttered were often better workers than fluent people. We had something to prove. I often defended my friends that stuttered and I was not afraid to defend the smaller person against a bully. I even stood up for people that did not stutter -- people small in stature who were not able to fight for themselves. I also knew when to walk away, when to ignore, when to use humor, when to call somebody out publicly and when to pull somebody aside and talk privately. Fighting was not the smartest thing to do It was more important to got along. I could not go through life being angry because people made fun of my stuttering.

After my enlistment I applied for the Houston Police Department. I had several interviews. I talked slowly, pretending to think but I managed to get the words out during these interviews without stuttering. I had already mastered the ability to substitute words, block and have people believe I was thinking when I was really stuttering. I was accepted and entered the police academy.

I was assigned a partner and transferred to the neighborhood where I was born and raised. We began patrolling the North side neighborhood together.

A few days later we received a call from dispatch about a drunken man hanging out at the corner store. We arrived a few minutes later and discovered that the drunken man was Johnny, the boy who teased me, chased me, called me stupid, hit me, choked me and beat me up in front of the whole neighborhood. I never forgot!!! I remembered every comment Johnny said to me - stupid, retarded and ignorant. He had made my life hell. I became angry when I approached him and shouted, "Do you remember me?" Johnny looked at me and said, "I have no idea who you are". I told him "My name is Anthony Valle, we went to school together. You made fun of how I talked in school and chased me. You choked me until I passed out. Do you remember?"

Johnny was drunk, his eyes glazed over, weak and skinny because of drug abuse, his mind was wasted and he could barely stand. He looked at me, stumbled, looked at me again and said, "I don't remember you." This bully helped shape who I am today and all he had to say was "I don't remember you." I felt sorry for Johnny and did not arrest him. Instead we transported him to the hospital, checking him in for observation and counseling. As my partner and Iwalked out of the hospital I realized that Johnny's bullying and my stutter had made me who I was. I never knew what happened to Johnny after we dropped him off that night but all those other bullies are in prison and have died.

On my 18th year as a police officer I was accepted into a new administration position with the Public Affairs Division. This division does presentations on crime prevention, stranger danger, and career presentations throughout the city of Houston.

Once I was asked to do a career presentation at an elementary school. As I walked into the school the Precinct 6 Constable, an elected police official, walked in with me. We stopped and talked at the entrance. It was Officer Trevino, now a Constable, who had inspired me years earlier to become a police officer. I asked him, "Constable Trevino, do you remember 25 years ago when I said I wanted to do your job and I was going to be doing your job one day?" Constable Trevino looked at me with astonishment and with watery eyes told me, "Yes, I remember." He told me, "I have a presentation today in 6 classes and the title to my presentation is 'What it is to be a good police officer'."

Today, I give presentations to students throughout the city, and mine is also entitled "What it is to be a good police officer". Thanks Constable Trevino for planting that positive seed.

You can post Questions/comments about the above paper to the author before October 22, 2012.

SUBMITTED: August 30, 2012
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