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Your Gift at Work:
Alley Student Becomes Inspirational Speaker

Adam Burton Farris
Adam Burton Farris


In partnership with the organization VSA Texas, The Alley’s Education and Community Engagement Department facilitated a program called Opening Minds, Opening Doors. The course was offered to seven adults with physical and developmental disabilities, and focused on self-advocacy through personal narrative and public speaking. One of the students, Adam Burton Farris, benefitted greatly by using the course to inform his own story and to spring board his vocation as an inspirational speaker, and advocate for uniquely-abled individuals such as himself. Thank you, as always, for your support in our mission to use theatre and writing as tools of empowerment.

What impressed you the most about how this program was run?
The style of teaching was one that you weren’t just sitting around. You’re getting up, you’re doing things physically, which is a better way for me to learn. We joked around, we did breathing and vocal exercises. Everyone was made comfortable enough to get down to work. Right before one of my first speaking engagements later on with OMOD, the audience and I danced out the doors and back to a Michael Jackson song.

Was there anything that surprised you about how this program affected you?
When Alex (Teacher) was unable to make it to class, I stepped up to aid the new instructor. I helped in coaching or mentoring other students, and I helped run the class. Helping out like this showed me that I was capable in a way that I hadn’t thought of before. It inspired me to help even more people outside of class.

By now you have presented your story several times to audiences. What words of encouragement would you tell someone who wants to share their own stories for the first time?
Be yourself. Practice, practice, practice. Definitely talk about what makes you happy and talk about what makes you passionate; speak from your heart. Also, go with the flow. During one speech, my papers fell off the stand I said “It’s all good in the hood,” and just went on. You have to keep going!

What kind of difference did this program make in your life?
My first presentation was a long time ago in high school, speaking to parents and students about Tourette’s syndrome — a condition I live with. My ticks were off the wall. Back then, my speech was not nearly as good as it is currently. Now, I have a lot of things going for me: I’m an inspirational speaker, I have my own business, and I work part-time at Wal-Mart in Customer Service. The name of this program really speaks to what it does. It opened my mind and opened doors of opportunity.