Changing the game: NBA Veteran Michael Kidd-Gilchrist amplifies awareness for the stuttering community at Jacksonville University

March 22, 2024

NBA veteran Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is used to turning heads on the hardwood with his high-flying athleticism, but on the campus of Jacksonville University he captivated students, practitioners and community members as a dedicated advocate for those with communication disorders, including stuttering. Kidd-Gilchrist took center stage as a guest speaker at JU for the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD). 

“Michael has many accomplishments as an athlete both at the collegiate and national level. To see everything he has accomplished there and then know his desire to advocate for people who stutter is astounding,” said Dr. Kimmerly Harrell, assistant professor in the CSD Department at Jacksonville University.

The NCAA national champion at the University of Kentucky and former second-overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft by the Charlotte Bobcats shared his successful journey as a person who stutters. Kidd-Gilchrist has emerged as a passionate advocate for those facing similar challenges. 

“I’ve been stuttering my entire life. Since 2020, I’ve been advocating on behalf of people who stutter, for people who feel unheard,” said Kidd-Gilchrist. “I never would have thought I’d be open enough to put myself out there like this but I want to be a part and help in society.” 

“We brought the speech language pathology program to Jacksonville University nearly ten years ago and have created hundreds of graduates to help treat communication disorders, such as stuttering, and other important services for children and adults,” said Dr. Christine Sapienza, Jacksonville University’s Executive Vice President of Academic Affairs. Dr. Sapienza is the first-ever dean of the Brooks Rehabilitation College of Healthcare Sciences and is responsible for establishing the Speech Language Pathology program at Jacksonville University.

Kidd-Gilchrist shared his journey to date in an open conversation about the challenges of stuttering and the role of the Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) at the River House, on the campus of Jacksonville University. Kidd-Gilchrist's visit, his first time in Jacksonville, was a remarkable opportunity for CSD students and professionals alike to gain insights into the experiences of individuals with speech disorders.

“Our speech language pathology program remains the only one in Northeast Florida, and we’re excited about how we’ve expanded the program and continue to partner with Brooks Rehabilitation and the many great hospitals, schools and centers in Jacksonville that support student training,” said Dr. Sapienza.

In 2021, Kidd-Gilchrist founded the organization Change & Impact, Inc., with a mission to bridge gaps in healthcare access and expand services and resources for individuals who stutter or have a speech disorder. His dedication to this cause has taken him to more than 50 universities, hospitals, stuttering camps, and support groups, where he has shared his story and advocated for change.

“Change & Impact Inc. is focused on helping people of any age with a stutter or speech disorder. I’ll host job fairs only for people who stutter, I educate those in the workforce about people who stutter, I do bowling events for kids, I go to middle and high schools to meet with kids and just be a part of their journey.” Kidd-Gilchrist says he wishes he had an advocate for speech disorders or a role model with a stutter growing up. 

He admits there’s now less of a stigma surrounding stuttering compared to when he was growing up but there’s still a lot of work left to be done to bridge the gap. Kidd-Gilchrist has decided to join the growing list of public figures openly embracing their stutter. “We have a President with a history of stuttering…people like Shaq, Kendrick Lamar, Steve Harvey and others have shared their battle with stuttering. I’m now also in that seat, in that position to help, so I’m just using the opportunity full force,” he said. 

“For Michael to have this passion, step out of his comfort zone and create a foundation to do this work, says a lot about him. I hope that others will see his work and be determined to speak out as well and help make a difference for individuals who stutter,” said Dr. Harrell. 

“Michael’s story supports Jacksonville University’s mission to help people communicate,” said Dr. Sapienza. “I hope his story can help advance the community's knowledge about the important and profound role of the speech-language pathologist.”

Kidd-Gilchrist is passionate about bridging the gap of coverage for speech therapy by many insurance companies. He says despite the therapy's critical role in helping those who stutter overcome their challenges, numerous individuals find themselves without adequate financial support. His advocacy extends to the state levels, with aspirations of advocating to shed light on these gaps in the healthcare system at the federal level.

“We’ve made great strides but every state is different. I’m still learning myself. I’m not a politician but I am a voice of the people that have gone without and are being heard,” said Kidd-Gilchrist. 

He emphasized the importance of fostering an environment of understanding and support for individuals with speech disorders. His words resonated with those in attendance, inspiring a renewed commitment to inclusivity and compassion within the CSD department and greater Jacksonville community. 

“There are a lot of great things that are going on at JU so to highlight their program is big time. If there are any athletes that stutter, I let them know that I’ve lived it. I’ve been in that position. I’ve been in their shoes, in a locker room. I just know what it’s like.”

Kidd-Gilchrist's visit left a lasting impact on JU, reinforcing the university's dedication to addressing the unique needs of individuals with speech disorders. As Change & Impact, Inc. continues its mission, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist stands at the forefront, not only as an elite athlete on the basketball court but as a compassionate advocate determined to create positive change for those who stutter and have speech disorders.


Matthew Harris

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