Parents Talk Back by Aisha Sultan

Finding Your Voice

Matice Morris adjusts the camera sitting on a tripod under a glowing ring light. She moves the throw pillow behind her, pulls up her notes on her phone and takes a sip of water. She peers closer at her image on the small flip screen and wipes a smudge of lipstick from her teeth.

She pushes record -- beep.

It’s time to slay the dragons.

“Hi, you guys,” she says. Then, she’s stuck. Her chin trembles, eyes squint, her lips are pursed and the words refuse to budge.

“I’m going to start over,” she says. “I know I haven’t recorded in a while,” she starts. She hits a roadblock on the next word.

Morris, now 30, started speech therapy because of her stuttering in first grade. For 10 years, she worked with professionals to help her words flow more fluently. After middle school, she moved from Rockford, Illinois to a new high school in St. Louis. She spent the entire first semester eating lunch in a restroom stall. She didn’t want to start with the halting introduction again. Blank stares. Uncomfortable pauses.

Sometimes, she stutters on her own name.

By her junior year, she had made friends and had enough with speech therapy. She tended to stay quiet in groups and communicated mainly through texting and social media messages. Her words flow so much faster when she can type them, but still not as fast as her mind is thinking them.

Now, in front of the camera, she’s starting to sweat. She picks up a poster and fans herself.

“I’ve noticed a trend in comments of all you saying my stuttering has improved,” she says to nearly 30,000 subscribers on her YouTube channel.

But to someone with a lifelong stutter, that’s actually not a compliment, she explains.

“It kind of makes them feel like a failure when they have not improved,” Morris says. She’s posted more than 50 videos since she launched the channel 2 1/2 years ago.

She wanted to encourage other people with speech impediments and to share what it’s like to struggle to speak. She wanted to reclaim her voice.

It took her three years after graduating with a master’s in accounting to get a job because potential employers had trouble seeing past her speech challenges. One recruiter told her it would be difficult to help her because employers would assume she was mentally challenged based on her speech.

The obstacles made her more determined. She has always dreaded public speaking.

“My goal is to conquer my fears,” she said. “Even when I am nervous or stressed or scared about my stutter, I still make the video.”

Not only has she built a significant following online, she has self-published a book, “The Product of My Selfishness: The Stutter and the Story.” In sharing her struggles, she has inspired others who ask her for advice on how to navigate school and relationships. Among them, she deals with a few ignorant and hurtful remarks.

Morris pulls up the screenshots she took of a commenter who wrote that she would rather just learn sign language. When Morris responded, the poster replied: “thank God you wrote that because it probably would’ve took u forever to say it!” In her next response, the person curses at Morris and writes, “continue giving us, the ppl, a good laugh!”

At this point, Morris’ mother steps into the comments and tells her daughter to stay focused and remember the words of former first lady Michelle Obama: “When they go low, we go high.”

The video Morris is trying to make tonight is not going well -- probably because I’m watching her record it and making a stressful situation even more so.

“I might have to re-record this later,” she said, after switching the camera off.

She pulls up the last public message she received from the critic who taunted her.

“I want to apologize to you for my previous comments,” the commenter wrote. “It was never my intention to come at you in such a manner and it might have been delivered wrong.”

Morris smiled.

“She’s literally the only person who has ever apologized.”

Her biggest fear is speaking on a stage in front of a crowd. It’s far more intimidating than talking into her camera.

So, she’s now looking for an opportunity to speak live.

Another dragon to slay.