During a conference organised by the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity a while ago, two topics prevailed: the under-diagnosis of dyslexia is more frequent amongst minority communities (at least in the USA). In addition to this, the acting head of the centre pointed out that at present children with dyslexia are still labelled as ‘dumb’ or ‘lazy’, whilst this ‘disorder’ is characterised by a high degree of intelligence – dyslexics are generally creative out-of-the-box thinkers and possess strong reasoning skills. Gershwin Bonevacia can confirm all of this all. Originating from the Dutch Caribbean island of Curaçao, Gerswhin is dyslectic but has established himself as a notable literary performer in the Netherlands. Currently, he is a much such-after poet, keynote speaker, dramatist and writer having performed for companies such as Google Netherlands and ING Bank.
Born in 1992 in the Netherlands to Curaçaoan parents, Gershwin’s family moved back to the Caribbean when he was a 1-year-old toddler. He describes his childhood in Curaçao as comfortable and points out to have never faced any type of learning difficulties. “It all came so easy for me whilst on the island. Once back in the Netherlands, I was about 8 years old, it was found that I had difficulties with reading and writing”. Initially, Gershwin’s teachers thought that he still had to get used to the Dutch educational system. But after several hours of private tutorials and an assessment, he was diagnosed with dyslexia. “On that moment it was a weight off my shoulders, but my enthusiasm was quickly dampened”. Given his new status, Gershwin was not allowed to sit the Dutch primary school final year assessment and was strongly advised to move onto a special needs school. Gershwin describes the resulting situation as decisive in his life: “My parents indicated that they strongly opposed this recommendation and consequently I was allowed to take the Dutch Intelligence Test for Educational level”. This assessment indicated that Gershwin possessed enough intellect to be admitted into a school for preparatory middle-level applied education
Says Gershwin: “It’s regrettable that pupils in the Dutch educational system are frequently categorised based on their ‘weaknesses’ ”. He is furthermore convinced that the development of a child is highly influenced by its surroundings. “My father is highly educated, but many youngsters with a different ethnic background do not have parents who are able to stand up on their behalf”. According to Gershwin the so-called ‘school advice’ given to final year pupils in the Netherlands is usually issued with the best of intentions but school officials have absolutely no idea of the tremendous impact this might have in the life of a child: “Every type of secondary education is equivalent to a certain setting and a child will end up making life choices in accordance with these settings”.
The burning question is: how does a child with dyslexia turn into a literary performer? According to Gershwin, it was all a matter of flip-thinking – that is the Dutch art of transforming a problem into an opportunity: “Between the ages of 11 and 15, I immersed myself in language. I used to ‘play’ every day with words, sentences and rhyme schemes. When unable to put a word in writing, I would search for a synonym”. Eventually, the words turned into sentences and the sentences became poems. Ultimately, poetry had become a means for Gershwin to voice his emotions. One thing lead to another and at a certain day Gershwin was giving a reading… A while later he was presented with his first award (Rotterdamse Lettertypes) and consequently, the requests for his appearances have skyrocketed.
His current goal: staying true to himself. “I’m grateful for the acknowledgement as while on stage I feel empowered. My goal is to emerge and inspire people worldwide – but at the same time I also want to keep both feet on the ground and put myself through my bachelor degree”. Gershwin’s tip to youngsters that are in the same boat is simple: don’t establish your self-image based on the labels tagged on you by society. “Belonging to a minority group usually means that you indeed have to work twice as hard, but this will also make you twice as good. After all, every success story ranges from failure”.
Originally published at www.huffingtonpost.com