Isaiah Acosta
45,503 views • 15:23

Born with a cranial facial difference that left me without a jaw and a vocal voice, I eat with a feeding tube and I breathe with a trach tube.

I was born and raised in Arizona. I love music, fashion and shoes. And as you can see, I'm the man. (Laughter) (Applause) You could say that challenges are just a part of my everyday life. We all experience challenges. One of the biggest challenges I've dealt with my entire life is with communication. It's frustrating when people come across me online, or they meet me in person, some invalidate me just because they focus on what's missing. It would be cool to hear, 'Hey, how're you doing? How was your weekend?' I'm missing a jaw, a vocal voice. I'm not missing a life. I am someone with a life and words to express. What is communication, anyway? Communication: the process of passing information and understanding from one person to another. For me, communication is writing, typing, texting and using a communication device. I use sign language, facial expressions, body language. I even use my eyes to communicate, don't you? (Laughter) All of these are forms of communication and I use them in my daily life. (Two voices together) What I really wish the world would do is slow down and communicate with me. (Machine voice) One of the strongest, most scary feelings that we can experience is the feeling of being trapped inside. Tell me if this feels familiar to you. It's exactly like the movies. You go in for surgery and they put you under. However, you are not under and you can actively feel, and hear everything. Your nerves are alive and you can feel everything they do to you. But they cannot see you. They cannot hear you. You just feel it. All of it. You are trapped inside. Yeah, that's enough of feeling you just felt. What you felt for a moment, I feel that every day. All day. I always have to think about any situation I'm going into: who I'm around, who's going to give me that time to communicate. How many people will ignore me because it's just easiest for them. So many people make assumptions that I don't understand because I have no vocal voice. Let's acknowledge the elephants in the room. Yes, I'm missing a jaw. I guess that would be the elephant that isn't in the room. The way I'm treated regularly, it's a feeling of feeling dismissed. Feeling trapped inside is feeling muted. At least, what feeling muted feels like to me. And I have a lot of experience with feeling muted. A lifetime of experience, if you will. I remember when I was in middle school, a kid pushed me down in class. He was saying harsh things like, 'Why raise your hand if you can't answer questions because you can't talk?' 'You will never have a girlfriend.' He said so much more. At that time it made me feel very discouraged, made me think how can someone remind you of how you live is a joke, against you. The truth is, it made him feel better about himself. It fed him. It made him to be bigger, or so he thought. Through my teen years it was a big struggle. People who I thought were my friends were not my friends all of the sudden. Keeping friends was the hardest thing in my life. I will never know why or the reasons were behind it. I couldn't even tell you how many times lunchtimes was with no one but my aide. That was my normal. I got used to it. Could you imagine never getting invited to birthday parties, or end of the school-year parties, or any functions at all from your school friends? At home, I had the best support system. My family helped to build me up when the world could make me feel so small. Now, I'm thankful for the very small handful of friends I have. Some of them are my hospital friends. The only ones that know what it feels like to live with everyday medical conditions. To know that we have limitations and we can't just do whatever we want, when we want, how we want. We always land in the hospital. We have countless appointments, and no one really understands that life but them. My other friends are older than me. Their understanding and maturity is at a different level. They're all are genuine people. I didn't let any of it break me. When I look back now, I can't really say I missed anything. It feels like I was an outsider looking in. Maybe it was for the best. I was myself. It made me realise who I am. Made me feel what I need to feel. I am different. Not just because of what I look like, but how people make me feel. I'm almost 20 years old, and I can still hear the words, 'This child is mute.' Doctors told my parents, 'He can't communicate, can't talk.' Teachers told my family, 'You are non-verbal.' Outsiders told me too. Think about that. These are the labels that were slapped on me by others. These labels are here, over my head. They never go away. They are following me everywhere I go. By the time I was a young teenager, I felt trapped inside. Muted. And labelled. Now, please ask yourself. Do you sometimes feel trapped, muted and labelled? Labels affect everyone, not just me. They are here. They are hanging over all of you. Whether you like it or not. You can feel labelled because of your race. Disability is a label that some of us share. Intelligence is a label that society can sometimes get wrong. Gender and sexuality are labels that are continuously being redefined. Your age is a labelled that follows you around, often unfairly. Your weight. Your shape. Your profile. Your courage - are you a coward or are you courageous? That's a label. I hope that you can find at least one of your labels you disagree with and turn it into something of power. Because that is what labels can be. You can strip them of their power, and then, in turn, you can take them over for yourself. Nobody has power over your labels. If you're living and speaking your authentic self, you will command your own labels. Eventually this will become a step towards an ultimately label-less world. You see. My intent for the next few minutes is that at least one of you will recognise that anything in life is possible. Remove or redefine your own labels. Dismiss them. Ditch them. Invalidate, abandon them. Make yourself heard for who you truly are. My hope for you is to unmute yourself today. At least one of you. This is why I feel qualified to speak on becoming unmuted. Remember, I can still hear the words told to me and my family by outsiders. 'This child is mute.' 'Can't communicate.' 'Non-verbal.' 'Not vocal.' Well, that is where the joke is on them. Because for those who know me, I have an awful lot to say. I am known for being the first mute rapper. Yes, you heard it right. Over the last few years, I have gained online attention for becoming the first mute rapper, having a lot to say, and lacking only the instrument of my voice. I partnered with an Arizona rapper, Trap House, who is one of the most amazing humans I have ever met, and he became my best friend. He helped me structure my thoughts and poems into tighter lyrics, and ultimately, a fire song with the sickest beat imaginable. And we were part of a documentary short film that launched our story to the world. Literally overnight, the first song, 'Oxygen to Fly' was a hit. My way of giving back was to donate the sales back to Children's Miracle Network Hospitals to help other patients. Our story sky-rocketed online, and we received a million views in the first day. We delivered a panel discussion at the South by Southwest festival on the second day. And the millions of views each week turned into an avalanche of opinions opportunities for me to comment back and to actually practise feeling unmuted. We performed in Hollywood with Brian McKnight and Babyface and in the audience, and in Orlando in front of Nick Cannon, Marie Osmond and John Schneider. And our story would trend to over seven million people in Malaysia one week and be on TV in Germany the next week. This has gone on for two and a half years now. Think about it. How can a mute person come into this rap industry and at the same time change how people look and feel about rap with just my words. Why do I tell you this? So you wrap your head around the hundreds of thousands of people who have told me, online, exactly what they think of me. I express myself through writing down my struggles, my journey, and my feelings of determination to write better and better music that will speak to more and more people. I had found a more powerful voice to deliver my words through music. There's a reason and rhyme for everything. My faith gets me through it all. Unfortunately, my friend, Trap House, the powerful voice I grew to love, passed away early in 2019. My heart aches and I am missing our friendship. Now I hear his voice in my head, pushing me, prodding me, urging me, to speak, to share my message through love, humility, positivity. These are the labels that hang over my head now. These are the words that I can hear in my head now. My words. These are my words. Be yourself. Difference is beautiful. If you can't speak up or use your voice, use your words. Help somebody who cannot speak up for themselves. Listen better. Listen closer. Open your eyes and ears to that person who's being bullied, or help that person who is painfully shy. Talk to people with kindness. Listen to people with kindness. Whatever the situation, do not ignore it for yourself or for others. It's time to step up. Step up. Find your own courage label, or care of label, that label that only you can, and will define, and go about changing it right now. Changing it today, and unmute yourself. I have learned about myself that when times are the most difficult for me, when I'm down very low and saddened by how flat out cruel people can be to each other, sometimes the best way to feel unmuted is to speak up for others. Pick someone out that you think might need some help, and simply reach out. Just say 'What's up?' And then listen very closely for opportunities where you can help lift them with your words. And then lift them up. Just listen to your heart and do your best. Take care of each other. Be kind to each other. It's not always easy, but none of this is difficult. And all of us need to put in more work. All of us get to put in more work. All of us want to put in more work. All of us are blessed to put in more work. All of us are blessed to put in more love. All of us are blessed to put in more of ourselves for the benefit of others. All of us are blessed. All of us are unmuted. This is my story for you today. I'll be back because I've got a lot to say. (Applause) (Cheers)