Middle and Upper School students and faculty heard from businessman, author, and advocate for the disabled Joseph “JB” Bensmihen on Tuesday, October 10 during National Disability Awareness Month. JB talked about being an advocate for yourself and others who may feel excluded, and encouraged students to turn their obstacles into achievement. According to JB, "Society is handicapped; the individual only has the disability.”
Reece Lettelleir '20 introduced JB to the community, connecting the guest speaker to Mr. Murphy's remarks from 2017 Convocation saying, "If he could make a difference at just six years old, what's our excuse?"
Born with cerebral palsy, JB characterizes his childhood appearance as “a young Forrest Gump, but with two canes.” Unhappy with being denied a place in a regular elementary school in his home country of Canada, six-year-old JB walked into Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s office, asked for an immediate meeting with him, and got it. He became the first disabled Canadian student to be mainstreamed in a public school.
As an adult, JB has been a highly successful business owner, an advisor to many members of Congress, the former President of the Private Care Association, the director of the David Bensmihen Charitable Foundation, a member of the Board of Overseers for the men’s undergraduate college at Yeshiva University, and a strong advocate for the disabled.
In 2016, JB walked (with two canes) in the Miami Marathon; served as the master of ceremonies for the marathon’s kickoff event the evening before; and ran as a centrist Republican for a seat in the Florida House of Representatives in St. Petersburg. Currently, JB serves as President and CEO of St. Pete Care at Home and lives in St. Petersburg, Florida. Released the day of his presentation at Shorecrest, “Taking Your Place at the Table: The Art of Refusing to Be an Outsider,” is his first book.
According to Shorecrest Headmaster Mike Murphy, “At Shorecrest, our tagline is ‘Be More.’ While there are many interpretations of the phrase, JB embodies what we want for our students - determination and commitment to a cause, resilience in the face of adversity, and the drive to make the world a better, more inclusive place.”
Pictured: JB with student members of the SPARC club. SPARC is a service club partnered with PARC, an organization that serves Pinellas County residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities.