With Sobeys’ help, local author takes positive message on the road
BY JANE BEDARD
Special to the VOICE
About a year ago, the Voice published a story about Michael Jacques, a young man with autism and an intellectual disability, who wrote a book called Can’t Read Can’t Write—Here’s My Book, by using talk-to-text speech technology.
A lot can happen in 12 months.
While Michael lives in Fonthill and is in his eighth year of working at Sobeys, his exploits are taking him farther and farther away from home as he promotes his book and speaks about what it’s like to be the new and improved Michael Jacques: author, motivational speaker, Special Olympics Athlete, advocate for inclusiveness and Sobeys employee extraordinaire.
After appearing in the Voice, Michael did book signings at Sobeys. He met the Mayor. He was featured in articles in the Welland Tribune and the St Catherine’s Standard newspapers. The momentum picked up and Michael began speaking at public schools and universities, sharing his perspective and imparting his message to students and staff.
The message is basic, but coming from Michael, it has a stronger impact on anyone who hears that inner voice which repeats two words that stop many of us in our tracks: you can’t.
Michael’s intention is clear: set goals and never give up. Beyond his expression of perseverance and determination, Michael also speaks about the values to which he aspires: be kind to one another and include everyone.
Michael has spoken at schools locally and in Toronto and Huntsville. Brock and York Universities, along Niagara College, have welcomed him to speak to students and faculty. Ontario Hydro called and invited him to be a guest speaker at their headquarters.
The Jacques train left the station and the tracks ahead had best be clear.
Michael began to travel all over the province, making stops at City TV’s Breakfast Television, CHCH TV, co-hosting on TSN’s Sport Centre, guest speaking at New Concept, Apple Canada, the Golden Key International Honour Society, and Special Olympics Canada.
Before the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, Elizabeth Dowdeswell, arrived in Welland to meet with local politicians this past May, Michael sent her a copy of his book. She was impressed with the young man and reached out, requesting Michael’s presence at the post-meeting reception, so that she could spend a few minutes getting to know him.
Michael’s humour shines when he describes the correspondence, saying, “She had her executive assistant contact my executive assistant,” referring to Marcel Jacques, Michael’s father and de facto EA.
Three days after meeting Dowdeswell, another invitation arrived. Her Majesty the Queen had recently created the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust, an organization offering a platform to young adults, aged 18-30, who were making a difference in their communities. Michael is proud to be a part of this organization, which highlights individuals from 53 nations. He looks forward to meeting the president of the Trust, Prince Harry, along with the vice president, Harry’s bride, Meghan.
But wait, there’s more!
Along with an invitation from the Queen of England, Michael had an opportunity to meet another royal, the Queen of Daytime Television, Ellen Degeneres. Michael earned an invitation to the Degeneres show when it was filmed in Toronto, in March, after the Niagara-on-the-Lake Outlet Mall sponsored an Ellen contest. Michael’s story was so remarkable that it put him on the coveted Behind the Scenes VIP guest list, complete with a limo, photograph with Ellen, and a few minutes of one-on-one with the star, also known for her benevolence and “be kind to one another” mantra. While Ellen did not receive gifts from her guests, Michael’s sister (and number one fan) has sent her copies of the book along with several messages, in hopes that Michael might appear on the show one day.
And that’s not all. When Ron Kore, Fonthill Sobeys franchisee and Michael’s boss, introduced him to Sobeys Vice President of Innovation, the veep immediately purchased 23 books for his staff. Soon after, Michael began the kick-off for Sobeys’ Special Olympics Checkstand $1M Fundraising Campaign, by speaking at Sobeys’ Missisauga office.
Michael is currently on tour, promoting his book and the Special Olympics, across Ontario and Atlantic Canada. Can’t Read. Can’t Write will be available in all stores in these provinces, and Sobeys will donate $2 to the Special Olympics for every book sold. Michael will also continue to donate partial proceeds of his book sales to the Special Olympics and to Community Living Ontario.
Having Sobeys on board has also allowed for enough funds to have the book translated into French (available on iBooks) and to revamp the book’s website.
Michael has sold some 3200 copies so far, and his fan base is growing. He receives cards, pictures, and thank-yous, from many people who are affected by similar circumstances or who are inspired by Michael’s story. Children, parents, grandparents and teachers write to express their appreciation for his promotion of the ideas that anything is possible and that we should always think outside the box.
Michael finds it difficult to pinpoint his favourite moment on this journey so far. When asked, he replies, “Just everything,” but with a little prodding he admits that meeting Ellen was certainly a highlight. They seem to have a lot in common.
In his book, Michael says, “I was shy before because of my speech, because sometimes I would say things wrong, but I realized that it’s better to talk than to be silent.”
This is another of Michael’s messages that hits a universal theme. Michael has given a voice not just to autistic and learning disabled people everywhere, but to all marginalized groups, who are inspired to speak-up.
Michael’s goal for the future, other than to take a seat in the chair opposite Ellen in Los Angeles, is to write another book to talk about everything that has happened since his first publication. This new book will include stories and perspectives from his inexhaustible support system, including his family, friends and the many people involved in his journey.
Michael is enjoying meeting new people and making friends, which exemplifies his passion for authentic inclusion.
“Winning isn’t as important as having friends,” he says.
True enough, but it’s hard not to see Michael as a winner, too.
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