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Christopher Gagliardi, Youth Chorus, New Jersey
Interview by Peggy Chen

When Christopher Gagliardi was born in 1980, he didn't respond to visual or verbal stimuli like most infants did. He was diagnosed with infantile autism, a developmental disorder characterized by "deficits in social interaction and communication, and unusual and repetitive behaviorů.[S]ome, but not all, people with autism are non-verbal" (www.medicinenet.com). The prognosis was grim.

However, Christopher's mother began practicing Nichiren Buddhism four years later and determined that her son would be able to live a normal life. Sure enough, when he was 15, he developed language skills and gradually began gaining the other skills he needed to function independently in society.

Now 25, not only can he speak for himself, he also speaks for others. He is a youth advocate with the New Jersey Department of Education, and along with his mother, Lynda Monahan, he serves as a motivational speaker with the organization "A Vision in Motion." They travel the country together to encourage those dealing with mentally and physically challenges.

As a young men's district leader, Christopher also uses his voice to encourage his members, and to sing in the youth chorus for this festival. He and his mother determined to introduce Nichiren Buddhism to their family and to show actual proof of its practice in their lives. In a recent email, he reported that they had begun to make headway toward this goal.

Through this festival, he said, he developed "absolute appreciation for getting more involved in my community." In addition, "Now that July 16th is overůmy next mission will be to continue the work towards ending the discrimination and stigma against the physically and mentally challenged in my state and in our country and the world that we live in."

For a young man, Christopher has accomplished quite a lot, and is a wonderful example of "one's voice [doing] the Buddha's work" (Gosho Zenshu, p. 708).

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Journal 1 (April 23)
Journal 2 (May 14)
Journal 3 (May 21)
Journal 4 (June 11)
Journal 5 (June 18)
Journal 6 (June 25)
Journal 7 (July 1st)
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