For an entire year, Naiomi Glasses chose not to speak.
Being born with a cleft made it difficult for others to understand her, which was painful and frustrating. Not only that, but children in the Navajo Nation, where she lives, also picked on her for her differences. The bullying affected her mental health to the point that she simply stopped talking to anyone outside of her family.
“I went through a hiccup in my self-confidence where it was very hard to talk to people because I would have to constantly repeat myself,” Naiomi explained. “I was basically silent for a whole year.”
Thankfully, the Rockpoint, Arizona, child had a great support system at home, so her family became her sanctuary through her long treatment journey.
In the meantime, she threw herself into activities that would take her mind off the negative comments she heard at school.
One of those was skateboarding. Naiomi picked up the sport when she was just 5 years old and said, “It was a good way to get away, and it was a meditative time for me that provided me with a lot of peace.”
Her passion for skateboarding never faded, and even though she’s now an adult with a burgeoning career, she still loves the sport.
Another way Naiomi channeled her pain and creativity was by weaving. As a teen, she learned to weave gorgeous Diné patterns that quickly got attention on social media. When she shared the fact that she also skateboards online, she gained a whole new fan base!
“My following really started growing when I was sharing a lot of my weavings and my day-to-day life here on the Navajo Nation, and then it got a big jump in follows once I posted that I skateboarded,” Naiomi recalled.
Today, she owns her own business, and her weavings have been featured in fashion shows. Now that her cleft has healed, Naiomi is determined to be an advocate for others who are struggling. She calls herself “cleft proud” online, and she is always available to lend support and encouragement to those in the cleft community.
“A lot of people messaged me and told me, ‘Hey, I was born with a bi-lateral cleft lip and palate, and your story helped make me feel so beautiful, and your words were so encouraging,” she said.
In 2021, Naiomi was honored to be the keynote speaker at Smile Train’s second-annual Cleft Con. As she addressed the virtual audience, she was so incredibly poised and well-spoken that you’d never know she once struggled to communicate.
Here are some of her powerful words of wisdom for anyone who has a cleft:
You’re so beautiful and you’re so incredibly compassionate. It doesn’t matter what we went through as kids. What matters is that we are here now and we are making an impact. You bring so much to the table. You are very valued. You’ve got this and you can do anything.
Without timely cleft care as a child, Naiomi may never have been healthy enough to one day let her true spirit shine. She’s now finding success by chasing her passions — and inspiring others every step of the way!
Learn more about this everyday hero in the video below, and don’t forget to share this story.
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