Meet John Wasserman, Bkyln Dem Influencer

John Wasserman/ Brooklyn Young Democrats
John Wasserman/ Brooklyn Young Democrats

Written By Chaya Gurkov

“It’s been a blessing and a curse, but I am grateful for it,” John Wasserman said clearly, the heavy stutter that frequently weighs down his speech nowhere to be heard. Diagnosed with a speech impediment at the early age of five, the 26-year-old president of the Brooklyn Young Democrats stood proudly before an applauding room as he accepted his award for Young Democrat of the Year. His triumphant stance made clear to those watching that here was a man not willing to be bogged down by self-victimization and circumstance.    

   The Brooklyn Young Democrats (BYD), a club that’s been gaining prominence within the borough, hosted a kick-off event on Tuesday, Jan. 28, and the room quickly filled with familiar faces. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams came and had a representative speak on his behalf. Councilwoman Farah Louis, whom the BYD helped get elected, also showed up to support the honorees. 

   The room was alight with energy and joy for the individuals who were being honored. When accepting his award, Wasserman acknowledged his gratitude for the support that made his journey possible, making sure to explicitly thank his onlooking parents for their understanding and encouragement. The proud expressions they wore on their faces were hard to miss.

   Later in the week, in a one-on-one at the Pearl Diner in Manhattan (his favorite home-style diner), the puzzle of Wasserman’s life started coming together, as he spoke about the challenges he faced with his impediment and the desire to be something more. 

   “In high school, my stutter became increasingly worse. My social anxiety and depression because of it really impacted me and I became reclusive. I didn’t want to raise my hand, I couldn’t participate in class, I was so embarrassed of myself,” Wasserman said.

   Common misconceptions that stutterers are “slower” than so-called “normal people,” or just too anxious to get a word out, results in a toxic battle of self-shaming for those who suffer from it. To overcome that shame and grow comfortable in your differences takes a tremendous amount of fortitude.

   For Wasserman, this self-acceptance came when he transferred from Wheaton University to Brooklyn College.

   “I had a realization then that, yes, it takes a lot of courage, and I still have anxiety about it to this day, but it’s something that will be with me everyday,” Wasserman said. “It’s something I can use as a tool to relate to people with.” 

   By joining political organizations on campus, Wasserman slowly started finding the voice his stutter tried to quell. As president of the Brooklyn College Democrats in 2015, he started a petition and movement to bring Bernie Sanders back to Brooklyn College, and made his club the first organization in BC to formally endorse the potential presidential candidate. He became a fellow on campus for the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), where he was required to speak to filled classrooms to try and get students more involved.

   “I got up there and stuttered and I told everyone, ‘look at me, I stutter but I am using my voice, and so can they.’”

   His tenacity didn’t go unnoticed, and at one event he was approached with an offer to start working in the city’s Public Engagement initiative for helping tenants on the ground. After deciding it would do him better to take a break from college to start helping people struggling with the housing crisis, Wasserman was assigned to the East Harlem-Inwood area. There, he was saddened to see landlords wrongfully evicting tenants from their homes so they could destabilize the rent.

   “I saw a ton of that,” Wasserman said. “I would visit the tenant one week and build a relationship with them, only to come back some months later and see workers painting the apartment, redoing the floors, adding new appliances…”

   This experience shaped him, cementing within him a passion to continue helping people in his community. After finishing his college degree with honors, Wasserman continued with his political career by becoming campaign manager for District Leader Doug Schneider (Park Slope, Windsor Terrace, Kensington, Borough Park, Victorian Flatbush, Ditmas Park, Midwood), winning the race with a huge voter turnout. Going on to help get Civil Court Judge Caroline Cohen elected, Wasserman believes he’s found the common thread to how to touch people. 

   “You have to pull out their stories, their experiences which shapes who they are and why they care about something. Young people nowadays are looking for realness and authenticity, and when you share your story, it humanizes you and makes people comfortable with who you are,” Wasserman said. “That is why I talk about my stuttering, because I know by letting your guard down and becoming vulnerable, that’s when people can relate to you.”

   In the Pearl Diner, the waiter came by the booth to ask us how things were going. Wasserman responded that all was well. He stuttered though, and the waiter, clearly not expecting this, regarded him with aggravation. John seemed not to notice, or make any mention of it, and the interview continued from where it left off. But this minor instance seemed to stand out after all that was said. Occurrences like these are probably not uncommon when someone has a noticeable difference, and hard to forget, even for an onlooker. But with bigger things to focus on, and the self-acceptance needed to do so, comes the realization that your potential cannot be held down by others, or by yourself.

   “For many people they wake up everyday and they’re just trying to get by,” Wasserman said. “For me, I always knew I wanted to do something more. The story of me isn’t over.” 


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