"Having been born with cleft, I always knew I was different. I have memories from as early as kindergarten of being treated differently from the other kids. Growing up, basketball was my one love that never let me down and I relied on it heavily to get through. Due to basketball being a high contact sport and thus potentially dangerous for me, I couldn't continue playing in college. Instead, I reached out to schools and coaches asking for a student coaching position. It worked and I'm proud to say I'm graduating from Snead State Community College with an associates degree in psychology, and transferring to Jacksonville State University in the fall to get my bachelor's in Communication. ⁠

As a senior in high school, I had an opportunity to talk to freshmen about what to expect from their next four years and share my experience. That was my foray into public speaking and I noticed that every time I shared my story, I helped another person feel more seen and less alone. As a result, I started a business @smiling.within in effort to reach more people and help them learn how to smile from within and live positive lives."⁠

Justin Stewart photographed by Andrew Segreti