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Perspectives Shifted Courtesy of Spider-man and an Autistic Man

Have you seen our article in the Athens-Banner Herald? Read the feature here!

Nicky, my friend I have known for over 20 years, has autism. In March 2024, he took his first international trip as a Joyrista, a.k.a. “coffee fairy” to London, England to spread the joy.

Nicky’s life has not always been easy. As an African American man with autism, the world is not often kind to you. And yet, as many of my friends at esp, inc. remind me, it’s some of those hardships in life that inspire us to be the best versions of ourselves. In honor of Autism Awareness Month this month, here are 5 heartwarming moments from our trip I want to share with you:

1. Did you know it's okay to say "autistic man?"

Times have changed. And while we are all about "person-first" language at esp, inc., the autism community has changed the game and often people with autism prefer "autistic." But not everyone, so it's a great question to ask! Now, for the fun part. We went to London, our first-ever international business trip. Our Joyristas from Java Joy were tasked with not only enjoying the trip but also spreading joy to those around them. No problem. As we arrived at the Brothers Trust Gala, hosted by Tom Holland and his family, it was apparent that the Hollands were fanning over Nicky and Liz, and no one knew who the more prominent celebrity was.

2. When you take your light and use it to shine on others, the light doesn't move, it magnifies.

As the gala unfolded and the trivia began, the fun and joy ramped to a new level. The trivia category to "fill in the blank words of a song" started, and within the first couple notes of "Our Hearts Will Go On," my coworker and friend Nicky, with austim, looked at me for permission. I looked at him with a "go for it" smile. And with all the passion and energy, he shot up and strutted his 6'2" self to the front of the stage and in the microphone sang while Tom Holland wrapped his Spider-man arms around him and they sang a theatrical rendition. You have to see it!

3. Physical touch can break down even the most substantial barriers.

What occurred after that performance was remarkable. The whole room erupted in a standing ovation. Then, people came over to Nicky and Liz and wanted to meet them. The ice was broken. People had an "ah-ha"—while this man had autism, he also had other far greater abilities.

4. When we are interrupted by an interaction with someone who is different than us and we choose to lean in, awkward leads to ah-ha.

We crave and cannot get enough authentically beautiful interactions. Nicky was proud of who he was and was not afraid to be himself, and because of that, others wanted to meet him, be around him, and be like him. And that, my friends, is what I see happen nearly daily with Java Joy.

5. It's not about the coffee.

It's kind of about the employment. But what it's really about is shifting perspectives and spreading joy. It's a beautiful world when those we serve end up being the ones serving. And an extra special someone understood the assignment. And he's still glowing from the lingering spider-webs. I'm excited for Java Joy to be booked for more opportunities to shift perspectives and spread joy. Watch it in action.

April is Autism Acceptance Month. Our hearts love what our brains don’t know. How can you lean in to those around you who have autism and learn from them? My suggestion: book Java Joy for your next event and witness first-hand the shifting of perspectives for yourself.

with big love,

Laura Hope Whitaker


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