All my life I have been told that my story is unique. As a motivational speaker, I meet many people who honor me by telling me that my story is inspirational. However, my life is just my life, and I am awed at the stories that I hear from others. We all have amazing stories to tell and life lessons to inspire. As a child, I was homeless and a survivor of abuse, seemingly unwanted. I believe it is that kind of adversity that builds resilience and character in all of us.
My childhood trials prompted me to fight back and create a new definition for myself. I became a self-taught dancer, model and actress, achieving what some might call fame…albeit, Canadian fame! Working in the showbusiness sector I eventually married a popular Las Vegas entertainer, and three years later became pregnant with the child that we very dearly wanted. And then…I went into labor on a plane while crossing borders. My life was not destined to be ordinary.
As fate would have it, I became the mother to a child with Down syndrome, giving birth in Canada one hour after the plane landed. While I immediately felt a deep, maternal love for my son, that love was not shared by the U.S. government. Instead, my son was labeled an “undesirable alien” and denied entry into our country, mind you, not because he was born in Canada, but simply because he was born disabled.
My journey of advocacy for my special son that followed introduced me to many unique individuals and many friends who also wanted to show that Christopher should never be called “unwanted.” The Onondaga Nation, a Native American tribe who are citizens of North America and as such can cross both borders without the need of special visas, offered to adopt Christopher, and, a group of cocktail waitresses at the Syracuse hotel where we were appearing, pooled their nightly tips on a quest to smuggle our kiddo into the country. You can’t make this stuff up. We eventually found a hero in former Vice President Hubert Humphrey, who became our son’s sponsor.
During Humphrey’s life, Christopher received six-month visas repeatedly, but after the Vice President died, I “harbored” my son, who was labeled “illegal” and was even denied US residency in a special amnesty program in 1986. While hiding my son from immigration officials, I built Opportunity Village into a world-class organization. Opportunity Village provided support and community inclusion for people with disabilities, a place that Christopher would not be able to attend without legal status.
Even with the intervention of political and celebrity friends It seemed like all hope for citizenship would be lost as Christopher was soon to turn 18 and miss his opportunity to receive legal status. However, a chance meeting with an immigration official at a dinner for 2,000 strangers in Washington, D.C., led to his legal American status – and an American flag officially presented to him by Senators Reid and Bryan on a celebrity-packed stage at the Hilton hotel!
I was never going to write a book because I had my hands full trying to raise a special needs son and his baby brother, while also raising a billion dollars for disability causes. When my 38-year storied career came to a close at Opportunity Village, I quickly found myself adrift without a rudder. My friend Bill Walters, of 60 Minutes fame, said that when one door closes another opens. And boy was he right. A book soon took shape; the movie offers appeared, speaking engagements and the gentle encouragement of loved ones guided me forward.
The book “Unwanted” tells the story of a mother’s quest to right the wrongs for her disabled son. It is the product of outright discrimination, of the love and support of friends and family, but mostly, it is a book inspired by a special son, a son whose entry into the world changed perceptions and brought humanity to not just Sin City, but to a nation of naysays in the disability space. The fortuitous birth of Christopher Smith inspired a human rights movement like no other. “Unwanted” is about the opposite of being unwanted: it’s a story of unconditional love, perseverance – and making the best lemonade ever.
Linda Smith is a fearless and tenacious non-profit fundraiser, author and motivational speaker. She is a survivor of child abuse, a philanthropist who has raised over one billion dollars for charity, and a disability advocate inspired by her son, Christopher, who was born with Down syndrome. Her incredible journey and brave heart will be detailed in her upcoming book, Unwanted.
Contact [email protected] to connect with Linda for information regarding speaking opportunities, disability resources and Las Vegas fundraising efforts.