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Autism gala raises $2,500 for Arc of Morgan County

Decatur Daily - 4/14/2019

April 14-- Apr. 14--Two brothers with autism said they struggled to find their way as elementary and high school students, but as adults they are enjoying the ride the disorder has created.

Micah and Josiah Frank, who defied the odds and are now members of the Southern University Marching Band, shared their stories Saturday during the first Autism Gala at the Turner-Surles Community Center.

The gala was put on by Alpha Beta Omega Sorority, a non-profit organization consisting of 21 high school students from Austin and Decatur high schools.

Micah and Josiah were the keynote speakers, and the event raised $2,500 for the Arc of Morgan County, which is a non-profit organization devoted to improving life for individuals with cognitive, intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Jala Clarke, a junior at Austin who is vice-president of the sorority, came up with the idea of doing something in the name of autism because she has people in her family with the disorder.

"We're high school students, but one of our missions is to find worthy causes and raise money for them," she said.

Clarke said ABO is the first chartered high school sorority in Alabama and has been in existence less than two years.

Tamari Boulden, also a junior student at Austin, is president of the organization and she, too, has people in her family with autism.

"We want people to know that teenagers care about what's happening in Decatur, and we're not just looking to party," she said.

ABO selected autism as its cause, and Boulden and Clarke said they learned about the Frank brothers from Marcie Watkins, who was friends with the family when they lived in the Florence area.

The brothers' mother, Lotonzia Montgomery Johnson, has five children, and three are autistic.

According to the Mayo Clinic, people with autism typically have problems with social interaction, communicating with others, and behavioral challenges.

A crowd of about 300 listened as Micah and Josiah talked about their struggles with autism and how they learned to live with it.

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Josiah, 22, said his elementary and middle school years were "rough" because he was ridiculed, even after he was diagnosed with autism in fourth grade. He said living with the disorder was like looking in a mirror and seeing a reflection, but realizing something was hidden.

Josiah said he cried and screamed and had a lot of conflict with teachers in middle school, but found his place before first day of band camp at Southern University in 2015.

He said the band director wanted members to share something different about themselves.

"I raised my hand and said I had autism," Josiah said. "I was proud to let everyone know I had autism."

Josiah said music is where he's most comfortable and played a song at the gala off one of the two albums he had composed.

Micah, 26, has written two books and said autism has been a journey and "I have enjoyed the ride."

He said English was his struggle and like a "hefty block." Micah wanted to become an engineer but struggled, so his mother suggested he write a book.

"I've written two of them," he said.

Micah said one of his brothers with autism is interested in music and the other is into the arts.

"I'm a triple threat, a jack of all trades," he said.

Boulden said she hopes the gala and stories of the Frank brothers inspire others.

-- deangelo@decaturdaily.com or 256-340-2469. Twitter @DD_Deangelo.

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(c)2019 The Decatur Daily (Decatur, Ala.)

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