As the Advent season draws to a close, St. John the Baptist Parish in Kenmore will welcome a special guest in the form of a multitalented musician, motivational speaker and world traveler. At 1 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 17, the parish will welcome Sujeet Desai, a local musician born with Down syndrome who, among other talents, is classically trained in seven instruments and has become a leading advocate for the rights of people with disabilities.
Desai will perform in the parish's Reina Community Center after the regular Sunday noon Mass. Light refreshments will be available after his performance. Although he is also a motivational speaker, this program will include his classical music performance and a slideshow with pictures of Desai in the background, showing how he has progressed from birth until the present day. As seating is limited, attendees are asked to RSVP with the parish rectory ahead of time.
Desai, 36, who graduated from Berkshire Hills Music Academy in Massachusetts in 2003, has played in 40 states and 15 countries in many historic venues, including Carnegie Hall, and met other famous musicians while traveling. He was, by audition, selected to be among 13 international wind instrument musicians to make a commercial for the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He will soon be testing for his third-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do after having received his black belt at age 16 in a class of typical students.
Judy Gorman, a parish volunteer at St. John the Baptist, contacted Desai's mother to invite him to come to the parish after reading about him in The Buffalo News. Gorman, who previously served as pro-life director for the diocese, has also been active in advocacy for people with disabilities.
"His mother and father are both dentists. They both are strong advocates for the differently-challenged. They travel when Sujeet travels out of town to support him," Gorman said. His mother also joins him with motivational speaking, and while locally at his job as an entertainer, he is self-sufficient to manage his performance. "We are very excited about it."
Sujeet is the son of Drs. Sharad and Sindoor Desai, both dentists. Sindoor recalled how when she gave birth to Sujeet, positive things had been written about Down syndrome, but parents of special needs children received relatively little support at that time. Schools were not as equipped to serve children with special needs as they are today, which led to challenges in terms of providing a suitable environment for him.
"If they were born, they either were given away, institutionalized or parents like us who were determined to bring them in the community to their fullest potential were looked down, The non-acceptance of their special kids by their own family, friends and the community makes a lifetime struggle for parents," Sindoor said, referring to the condition as Trisomy 21. People with Down syndrome inherit a third copy of chromosome 21 in their cells when there should be only two copies.
According to Gorman, who is co-chair of the St. John the Baptist pro-life committee with Sharon Murphy, Sujeet Desai's invitation was part of an effort to include people with many different disabilities in parish life, whether it is bringing up the gifts at weekly Mass, distributing bulletins to parishioners or singing in the choir.
"They all have talents, so I just try to get people to get involved," added Gorman. "You want people in the pews to know that all of these people that have different abilities can certainly do something and be a part of our parish."
In developing his talent, Sujeet has done many things others did not think were possible, his mother said. Most typical adults do not know how to play seven instruments, nor have they received presidential awards in Singapore, Dubai and Trinidad. He was, by audition, selected to be among 13 international wind instrument musicians to make a commercial for the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and played during the opening night at the Special Olympics World Games in 2009 in Boise, Idaho. In the World Games, he has won many gold and silver medals for swimming, and many national Special Olympics medals in downhill skiing, cross-country, bowing, basketball and bocce ball.
In 2010, he became one of the first ambassadors for Down Syndrome International, and he has been an ambassador for Best Buddies International, the National Down Syndrome Society and National Down Syndrome Congress, as well many other Down syndrome organizations. As an entertainer, he has appeared at senior living communities, nursing homes, annual events, fundraisers and more.
"He's entering adulthood, and 36 years ago when he was born, there was no inclusion. There was nothing written in any books that these children could do music, or do what he has achieved. He has paved new roads in many areas that children with Down syndrome were not supposed to reach," Sindoor said. "It was hard work for me. Without my husband's support, we wouldn't have been able to do it."
To RSVP for this event, contact the St. John the Baptist Parish rectory at 716-873-1122. For more information about Desai, his music or his upcoming engagements, visit facebook.com/sujeetmusic or www.sujeet.com.