Forget the Oscars.
This past week, there was a different kind of red carpet event in Atlantic County.
Elijah Langford honored those with special needs and their caretakers at an event at Doc’s Oyster House in Atlantic City with help from his team, DEMCATS, and his brother, Isaiah.
“We want to change the narrative on what most people consider ‘special,'” Langford explained. “Instead of highlighting what they cannot do, we highlight all the many and wonderful things that they can do.”
It was an amazing night for those who don’t normally get to bask in the spotlight.
“It was absolutely beautiful,” said Terri Lingham-Muhammad who was honored along with her daughter, Ina Naja Muhammad.
Ina, 32, has Down syndrome and often is overlooked, her mother said.
But on Tuesday, she got to dress up and be treated like a celebrity.
“She didn’t want to get off the red carpet,” Lingham-Muhammad said.
“It was a no-judgement zone,” she said. “Everybody had their own different abilities. Everybody was so happy for everybody. It was a very special night.”
Angela Brooks Pittman, whose son Michael Pittman Jr. was honored, said it meant a lot to have her son included in such a way.
“The major obstacle they have is being accepted for who they are, and to be treated by society equally,” she said. “As parents and caretakers this is a daily battle and the mountain of paperwork that comes along with it. This event showed that they are not forgotten, but were recognized for them being themselves.”
Brooks Pittman said they were treated like royalty.
“No stares, no pointing, no laughing at, but as equals,” she said. “People with disabilities only want to be included and not forgotten. My son enjoyed himself and met new people. This event was full of class, elegance and grace.”
Brooks Pittman gave special thanks to Elijah and Isaiah Langford.
The 10 honorees were given a trophy, $100 gift card and a certificate.
But they weren’t the only ones recognized.
The caregivers received surprise gift bags that included a watch “symbolic for the time they’ve committed and dedicated to assisting the recipients,” Langford explained.
“I was super happy because there were recipients who have disabilities that prevent them from being verbal and yet they showed their appreciation and happiness in different ways,” he said. “That really touched me. I felt so good, almost emotional, because to me that’s always been my goal is to positively touch and affect as many lives as possible.”
Langford said he now feels like they’re family.
Lingham-Muhammad especially appreciated the night as someone who has worked to educate people about those who are different from her daughter.
Now retired, Lingham-Muhammad worked for the city’s Health Department and went into schools to educate children about those with special needs. One of those kids was a fifth-grader named Elijah Langford.
So, the night brought things full circle.
Lingham-Muhammd said she told Langford’s mother, former Atlantic City first lady Nynell Lea Langford, that she didn’t even know how to feel about the night, she was so overwhelmed.
“Elijah and his brother, Isaiah, really rolled out the red carpet,” she said. “They treated our family members like superstars.”
Elijah Langford credited his team, especially his brother Isaiah: He ‘is my American Express card — I never leave home without him.”
The honorees were: Lynamesha Cheatham, Kaleb Hansen, Kobe Hood, Derrick Lewis, Ina Naja Muhammad, Michael Pitman Jr., LaToya Smith, Shequoiya Turner, Jarmal Witman and Ty Parker, who was unable to attend.