American Success Story | Global Down Syndrome Foundation

American Success Story

From Down Syndrome World 2017 Issue 2 of 4

Actor and model Jamie Brewer embraces the power of her celebrity to shatter stereotypes and be a voice for others — and counts superstar Miley Cyrus as an admirer.

In just a few short years, Jamie Brewer has become an icon and role model to legions of fans through her work on the hit TV show American Horror Story and as the first model with Down syndrome to appear in a New York Fashion Week runway show.

But last October, Brewer got to meet an idol of her own when she and Miley Cyrus shared a hug at the Beverly Wilshire hotel in Beverly Hills. Cyrus asked Brewer to introduce her at the Variety Power of Women event, where Cyrus received an award for her Happy Hippie Foundation. The foundation helps homeless youth and works more broadly to promote acceptance for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) youth and others who view themselves as different or feel they don’t fit in.

“We’ve never met in person before today, but I’m a huge fan of Jamie’s,” Cyrus said as she began her acceptance speech. “I thought she would beautifully encompass the Happy Hippie Foundation and all we represent.”

For Brewer, the moment was surreal — she was presenting Cyrus to a room full of acting luminaries including Helen Mirren, Ava DuVernay, Scarlett Johansson, and Laverne Cox.


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“I’d been a fan of Miley’s and her father’s [musician Billy Ray Cyrus] for some time,” Brewer said. “I like her personality, which is down to earth and outgoing at the same time Miley heard of me and wanted me to present her with an award at the Power of Women luncheon. I was so excited she asked me. It was a very humbling experience.”

Their meeting at the event marked the start of a true friendship. Two months after the luncheon, Brewer attended a taping of the The Voice as a guest of Cyrus, who was a celebrity coach on the reality singing show.

Outside the spotlight, Brewer and Cyrus always have plenty to talk about when they’re together.

“We talk about lots of different things,” Brewer said. “Most of our conversations are just about life.” On that front, Brewer has a lot to share.

LOVING EVERY ROLE
Brewer, 32, grew up in Texas and southern California, where she currently lives. She caught the acting bug in the eighth grade when she played the role of Doctor Doolittle’s wife in a stage production of the beloved story about a man who can talk to animals.

She continued to act during and after high school, until her big break in 2011 — being cast as Adelaide “Addie” Langdon on the first season of the FX network’s American Horror Story. Adelaide was a young woman with Down syndrome mistreated by her mother.

“I got into the industry with Adelaide,” Brewer said. “Adelaide and I share a few natural traits, like personality and sass, so it was a very personal role.

“The whole experience on that first season w as so fun, especially for a huge horror fan girl like me,” Brewer added.

Brewer appeared in two more seasons of American Horror Story, as well as other network drama series and documentaries. Last year, she traveled to Australia to star in her first big-screen production, Kill Off, a short film about a woman who is differently-abled and uses street dance to bond with an African refugee.

Currently, she’s pursuing a bachelor’s degree in theater arts and working on another film, while also preparing to play the lead role in Amy and the Orphans, an off-Broadway play slated to open in New York in February 2018. The play is being produced by the Roundabout Theatre Company, one of the largest and most storied nonprofit theater companies in New York City, and directed by Scott Ellis, a seven-time Tony Award nominee.

BLAZING TRAILS FROM AN EARLY AGE
Regardless of whether she’s in Hollywood or Texas, advocacy has always been a running theme in Brewer’s life. From a young age, she challenged society’s perceptions of individuals with Down syndrome and their capabilities.

At age 18, she served as the youngest president ever elected to her local chapter of The Arc, The Arc of Fort Bend County. At age 20, she was asked to join The Arc of Texas Governmental Affairs Committee, where she worked with state lawmakers to pass legislation banning the use of the words “retard,” “retarded,” and “retardation” in Texas statutes. Brewer’s commitment to advocacy is one strong passion she shares with Cyrus.

BEHIND-THE-SCENES PHILANTHROPY
Although headlines about Cyrus tend to focus on her provocative performances, wardrobe, or latest social encounters, the artist has been working to give voice to the voiceless for most of her 24 years.

Like Brewer, Cyrus began her charitable work began as a child, when she would visit the coal mining towns of Kentucky with her family to bring clothes, gifts, and school supplies. As she got older, she raised money for and volunteered with a variety of nonprofits, including Youth Service America, Make-A-Wish® Foundation, and Feeding America, while also making individual contributions to earthquake recovery efforts in Haiti and to HIV/AIDS campaigns.

The Happy Hippie Foundation, launched in 2015, has been Cyrus’ most ambitious effort. In addition to its work with homeless teenagers and young adults, the foundation provides support, education, and job opportunities for LGBTQ and other at-risk youth.

The idea grew out of Cyrus’ 2014 MTV Video Music Award win, when she asked her date, a homeless young man named Jesse, to accept her award and deliver a speech on the plight of homeless youth in Los Angeles. Though many dismissed it as a publicity stunt, Cyrus managed to raise $200,000 for related charities within 24 hours.

‘EVERY LIFE IS VALUABLE’
Cyrus has told various media outlets that she felt dr awn to the problem of homelessness because it’s a problem so prevalent among LGBTQ teenagers and young adults. By some estimates, as many as 40 percent of clients served by homeless support organizations are LGBTQ, with the leading reason for their homelessness being family rejection related to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Cyrus has also said that since a very young age, she struggled with her own gender identity and sexuality. Her personal struggles coming out to her parents and fans gave her an even closer connection to her foundation’s cause.

“No one should have to hide who they really are, no matter what his or her name, gender, status, or orientation,” Cyrus wrote in a blog post on the foundation’s website. “That’s why happy hippies are here to say that every life is valuable, and it is our mission to make sure those who question the value of themselves and their lives feel protected and loved by us … which they very much are.”

Brewer shares those same sentiments about inclusion for people with Down syndrome and others who don’t fit traditional molds.

In 2015, the Global Down Syndrome Foundation was proud to award Brewer its 2015 Quincy Jones Exceptional Advocacy Award for her inclusive viewpoints. “Receiving the Quincy Jones Exceptional Advocacy Award was a huge honor,” Brewer said. “Being recognized by Global was fitting because my advocacy is global. I don’t speak up to change things in one state. Everyone needs to have a voice.”

That’s one more point she and Cyrus can agree on.

BEHIND THE SCENES
How does actress Jamie Brewer work at her craft? Whom does she look up to in the film industry? We asked her those questions and more.

Q: HOW DO YOU PREPARE TO PLAY A ROLE?

Brewer: I always stay on my feet — that’s the biggest thing. I have to stay active to study and memorize the script. If I lie down while reading it, I fall asleep.

Q: WHICH ACTORS INSPIRE YOU?

Brewer: There are several I look up to and call mentors, including Chris Burke and Lauren Potter [both of whom have Down syndrome] and Sarah Paulson [who co-starred with Brewer in American Horror Story]. American Horror Story writer and producer Ryan Murphy is another.

Q: WHICH DIRECTORS WOULD YOU MOST LIKE TO WORK WITH?

Anyone, but definitely Alejandro G. Iñárritu and Martin Scorsese.

Q: WHAT’S SOMETHING YOU’RE LOOKING FORWARD TO?

Brewer: Graduating from college, although I don’t know when that

 

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