Defying the odds

Langhorne’s James Henderson is spreading positivity through his Facebook Live series #motivateumonday

By Samantha Bambino

The Times

Staying positive: Langhorne’s James Henderson is inspiring others through his weekly Facebook Live series, #motivateumonday, a project he started after seeing too many negative posts on social media. SOURCE: James Henderson

It’s been awhile since James Henderson experienced a “case of the Mondays.” Unlike the unmotivated Peter Gibbons in the ’90s comedy Office Space, who hates just about everything the start of a work week brings, Henderson views the dreaded day as a chance to spread some positive energy.

On Nov. 7, 2016, after seeing one too many social media posts containing hate and negativity, the Langhorne resident broadcast his first #motivateumonday video on Facebook Live, which has since turned into a weekly series with a steady following. Though Henderson has gained recognition on media outlets such as Today’s 96.5 and Fox 29 News, he’s not in it for the fame. Rather, he wants to inspire others through his story of perseverance and never giving up.

From infancy, Henderson had a knack for defying the odds. Born in Northeast Philadelphia, the now 32-year-old was diagnosed with the birth defect known as spina bifida. There was little hope of him living at all, let alone thriving.

“My life was seen as either very short lived or a life in which I’d live as a vegetable,” he said.

Despite the unknown journey ahead, Henderson’s parents welcomed him with open arms, raising him with unconditional love and support. They didn’t see their son as an outcast and never treated him as such. Through their guidance, Henderson learned how to adapt his unique condition to the real world and stand strong against criticism and judgment.

“I never let that define me,” he said. “I’m not the boy in the wheelchair or on crutches.”

Though Henderson admits he requires both to get around, upon meeting him, his outgoing personality and passion for life are far more likely to be the first things someone notices. Because his parents spoke up for him when society wouldn’t, he learned how to do the same for himself, forming an unshakeable confidence and infectiously positive attitude.

A natural people-person, Henderson earned a bachelor’s degree from Holy Family University in psychology — the perfect fit for someone always willing to lend an ear and give advice. Growing up, Henderson explained how people, disabled and able-bodied alike, regularly confided in him.

On Nov. 7, 2016, he decided to take his passion for helping others to the next level. It was the heart of the Donald Trump versus Hillary Clinton battle, and all of the hate spewed across social media that went along with it. For Henderson, it was negativity overload.

“I thought to myself, I can do something to provide a positive distraction from all of this,” he said.

That morning, Henderson clicked the “Go Live” button on Facebook for the first time. He had no script and no real plan, just a curiosity to see where his idea could go. Though he touched on the hot topic of the election, he did so in an unbiased, non-judgmental way, shedding equal light on both parties. His main takeaway? Do and believe in whatever’s best for you.

Next, Henderson gave viewers a glimpse into his exercise regime, which includes wall pushups. Over the years, he yet again surpassed expectations of an individual with spina bifida as he slowly but surely built his physical strength.

That first #motivateumonday was the ultimate combination of Henderson’s gift of gab, passion for people and love of exercise — the perfect trio to get even the Debbiest of downers in a better state of mind. It was something everyone, not just the disabled community, could relate to. And people took notice.

Since 2016, Henderson has shared his story on Fox 29 News and the official Nashville radio station for the Grand Ole Opry, WSM Radio 650 AM. Most recently, he was interviewed by Bex of Today’s 96.5 FM, with the video earning more than 1,270 views on his Facebook page. He also spoke to the students of Pennsbury High School this month during his first public speaking gig, something he thoroughly enjoyed.

#motivateumonday is geared toward all ages and all walks of life. Henderson prides himself on being as real and raw as possible, not another wannabe social media star.

“I’m not the best. I’m not better than anyone,” he humbly said.

Henderson is simply and unapologetically himself, and many would do well to take a page from his book. He knows what it’s like to chase a dream and understands firsthand the challenges that come with it. In high school, he pictured a life as one of the talented chefs seen on the Food Network. But when he was required to carry a large pot of hot water during a cooking class, his crutches prevented him from completing the necessary task.

“Start with an idea, but have a backup plan. It’s not the end of the world if it doesn’t work out,” he said. “Negativity will come, but use it as a way to grow stronger.”

Instead of focusing on his weaknesses, Henderson opened himself up to a world of possibilities. He was able to recognize his strengths and determine the dream of psychology he was meant to pursue.

Now, he’s using those skills to help us embrace the start of each week rather than smack the snooze button.

“Mondays are a drag,” he said. “I’m going to be there every Monday for people and help them stay motivated the rest of the week.”

Keep up with James Henderson and #motivateumonday on Facebook at facebook.com/jed.henderson.0280237?fref=jewel and Instagram at @slim_jim020. ••

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com