How an author, a NASCAR star and a young boy flipped ‘Let’s Go Brandon’

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By AJ Willingham, CNN

Sheletta Brundidge has a keen sense for small miracles. Whether it’s faith or gratitude, she knows not to look away when life shows you something special.

That’s how an innocent misunderstanding by his son became a viral children’s book, which led to a meaningful friendship with one of NASCAR’s top drivers. Together they turn a hurtful sentence into something positive.

Brundidge, an animator and media personality from Minnesota, writes children’s books in honor of her family. Three of her four children were born with autism, and her books aim to educate families about the disease and show her own children how loved they are.

“Cameron Goes to School” was for his daughter. “Daniel Finds His Voice” came next, in honor of his youngest son. In the future, she will write about her oldest child, Andrew, who is not autistic.

This year it was nine-year-old Brandon’s turn. Brundidge wasn’t sure she could write one in time for Autism Awareness Month in April, as she normally does. There was too much going on in the world. Neither idea really seemed right to me.

Then, in March, a trip to Texas revealed the miracle she needed. While walking through the RV park where the family was staying, Brundidge noticed that Brandon was suddenly filled with confidence. Normally shy and quiet, the little boy strutted and smiled, chatted with strangers and, frankly, worried his mother with his newfound bravado.

“I thought, why is my son so brave all of a sudden?” Brundidge told CNN.

“They’re my fans,” Brandon replied. “They know me. They love me.”

Brundige was taken aback until her son stopped her and pointed to something.

“See? That’s my sign! he said.

Looking up, she was shocked to see a sign bearing the same slogan as dozens of bumper stickers, banners and other paraphernalia in the area: “Let’s Go Brandon.”

“It’s not a sign,” Brundidge recalled telling his son. “It’s your book.”

The book led to an enchanted encounter

The origins and meaning of “Let’s Go Brandon” are not so positive.

The phrase is a chopped oath for “F*** Joe Biden” that originated during a broadcast of the NASCAR Sparks 300 race in October 2021. The Talladega Superspeedway crowd chanted the chorus as NBC Sports reporter, Kelli Stavast, apparently misheard the phrase. , claimed they were saying “Let’s go Brandon” in honor of race winner Brandon Brown.

Conservative figures immediately latched onto the misinterpretation, rooting it deep in the political vernacular. Now, statements of “Let’s Go Brandon” are commonplace online and on any type of conservative merchandise.

Brandon Brundidge knew none of this. For him, it was an encouragement.

Less than a month after her son’s epiphany, and with much ado from her illustrator and publisher, Sheletta Brundidge released her new book, “Brandon Spots His Sign,” in April.

In the story, Brandon is nervous about participating in activities like swimming and dancing because he fears his autism will get in the way. Then he spots “Let’s Go Brandon” messages, which encourage him to take more risks. The back of the book also includes tips to encourage people with autism.

The book caught the attention of President Joe Biden, who sent Brandon a letter of admiration. It also reached Brown, the NASCAR driver who unwittingly helped spawn the “Let’s Go Brandon” craze. Brown had been publicly ambivalent about the phrase, but struggled to keep sponsors in light of its polarizing nature.

Brown’s team contacted the Brundidges and invited them to an upcoming Xfinity Series race. Within a week, the family was at the Road America racetrack in Wisconsin, taking part in the event as VIPs. Brown even splashed the cover of Brundidge’s book on the hood of his Camaro.

“I know how it goes. People invite you to places where you get some recognition. But Brandon [Brown] really was the nicest guy,” Brundidge said. “He could have waited. He could have just seen the book and said, “That’s cool. But he understood the urgency of creating awareness.

Young Brandon even got to help get Brown’s car out which he told CNN was one of his favorite parts of the day. That, and getting to know a fellow Brandon, of course.

The boy also gave the driver an autism awareness pendant on a chain, which matches one of his.

“He hasn’t taken it off since,” Brundidge said.

For Brown, the enchanted encounter was a chance to reclaim a phrase he felt had become too mean.

“For that to happen, it was like that watershed moment for us,” Brown said after the Xfinity Series race. “It can be positive. It can be good. It doesn’t have to be hateful or divisive.

CNN has contacted NASCAR for comment.

And this meeting sparked a friendship

The newfound friendship between the Brandons didn’t stop after the race. Sheletta Brundidge says Brown calls or texts her son all the time to talk about Minecraft or just check it out.

This whole ordeal has been a huge boost for young Brandon.

“I saw his confidence skyrocket,” says Brundidge. “Children with autism are so often chosen last or left out. Often it’s because other kids just don’t understand why they’re doing what they’re doing.

“Just pray for a good support system and for love,” she continues. “And Brandon Brown loved my kid. He brought autistic kids into the spotlight for the world to see.

Now Brandon Brundidge has a new friend, new fans, and stacks of new books to sign. (Which is hard work, he told CNN.) His mother hopes this experience will show how autistic children can thrive with love and encouragement.

And, even in the midst of bitter divisions, there are always small miracles.

The-CNN-Wire
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