On stage and off, Khodr Farhat makes it all look easy.

Reading Braille, navigating with a white cane, challenging ableist assumptions: People who are blind or visually impaired face these and many other obstacles. Add to those “learning English,” “affording college,” and “losing nearly 150 pounds,” and you’ll get a sense of the additional challenges that 25-year-old Khodr Farhat has tackled.

Blind from birth, Farhat emigrated to Dearborn, Michigan, with his family from Lebanon just 10 years ago. “I didn’t speak English and didn’t know anything about the region,” he says. “I had to learn the language, I had to learn new customs, and I had to get around as a blind person where nothing is within walking distance except for the gas station and the bank. I look at it as if somebody threw me in the middle of the ocean and asked me to swim to the shore.”

Fortunately, Farhat has a heck of a stroke. After becoming fluent in English and completing high school, he earned his associate’s degree in special education from Henry Ford College, then enrolled at the University of Michigan-Dearborn to pursue a bachelor’s degree in political science.

In his sophomore year, he was just wondering how to continue to afford tuition—“I was broke as hell”—when he heard about the Lions Clubs of Michigan White Cane Scholarship for the visually impaired. He applied for and received it, and suddenly he found himself being invited to make motivational speeches at area Lions clubs, as well as to visit local support groups for the blind.

“Khodr is just an amazing service person in the community,” says Lions Club of Detroit President Susie Williams. She had the opportunity to learn that for herself a few years ago, when her club agreed to host a Thanksgiving dinner for homeless children—only to find out three days before the event that the person who’d agreed to donate the turkeys had backed out.

“I told Khodr, ‘My panties are in a pinch,’” she laughs. “He had some pharmacist in Dearborn donate all the turkeys for us in just a couple days’ time. He was the hero of the day, that’s for sure.”

Continuing to speak at Lions clubs around the area while he finished his undergraduate degree, in 2016 Farhat decided to work on his physical appearance as well. “I’ve always dreamed about becoming a worldwide public speaker,” he explains. “The better you look on television and on the stage, the more offers you’re going to get.” That led to him shedding nearly 150 pounds, taking up bodybuilding, and birthing a new dream—appearing in a fashion show.

Lion Khodr Farhat made waves as a blind runway fashion model.

That’s where Williams, who is a local jazz vocalist, came in. “You gotta look good on stage, you know?” she says. “So some of the people in the fashion industry love to support me.” She connected Farhat with her friend, Detroit designer Von Jour Reece, who agreed to use Farhat as a runway model in the April 2018 edition of the popular annual show Hair Wars.

Accompanied by another model and using a white cane, Farhat strode proudly down the runway, pausing at the end for a standing ovation. “The audience was shocked and surprised,” he says. “I couldn’t see their faces, but I heard it in their voices.”

Since then, Farhat has modeled in two more shows for Reece, and has hopes of branching into television commercials as well. If that seems unrealistic, well, “nobody expected me to do what I’m doing now,” he points out. “If you have that strong faith and you work with your heart and mind, you’ll get there.”

Meanwhile, Farhat has finished his undergraduate degree, begun a master’s program in public administration and policy at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, started working part-time as a liaison for the Dearborn Public School System, and joined the Lions Club of Detroit. His latest dream: Organizing a series of fashion shows in which all the models are blind or visually impaired.

“The goal is inclusion,” he says. “This word should be written in gold, inclusion. Believe it or not, there are some people who do not believe that we [people with disabilities] can do much. There’s nothing better than proving the opposite.”

For her part, Williams continues to believe that Farhat will go far—and that being a Lion will only help him get there.

To put that belief in context, she tells a story from the early days of the club. “We’ve been doing a Christmas party for blind students from Detroit Public Schools for over 89 years,” she explains. “In 1955, we scooped up a [blind] kindergartener. We found out that he loved to beat the crap out of his mom’s pots and pans. Maybe she’d like them back. So we gave that kid a set of drums.”

Fast forward a few decades later. “That kid came back and crashed the party,” she says. “He said, ‘Thank you for those drums. I built a musical career around that. That small act of kindness shaped my life.'" That kid's name was Stevie Wonder.

Whether Farhat will achieve similar heights is impossible to say. But he certainly has the gumption for it. As he likes to end every speech he gives: “I will reach for the stars I cannot see.”