“Having been born a black girl with a visible and physical disability the idea of confidence and living boldly was unexpected. However I did not wish to live my life any other way! I learned early in life that I did not meet the beauty standards of the world. While many people feel the pressure to uphold society’s standards I began to realize since I couldn’t be a part of it I could create freedom of self expression in my own way. I could be whoever I desired to be. As a woman with a physical and visual disability it was very important to me to not feel less than anyone else. I’ve noticed in social media and movies and even historically that disabled men and women did not have the right to walk unapologetically in their bodies. It seemed weird or unnatural for a person with a physical and visual disability to love their bodies and feel confident! Sexy even! It seemed that a disabled person’s one goal in this life was to inspire and motivate others while being limited in how they’re allowed to feel about themselves in their own lives. This was not me.
While influencing and motivating others is very important to me it’s also imperative that I’m able to walk in the self love and body positivity I preach to others.When I was younger I knew I was different. I knew my friends and family had hands, and I didn’t, but it didn’t upset me. I had tons of doctors appointments where my physicians tried to determine what went wrong with my development. They were determined to figure it out and after all the trials and tests my doctors ended up being unsuccessful in their attempts. They gave me gadgets to assist me with eating. ‘Wrap this around your arm and place the utensil here’, they’d say. Yeah that didn’t last long! My doctors soon realized there was no need for our regular visits. No gidgets, no gadgets and no prosthetics; she is ‘BOUT IT!’ Okay, well maybe they didn’t say that exactly but you get it! I will say my doctors appointments were awesome. They tried their best to create ways for me to live a fulfilling life. I also remember my appointments being family days which was awesome. The hospital I went to specialized with children who had disabilities and I was able to be myself. My most memorable appointment was one of my last because I recall one of my doctors saying ‘she’s gonna be just fine’.
I definitely think the way my parents raised me had a lot to do with my view of my disability. My household was very normal. I bathed myself, brushed my teeth, picked out my school clothes and basically did everything my other siblings were allowed to do. I knew I did not have hands and i knew I was smaller but it didn’t connect that I had this ‘disability’. I thought being different was quite normal. I didn’t think it mattered. I didn’t think it had anything to do with the person I felt that I was. Maybe we should’ve had a conversation to prepare me however I don’t blame my parents for not taking that route. In doing so, it made me courageous and fearless!
When it was time for school I was excited. I walked into Mrs. Arnold’s class ready to start my day. My teacher gave us all a picture to draw that she thought would be appropriate for five year olds. When my mom came back to pick me up my teacher couldn’t wait to show her what I did. She sat all of the pictures out on the table and showed my mom the one picture with the colors within the line. She was blown away. I’d never taken any formal lessons on how to write or draw and I’d never even picked up a writing utensil. I picked up the crayons the best way I could and colored the best way I knew how. Placing the color between my right cheek and my arm allowed me to have a sturdy grip up top while holding my lip against the utensil helped secure the bottom. It became very natural to me. It was truly God’s plan! I was on a roll!
It was the Spring of 1999 and I was so excited to be able to compete with my dance team in 6th grade at Glen Crest. It was a big dance competition at Six Flags. A day away from school to go to an amusement park with $50 in my pocket? Couldn’t have been better! For me at least. The weather was a perfect day to get my dance on with my team and then have some fun in the sun. There were so many different schools and dance teams ready to do their thing but when Zapp and Rogers ‘More Bounce to The Ounce’ came on nothing else mattered. It was time for us to do our thing. There was no fear on that stage. I smiled. I engaged with the audience and watched as people were captivated by this little ole thang with this HUGE burst of confidence! Needless to say, the competition was successful. We didn’t place but we had fun.
Now to the real fun! The rides! Whoo-hoo, I was excited. My team selected a ride and I was ready to go. It’s my turn to go through the line and my sister and school friends were all laughing and anticipating how the workers would react to me! I get to the front and was stopped by a worker and a sign that said ‘must be this height to ride’. I looked around astonished and it was as if reality hit me then and there, I can’t do this! I didn’t see myself as this employee saw me! I was doing everything they were doing. I was just as capable…or so I thought. Until that point I didn’t even entertain an idea of being different. I didn’t identify with the word ‘disability’, I couldn’t have even told you what that meant, but in that moment that idea/word felt more real to me than the sun hitting my face. I cried. The rest of our trip was gloomy but I kept trying. Even the ‘kiddie’ rides denied me access. I was so mad!
It’s devastating to believe that you can do any and everything and then BOOM one day to be met with your limitations. It’s hard to accept that you are going to have to compromise with the idea that you CAN do this but THAT over there you’re gonna need to reconsider. I was raised around ‘fifty eleven’ cousins. I kept up. We all did the same things. There were no ‘accommodations’ growing up. I had to clean my room. I had to have my homework finished before I could play. If I got in trouble, consequences came with it. I couldn’t accept this new thing, this disability. Where has it been? Why does it want to tell me what I can’t do? Why now? I was 12 years old and was approached a life changing choice. You’re disabled! What are you going to do? The devil was quick in finding this new insecurity and attacking my mind and wanting to make me believe that I was different. I didn’t believe that! I felt like I could do anything I desired to do. I was excelling. I spoke with my parents and had a conversation to continue business as usual! No new labels. Same ideas. Somehow by choosing to not accept these labels or new limitations I become more passionate about trying everything! I even started to use a wheelchair. I embraced it. To people who are feeling depressed about their disability I would say to find a community of people who are like you. Find a support system! When I was younger I did not have people like me who I could relate to and confide in. People who would share the same fears and experiences as me. Community gives us a sense of belonging and when we feel we belong, we find that we have purpose. When we recognize our purpose we begin to see limitless opportunities!”
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