How hard can it be to defy the odds, or should I say easy? How many times will I let doors slam in my face, or how many times will I welcome the second door of opportunity? Can I do things that society labels uncommon? Better yet, watch me turn society's uncommon tasks into everyday events.
Like most people with disabilities, I've faced all of these questions and obstacles repeatedly. I've learned that they're overcome by one key, the belief in things not seen as though they were the key of faith.
Every child has dreams, but developing the will to pursue them can ultimately set life's standards. As a child, I mentally mapped out my path of life. When I viewed the world through my bedroom window, that path seemed so simple.
But outside my front door I soon found that simple would turn to complicated and that I'd be looking opposition in the face for the rest of my life. Conquering obstacles became a game. I looked at each obstacle as a challenge to be conquered — and with determination and perseverance I won each time.
"My daughter will not live life not knowing how to write," was my parents' reply to the doctor's false predetermination of my abilities. This experience foreshadowed the hurdles that were yet to come in living with peripheral neuropathy (Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease).
"Your daughter must be tested to see if she belongs in a special school." This was yet another negative statement that my parents had to combat.
"Her disability affects her hands and feet, not her mind," was their reply.
Needless to say, I attended all the schools of my choice, and my family became my primary source of support and stamina. Watching my parents fight my battles when I was still ignorant of the ways of the world has efficiently equipped me to hold my own.
Having faith in God coupled with faith in myself allowed me to do many things that society labeled uncommon, especially for someone with a disability.
Becoming the first high school cheerleader in the city of Columbus, Ohio, to pump up the crowd from a wheelchair is one example. Learning to drive and obtaining two college degrees in six years were other notches on a belt of tasks that others considered uncommon for someone like me.
More education, more obstacles
My years at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, gave me the chance to become more independent of my parents.
While attending college, I assumed a degree would help me find gainful employment with a generous salary. I asked myself, "What steps do I need to take in order to position myself for a successful job search?"
Studying human resource management gave me insight into the way job recruiters think, and I realized that experience was a powerful factor for college graduates in a tight job market.
As a college student I sought out job experiences that would increase my knowledge of human resources practices. I searched for an internship but found myself going from interview to interview with no results.
Evaluating the process and speaking with interview professionals, I received feedback rating my interview as excellent and my resume as well prepared. So what was the problem?
My answer has nothing to do with fundamental job-hunting skills, but has everything to do with the obvious fear of hiring someone with a disability.
Because I valued the experience, I accepted a nonpaid position in human resources at Goodwill Industries. With a goal to build my resume I was concurrently working in the HR department on campus.
An important door opened during my senior year when the federal government came recruiting on campus. The Department of Energy was seeking interns with and without disabilities. Working in the training department at DOE allowed me to take my book knowledge and give it practical application. I began to understand how to evaluate employee training needs and how to effectively implement a plan to address those needs.
A summer experience with DOE turned into a full year's experience. To qualify for a year-long internship you have to be enrolled in college, so I decided to tackle graduate school.
Ready for the job market
After finishing my MBA degree in five quarters, I was propelled into the "real world." Having an optimistic view of life, I thought I'd prepared myself for a smooth transition.
But despite improved awareness in recent years, the area of employment still presents barrier after barrier for people with disabilities. The barriers become more evident when you're trying to obtain a management position.
After graduation I found myself on the job market as an overeducated, underexperienced, black female who happens to have a physical disability and use a wheelchair — pick a barrier, any barrier.
The smooth transition turned into a long rocky road that ultimately landed me in a customer service position at a credit card company. Who would've imagined that, after getting a master's degree, I'd be answering credit card questions?
I clung to my belief that "what the enemy meant for bad, God meant for good."
Finding degree-related employment, despite an advanced degree and two years experience, was an unanticipated frustration. But as I walked that situation out, I walked right into God's purpose for my life to be a blessing to other people.
During my job search I realized that students need to put a much greater emphasis on obtaining meaningful internship experience before graduation. Employers are looking for experience, and that factor doesn't change for job-seekers who have disabilities.
The future is now
In 2001 at age 23, I decided to dedicate myself to the advancement of all minority students and students with disabilities in internship opportunities. I established the WrightChoice Intern Program.
I designed WCIP to be committed to recruiting, developing and linking tomorrow's work force with today's opportunities. Our slogan is "Building a Bridge Between Resource & Opportunity."
WCIP is a nonprofit corporation that's funded by grants. The funding allows the program to operate and to hire me as the paid director along with a paid college intern. We've acquired several corporate partners, and each year, we place more students in internships.
At 26, my life is just beginning, but I can't help thinking, "What's next?" WCIP serves the Columbus area for now, but I have dreams of going statewide and then ...
With every situation I overcome and every barrier I destroy, I pray that it makes the road clearer and much easier for the next person.
And for me, "Faith is the key to all of lifes challenges dream the undreamable and think the impossible."