When I think of Women’s History Month, I can’t help but think of all the amazing women with and without disabilities — some famous and many not so famous — who have fought and continue to fight for the right of individuals with disabilities to just be their unapologetically authentic selves and to have the opportunity to live their best lives. These women are mothers, wives, sisters, aunts, grandmothers, friends, teachers, caregivers and advocates who refuse to let their friends and loved ones with disabilities be overlooked and underappreciated. They want their individuality, uniqueness, resourcefulness, creativity and power to shine brightly. They bring to bear these vital qualities to their families, communities, the workplace, businesses, the arts and in so many other ways and areas of life! All they need and are asking for is acceptance, accessibility and opportunity to bring their myriad abilities to the table so everyone can benefit from their often underused talents.
It wasn’t until I had my daughter, Sierra, that I was introduced to the disability community. It’s because of my daughter and what I’ve come to learn about the community advocating for her and others like her for the past 30 years that I now serve as a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion/PR Consultant. I work with companies to develop and execute strategic multicultural marketing programming that fully includes this significant, but still undervalued and untapped consumer segment.
The fact is we are all but one unexpected life incident away from becoming part of this community. I was diagnosed with adult-onset epilepsy after experiencing a grand mal seizure in my late forties caused in part by unhealthy stress. Because I was also the mother of a daughter born with cerebral palsy, which includes intellectual and physical developmental disabilities, I soon realized that taking better care of myself was the best way to ensure that I’d be here to care for her for as long as possible. Because there are many things that Sierra can’t do for herself, I have served as her mother, guardian and caregiver for the past 32 years, and hope to do so for at least another 30! As challenging as it has been, our journey has also been an incredible blessing for which am extremely grateful. I say this because if it weren’t for my daughter being born with disabilities, I don’t think I would have had the will, the fight, the determination or even motivation to pursue the best life possible for myself, so that Sierra, and others like her, could also have the chance at living their best lives. I wouldn’t have necessarily chosen this “assignment,” because I certainly didn’t think I would have been able to handle it. But it seems God knew better.
The realities of being Sierra’s mother and her needing total care, yet not wanting her to miss out on anything life has to offer, has led me to approach and appreciate life much differently. Not only are we finding new ways for Sierra to showcase her individuality and gifts, like becoming a signature fashion model in her wheelchair for Fashion By D’Shacourt Studios, an Atlanta fashion designer, but it has also allowed me to discover my authentic self. That part of me had gotten lost over the years (which oftentimes happens to moms like me) as I focused on helping Sierra maximize her potential.
However, as I enter my early 60s, I am excited about my next chapter and looking forward to the future more than ever. I now feel I can let loose and explore the abilities and dreams hidden within me, while maximizing my own potential. These have been long-held desires like becoming an entrepreneur, author, speaker, singer/songwriter and independent recording artist, producing and hosting radio podcasts and TV shows about the disability community and more! I’m loving the fact that like Michele Obama, I’m still becoming. I am also both proud and thankful to be a recipient of a Presidential Lifetime Achievement Award from President Barack Obama for my years of community service within the disability community — service which I hope to continue to deliver and expand on moving forward!
So, from the bottom of my heart, I would like to thank all the strong, determined, purposeful and amazing women in my life like my now adult daughter, my recently deceased mother, my mother-in-law, sisters, girlfriends and my peer community — other moms of children with disabilities who have been there encouraging me and lifting me up as I have maneuvered through this challenging journey. If not for them, I’m not sure where I’d be today. In their honor, I’d like to share an original poem, which hopefully will encourage other women and mothers to remember to also give themselves permission to fly!
PERMISSION TO FLY
By Norma Stanley
YOU ARE BRILLIANT. YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL!
TAKE YOUR POSITION IN FRONT AND BE PROUD!
DON’T LET ANYONE OR ANYTHING INVADE YOUR THOUGHTS
WITH NEGATIVE TALK OF WHAT YOU OUGHT
TO BE, HAVE OR DO! YOU WERE CREATED THROUGH LOVE
BY GOD WHO IS LOVE. JUST BE…YOU!
DON’T WALLOW IN SELF-PITY OR PAIN
GET UP DAILY, DETERMINED TO BRING THE RAIN!
YOU HAVE IT IN YOU TO SOAR, LIKE THE EAGLE YOU ARE
LEAVE THE CHICKENS BEHIND, AND SPREAD YOUR WINGS!
DESPITE HOW TODAY MAY LOOK, DON’T GIVE UP HOPE
JUST KNOW TOMORROW WILL BRING BETTER THINGS!
YOU ARE HERE FOR A PURPOSE,
SO PURSUE YOUR PASSION AND POWER
STEP OUT ON FAITH AND KEEP YOUR HEAD TO THE SKY
FULLY LOVE YOURSELF, CAUSE YOU’RE UNSTOPPABLE!
GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION, TO FLY!
Norma Stanley is CEO of E.E.E. Marketing Group, Inc. She is also host of Disability World TV on the streaming PG Network on Xperienc on Demand (XOD) TV and is co-host of Disabled Lives Matter Podcast. Her alter ego is singer Nella-Joi. Connect with her on social media as Norma Stanley on Facebook and LinkedIn; Instagram (@singernellajoi); Twitter (@anelectedlady) and on her website at www.normastanley.com.