Self-Advocates Speak Out at ICASA/Illinois Imagines Conference
My name is Caprisha Shamira Williams.
I am here to say that I am a survivor, not a victim, and you can be too!
I was born in cook county and I was unfortunately diagnosed with cerebral palsy a muscle condition that alters movement and is caused by brain damage during the birth. I knew having my first major surgery at the age of five my life would be different. My mother calls me her “miracle baby” to this day because at birth I had a very slim chance of surviving and after a few months in the ICU, I was finally out and had some color in my face.
My life has been interesting and difficult because although I feel I grew up sheltered my mother couldn’t always protect me. We lived in a bad neighborhood with drug dealers and alcoholics on top of there being gunshots every other night. I basically spent the first 11 years of my life in and out of the hospital and in therapy. I went through three full body cast and sometimes I wouldn’t eat so I was very thin and often in pain. My mother was there for me as best she could although she had her problems with substance abuse, she never left me in a bad situation. I believe my father wanted to be there for me but he spent most of the time in and out of prison or rehab. He was killed at age 27 by a drug dealer and the months ahead of that was the last I ever saw of him.
I went to school and was a teacher’s pet like most kids, but I went to a school with mostly Hispanics and they did not like me. I was teased mercilessly by the other kids and the teachers didn’t do much to help. I was teased for a good 10 years by other kids and the kids on my block as well. They didn’t understand that I could not just get up and walk. So they made fun of me which made me depressed. Around the same time I was domestically abused by my step-dad and sometimes I was afraid to come home or get my sleeves dirty. He abused my mother as well.
He wasn’t a bad guy it was just a bad time and he was under a lot of stress. He took care of me outside of that making sure we had clean clothes and we were fed well my siblings and me. My mother was in and out prison at the time and she wrote me letters to keep me aware and let me know she loved me. This was an off and on for a of period of three years.
Despite all of the negative that was around me I still had mentors and older people around who helped me along the way. I had teachers who did my hair and bus attendants that helped me find more clothes if I needed.
When I was 10 our room burned down and we slept on the floor for a month and there were always mice because we lived in a made up basement with bathroom n pipes on the ceiling. With all of this I was always encouraged by older people and cousins and told I was beautiful. You might think this sounds bad but we never had a bad Christmas and never went hungry.
By age 12 I was way into art at the time and even was part of Gallery 37 for a little, while which was a program for kids to do art projects, field trips, etc. This was a great outlet for all of my pain and I have since stopped doing art as I discovered I was better at writing and have been writing poetry since I was 11. It wasn’t until I was 16 that I discovered how much I liked kids and how much compassion I had for others.I have continued with this and decided it would be part of my life’s legacy. I have helped many kids over the years discover their own creativity through community volunteering.
My step dad and my mother split up when I was 13 and then he passed away when I was 17 after my mother moved on with my current step dad. When I graduated high school my mother moved us to the suburbs to get out of the bad neighborhood and I haven’t left.
Where I Am Now
Now at 28 I spend my time helping people and weaving in and out of community college. I use my voice to raise disability awareness because people should understand we are different and not less. I have a book on Amazon that is a small collection of kid’s poems. I am also state titleholder Ms. Wheelchair Illinois 2016. I won that for my community activism.
I have connected with other disability advocates over the years. I belong to a Women With Disabilities empowerment group where we work with each other to create more positivity for ourselves and others. I also belong to another group that cultivates relationships between disability based agencies and rape crisis centers so that a persons with disabilities can report abuse and feel empowered and not silenced. I have been a disability advocate my whole life but an active activist for the last seven years. Moving in and out of my community making sure that more places and events are disability friendly.
I have stayed away from both drugs and violence as I learned from others mistakes. I also advocate for better mental health and will help someone who is depressed find resources.I participate in marches and I come and speak to support survivors of any kind of abuse. I just recently started speaking to kids about bullying and being motivated to be the best. I want people to know there is life outside of trauma and I hope with my story you get the strength to share your own.
My acting has been a big part of my life as well I have been in 6 shows in the last 6 years
- Fiddler on the Roof
- Sleepy Hollow
- Anne Jr
- Peter Pan
- Night of the Living Dead
Acting is fun and it taught me discipline and I learned that I like making people laugh. My handicap has not stopped me from enjoying life so neither should yours!
Thanks for visiting.