She has a charming laugh, a curious mind about everything, and loves to learn new things. At the young age of twenty-four she has two big dreams—to be a fashion designer and to co-author a book with me about a super-hero. We both love super-heroes but Jamila has her own idea of what type of super-hero we will be creating. The fictional character will be a lot like Jamila herself—her super-hero will be a young woman with super powers who just happens have a physical disability that keeps her wheelchair-bound.
Jamila was born with arthrogryposis, a condition occurring in one out of three-thousand pregnancies. A simple layman’s term explanation of arthrogryposis is in order here. This condition is caused by a severe lack of fetal movements in the womb. In order to develop muscles and moveable joints, a fetus in the womb needs to create movement in the limbs. The ‘kicks’ a pregnant woman experiences are the muscle movements needed to create healthy joints. If the joints can’t move, extra connective tissue develops around them and the muscles, and basically ‘fix’ the joint in place. It causes contracture of the joints which strongly limits it’s range of motion after birth.
In 1995, Jamila was born with this condition to an Antiguan mother and a New Yorker father. Shortly after her birth, her mother made the decision to send her baby to live in Antigua where a grandmother could help care for her. There was no treatment for this condition available there but her mother felt that Jamila would be more comfortable having a caring family surrounding her.
Jamila lived in Antigua until she was eighteen-years of age at which time she came back to the United States to live with her Aunt Leona on the east coast. A local church donated a wheelchair for the teenaged Jamila and a ramp, coordinated through the sheriff’s department of her town and the Division of Developmental Disabilities, was constructed at her aunt’s house for Jamila’s use. These were all things that aided her physically, which Jamila greatly appreciated, but she was determined to do more with her young life and not allow her disability to stop her.
The first thing Jamila wanted to do was to get her High School Equivalency diploma. Confined to a wheelchair with a condition that made it nearly impossible to use her limbs might seem daunting, but Jamila has a warrior spirit that does not give up easily. She had heard about the non-profit organization Project Literacy of Greater Bergen County that, besides offering tutors and classes in ESL and adult literacy, also offered the HSE. She applied there as a student in the summer of 2018.
Through the Carmen Pichardo Scholarship, an award given to a student in financial need who is striving to obtain their HSE diploma, Jamila was able to take classes. Due to her physical limitations, accommodations were made to allow her tutor Suzette to type the answers to the HSE test for Jamila. With the help of Suzette and her math tutor Priya, Jamila worked many hard hours and received her diploma this past July.
Today Jamila is a proud college student who attends classes four days a week and excels in her math and English studies. The story of her determination to improve her life was brought to the attention of NBC’s newscaster, Pat Battle, who was so impressed by Jamila that she did a human interest story on the struggles Jamila faced and her fierce desire to achieve her goals.
Now if that were the end of Jamila’s story, it would still be an inspiring tale to tell, but it doesn’t end there. Jamila has goals, she has dreams, and she also has a strong will to get things done. On this October 11th at a fundraising gala for Project Literacy of Greater Bergen County, Jamila will speak in front of over two-hundred guests and tell the story of her triumph over adversity. She will talk about her plans for the future, her desire to accomplish what her heart and her mind tell her is possible with hard work and determination. She will make us smile, laugh, cry, and be awed by this young woman’s accomplishments.
The old saying that states “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade” rings true in Jamila’s story but with a delightful twist. She has taken the lemons life gave her and not only made lemonade but lemon chiffon pie! She is the perfect example of someone who literally triumphed over adversity and set herself on a path to a successful life.