Ten years ago, people in Albany started asking me if I knew Shameka. Despite what others may think, I don’t know everyone else who uses a wheelchair even if they live in the same region. It didn’t take me long to run into Shameka though. They don’t call it “Smallbany” without reason.
Shameka and I met when she volunteered for the Ms. Wheelchair America Pageant we held in Albany in 2005. She came every day to assist in the hospitality room. At the end of the week, she told me she was considering participating in the state pageant. I was thrilled to have her as a contestant and very excited to work with her when she was crowned Ms. Wheelchair New York 2006.
As a State Coordinator, I gave each titleholder the same advice, “Your year is what you make it.” Some titleholders chose to do activities in their community. Some titleholders traveled across the state. Some titleholders worked on national events held in their cities. Shameka actively volunteered throughout her year. She wanted to serve as an example to others and her way of demonstrating we all have gifts to give was to be an involved community participant. Shameka was at First Night, Tulip Fest, Alive at Five (an outdoor concert series), the Gubernatorial inauguration, and other events.
At the end of her year as titleholder, I asked her to consider remaining involved with the program as a mentor to other titleholders. Thankfully, she said yes and continued to help the program in many ways – as a judge, judge coordinator, volunteer recruiter and fundraiser. When I knew it was time for me to step down as coordinator there was only one person I could see taking on the role. Shameka has embraced the challenge and the program continues to grow under her direction.
More importantly, I have gained a wonderful friend along the way. Shameka is a positive, self-assured woman who resonates strength and dignity. She is a talented photographer and emerging writer. Shameka is a self-advocate who helps instill advocacy skills in others. I have been honored to watch her grow as a leader and it makes me proud to witness her accomplishments. I am not a mother, and will never be one, but when one of “my titleholders” does well, I am filled with wonder and awe to have have played a small part in their growth and success.
Thank you Shameka for continuing to advocate for our community. We need young leaders like you to keep pushing forward towards equality and inclusion. I am proud of you for all you have done, and grateful for the gift of your friendship. You always have a positive word of encouragement when I feel like I’m banging my head against the wall. Here’s to many more years of laughter, and to being able to say, “Shameka? Yes – I know her well, and she’s my friend.”