Kwame Alexander is a junior mass communications major concentrating in audio and video production at Savannah State University. He was born to his mother and father, Laquita Webb and Kwame Alexander, on June 14, 1994. During labor, Webb’s water did not break, Kwame lost oxygen to his brain and doctors were not able to remove him from the embryo sac in time. He is wheelchair bound because of it. Kwame is the only paraplegic full-time student at SSU who lives on campus.
Students who do not know him personally refer to him as "the boy in the wheelchair"- his entire value diminished by his ailments. “People think I’m not like them, like I don’t like to go out or have fun or spend time with people," he said.
Life on Wheels
In 2014, Allie Grasgreen, student affairs and athletics reporter for Inside Higher Ed, wrote a story bringing awareness to some of the setbacks that students with disabilities face when attending college. In the article, students with disabilities say the ignorance of faculty and staff members makes it difficult to get the help they need -- and in some cases, makes them less willing to disclose their condition, she writes.
Kwame takes a humorous and more casual approach to being in a wheelchair than most. In fact, he does not think he is any different from anyone else.
Kwame laughs and he recounts an incident his freshman year when a friend admitted to him that she thought he was special needs upon meeting him.
“I had a friend my freshman year she said she thought I was 'retarded,' which I really didn’t understand that. You really think that SSU would accept somebody who couldn’t think on their own or do what they needed to do to get up out of here. That was dumb," he said.
Kwame praises his mother for her stern upbringing and for always pushing him to do things on his own. For that, he feels like he lives a normal life. “Compared to a lot of other people in wheelchairs I know I’m straight," he said. "A lot of other people’s parents didn’t really push them. Because my mama pushed me to do everything, I had to learn how to put on my own clothes, brush my teeth, bathe myself, all of that… My mama wasn’t doing none of that. She was like, 'You a man. Ain’t nobody gonna baby you so you gon'na have to learn how to do it on your own some kind of way.' So I sucked it up and did what I had to do," he said.
With the help of a therapist- someone she gives many praises to- she learned how to aid, teach and properly care for her handicap son. Having always taught Kwame that he can do anything that he wants to do, she is proud that he is attending college.
“It was important for Kwame to attend college but I would’ve understood if he didn’t want to go because of his struggles," she said.
In eighth grade, Kwame really started entertaining the idea of attending college more seriously. “My mama wasn’t having it. She was going to make me go. I was going to college regardless. I wasn’t going to sit at home doing nothing," he said.
Getting to know Kwame
People who know Kwame find his personality most inspiring. Jami Sloan has been friends with Kwame since ninth grade when they met through a mutual friend at lunch time on the first day of school.
“I admire that Kwame doesn’t let being in a wheelchair stop him. He has a very kind heart and he’s outspoken with an amazing humor," she said.
Getting around on campus would be easier if Kwame had an electric wheelchair. “He doesn’t want one," his mother said, laughing.
He currently has a manual wheelchair and is not in a hurry to get a powered one.
“Getting around campus, it is a struggle some days. I’m so used to pushing myself I wouldn’t even know how to act if I had a powered wheelchair. I would be so lazy," he said.
Kwame recalled a time on an eighth grade field trip that he wanted to get on rides with his friends but his teachers and some of the other wheelchair-bound students discouraged him from doing it. It was the only time that Kwame remembers feeling like, “Damn, I’m in a wheelchair.”
“The other people in the wheelchairs that I did go to school with, they were nothing like me. They weren’t really as outgoing as me. They didn’t want to go to no parties or chill with nobody. I was like, 'Hey, I’m out of here,'" he said.
Sometimes, a student helps Kwame get where he needs to go. It’s a rare sight because Kwame has an independent nature about himself. He admits that sometimes he gets frustrated when his peers offer assistance. On a beautiful day, he would rather roll himself. He notices that when he actually needs help, no one is around. “When it’s raining and pouring down don’t nobody asks to help me. When I really do need something, no one is around,” he says.
Corlita Wells is another longtime friend of Kwame’s. They met through his older sister and have been friends for about four years.
“No matter what it is, he can do it and he never lets his disability stop him. That’s what I love about him most. Kwame has always been there when I needed him no matter how far or what time it was. If I was to call, text or come by he would always be there. He’s a great friend and an all-around great person," she said.
“I think a lot of who Kwame is comes from his mom. His mom always taught him he was no different from anyone else- that he could do whatever he wanted. He has a wonderful support system, and she is a breast cancer survivor so she is a strong woman herself, funny too," said Sloan.
Kwame mother’s does not worry much about her son being successful in the future because he is so outgoing. In the future, Kwame said he hopes to be a television show producer and to ultimately become a movie producer. “My only fear is not being taken seriously as an artist when it comes to television production because of my wheelchair," he said.