She wasn’t yet 2 years old when Felisa Young was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, the neurological disorder that makes is difficult for her to walk.
Doctors said Young wouldn’t walk until age 5 or 6, but she began walking at 3, according to Sheila Williams, Young’s mother.
Now at age 21, Young is the president of Tyler Junior College’s Voices of Worship gospel choir and is also a member of the Black Student Association.
She passes out flyers to promote activities on campus and is hands-on with anything that she is a part of. But sometimes she stops to take breaks on campus because her legs are tired, or she uses her wheelchair if the distance is too far.
Some people have the misconception when they see her that she is mentally challenged.
“My disability stops me from walking, not thinking,” Young said.
Young, who has a twin sister, was born prematurely. Initially, her mother didn’t know anything was wrong.
“I realized there was a problem when she wasn’t keeping up with her twin sister,” Williams said. “I didn’t have a clue what it was. I thought it was something I could fix.”
Cerebral palsy is a neurological disorder that is caused by brain damage. It affects approximately 10,000 babies a year, according to National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
Young has had multiple surgeries, including a hip replacement. But nothing has stopped Young, known to family and friends as “Fe,” from getting the most out of her life. She has always been active in school and makes the best of her circumstance, according to her mother.
In high school, she was a member of the student council and was also a cheerleader.
Young is an inspiration to other VOW members.
“She is a motivator for others to do what we’re obligated to do,” said Jawoine Hawkins, VOW member.
Her fellow members describe her as tough and determined.
“Not just VOW, whatever Fe puts her mind to is going to happen,” Hawkins said. “She strives for perfection and wants things done right.”
Damien Williams, who is the sponsor for VOW, described Young as “tenacious.”
“My first impression of Fe is ambitious,” said Williams.
Young’s friends said, after spending time with her, the disability disappears. She just gets around and enjoys her surroundings. She never meets a stranger, and her smile lights up any room.
“Felisa has a bright future. I’m looking forward to her calling me in 5-10 years and saying, ‘I’m doing quite well,'” said Williams.
For Young, her life is normal.
“This is what I know,” she said. “I don’t think about it.”
Young grew up in Ben Wheeler and graduated from Van High School in 2006.
She is a criminal justice major and plans to complete her bachelor’s degree at a four-year university. She became a part of VOW in fall 2007 and had to take a year off due to hip replacement surgery. She just returned this past semester.
“I don’t want to be deemed the handicap girl on campus. I’m Fe,” she said. “These are the cards I was dealt, and I think I’m playing them well.”