“Pat-a-cake, baker’s man!” we laughed as we played, and pure bliss filled my body. This euphoria was brutally interrupted with a comment that sent a pang through my very core: “Aliyah, you’re playing the game wrong. Why is your hand always crooked?” I laughed and retorted, “Crooked? I injured it a few days ago, that’s all.” That statement was a lie. A lie so intertwined with my almost daily communication because I wanted it to be true.
Most of my youth I created the illusion I am able-bodied. I mean, How do you explain something you don’t understand yourself ? Many times I would try to hide the asymmetry between my left and right arm with long sweaters, but no matter what you do, the word “disabled” follows you wherever you go. Growing up, I slowly realized why I was moved to the back for dance recitals and why I couldn’t hold back tears seeing my sisters raise their hands high to do their hair when mine could barely reach upwards. The feeling of the doctor’s cold hand tracing along my right arm became a normality I didn’t want to accept.
With Erb’s Palsy, the “I can’t” moments of my life became indelible marks .“I can’t raise my hand that far,” I would yell to my physical therapist. “Yes you can, Aliyah.” She would gently place her fingers around my elbow asking me, “Can you go higher?” I was tired of saying “No” to the same question because to me it was another challenge that I couldn’t accomplish. In middle school I was ashamed that I had to go to physical therapy — the judgement and jokes from elementary burned brightly — so while my friends went to the mall I brushed off their questions with “just running errands with my mom.” Yet another innocent lie doing more harm than good as I shielded aspects of my identity.
After my rejection from the basketball team, I joined track and became one of the fastest on the team, swinging both arms even if my teammates inquired why my right arm never moved like the left. Some nights I cried because of a task I couldn’t do, but those same tears progressed to smiles and an inner glow. My body grew stronger from track and praise dancing at church, and I developed a newfound confidence. My pensive mindset allowed me to excel academically, especially handling numerous AP classes and internships both in and outside of school. Through public speaking and activeness in my social justice club, I brought the topic of disability representation to the school and my community.
This is a story of strength, not pity, I would reassure myself. Pity isn’t needed when my capabilities go beyond what any doctor’s report says. The times I figured no one could relate to me, I was called a role model to the little babies and children in church. And even though I couldn’t see it when I was eight years old and playing Pat-a-Cake, my disability could never be a setback when it propelled me into who I am now and the drive I have to leave an impact wherever I go.
“Aliyah, what are you doing for your passion project?” my friend asked. In my mind I was already set on one thing…I AM MORE THAN ABLE. Not only was this project the testimony of how I chose to overcome my disability, it was the stories of others to reflect on the lives of those with mental, social and physical disabilities. But this is just the beginning. I’m more than ready to break the societal stigma surrounding the disabled community — especially in POC communities — and take on challenges that will come my way. And while it took a while to say, and some innocent lies came in between: I love who I am, and I wouldn’t change a thing.
For more information on erb palsy, please visit the site before.