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Tyra Williams' Story

Tyra Williams  

Anyone who knows Tyra Williams will never hear her utter the word “can’t.”

The 31-year-old St. Louis native was born with cerebral palsy, and also dealt with asthma and seizure disorder growing up.

Williams also endured years of teasing and bullying because of these health-related issues as well as a learning disability.

“Teasing and being made fun of were part of everyday life for me,” Williams said.

To make matters worse, schools she attended were not accessible. Officials did allow her to leave classes early in order to avoid crowds in the hallways. Despite the emotional and physical obstacles, Williams completed high school through a career training program offered by the Special School District. Because of an essay she wrote, the Normandy School District received a grant to install elevators and automatic doors on its buildings to make them wheelchair accessible.

“I didn’t want subsequent students to have to go through what I went through just to get to class,” she said.

A cousin’s eighth grade graduation ceremony was held at St. Louis Community College’s Forest Park campus, and that’s where Williams decided to go to college in 2004.

“People there taught me that I had to become a responsible adult,” Williams said. “There would be no one there to remind me of what I had to do. I also learned how to be an advocate for myself.”

Williams moved to North St. Louis County, and currently attends STLCC’s Florissant Valley campus. She lives on her own, and is visited daily by a caregiver to assist with household cleaning, cooking and personal care. The unrest in Ferguson following the shooting death of Michael Brown Jr. impacted Williams’ life, as she lived in the middle of all the turmoil at the time.

“I witnessed fires being set, people trying to overturn police cars, smoke bombs being set off, and police dogs being released on the crowds,” she said. I was trapped. My caregivers did not want to come out, so services were hit and miss. I tried living with family, but their homes were not accessible. My ride service was also impacted. I moved out of that neighborhood just a month prior to the grand jury verdict.”

Williams has thrived since moving to Florissant, thanks to the staff in the Access office and instructors who keep pushing her to succeed.

The Access office has provided readers and writers – and extra time -- for tests, as well as note takers. 

“Once the Access office sees that a student has the potential to succeed, they will not allow you to stop,” Williams said. “I have come across some awesome instructors such as Steve Christiansen, Steve Bay, Lonetta Oliver, Howard Rosenthal, Julie Graul, and many others. They have gone above and beyond working with the Access office. They do whatever it takes to assist me in achieving my goals.”

Williams also commends Amy Bird, Florissant Valley’s manager of disability support services, who “has been absolutely amazing with any issues that have arisen.”

Along with school, Williams works for the Special School District as a meal aid. She assists other disabled students with eating during their lunch periods.

“I love my job because I am giving back to the community,” she said.

Williams, who will graduate in the fall with an associate degree in human services, hopes to continue in school and gain a degree in business and social work. Her ultimate goal is to establish an agency that provides services and support for people with disabilities. The motivation behind all of this is to silence all of those who doubted her, and said that she would never achieve her dream.

“I want to complete my associate degree so I can prove to myself that I can,” Williams said. “The instructors, the angels in the Access office, and my will power all have kept me going.

“For anyone who thinks that they cannot succeed in life, just look at me. Figure out what you like to do and what you are good at. I will cheer for you like people did for me. ‘Can’t’ is not in my vocabulary.”