Wed | Sep 20, 2017

From Being Different to Making a Difference

Published:Sunday | April 2, 2017 | 4:00 AMKrysta Anderson
Powell and his family. From left: Wife Marsha, stepdaughter Tavia Ann Carr and baby K’hareece.
Powell never let his disability define him.
Kevin learnt how to drive a car so that he could prove to himself and others that he could do it.
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From being different to making a difference

"If you desire to make a difference in the world, you must be different from the world."

- Elaine S. Dalton

No one epitomises this statement more than English Literature lecturer, Kevin Powell. Currently the academic head of the Department of General Studies and Behavioural Science at the University of the Commonwealth Caribbean (formerly University College of the Caribbean), Powell took Outlook on his unique journey.

Born in St Andrew on July 13, 1982, his parents were immediately faced with the life-changing decision of putting their son through surgery. "From birth, I was diagnosed with arthrogryposis, and consequently had to do my first surgery, because when I came out of the womb, my legs were clasped together. The first duty then for Professor John Golding from the Mona Rehabilitation Centre was to get the legs to look normal - the joints weren't able to be developed properly. I had to be cast most of my life and I even wore corrective shoes." This, he confessed, made those formative years uncomfortable.

According to Web MD, "Arthrogryposis is a general or descriptive term for the development of non-progressive contractures affecting one or more areas of the body before birth (congenitally). A contracture is a condition in which a joint becomes permanently fixed in a bent (flexed) or straightened (extended) position, completely or partially restricting the movement of the affected joint."

Powell said growing up presented it's fair share of obstacles. "It was challenging in the sense that as a child, I had to be lifted by my father because I was not able to move around on my own. I know that must have been taxing on him. I didn't begin learning how to use the crutches until I was about five years old."

The moment he started using crutches, however, he gained the independence he craved. He was able to move around on his own and go wherever he wanted to go. He went on to live a happy childhood. "I pretty much did everything a normal child would do. I played every kind of game you could think of, from baseball to hide-and-seek. I also loved to read, write and help others," he said.

Learning that he had got into Calabar High School while in a cast after his very last surgery at the age of 12, was amazing news. "I had to acclimatise to using a wheelchair for the first five years - yet another challenge. But that very noble institution catered to those like me with disability. I love Calabar. All the facilities were accessible and I was never made to feel different. In fact, I was fully integrated and I met very good friends who supported me and spoke positivity into my life."

Of course, he sometimes battled with his own insecurities. There were times he couldn't help but ask haunting questions such as, 'Why? Why was I made like this? Why was I born like this?'

Powell, however, hurdled his way over setbacks. "I was fortunate to have encouraging parents and good friends around me who would say, 'There's nothing to be ashamed of, you can do this, you can be anything you want to be.' So I learnt to cope in that regard," he said.

This discovery opened the gateway to even more possibilities when he embarked on a new scholastic journey at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona.

BEING STRATEGIC

UWI, he pointed out, was a lot different from his previous schools. Now a young adult, he was given a bigger challenge when it came to access. "The task of manoeuvring through the space was sometimes even more difficult than studying and acquiring the degree itself, because the space was so big and the distance between classes was so far and wide."

So he had to be strategic. Arriving on the campus up to an hour earlier than he needed to be, he planned walking routes with shorter distances and seating arrangements so he could take rest stops. "I was determined that I was not going to allow my physical disability to deter me from getting a good education," he said.

What he lacked in mobility, he made up for in good disposition and charm. Singing and speech were among his strong suits and he wasted no time in fulfilling his purpose. His powerful voice was his instrument for praise and worship in the church. Armed with the gifts of gab and speech, teaching would be his calling. "I channelled my strengths and anchored by hope; I was

propelled to walk, figuratively, in inspiring others to become better men, better women, better people, and better selves."

Those taught by Powell testify to his warm spirit and creative teaching techniques in unearthing their love for literature.

He even pushed the envelope in doing the unthinkable when it came to transportation. He decided he wanted to drive, just to prove to himself and others that nothing can stop him. "If you're mentally prepared to go all the way, then your physical impediment should not be a boundary," he affirmed. So he went to driving school and found that it was pretty simple. While others drive with their right leg, he has been driving with his left leg, the stronger of his two - for 15 years with no accidents.

Always the family man, the love and support he received from both his mother and his father made marrying the love of his life, and starting a new family, a smooth transition.

Married for eight years, he currently lives with his beautiful wife, Marsha, stepdaughter Tavi Ann Carr and daughter K'Hareece.

His advice to others comes from a story he shared about his mother.

"My mom was the one who taught me how to use and walk with the crutches. After showing me once or twice, she said to me, 'You are going to fall a couple of times, but the important thing is that when you fall, you are to get back up and go at it until you've perfected it.' She was teaching me how to use the crutch at the time, but she was teaching me a very valuable lesson about life - that when you fall, you're to get back up again and never give up."

He also added: "I live by the mantra, 'I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.' It's not a clichÈ, It's not just a verse I recited often, it's something I had to make sure I made my reality because I saw my limitations, knew my limitations and learnt, importantly, how to work around those limitations. Never let your circumstances determine your outcome. Tap into your possibilities and be the very best version of yourself."

krysta.anderson@gleanerjm.com.