The article written by Julie Mack for mlive.com was the inspiration for this post. Text under the heading “Article” was written by Julie Mack.
KALAMAZOO, MI — It was an emotional moment when TiAnna Harrison was sworn in as the newest member of the Kalamazoo Public Schools Board of Education. Harrison, 37, recited the oath in a clear and confident voice — a triumph for a woman who just a few years back had trouble forming a sentence.
Nine years ago, Harrison was in a head-on crash involving a drunken driver. As a result of the accident, she suffered a closed-head injury with devastating consequences. For example, “She didn’t know she had children,” recalled RoseElla P. Lyke, Harrison’s mother. “She didn’t recognize me as her mother. She didn’t know her birthday. She couldn’t read. She couldn’t write. She couldn’t do anything.”
It’s been a long road to recovery, and Harrison still has significant disabilities from the accident. She struggles with memory issues, and at times has trouble forming words. Writing is still difficult.
Harrison lives with her three children — ages 12, 10 and 7 — in their own apartment, but her mother handles her finances. Many everyday aspects of life, from grocery shopping to doing laundry, now require “little tricks” to accomplish on her own, Harrison said. She reads the newspaper every day, takes a class through Western Michigan University, and for the past five years has been PTO president at Kalamazoo’s Northglade Montessori School.
In a school district with many children who have experienced trauma, Harrison said she’ll bring to the board a personal perspective of the struggles involved in overcoming those challenges. “I know what it’s like to feel helpless and hopeless, and not know which way is up,” she said. “Those children deserve to have someone believe in them.” And, she said, she can be that person. As someone who almost lost her ability to think and learn, she knows intimately the power of developing the mind.
“I pulled myself up,” she said. “I figured out ways to make my disabilities into my new abilities. I am not a quitter.”
For years, Harrison was embarrassed enough by her halting speech that she limited her time around strangers. But over time, she began to venture out.
Harrison enrolled in “Humanities for Everybody” several times as it moves through different topics. She loves everything about it — the reading, the writing, the discussions, and the intellectual stimulation. “It’s the best thing for me,” Harrison said.
Her long-term plan, Harrison said, is to enroll in a degree program at Western Michigan University and finish off the work for her bachelor’s degree and then get her master’s in library science.
While she tries to stay positive and focused on the future, Harrison said there are times when she yearns for the life she had before her accident. “I admit it. I do,” she said. “My life now is very hard, and my quality of life is dramatically different than I had before.”
At the same time, she said, it’s also given her a deep appreciation for things many people take for granted — the power of language, the ability to think and learn, the joy of being productive, and the value of community.
“Mine is an everyday struggle, but it’s a beautiful one,” Harrison said. “I think that’s what the board saw when they choose me.”
Click here to read the full article by Julie Mack.
Thanks to Google for helping me find the article; Julie Mack, for writing the article, Junfu Han for taking the picture I used in this post; TiAnna Harrison for sharing her story; and all the other people who, directly or indirectly, made it possible for me to include the picture and text I used in this post.
Julie Mack covers K-12 education and writes a column for Kalamazoo Gazette. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow her on Twitter at kzjuliemack.