West Point holds Black History Month program

Published 8:00 am Friday, March 3, 2023

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WEST POINT — Dr. Yvette Pegues had to overcome lots of obstacles to lead a productive life as an adult. She talked about that as the principal speaker at Tuesday afternoon’s 2023 Black History Program held in the West Point gym.

The well-attended event marked the 20th anniversary of the City of West Point hosting a Black History program. The first one took place in 2003. It was back at the gym for the first time since 2020 when the program took place a few weeks before a national emergency was declared due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The city’s 2021 and 2022 Black History Programs were held online.

Pegues was born into an immigrant family. Her parents were illiterate but were fluent in five different languages. She learned the basics of reading at an early age by watching TV and browsing though a dictionary. This put her on a fast track when she entered school.

“My house was not a happy one,” she said. “School was my refuge. It was where I could learn all sorts of things.”

She graduated high school at 15 and went to a technical school and a community college before entering an engineering school in the Miami area.

With her knowledge of science and math, she excelled in engineering, earning an undergraduate degree. She later earned a doctorate in education. She got a good-paying job, moved to Georgia where she got married and had two sons, Elijah and Isaiah.

She and her young family were leading the good life until all that was interrupted by a health crisis.

“I started to feel bad one day,” she told a large crowd inside the gym. “I had no feeling in my right side.”

A doctor who had treated her in the emergency room at a local hospital had some bad news for her.

“He told me not to freak out, but I did,” she said. “He told me that my brain stem was slipping into by spinal cord and it had to be fixed.”

Surgery followed and some complications arose from it. “I lost the ability to talk, to walk, and I could not work.”

Pegues was confined to a bed in her home and read the Bible a lot. “I asked God to let me walk and let me work,” she said. “I wanted to be the mother my two little ones deserved.”

With her two boys constantly by her side, she tried hard to walk again.

“I learned to get out of the bed and into my wheelchair,” she said. “I wanted to look at them and to know that I was not broken.”

Pegues learned to talk again by singing.

“You don’t want to hear me do it,” she joked, “but it helped me to learn to talk once again. I knew I had to get better for my kids. God let me do it, and I am so blessed.”

She eventually got back to work as an educator. Knowing of her setbacks and her amazing recovery, representatives of the Miss America Pageant contacted her and urged her to compete for Ms. Wheelchair Georgia. They were confident she would be a wonderful representative for those who were having great lives despite having a disability.

She competed in the pageant and won, becoming the first person of color to be Ms. Wheelchair Georgia. She said the best part of the pageant wasn’t winning the title; it was the life-changing experience in getting to meet women from all over the state who were wheelchair-bound and to share experiences with them.

Being in the pageant allowed her to talk about her platform, “A Legacy of Literacy.”

“Being illiterate was something I was afraid of as a child,” she said. “Education changed me. It allowed me to help my kids overcome something they were afraid of — being bullied.”

Kids they knew were always telling them that their mom was broken, something they didn’t like to hear.

Pegues told her two boys what the other kids thought didn’t matter. What mattered was did they consider her broken? They didn’t.

Elijah and Isaiah went on to write an award-winning book entitled “Our Mom Had Brain Surgery, and We’re OK With It.”

It’s a book for kids and has helped other boys and girls their age deal with bullying and having a family member with a disability.

“One out of every four people has some kind of disability,” Pegues said. “It’s the largest minority group in the U.S. Some people are born with a disability and some acquire a disability during their lifetime.”

Pegues asked those in the crowd to stand if they knew someone with a disability. About half of those in the packed gym stood up.

“I’m sure most of you know the international sign for a disabled person,” Pegues said. “It’s the stick-figure man in the wheelchair. It’s a way of getting across that some of us need some additional help like parking in a handicap zone.”

Pegues said its’s hard for her to describe the liberating feeling it was for her to learn to drive a car again. The car she drives has special hand controls for braking and acceleration.

“Being able to drive gives me a feeling of independence,” she said. “I’m driving my kids everywhere now. I don’t want them to miss out on anything.”

Pegues has become a beacon of hope for those with a disability. Her winning smile and personality and the inspiring name of her platform has allowed her to become Ms. Wheelchair USA and Ms. Wheelchair International.

“Everyone in this world has some kind of gift,” she said. “Those who think they don’t haven’t discovered it yet. These gifts you have should be used to help and support others.”

There are 22 adaptive sports people with some kind of disability can participate in.

Pegues said that she wants to be active in some kind of sport but has yet decided which one. The Professional Golfers Association (PGA) has called her and offered to teach her how to play golf with her disability.

“I am here today to praise God,” she said. “He has provided me the equipment I need to be here in West Point and talking before you in this gym.”

The crowd was treated to some special presentations. The West Point Elementary School Chorus sang “What Can One Little Person Do To Help This World?” and members of the school’s Character Council took turns discussing a famous African-American individual and their accomplishments.

The Troup High step team did a well coordinated routine, and West Point Elementary Principal Keneitha Cook and Assistant Principal Angie Smith introduced some WPES students who had made exceptional progress in their school work since the first of the year.

Chase Dial, Point University’s director of first-year experience, introduced some Point seniors of exceptional accomplishment.

They included Chavon Oden, Linda Schiller, Arion Hightower, Martha Jimenez, B.J. Finley, Jacarious Dorell, R.J. Selmon, Alexis Griffin and Andrew Reed Harlington.

Springwood Head of School Kim Baylis introduced three Springwood High students who talked about what they enjoyed about being a Wildcat. One of the students is from Vietnam.

Sabrina Davidson talked about the youngsters she works with every day at the Innovation Station Learning Center and Dr. Lacey Southerland discussed how the Chattahoochee Early Learning Academy (CELA) is getting preschoolers on a fast track to having a love of learning.

Members of the West Point City Council took turns introducing some individuals or organizations that were making meaningful contributions to the city.

Joel Finlay introduced SIP Cafe & Wine Bar owners James and Tiffany Welch, Deedee Williams brought up for recognition board members of the West Point Housing Authority, Gloria Marshall hailed what the Lambda Zeta Omega chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha does for West Point and the surrounding area, and Jerry Ledbetter introduced members of the Lynch/Lewis families who concluded the program by singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” long recognized as the Black National Anthem.