2022 recipient of B U L L Y I N G S U R V I V O R A W A R D by Hey U.G.L.Y.-Unique Gifted Lovable You
STRUGGLING WITH ISSUES YOU’D LIKE TO OVERCOME?
Alexis Smith would like to help you if she can. She has overcome overwhelming obstacles in her life and is a heroic example of how to focus on your strengths to help you never give away your power to bullies. Hey U.G.L.Y.’s co-founder, Betty Hoeffner, first met Alexis in 2013 and the two have been sharing their passion on empowering others to be part of the solution to bullying, racism, substance abuse and suicide. Alexis serves as Communications Coordinator for Hey U.G.L.Y. and consults on mental health issues through her videos and advice. Please click on the picture below to go to Hey U.G.L.Y.’s YouTube Channel and watch Alexis’ videos and scroll down to read her compelling story.
ALEXIS WAS BORN THREE MONTHS EARLY WEIGHING ONLY TWO POUNDS.
The first six weeks of Alexis’ life were spent in an incubator. Her biological mother’s addiction to heroin and cocaine caused Alexis’ premature birth and diagnosis of Spastic Quadriplegia Cerebral Palsy due to a lack of oxygen to her brain. (Spastic means that she has involuntary body movements, especially with her legs). Her disability affects all four limbs, making them extremely tight and stiff, requiring her to walk with leg braces and forearm crutches. She also uses a power wheelchair which she steers like a professional racecar driver.
ALEXIS’ LOVES SPORTS
When she was seven-years old, her grandmother, who had guardianship of Alexis since she was born, enrolled her in a program called Caring For Kids that helps people with disabilities participate in sports so they can stay active and have opportunities to be social. Alexis really looked forward these outings because, for the first time, she could play almost any sport like other children, just in a different way. So, when she is feeling sad, or down, she tells herself, “Why waste my time in a pity party when I could be having fun rock climbing, golfing, boating, etc.? Life is too short.”
ALEXIS WAS BULLIED
When she was at school, Alexis missed math and reading classes because medical professionals considered her a child with a developmental delay. She did not like school because every subject was hard for her and she thought all her peers were smarter.
“I was enrolled in a school called Wilma Rudolph Learning Center for students with disabilities where I was not up-to-date on the materials for my age level,” Smith said. “As time went on, I realized that most of the coursework was not challenging to me. I went there because occupational and physical therapists, as well as other medical professionals, told my grandmother this would be the best school for me. My grandmother helped me with homework the entire time I was a student. She would read books to me just to make sure my assignments were completed on time.
“I started being bullied in elementary school because my classmates would see me leave the room to go to my special education class,” recalled Smith. “Some of them called me stupid. I was also bullied because some of the teachers would announce that I could take assignments home to finish them since I had academic accommodations. That was embarrassing. The most common reason I was bullied was because of the way I walked. When I was five-years old I underwent a tendon lengthening surgery to help me walk flat-footed. The back of my legs were cut behind my knees, the back of my ankles, and in between the groin. Instead of helping me walk better it made it so much more worse. Now I could only walk on the side of my feet to the point where I would almost break my ankles. That is why I must wear two braces: one on my left ankle and a brace that goes up to the back of my right leg.”
ALEXIS DISCOVERS SHE’S A GOOD WRITER
“There was one life-changing moment in school when I was in fifth grade because that’s when I discovered I had a passion for writing,” explained Smith. “My teacher told us to write a creative story. Mine was about students being stuck in the school during a snowstorm. I was awarded a little pin from the Young Authors Contest for that story. That’s when I realized I love writing. It helps me heal from trauma.”
“From that point on, I started writing other short stories and poetry,” said Smith. “After winning the pin, I thought to myself that maybe I was finally good at something academically. My passion for writing positively influenced my choice to attend George Westinghouse College Prep High School for their broadcast journalism program because, at the time, I thought I wanted to be a journalist. Right before my junior year of high school, I signed up with Global Girl Media (GGM) Chicago, a journalism organization for young women to report on issues important to them. I was thrilled to be a part of GGM because I knew I could use my journalism and reporting skills to bring awareness to the injustices in the disabled community.”
ALEXIS HAS AN EPIPHANY
“One day, I said to myself, ‘if I thought of school the way that I think of sports, meaning feeling empowered and unstoppable, then it would not be as hard.’ Subsequent to this conversation in my head, I figured the only way for me to succeed in school would be to get tutoring in high school as well as college, to improve my grades. I started growing more confident that I could complete assignments on my own. The advice I would like to give everyone is to take chances in life because experience is the best way to grow.”
I am a 27-year-old proud black disabled woman from Chicago who is adventurous. I love participating in most adaptive sports, acting, improvising, writing, storytelling, and blogging. I am a model and dancer for Rebirth Garments. I am also an ambassador for Tellin’ Tales Theatre (TTT), which is an organization that bridges the gaps between the disabled and able-bodied communities by storytelling. Additionally, in 2020, TTT awarded me with the TaleBlazer Award for all of my disability advocacy work and leadership. Furthermore, I am a trustee board member for the Simone Foundation of Hope (SFH). I recently graduated with Lamda Pi Eta honors from Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU) with a bachelor’s degree in communications, minoring in journalism. During college I received six scholarships totaling $5,400. Separately, in 2018, as a sophomore at Harry S Truman College, I was awarded a $3,000 fellowship from the Pulitzer Center as a student journalist to report on how Hurricane Maria affected people with disabilities.
I am working with Hey U.G.L.Y. as Communications Coordinator to help others overcome what they may be struggling with. Hey U.G.L.Y. helped me so much over the many years I have been connected with them. Their HeyUGLY.org website is powerful. I was helped by their Why I Didn’t Take My Life and Project Apologize campaigns. These pages helped enforce that I should not be ashamed of things that I have done or said since I am working hard, every day, to become a better person while thinking before I speak or react. Hey U.G.L.Y. also re-enforces that no one is ever truly alone because other people most likely experienced the same or similar situations, so reading or hearing another individual’s story enables everyone to embrace the organization; it’s like a huge communal support system.
If you’d like to ask Alexis a question, or need to vent about some struggles in your life, or are inspired by her story, please let her know by emailing PreventBullyingNow@heyugly.org with Dear Alexis in the subject line. She responds to every message and is happy to hear from her fans.
We hope her story gives YOU the courage to not allow bullying to bring you down. If you would like to stop the negative self-talk you may be suffering check out Self-Bullying for tips that could help. If you know anyone who is suicidal, have them check out our page, Suicidal?
GO MAKE THE SEEMINGLY IMPOSSIBLE POSSIBLE FOR YOURSELF