The Byronic Woman

Byronica Banks, WC '15.
Byronica Banks, WC ’15.

People in parts of Africa and the Caribbean believe that coils of hair called dreadlocks, or preferably just “locks,” endow wearers with spiritual strength.

For Byronica Banks, a rising junior in the Brenau Women’s College, they make a stylish statement about her already powerful internal resources. “I’ve wanted locks for as long as I could remember,” she says, smiling and tilting her head to preen after a much-anticipated visit to Sweet Vibrations salon. “My hair is part of my secret self, a special part of my identity, like music and my faith.”

That identity has been forged to a tensile strength through the challenges she faces with osteogenesis imperfecta, or OI, better known as Brittle Bone Disease, a disorder that renders her especially vulnerable to fractures and requires her to use a wheelchair. She has broken more than 70 bones in the course of her life and was not expected to survive her childhood.

“My parents taught me to be independent, not to feel sorry for myself, and never to let my disability get in my way of what I wanted to do,” says Banks, who was born in Mississippi but she grew up near Columbia, South Carolina, where her father is a minister and her mother works in the office of the lieutenant governor.

In high school, Banks was frustrated to learn that other kids with disabilities lacked the confidence to dream of college. “So I decided I would set an example for them.”

Banks began scouting for schools that were handicap-accessible and willing to work with her needs, which included accommodating her grandmother, Deberne Kelly, as her live-in aide. Brenau, with its small, easy-to-navigate campus and progressive programs for students with disabilities, instantly became her top choice, she says, and the university welcomed the duo by widening the doors in an apartment on Washington Street.

“University leaders made it clear they would go out of their way for me, and it still warms my heart,” she says. “I knew immediately that I belonged here.”

Byronica BanksBanks has repaid that greeting many times over with her campus leadership, and Kelly serves as surrogate grandmother, doling out hugs and homemade banana pudding to homesick students.

Banks serves as vice president of the Student Government Association; a photographer on the Alchemist student newspaper staff; a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority; and vice president of Vanguard Scholars, a program that mentors students with low-self-esteem. She also was first runner-up in Miss Brenau her freshman year.

“One day, Byronica coughed, and that fractured her rib,” says Diana Mulkey, office manager of the Brenau Learning Center. “She didn’t miss class or her tutoring session, though. I point to her work ethic for other students who want to slack off.”

Banks is studying organizational leadership with plans to attend graduate school, work as a motivational speaker, and eventually found a center for children with disabilities. Meanwhile, she buzzes around campus, pirouetting occasionally in her chair, and belting out the song It’s OK to be Different.

Adds her grandmother, shaking her head, “You can’t stop that child from singing. Never could.”

10 Responses to “The Byronic Woman”
  1. Greer says:

    This is an awesome article and an awesome woman! She inspires me everytime I see her. I love taking care of her hair. Thank you for this article of inspiration!

  2. Brandy Paige says:

    This was an absolutely wonderful exposé. Byronica you have truly blossomed into a beautiful, well spoken, talented young woman. Continue to educate and advocate for others with disabilities and let them know that the sky is the limit. You are a living testimony that “With God ALL THINGS are POSSIBLE!”

    YOU GO GIRL!!!!!!

    Ms. Brandy

  3. Cat says:

    Thanks for this wonderful article. I have been privileged to know this phenomenal young woman for several years. Byronica is a true encourager. Her walk of courage and faith is an inspiration. She sets an example for us all without arrogance or pride. She doesn’t just talk about what she believes…she lives it, and she changes all of those around her and her world for the better.

  4. Chrystal Craft says:

    Byronica is a very special young lady that I met over 10 years ago, while working with her mother. She has never let her disability stand in the way of her success in life. Byronic a has always been a leader. Wishing you much success in all of your future endeavors.

  5. Chrystal Craft says:

    This story is very touching. I have known Byronica “Miss B” for over ten years now, she is a very special young woman. Byronica has always been a very positive young lady who doesn’t let her disability define nor limit her. Keep up the good work, wishing you all the best in your future endeavors.

    Ms. Chrystal Craft

  6. Renada says:

    “B” though you are a ‘pretty girl’ you’re still a Diva in this world!!! This article brought me to tears & I am sure anybody who reads this or that knows you is encouraged! God is using you as a vessel to His people. Continue to shine your light for the world to see!!! So very proud of you (;

  7. Sharon Dorsey-Hampton says:

    I had the opportunity to meet Miss “B” yesterday at her grandmother’s home. “B” you truly brought sunshine into the room when your grandmother introduced you to me. I loved our conversation. Laughter and joy fill our space. In you I could only see a truly blessed young lady who is a blessing to everyone who come into your presence. Your dedication to overcome any obstacles come your way has truly made me take a deep look inside my soul that “All things are possible when you truly believe in yourself.” Thank you do much for the true blessing you are to all who share your presence. Be Blessed, Sharon Hampton

  8. Mollie and James Prather says:

    We have known Byronia since birth. It has been a joy knowing her. We love stopping through there visiting. Can not wait for our next trip. Keep up the good work.
    Love Always. Aunt Mollie and Uncle James

  9. Byronica, you are a truly amazing woman. I am proud to see all that you are doing. Keep being a shining light to others and an example to those in need. Love you, Lucretia.

  10. gloria jones says:

    Hello Byronic Woman, Your name says it ALL!

    Your Grandmother ‘D. K.’ (my BFF) is a Bionic-Grandmother!

    gloria-Louisville, Mississippi

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