We are excited to announce the final winner of our Fall 2022 scholarship award for individuals with disabilities: Momoreoluwa Del-Davidson. Hailing from the Houston area, Momoreoluwa is a Texan at heart and determined by nature. She currently attends the University of Virginia (Wa-Hoo-Wah!) and is focused on ultimately obtaining a law degree and practicing law.
Momoreoluwa is highly active during her current program at UVA, serving as a chairperson for the school’s Black College Women chapter while also working at the Student Health and Wellness Center. She is also an engaged member of UVA’s Disabled Student Alliance, which doubles as a support group and activism space to make the university a more accessible place.
Given the grit and focus Momoreoluwa demonstrated in her communications with our firm, we have no doubt that she will find her way into an outstanding law school and become an excellent lawyer and legal advocate someday. Our hope is that our contribution to her future will pay dividends for her own happiness as well as the betterment of society. We can always use more heartfelt attorneys, especially those who will certainly become a fierce advocate and defender of the rights of individuals with disabilities.
Born With a Condition That Makes Life Painful, Momoreoluwa Still Soaks Up as Much of It as She Can
Like hundreds of thousands of other Americans, Momoreoluwa was born with sickle cell disease (SCD). The condition affects the shape of red blood cells, affecting their ability to transport oxygen and other nutrients throughout the body.
From time to time, red blood cells in patients with SCD can get jumbled up with one another within vessels, almost like a traffic jam after a collision, clogging blood flow and sometimes leading to clots. SCD patients refer to these events as a “pain crisis.” It hurts every single time, and the pain can be enough to bring a grown adult to their knees.
When applying for the scholarship, Momoreoluwa recalls that she’s had a pain crisis just before multiple important events in her life. Each time, she feels not just pain but fear for her own life. That’s because every event can potentially lead to organ damage, bone death, or other complications. Every single time.
Powering Through Pain to Deliver an Impactful Speech in Front of Those Who Supported Her
One moment that Momoreoluwa described to us vividly happened on her way to give a speech for a conference in Dallas hosted by a group called Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID). The organization acts as a college preparatory program to boost college-readiness and to give students the tools and skills to succeed in higher education. On her way up to the conference to speak in front of a crowd of 5,000 educators, principals, and AVID staff, “a pain crisis struck,” Momoreoluwa wrote.
With her right shoulder aching intensely, she lost precious time she needed to practice her speech. “All I could do was silently cry because screaming would have taken too much energy. I couldn’t miss the conference, but I didn’t know how I could stand in front of those 5,000 people, keep composure, and deliver my message.”
In this moment of true crisis, Momoreoluwa willed herself to power through. She remembered that just before her SATs, she had a pain crisis racked through her so viciously that it caused her to throw up. The entire time she took her driver’s license test, she remembers her arms throbbing in pain from the onset of decay. Even when crossing the stage during her high school graduation, she was “privately struggling to breathe because the times I’ve been able to scream out in pain have left my lungs scarred and limited.”
Like those other times, Momoreoluwa committed to finding the strength to achieve what she was set to do. “I met with my liason, and we practiced and practiced. And in my head I prayed and prayed to tap into that strength that allowed me to overcome every challenge in my life.”
“When I got on that stage, with the lights dimmed and thousands of expectant faces staring at me, I did not feel better. But I had a job to do, and I would not have my message discounted by disability. I powered through, and when I was done, I received a standing ovation. My own former AVID teachers and principals screamed my name from the crowd, cheering for me. I smiled, for what I had accomplished, and for the fact that while I had not defeated sickle cell, I did not let it defeat me either.”
Grappling With the Pain and Frustration of Medical Discrimination
Since enrolling at UVA, Momoreoluwa says she has taken an interest in health and building communities. Her job at the Student Health and Wellness Center has given her the opportunity to learn more about health promotion, counseling services, and the disability resources offered at her school.
At the same time, it has given her a front row seat in a field that has inflicted injustices on her and other patients like her.
“I wish more people had compassion for sickle cell patients,” she told us. “Oftentimes, we get ignored in emergency rooms, face longer wait times, and are questioned more vigorously about our medications.”
This discrimination stems from multiple sources, including racist myths and inequalities in healthcare access and provision that affect patients of color across all income levels. The CDC writes that “SCD occurs among about 1 out of every 365 Black or African-American births.” The disease tends to be discounted in importance among providers and researchers.
Patients with SCD are also subjected to pernicious myths that include the belief that Black people can tolerate higher amounts of pain and stereotypes associating minorities with higher rates of addiction.
Consider that one paper published by medical researchers instructed the following: “When treating a pain crisis the patient’s complaints need to be taken seriously and analgesic therapy should be started promptly with analgesics in proportion to the severity of the patient’s pain.”
Yet, all too often, pain is discounted or inadequately treated. Patients seeking pain treatment typical of other conditions are scrutinized, under-prescribed, or forced to undergo more forms of “proof” before they can receive the treatments doctors unequivocally recommend.
Like many others with her condition, Momoreoluwa is quick to remember the challenges she has faced in this department. Her hope is that awareness can bring about changes in attitudes and improvements in patient care.
Determined to Get a Law Degree No Matter the Odds
Getting into UVA is an impressive accomplishment for any aspiring student, but Momoreoluwa’s journey is far from over. She has resolved to get into law school and get her JD, regardless of what challenges stand in her way.
Ideally, she says, she would be able to attend one of the many outstanding law schools in Houston, so she can be near her family once again.
“Now that I’m in college across the country, I don’t get to see or hear from them every day,” she writes. “Hopefully, I can attend law school in Houston to see them more often. In the meantime, I know why I’m here and I won’t lose sight of that.”
Throughout her life, Momoreoluwa has remained committed to be involved with others around her so that they can all support each other as a community. One strong example is that she regularly hosts study nights in her dorm (fruit snacks provided!) and also participates in Christian fellowship activities hosted by the on-campus ministry, Chi Alpha.
She also enjoys seeing the rise in people raising visibility and education for those with disabilities. One of her favorite accounts to follow online is @crutches_and_spice aka Imani Barbarin from TikTok. Momoreoluwa says that Imani “is an outspoken disability rights activist that has opened my eyes to all sorts of accessibility needs that are not being met for my siblings in the larger disability community.”
A Future Legal Lion Is Waiting in the Wings
Determination and focus are two of the most important qualities pertinent to the success of those practicing the law. Momoreoluwa has both in barrowfulls.
She tells us: “My goals at the moment are to study hard to get the grades I need for a law school scholarship. I’m excited about the challenge and I hope that when I walk across that stage in four years, I’ll be proud of how far I’ve come.”
We anticipate that moment will come for you, and will be cheering you on for your successes alongside so many others, we have no doubt.