Banks overcomes disability to become Mr. Co-Lin

Published 12:07 am Wednesday, October 15, 2008

NATCHEZ — Hurdles have been lined up in front of Jamal Banks for most of his life. And for just as long as they have been standing in his way, Banks has been knocking them down.

Banks, 25, has cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheelchair, but that didn’t stop him from accomplishing another one of his goals.

He was recently elected Mr. Co-Lin for the Natchez campus of Copiah-Lincoln Community College. Banks said the title was something he wanted since his freshman year at Co-Lin.

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But his path to Mr. Co-Lin wasn’t a straight shot either

After completing the special education program at Natchez High School in 2002 and receiving a certificate of attendance, Banks stayed at home for the next two years.

“I was trying to figure out what I was going to do. I could go to college with the certificate,” Banks said. “But the stuff that I wanted to do, you had to have a diploma to do that.”

Banks was inspired to pursue his educational goals after attending a retreat for people with disabilities in Jackson. At the retreat, Banks met someone who, despite his disabilities, was attending college and living independently in an apartment.

“I met a guy who was in a lot worse shape than me. Sitting there talking, he had to take a lot of deep breaths just to get a couple of words out,” Banks said. “And I thought, if he can do all that, in the shape he was in, so could I.”

So, instead of staying home, Banks enrolled in the GED program at Co-Lin. After a year, Banks graduated from the program.

But that wasn’t enough. Banks then enrolled as a full-time student at Co-Lin.

“When I started they wanted me to just take four classes, that’s 12 hours. They didn’t want me to overload myself,” Banks said. “But once I got the used to it I added another class so I’m taking five now.”

For Banks, the adjustment to college has been a fairly smooth thanks to the helpful spirit he has encountered at Co-Lin.

“I guess I’ve become pretty popular,” Banks said. “There is always someone around that is willing to help me.”

DaJauna Butler, a nursing graduate, is one of the people who stepped up to help Banks at Co-Lin.

Butler tutors fellow students at Co-Lin and tutored Banks in algebra and English. She also made time in her schedule to sit in class with him to take his notes.

Butler said Banks wasn’t the only one learning during their tutoring session.

“Jamal and I learned together,” Butler said.

Butler said she was thrilled to learn that she has been chosen as Miss Co-Lin. And, like Banks, this honor is just one of several things she hoped to accomplish while at Co-Lin.

“I set many goals when I came to Co-Lin and this is just one more that I was able to reach,” Butler said. “I’m honored to represent my school in this way.”

Banks, a business and marketing major said his hope is to open a clothing store after graduating from Co-Lin.

“I’ll call it Maly Mal’s Hip Hop Shop,” he said.

Bank’s said he has just one more full semester left at Co-Lin before he can step into the business world.

Bank’s ambition hasn’t always been met with smiling faces. When he first began talking about enrolling at Co-Lin, his family wasn’t exactly keen on the idea.

“They have always been overprotective of me. They kept asking me how I was going to do it,” Banks said. “They just didn’t want to see me get frustrated with it.”

But now they are some of his biggest cheerleaders.

“They are smiling now and telling me how proud they are of me,” he said. “My grandmother is always asking me ‘did you do this, did you do that, did you do your homework’ now.”

Butler is also delighted to have been elected along side Banks.

“It was real nice that we got elected together,” Butler said. “I was hoping he would get chosen. I was glad that I was elected but I was even happier that he won with me.”

Teresa Harrison, Vice President of Co-Lin’s Natchez campus said that it is Bank’s can-do attitude that has made his college venture a success.

“He came in and adapted so well to everything,” Harrison said. “He doesn’t see anything as a disability. He just does it.”

While some students may take their time in picking a course of study in college, Banks said he knew from the beginning that he wanted to be a business major.

“I spent one semester in general studies but that was just to get used to being in school,” Banks said. “I always knew I wanted to study business because I like working with money.”

And after a successful stint in the business world, Banks wants to bring some fun to Natchez’s children.

“Hoping I can come back to open a Chuck E. Cheese for the kids,” he said.

Harrison said Banks’s future aspirations exemplify his personality exactly.

“That is just like him,” Harrison said of Bank’s hope to provide entertainment for the children of Natchez. “He’s always trying to give back.”

And, just like everything else he has accomplished, Banks feels confident that he will be successful after leaving Co-Lin.

“There is a lot of Mississippi mud but I’ve got mud grip tires,” Banks said “And I’m just running right through it.”