CSUN alumna Denedria Banks’ physical struggles could not hold back her determination to reach her goals, and she has written a book to prove it.
Banks recently came back to her alma mater to speak to students from one of her old professors’ Pan-African Studies writing classes about her life, her work and what writing her autobiography, “Melodies of My Life,” did for her.
“My biggest struggle in writing (my story) was just coming to terms with things that happened in my life – face to face with the past and letting it go,” Banks said.
At the early age of nine, Banks was diagnosed with Charcot-Marie-Tooth Syndrome, a degenerative nerve disorder. The condition causes muscle weakness and deterioration in a person’s feet, legs, hands and forearms. She said most cases of CMT attack either the upper or lower body, but in her body, the disease attacks both areas.
Banks currently wears two leg braces and regularly attends alternative therapy. She also had hip surgery in 2002.
Banks, now 32, received her bachelor’s degree in child development from CSUN in December 1995, and her master’s degree in social work from CSU Sacramento in May 2001. She is now working as a medical social worker with a private company called Davita, and in her spare time guest lectures in classrooms across California, including at CSUN.
“Stay focused despite the ups and downs, (as) there are times to celebrate and frown,” Banks said.
She said she began to guest lecture while she was at CSUS. She liked educating others about living with the disease and presenting both “the good and the bad” parts of her life. She also previously worked with teenagers and people living with the disease through various organizations in her community.
“I am happy to have an opportunity to touch others’ lives,” Banks said. “I am moved to do these things, and it’s an honor since I do not have a prepared routine.”
Through many presentations that she took part in, many people have approached her to write about her life story. As a result of numerous inquiries, she published her book last month.
“The whole point of her book is to find your own melody and sing your own song. It’s about using courage and inner strength to fight the odds,” said Johnie Scott, director of the writing program and associate professor in the Pan-African Studies Department.
Banks said her condition might not allow her to continue her work in educating others.
“I really like educating others living with a disease,” Banks said. “My physical being might not allow me to keep up and tell my story. So since my body can’t do it, on paper I could.”
Scott was Banks’ professor during her freshman year, and she said he was influential enough to her that she even included him in her book. She said Scott took the time and listened to her concerns, and that he introduced her to the Center of Disabilities at CSUN through an intervention on his part.
“I was able to utilize services in campus because of Professor Scott,” she said. “It was only my freshman year at CSUN. The intervention changed my academic career and my life.”
Ashlee Graham, a journalism major who is in her first semester at CSUN, said she was taken aback when Banks recently spoke to her Effective Writing/Freshman Composition class. She said hearing the story from someone who was at one time in the same position she’s in right now made her realize that maybe someday she could write her own book.
“It is inspiring to have her (speak in class) because she’s done more than what other people (have) been through,” said James Golden, a creative writing and African-American arts and literature double major.
Hranush Toufenkchian, sophomore business law major, was also in class with Graham and said when she first heard Banks speak, she felt sorry for her because of her lack of physical strength. Toufenkchian said she later felt motivated by what Banks accomplished despite the struggles from her disease.
“The more she talked, (the more) I felt her pain and being in her shoes,” she said. “I just need to find myself like she did, (since) the only way to be happy is to find yourself.”
Golden said it was a positive and important thing for him, along with other students, to be able to interact with an accomplished person like Banks.
He said it was significant for an advanced writing class to meet and listen to a published author who went through the same PAS writing program he is now a part of. Golden said hearing Banks’ story pointed out that he too could someday become a published author.
For the same reason, Toufenkchian and Graham were inspired and motivated by Banks’ story. They said they remembered Banks mention that at the time she was writing her book, she accepted living with the disease by questioning herself in the beginning with “why me,” which later became “why not me.”
She said the writing process played a special role in her coming to terms with life with her disease.
“I decided (the writing process) to be an isolating experience, but it was a very cathartic and healing experience,” Banks said.
Through his 22 years of teaching, Scott said he had grown to see his own accomplishments through the success of his students.
“I still think being a professor is a noble profession. People like her are the payoff,” he said.
Scott said Banks’ story was something many people long to hear.
“I think she’s a kind of story that we would like to hear, but we rarely do,” Scott said. “She’s a girl from the inner city who overcomes her disease and all, then becomes a medical social worker. That is a story in itself. These are things that we hope for but never know. She’s an inspiration, not only to the students, but to professors as well.”
Joanne Angeles can be reached at email@example.com.