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Ms. Wheelchair Wisconsin has big dreams, plans to achieve them

Willingham, James

By Stephanie Rodriguez

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    MILWAUKEE (WDJT) — A recently crowned hometown pageant queen uses her platform to spread disability awareness.

“I was born with cerebral palsy,” Rayquetta Lawrence said.

Lawrence, a 2016 graduate from the Milwaukee High School of Arts, tells CBS 58 that she has always been the only person in her life with a disability. Despite her disorder impeding her ability to walk, she goes through life her way.

“I’m a very independent person,” she explained. “I’ve been living on my own since I was about 18, and I’ve been working a job since I was about 16. So, I was trying to beat the odds. I always try to do the best possible even in my situation.”

She had always known she wanted to be a model, and that fire was fueled when she saw people in wheelchairs participate in a local pageant.

“I was so empowered by like all the women that were in chairs, and they were so empowered and still strong. They had all this motivation and drive to succeed, and I just knew, ‘I want to do that.’ That’s what I want to be. I want the world to be able to look at me as an influence for other people in wheelchairs,” Lawrence said.

Fast forward a few years, and Lawrence is competing, this time in Ms. Wheelchair Wisconsin.

“This is one of those events when people can immerse themselves in a room that is completely focused on the disabled community,” Martha Sirvao said.

The two Ms. Wheelchair Wisconsin State Coordinators, Martha Siravo and Autumn Neugent help contestants navigate the competition that does not focus on beauty or just one type of disability.

“Purposefully, we want the spectrum of women, specifically that use wheelchairs,” Neugent said.

Lawrence was excited to share her life with others who would completely understand her.

“For me to be able to meet and mingle with other people who have disabilities and learn about what they go through, and they struggle with compare and contrast, stuff like that, that was good for me,” she said.

For the competition, each contestant shares a platform with the judges. Lawrence’s was “Making a Disability, an Ability.”

“So, basically what my platform means to me, just because I’m disabled doesn’t mean that I can’t win, don’t mean that I can be a superstar, a model, whatever. It doesn’t mean I can’t complete whatever tasks I feel necessary in my life,” she explained.

“She owns and embodies that platform,” Neugent said. “I love that she shows that there is beauty in disability.”

After a day of workshops and judging sessions, Lawrence was crowned Ms. Wheelchair Wisconsin 2024.

“When they said my name, I just cried. I just cried because I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe it. I was actually the winner. Like, I didn’t go in with hopes of winning. I went in with hopes of ‘at least I was there, at least I got the experience.’ But to actually win was mind-blowing for me. It was,” Lawrence said. “I am freaking out about it all the time. Like, I can’t believe I won. I still to this day, can’t believe I won.”

Now that she is the state’s representative, she is ready to use her title to show the world what is possible.

“I always wanted to be able to speak at schools and talk to other kids with disabilities,” Lawrence explained. “[To] let them know like, it’s okay, we can do it because when I was a kid like I probably would have never thought that I’d be able to have my own house, do all these things I’m doing, work a normal job.”

As the Ms. Wheelchair America Nationals approached, Lawrence is working to raise money to attend the competition happening in Michigan this Summer.

“At first, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go as far as to reach the nationals. But then I had to rethink that because why not reach for the stars? I already made it this far, so why stop now?” she said. “So, I’m definitely going to go big for the nationals. I have big dreams. All I know is I’m going to put my best foot forward. I’m going to be myself. I am always going to come in and be genuine. That’s all I can really do. I’m hoping for the best.”

No matter the outcome of that competition, Lawrence said she will always advocate for those who see the world from a different perspective.

“This disability definitely won’t be my inability. So, I’m going to use it more. So, as a steppingstone, less than something that’s holding me back,” she said.

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