Miss Black UCO admits dyslexia struggle, wins pageant crown
EDMOND, Okla. –Delivering a monologue about dyslexia -- the undeserved shame she was almost afraid to talk about -- contributed to Tiffany Thompson’s win in the Miss Black UCO 2012 scholarship pageant. The rewards were a pageant win on her seventh attempt, a $1,600 University of Central Oklahoma tuition waiver and the chance to help others face or understand an invisible learning disability that makes it difficult for intelligent people to read.
“My monologue was called, ‘Who am I?’,” Thompson explained, “and it was about growing up having people tell me I wasn’t going to be a success because I was black, wasn’t going to be successful because I was a female.”
For the first time ever, Thompson’s family and friends heard her describe what it was like to get “that heart attack feeling” when called on to read out loud in school – to be laughed at and called stupid – and believe it.
“It’s kind of like coming out of the closet. I can’t go back. A room full of people, my peers. I just prayed, said this is obviously for the best. I never know by me coming out and saying I was dyslexic somebody might go get tested.”
Deep breathing now helps Thompson control anxiety and process information when words literally jump off the page and begin to do a spiral or disappear.
Her vocational rehabilitation counselor Shanel Armstrong from the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services has helped prepare her for employment since high school, providing guidance and counseling and funding for university room and board, assistive technology and other expenses not covered by scholarships.
Educating the public about dyslexia is Thompson’s pageant platform, typically a social issue chosen by each contestant. It’s something she would do for free, but UCO hired Thompson to put her natural compassion and communication skills to work in a program called Compass Learning Communities.
Her supervisor, Erica Townsend, assistant director of Academic Initiatives for Housing and Dining, met Thompson when she volunteered in her role as Miss UCO and knew she would be perfect to help with students develop skills and solve problems related to academic focus and retention.
In the fall, Thompson, a senior at UCO who wants to be a family life therapist, will be a paid peer mentor living with 48 incoming freshmen, many of whom are the first in their families to attend college.
She looks forward to being a role model, adding “It’s essential to start building success by living on campus when you come in as a freshman.”
This summer, Thompson helps Townsend prepare for incoming Compass students, frequently texting or emailing as soon as they enroll. She encourages new students to like the Compass Facebook page, which focuses on fun activities and support services.
“I didn’t realize what a find I had when I hired Tiffany,” Townsend said. “She’s confident and capable, but also determined and not afraid to tell personal stories and put herself out there to connect with each person.
“When I tell new students something they need to do, they don’t see the connection, don’t believe they can actually accomplish that,” Townsend said. “But they are going to see Tiffany as an inspiration. She may have a barrier, but she’s finds out what it takes to get to her goal. “
“I’m thrilled about Tiffany’s success,” Armstrong said. “She told me during her initial interview during her senior year in high school that she wanted to attend college and make difference so she could give back to her community. I’m excited about her future and can’t wait to see where life takes her.”
“At first for a long time, I thought it was a curse to be dyslexic,” Thompson explained. “Now, I call it ‘the gift’ because I learn different. I look at the world different. I’m just me.”
Find out more about DRS’ vocational rehabilitation and employment programs for Oklahomans with disabilities at www.okdrs.gov or phone a toll free routing number at 800-487-4042 to be connected to the nearest DRS office.