Ms. Wheelchair Alabama takes national stage to speak out against domestic violence

March 31, 2012

By Anita Debro

Ammie Morgan wants to talk about domestic violence.

The 21-year-old Bessemer woman was paralyzed from the chest down in April 2010 after an incident in which she said she was shot by her ex-fiance, who now faces an attempted murder charge.

Now Morgan, who must use a wheelchair, speaks to students about dating violence and to adults about the warning signs of domestic abuse.

Her strong desire to educate people on the dangers of domestic violence led her this year to enter the Ms. Wheelchair Alabama-USA competition, which aims to promote the achievements of women with disabilities. Morgan won the state title in February.

“I wanted to make a difference and have my voice heard on my platform,” she said. “I wanted to talk about those things because I have gone through them myself.”

Morgan, a former student at Miles College, was surprised she won the state competition on her first try, but now she has high hopes for competing in the national Ms. Wheelchair USA competition in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, in July.

She said she thinks she can win the competition and a chance to take her platform of domestic violence prevention around the country. She’s trying to raise $5,000 through fundraisers and sponsors to participate in the national contest.

Changed life

Morgan was born in Los Angeles but moved to Bessemer when she was 5 years old. Her life, she said, was tumultuous at times, and domestic abuse was always lurking in her family.

“I never paid attention to it,” Morgan said. “And I never listened to people’s warnings when I was in a relationship. You never do when you are in love.”

Morgan graduated from Brentwood Christian Academy and went on to attend Miles College with plans to go law school. During that time, she met her now ex-fiance, Levi Lewis.

The relationship, Morgan said, began to go bad, so she decided to move on. Morgan was working at Legacy Bingo Hall in Fairfield on the night she was shot.

“I was leaving work that night and walking through the parking lot when a car almost ran me over,” she recalled. “And then the shooting started. … I knew that night that I was paralyzed.”

Morgan said her doctor told her about six months after the shooting that she would never walk again. “I was sad,” she said. “But I just said OK.”

Lewis has pleaded not guilty to a charge of attempted murder. He was released from jail in 2010 on a $60,000 bond. Efforts to reach Lewis or his attorney, Lowell Sexton, for comment were unsuccessful. The case is set for trial before Jefferson County Circuit Judge Teresa Petelos in May.

Ernestine Williams, Morgan’s godmother, said the young woman is lucky to be alive. Williams said before Morgan was paralyzed, she did youth mentoring and outreach as a volunteer dance coach for Save the Youth, a nonprofit group in Bessemer.

The incident changed that. Williams said she has tried to encourage Morgan to move ahead with her life and find another way to reach youth.

Speaking out

Morgan said following the shooting, she was stuck waiting on resolution of her ex-fiance’s criminal case. She did not work or return to school and remained fearful.

But she said that last year she grew tired of waiting — her ex-fiance’s case was postponed in December — and went soul-searching for a way to make a difference in her life and in other people’s lives. That is when she found the Ms. Wheelchair Alabama-USA competition.

“It was God telling me this is what I had to do. I was not a speaker,” Morgan said. “But I knew after this happened that I had to talk about it.”

The former Ms. Wheelchair Alabama-USA, Natalie Whalen, is mentoring Morgan on getting her message out to the public, along with the message of accepting people with disabilities.

Whalen, 65, said she hopes Morgan can speak not just for women with disabilities, but for everyone with a disability. Morgan, Whalen said, is just finding her own voice.

“I tell her to speak authoritatively,” Whalen said. “And when she talks about what happened to her and how she wants to help others, she has a powerful voice.”

This week, Morgan spoke to a group of eighth-graders at J.A. Davis Middle School in Bessemer. She said she tries to be playful and honest with students as she tells them about knowing the difference between love and jealousy. She said she tries to warn youth to become cautious if someone starts asking too many questions about what they are doing.

“When I was their age, I didn’t listen,” she said. “But I want them to listen to me now and to be careful.”

Source: Alabama Live