For Sequoya Willis, family is everything – the blossom of seeds, or “deposits,” she’s planted throughout her life.
“It’s very important to me because it gives me a choice, where being younger a choice was robbed from me; the choice of having a childhood was robbed from me,” said the Chester resident, in a very distinct New York accent. “…So it’s a great honor for me, it’s very important because I didn’t really get the sense of family.”
Willis, 32, who grew up in New York City, born in Brooklyn, now lives in Broadwater Townhouses with her son, T’ajah, 13, and daughter, Terrena, 5, where life has become more pleasant than in previous years; a sense of family now an everyday reality.
During her youth, Willis endured severe abuse and neglect at the hands of her parents, who were both habitual drug addicts. The oldest of four children, she and her siblings were malnourished, uncared for, and dirty, she said. “I became the caretaker of my sisters. I was beaten a lot, probably the most out of my sisters,” said Willis.
According to Willis, for years she struggled to come to terms with her tragic, early-childhood experiences, leaving her lost, confused and hopeless.
However, not long after moving to Richmond, a transformation came about. While attending ECPI Technical College in 2005, Willis, attended a work-related conference, hearing motivational speaker and author Zig Ziglar passionately tell his personal story.
“I came home that day and knew what I wanted to do after that conference,” Willis said. “I felt it with everything within me. I went down to City Hall, I got a business license, but it was not the time.”
After playing a major role in coordinating the “Free Shopping Spree,” which helped people suffering from the 2008 recession through the accumulation of unwanted belongings, Willis got the attention of RCAP, a Richmond-based food pantry. Impressed with her ability to work with and motivate people, the organizer of RCAP invited Willis to do a seminar workshop for her employees; an early opportunity for public speaking.
But her chance to help and move people through speaking aloud first came when a friend from Children’s Aid Society in New York requested that Willis speak to teens in foster care at their location. At the public speaking occasion, she was able to share her own childhood experiences to absolute strangers – something she had never before done.
“I felt very refreshed,” she said, “because I felt like I was in my comfort zone, and this was the passion, and I helped some teenagers not give up hope. I’m here to help people, and if I didn’t go through what I went through, I wouldn’t understand what they’re going through.”
She soon discovered another way her voice could be heard. After toying around with the idea of writing a book for years, Willis felt compelled to tell her personal experience through a memoir once Barack Obama became President, Willis said, because she “felt there was no limit to anything I wanted to do.”
Finally, in April 2010, she self-published her first book, “The Fight of My Life: Memoirs of a Child Abuse Victim,” sharing with the world the pains of her childhood. Since then she has been invited to numerous speaking arrangements, held book signings, and has sold anywhere between 500 and 700 copies, frequently giving away numerous copies if she felt the person truly could benefit from one, she said. However, two weeks ago she sold 33 copies in a single week.
Although she is beginning to experience some success, Willis feels her real accomplishment lies in the effect her book has on readers: “The major success that I’ve had is people who got something from it and was able to change something in their lives because of it,” she said.
Most recently, Willis delivered a speech at the Chesterfield County/Colonial Heights Department of Social Services for their annual Foster Parent Appreciation and In-Service Training Night, thanking a multitude of recently licensed foster parents for what they do for young people. She touched on her personal experiences, sharing her insights on positive thinking, positive speaking, and the important role foster parents play in the life of many children.
Looking back, Willis praises her aunt, Frances Henderson, for the love she learned for herself, the person who nurtured her visions and dreams from day one, she said.
Henderson, who currently works for the NYPD, took care of Willis and her sisters from the time Willis was eight years old. Despite one period when the children returned to the parents, only briefly before the abuse ceased then quickly continued, Henderson remained their foster parent until they were old enough to live on their own.
Henderson feels Willis’ “has come a long way” and is a remarkable young women. Not long from now Henderson will become Willis’ adopted mother.
“She grew up, to me, to be a beautiful young lady that any mom would be pride to have her as their daughter; any mom,” Henderson said. “I’m just so glad that she now can be an example for young women and older women and a child … What happened to her as a child wasn’t easy, but she stepped out of that shell and she is looking kind of good right now to me. So I’m just happy. Now she can be an example to others.”
In the aftermath of the recent tragedy occurring in her neighborhood, Broadwater Townhouses, Willis, who writes a monthly newsletter for the community, concentrates on the good things within the community.
“That’s one thing about this community, there are a lot of people who work, go to school and try their best to raise good children …,” she said. “And the children and the parents are so involved, and they’re involved in getting their children out here to do it too.”
Willis has been invited to introduce Mayor of Richmond Dwight C. Jones May 21 for “Success for Reading Incorporated, MC” in Richmond at 32nd and Hull St. Then on June 12, she is speaking to “Bikers against Child Abuse.”
“And when I think back to how I felt so bad about myself, to each step of my life now, I know that everything happened for a reason. …I know that people are going through a lot, they can come out of it but sometimes you give up on life, and you don’t know which way to go. But as long as you take a step, and you keep taking one step at a time, you’re going to get somewhere.”
For more information on her future speaking engagements, or even to learn more about her story, visit www. http://fightofmylife.webs.com.