Beauty breaking barriers: Jessica Escamilla, Ms. Wheelchair Texas USA
10.19.2017 | By Andrea Vasquez
HOUSTON – As she prepares for one of her meet and greet events, San Jacinto College student Jessica Escamilla gathers her headshot photos, a few pens and heads out the door. As the reigning Ms. Wheelchair Texas USA, she’s out to show people that breaking barriers isn’t just for beauty queens who can walk the runway.
You wouldn’t know it just looking at her, but she and her bright, engaging smile have come a long way. Escamilla was born with Spina Bifida, the most common permanently disabling birth defect in the United States. Spina Bifida occurs in the womb when a baby’s spinal column does not completely close. Each day in the U.S., approximately eight babies are born with Spina Bifida or a similar birth defect of the brain and spine. October serves as both Spina Bifida Awareness Month and National Depression and Mental Health Screening Month. By bringing awareness to these health observances, Escamilla hopes to be an example of what is possible with support and determination.
At times throughout her life, Escamilla was no stranger to depression. Knowing that so many others with and without disabilities suffer in silence, Escamilla chose depression and suicide awareness as her Ms. Wheelchair Texas USA platform in order to be an advocate for those with special needs and mental illness.
“Crown or no crown it doesn't mean that your voice can't be heard,” said Escamilla. “I've always felt the topics of depression and suicide are not talked about as often as they should be. I'm hoping that at a minimum I can help others who are struggling to realize that they don’t have to live in the shadows anymore. I want to be there for those that feel that all they can do that day is breathe. Ultimately, my goal is to have a lifelong career of helping people's lives for the better.”
Escamilla graduated from San Jacinto College in 2009 with an associate degree in child development and has since returned to the College to pursue a second associate degree in business. Along with her degree and Ms. Wheelchair Texas USA title, Escamilla is also a published author. Her recent book, “The Flame that Kept the Candles Burning,” is a personal account of overcoming her battle with suicide and the inner strength she discovered in the midst of her darkest moments.
“Today, depression is so prevalent that it’s sometimes known as the common cold of mental illness,” she said. “Depression is even more common in those, such as myself, living with a spinal cord injury. Roughly one in every five individuals with a spinal cord injury experiences depression. Not only are women with a disability at a greater risk of depression, but they are also less likely to seek help.”
At her meet and greet events and more recently her book readings, she often reiterates her Ms. Wheelchair Texas USA platform speech. “To the woman that cries for reasons even she doesn't understand; to the young girl who feels it's easier to cut her woes away; to the female veteran who has returned with less limbs than what she left with and now has to adjust- it's time we start breaking barriers for one of the most debilitating mental illnesses in America. No matter your situation, disability or struggle, when you turn off the light we're all the same color, and there is nothing in this world that you can't accomplish.”
Jessica Escamilla will host a release event for her new book, “The Flame that Kept the Candles Burning” from Monday, Oct. 23, through Wednesday, Oct. 25, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the San Jacinto College North Campus bookstore in building 12, room N12.102. There will be a live reading each day along with meet and greet opportunities and giveaways. The San Jacinto College North Campus is located at 5800 Uvalde in Houston. Watch a video about her journey or visit Escamilla's Ms. Wheelchair Texas USA Facebook page for more information on her Ms. Wheelchair Texas USA updates.
About Ms. Wheelchair USA
Sponsored by The Dane Foundation, the Ms. Wheelchair USA program provides opportunities for women with disabilities to publicize their achievements, educate and advocate for others, while supplying a platform for community service and public discussion. The program encourages professional advancement and requires a commitment to public service for all of its state and national title holders. For more information about the Ms. Wheelchair USA program, visit mswheelchairusa.org.
About San Jacinto College
Surrounded by monuments of history, industries and maritime enterprises of today, and the space age of tomorrow, San Jacinto College has been serving the citizens of East Harris County, Texas, since 1961. As a fiscally sound institution, the College currently holds bond ratings of AA and Aa2 by Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s, respectively. San Jacinto College is a 2017 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence Rising Star Award recipient and an Achieving the Dream Leader College. Approximately 45,000 credit and non-credit students each semester benefit from a support system that maps out a pathway for success. The College offers eight areas of study that prepare a diverse body of students to transfer to four-year colleges or universities or enter the workforce with the skills needed to support the growing industries along the Texas Gulf Coast. San Jacinto College graduates contribute nearly $690 million each year to the Texas workforce.