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Brenau senior leader Byronica Banks excels despite suffering from bone disorder
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Gnimbin Ouattari, associate professor of history and international studies, instructs Byronica Banks, a senior and Student Government Association president at Brenau University, to read a section of a book the class was told to bring. Banks has osteogenesis imperfecta which is a disorder that has caused her to have brittle bones that easily break. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Put simply, Byronica Banks is a remarkable college student.

She’s president of Brenau University’s Student Government Association. She’s a senior about to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in business with concentrations in leadership and entertainment media. She already has plans to pursue a master’s degree at Brenau, and she has hopes for her future career.

Banks is also a full-time student, mentor and sorority sister with a disability that makes such a busy schedule more of a challenge.

“I was born with osteogenesis imperfecta,” she said. “That means I had brittle bones starting at birth. When I was born, I was born with two broken bones, a broken leg and a broken arm. That’s how they found out I had the disorder, and over my whole entire life span I’ve broken over 80 bones.

“We lost track by the time I was about 5.”

But this hasn’t held Banks back. If anything, it’s fueled her.

“I want to work for the Make a Wish Foundation,” she said. “But I also want to ultimately work at a college office for disability services, to get experience at another college. Then I want to come back to Brenau and make an office for disability services, because we don’t have one and that’s something I’m passionate about.”

Despite this, Banks said Brenau was the most welcoming, accommodating and encouraging college or university she could find.

“Brenau has so many amazing services they gave to me and continue to give to me,” she said. “... I had done an online search and everything I wanted — small school with my major and great services — and Brenau was the only school that had everything I looked into. When I visited, they sat down and had a meeting with me to tell me what they could do for me.”

Banks is a 21-year-old native of Irmo, S.C., where she grew up with her little brother and parents. She spent summers in Mississippi with her grandmother, Deberne Kelly, who now lives with her on campus at Brenau.

Banks said she is most grateful for the way the university accommodated her grandmother, who retired early to care for Banks while she’s at college.

“They let her stay here for free and she eats at the dining hall under my name,” Banks said. “They took her in and they took me in, and they really love her as much as they love me.”

Kelly surprised her granddaughter when she offered to come to college with her four years ago.

“I decided to do it in order for her to have an education,” she said. “With her parents working and trying to make it in life, I thought it would be a good thing for her.”

Banks said everyone on campus calls Kelly “Grandma.”

The university even constructed a handicap ramp and widened the doors to an apartment in the heart of campus that Banks and Kelly have lived in for four years.

Kelly said she spends most of her days doing housework or driving Banks to her many meetings, classes and events. She also has become close to a group at her church in Gainesville, Antioch Baptist Church.

Bank’s days can include an SGA meeting, sorority chapter meeting or event, mentoring for the Vanguard Scholar Program she helped found and, of course, classes.

This semester, Banks is taking primarily electives in order to finish her degree. Her favorite course is African History, taught by Gnimbin Ouattara, associate professor of history and international studies.

Banks sits in the front of the class with her phone, tablet and bright pink MacBook computer in front of her, happily engaged with her professor and classmates.

She’s similarly engaged during SGA executive committee meetings, when she sits at the head of a table with her fellow committee members, planning speeches and events and discussing her recent meeting with the university president, Ed Schrader.

Banks said in high school, she was incredibly shy. Despite this, she competed in the Miss Brenau Program as a freshman and was named first runner-up overall and “Most Devoted.” Now, she “cannot count how many speeches” she’s given for SGA.

“I really gained a lot of independence at Brenau,” she said. “In high school I wasn’t very active in organizations. But they got me out of my shell, and I’m really grateful that they took me and my grandma in.”

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