As humans, we all perceive the world around us a bit differently. James Whitehead, Jr. has an even more unique sense of his surroundings as he is without eyesight.
The 41-year-old native of Savannah, Ga. is the proud dad to an 18-year-old daughter, Jada and a four-year-old son, Jamison. He is an alumnus of Savannah High School.
He initially attended Savannah State University. He then went to Middle Georgia College, ultimately where he earned a certificate in customer service and computers.
His Journey to Saint Leo’s Savannah Education Center
Whitehead had planned on going to another university to earn a bachelor’s degree. However, that school was unable to accommodate his needs as a blind student.
“At first, they told me that they had the accommodations I needed,” he recalls. “But then a week before classes started, they pulled the rug up from under me and said they wouldn’t be able to accommodate me.”
Frustrated by what had happened, he went down to St. Mary’s Community Center in town to find some guidance. He met with a woman named Khailiah Robinson who does workforce development. She told him about Saint Leo University where she had gone for her master’s degree.
“Ms. Robinson earned her Master of Social Work (MSW) from Saint Leo and spoke very highly of the university,” he says. “She put me in touch with Christine Georgallis, the director of their Office of Accessibility Services at the time. Christine said that they could absolutely accommodate me.”
He says Brittany Leigh, the alternative formatting coordinator for the OAS, has been wonderful.
“Brittany has done a tremendous job of getting me my textbooks in a timely manner,” he says. “She usually gets them to me as Word documents so I can access them with my screen reader software.”
According to Whitehead, he went blind from an accident that caused damage to his optic nerves.
“As blind individuals, we are a minority in the community. Lots of places out there don’t have accommodations for the visually impaired, so to find a school like Saint Leo University that is so willing to help is phenomenal. It gives you a purpose and lets you know that you can achieve your educational and, hopefully, career goals. We all want the ability to apply ourselves and provide for our families. Being a single dad, I want to set a good example for my kids and show them that if you work hard at something, you can achieve it, regardless of your situation.”
He chose the Bachelor of Arts in Psychology program and started his first class at Saint Leo’s Savannah Education Center on Monday, Oct. 16, 2017. He hopes to complete this psychology degree by December 2020.
Memorable Saint Leo Professors
Several professors in the psychology degree program have made a positive impression on him as a Saint Leo student.
“I love what Norda Moore brings to the classroom and to the counseling field,” he says. “She is very compassionate yet very transparent as well. I’m so glad she is part of Saint Leo.”
He also likes Dr. Anne McDaniel, whom he describes as being “very knowledgeable.”
A Family Affair
According to Whitehead, the students at the Savannah Education Center run the gamut in terms of demographics. But they all have one thing in common – their friendly nature.
“All of the students have been very welcoming to me,” he says. “I’ve never met anyone who has made me feel unwelcome.”
Plus, the staff has made a very positive impression on him.
“The staff makes our center feel like a family. They greet you when you come in and make you feel like they truly want you to be there. Joi Williams has such a pleasant attitude. Nae’kisha Jones is very helpful. Mitria Mobley is a very good person as well. Tanisha Barney at the front desk makes sure everyone gets to their vehicles safely at night.”
He is currently taking a class called “Building a Multicultural Society.” Taught by Lysbeth Robinson, this course has been quite enlightening.
“It has opened my eyes to the building blocks of making everyone welcome in a society, no matter what walk of life they come from. In order to build this society, we can’t be afraid of each other because that will keep us divided. We should all be on an even playing field. We watched a video in class about the concept of ‘color brave,’ which means talking about issues in race that most people would be uncomfortable talking about.”
He has been quite an ardent advocate of Saint Leo, convincing his nephew, Trayon Green, to enroll at the Savannah Education Center this fall. He’s trying to get his sister to come on board as a student as well.
“I would highly recommend going to Saint Leo if you have any kind of disability or are just looking to continue your education and want to make a positive impact on our society. I want to be a demonstration to those around me that it’s good to get your education.”
Thanks to some experience he has already had, Whitehead knows exactly what he’d like to do once he walks across the stage and collects his bachelor’s diploma from Saint Leo University.
“I want to be a licensed professional counselor (LPC),” he says. “My goal is to open my own private practice as a counselor.”
Through reading, he learned that this was something he was meant to do.
“My interest in helping others started after I read the Bible,” he says. “I never knew that a calling in my life was to counsel. It kind of chose me.”
In his life, he’s already had the chance to speak to at-risk teens, married couples and single parents who are going through challenges in their lives. He has also preached at several different churches around Savannah.
“Some people turn to alcohol and drugs to deal with what they think are physical issues. But in many cases, it’s a spiritual problem, and those things aren’t going to fix spiritual problems.”
When not working on homework or lending a helping hand in his community, he enjoys reading John Grisham and James Patterson books. He also likes studying the Bible, listening to music and spending time with his kids.
A Unique Attitude
Whitehead has such an upbeat outlook on life.
“People often ask me what it’s like being totally blind. I say that I used to be ‘blind’ but now I ‘see.’ That’s because when I had my physical sight, I was ‘blind.’ But my eyes have become more illuminated to the world around me since going blind because of how my outlook on life has changed so much and I am so much more understanding and open-minded.”
He wants to be sure everyone around him knows how much they have meant to his success.
“I want to give a shout-out to everyone who has contributed to my support team and who has believed in me,” he says. “So many people have rallied around me and I’m so grateful for their support.”
Photo credit: The photograph included in this blog article was provided by James Whitehead and is used with permission.