FLINT, MI — This weekend 20 people will strut down a stage where they will give their best runway walk in a fashion that’s designed to uplift and give people with special needs a platform and space to be their true authentic selves.
“This Is Me” fashion show, an event that will feature participants with special needs to showcase, who will showcase their confidence and be seen, takes place at 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 5 at the Capitol Theatre, 140 E. 2nd St., in downtown Flint.
Antionette Watson, 24, is one of the models planning to walk in Sunday’s show, and this isn’t her first gig.
She participated in previous shows that were organized and created by Tracy Palmer.
“I was a bit nervous, but by the time it was finished, I was fine,” Watson told MLive-The Flint Journal about how she felt the very first time she walked the runway.
That initial feeling of nervousness didn’t keep Watson away, and she’s continued to do something she loves.
“She’s always had a big personality even as a small child,” Zoranda Watson, Antoinette’s mother, said. “She loves fashion, hand bags. She enjoys having attention and being a part of something.”
Antionette’s father, Robert Watson, agreed on his daughter’s readiness to put herself out there and not look back.
“Antionette Watson has never been scared of anything,” he said, adding she never looks at her disability as a hindrance.
The fashion enthusiast has cerebral palsy, which affects her speech and how she walks.
“We’ve always tried to focus on the things that she can do versus the things that she can’t do,” Zoranda Watson said. “So that kind of has been our drive to focus on the positive instead of the negative.”
That same drive is part of what inspired the creation of the fashion show.
Palmer was approached by a young man with autism at one of her fashion shows against bullying and he expressed they wanted to see themselves similarly and on stage.
In 2018, she set out to give a platform to individuals who have special needs and a spotlight to do something that they’re more than capable of doing.
“Going into it I never knew it would be life changing,” Palmer explained. “I just wanted to create an opportunity for the young man and it just kind of took a life of its own.”
The experience has been life changing for both Palmer and all of the participants.
“In the beginning, they were a little bit scared and not knowing what to expect, but once they started going out on the runway and they saw that the crowd and the families conform to them, it literally was a space created just for them to the music that we played, to the host that I chose, to the gift that were given,” she said. “Everything, we put a lot of heart into it and a lot of heart into it and everybody felt it from backstage to the crowd and the participants.”
Participants in the fashion show range from 1 to 40 years old and hail from Flint to Texas.
Palmer partnered with designers — DeeLux Styles, Elevate Exchange and Fokised Apparel — to provide some of the clothing that will be worn during the show.
This year, the event has partnered with the Autism Support and Resource Center, Hurley Medical Center, HAP and Community Foundation of Greater Flint.
Each of these entities have resources that can be provided to the families or some insight on how to make the event better, Palmer said.
“I’m just really looking forward to changing people’s lives and letting them know that they’re not alone. I think that’s the biggest thing that I hear from parents,” Palmer said. “A lot of the parents, they don’t like to go out and do different things, different activities because they feel like they’re going to be bullied.”
Palmer said she wants the event to make them feel completely comfortable and not judged because of their disability.
Antionette Watson has been uplifted and encouraged by her parents, and as a result she aims to inspire others with T-shirts at her pop-up shop, Watson Family Designs, inside the Flint Wall Street Market.
The T-shirts that support others with disabilities and specifically cerebral palsy read “Her Fight is My Fight”, “CP Can’t Beat Me” and “See Me and Not CP.”
“Let people know who you are and just do it,” Antionette Watson said as words of encouragement to others who are hesitant to pursue something new.
Tickets for the show are $25 and can be purchased at the Trendsetters Production website or the Capitol Theatre’s website.
A portion of the proceeds will go to the ADHD Foundation.
“Number one, I’m all about my community,” Palmer said. “Number two, I’m all about being kind and lending a hand where I see a need for (it), and I feel like if I can fulfill something for somebody then I’m going to do it and I’m going to go all out. I feel like I’m the me that I needed when I was young.”
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