By Ameera Steward
The Birmingham Times
Welcome to Third Thursdays! This series—published in the Birmingham Times on the third Thursday of every month—highlights area citizens who overcome odds to make a difference in their own lives or those who make a difference in the lives of others.
Nothing can stop Karneshia Patton from accomplishing anything she’s ever wanted. The 28-year-old was born with spina bifida, a birth defect that occurs when the spine and spinal cord don’t form properly, which left her paralyzed from the waist down. Nonetheless, Patton, who’s been in a wheelchair since age 3, has steadily built an impressive resume across several fields.
“I have always been a fast learner,” said Patton. “I just try to live every day to the best of my ability.”
Patton, who has a bachelor’s degree in nutrition from the University of Mississippi, works as a full-time nail technician, model, freelance journalist for I-Push magazine, and a lifestyle influencer. She even tried out for her high school tennis team and plays basketball for the Lakeshore Foundation and the Rolling Hornets of North Carolina.
As her resume shows, Patton is fiercely independent.
“Working for someone else is not my thing,” she said. “As far as the fashion industry, that’s still kind of working for yourself if you think about it. As far as clocking in everyday, that’s not my life.”
During Magic City Fashion Week (MCFW) held in Birmingham in October, Patton modeled in shows for local designers Derek DeAndre, Daniel Grier, and Garland Jackson—but these were not her first runway appearances.
Patton started modeling around 2015. Her first fashion show was for Jet Miller, who has a movement called Living Out a Dream (LOAD). Patton said she had just taken a few pictures and assumed Miller knew she was trying to become a model because he asked her to be in his show. Since then, she’s has appeared in five fashion shows and continues to seek other modeling opportunities.
“I would love to do more [editorial pictures for publications], but I do love the experience of fashion shows,” Patton said. “Print modeling is something I’m interested in.”
Changed for the Better
Patton, from Senatobia, Miss., never felt different until middle school, when children began to bully her, which affected her self-esteem until she from graduated high school. Still, that did not stop her from trying out for her middle school tennis team.
“Tennis was the first sport I was introduced to; I took wheelchair tennis lessons as a child for a while. In junior high I decided to try out for my school’s tennis team, and they wouldn’t let me try out. They said I would be a hazard to other players,” said Patton, who also was interested in basketball but couldn’t play until high school, when a team in Memphis, Tenn., started a junior league.
Patton blossomed in college: “I discovered who I really was and that I was way more than my disability. I think it changed me for the better in the long run.”
She attended the University of Mississippi, where she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in nutrition. Then she moved to Birmingham and attended Samford University, where she pursued a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing. Patton always wanted to be in the health care field as a nurse, but she eventually realized that wasn’t for her and decided to work on her own.
Working on her own meant picking up several side hustles and activities, including becoming a full-time nail technician. Patton met Ebony Smith, owner of FingerPaints Nail Studio in Ensley, who encouraged her to go to nail school and get certified. Patton attended the School of Nail Technology in Birmingham and finished in 10 months, graduating in June 2017.
“[Smith] assured me that I would have a job upon completion. She stayed true to her word, and I worked with her at FingerPaints Nail Studio,” Patton said. “It was a great learning experience. I not only developed my skills but also learned the foundation of running a business, as well. She will forever be one of my mentors.”
During MCFW, Patton did nails for the women of Birmingham’s LoveLady Center, which “empowers women, through faith-based initiatives, so they can return to society as well-equipped women of God,” according to its mission statement online at www.loveladycenter.org.
“When I originally started doing nails, I said I wanted to do stuff like that, to give back,” said Patton. “I did do a once-a-month kind of thing, and I don’t know why I stopped, but the [MCFW] event inspired me to get back into it.”
Patton didn’t have family or “word of mouth” to promote her nail business, which started from going to nail school where she picked up a few clients.
“I encourage investing in yourself because your business will grow faster than you think if you start investing in yourself,” she said. “If you’re not prepared, it won’t grow.”
Play to Win
Outside of her entrepreneurial endeavors, this is Patton’s fourth year playing basketball for Birmingham’s Lakeshore Foundation; she also plays three times a year for the Rolling Hornets of North Carolina. Like everything she does, Patton plays to win. In fact, she said her wheelchair has become a source of power.
“I definitely had to grow up fast especially to be taken seriously by people,” she said. “On top of having a disability, I’m also small and black, so people would try to downplay my intelligence. Maturity had to come from my experiences.”
Patton deals with a lot from people questioning her abilities, but she never lets it get to her.
“Looking forward to what’s next keeps me motivated,” she said. “Knowing that I have family and friends behind me 100 percent supporting me and knowing that I’ll win is the best feeling in the world.”