Studium Generale | Debbie Wooten
Today, Studium Generale is pleased to welcome Debbie Wooten back to our stage in a special commemorative program honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Wooten met King when she was just eight years old, and the experience changed her life. The words from his speech, "judge people for the content of their character, not the color of their skin," has always stayed with her, and it is a message she strives to pass on to others who also need encouragement.
Wooten's story is a vision of how the human spirit can prevail despite adversity. Born on the south side of Chicago with spina bifida, she contracted polio at the age of five months and grew up amid poverty and alcoholism. Becoming a mother when she was still a teen-ager, Wooten struggled to take care of them, carrying her toddlers and groceries up to the third story of her apartment building one stair at a time, alternating bags of groceries and babies until they reached the top floor.
While still in Chicago she married a man who, like her father, was abusive, but she carried on and excelled at parenthood on her own. She also started a business with ladies in the neighborhood called "Debbie's Dollies." Using brown fabric and discounted African American doll heads, they fashioned dolls that were sent all over the country. She even made a few with a miniature likeness of her leg brace.
In 1987 she decided to divorce her husband and moved with her children to Tacoma, where she joined a local Toastmaster's group. In 1989 she took a job with the Washington State Lottery and was also chosen as the national winner of a Toastmaster's speaking contest, competing for the International award in Portland, Oregon, where she came in second. With this win, she was able to open for the comedian Sinbad and that was the start of a new speaking and motivational career.
Debbie's comedy stints include competing in the finals in the Seattle Comedy Competition and opening for Gladys Knight on tour as well as for comics George Wallace, Tommy Davidson, Bernie Mac, Jamie Foxx, Cedric the Entertainer and Louie Anderson.
Today, she will share her own story with us so that we, too, might be inspired and realize that adversity can be overcome.