(JACKSON, Miss.) — Deundra Owens-Blackmon was an infant when her hearing vanished forever due to a fever, which is one reason her upcoming commencement on Saturday, April 30, is all the sweeter. She is one of the first hearing-impaired students to receive an accounting degree from the university’s College of Business.
“This is a massive accomplishment for me, [a person] who never gave up on her dream. I’ve always tried to make the best of every situation, so enrolling at JSU was an excellent choice. The people here helped me learn to express myself,” says Owens-Blackmon.
A native of Natchitoches, Louisiana, Owens-Blackmon began using sign language as a 2-year-old attending pre-kindergarten. Eventually, she would give birth to a son, DeAndre, 12, and a daughter, Zaniyah, 10. She taught both her children to sign when they were 11 months old.
“The first word they learned was ‘mama,’” she said, smiling widely.
Raising two children alone, Owens-Blackmon says the idea of attending college seemed beyond her reach.
“I never imagined that I would one day return to school in higher education to pursue my degree,” she shares. I was a single parent with two children.”
Funny how life has a way of working things out.
One day, while at a store in Hammond, Louisiana, she bumped into an old acquaintance, Wilson Blackmon, a native of Canton, Mississippi. Coincidentally, Wilson Blackmon lost his hearing at the age of 5 as a result of a fever.
“We fell in love. That’s why I moved to Jackson [in 2017] because of him and the opportunities in Mississippi,” says Owens-Blackmon.
The couple married in 2018, and after discovering JSU on social media, she enrolled at the HBCU that fall.
During her in-person and virtual classes, the accounting major used a computer that would translate her professors’ instructions in close caption. Owens-Blackmon also received assistance from translators through the university’s Office of Disability Services.
The soon-to-be graduate admits the learning process was not without hurdles, but due to her hard work, dedication and perseverance, Owens-Blackmon has reached the grand finale of her undergraduate journey.
“Jackson State University means so much to me. My HBCU experience will forever be one to remember. The people and friends that I have met over these four years have helped me grow and mature from my mistakes,” says Owens-Blackmon, who holds a 3.3 GPA and is an active member of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars at JSU.
Wilson Blackmon, who is retired from Mississippi State Hospital, says he is extremely proud of his wife. He writes on a notepad, “She has strength. She is smart and can do anything and she won’t give up. She deserves this.”
Owens-Blackmon is not finished. She plans on becoming a certified public accountant and pursuing a master’s degree in professional accountancy at JSU. If that is not enough, for the past three years, Blackmon has worked as a volleyball official for the Mississippi High School Activities Association and says she will continue.
For now, she is basking in her accomplishment and describes it as a turning point and significant milestone in her life.
“I want to thank JSU President Thomas Hudson, J.D.; Bobbie Daniels, Ph.D., professor in the College of Business; Arron Richardson, Ph.D., assistant director of Disability Services; JSU interpreters Vicki Lewis, Tiffany Leach, Toni Thompson; administrators; faculty; and staff,” she says.
Owens-Blackmon also thanks God for allowing everything to happen as it did. She then acknowledges all who have poured into her during her matriculation at JSU.
“It was a great privilege and honor to work and study under their guidance. I am incredibly grateful for what they offered. I would also like to thank the JSU family for friendship, empathy, and a great sense of humor,” she says. “Because of what JSU has done for me I plan to give back to my alma mater and help someone else the same way.”