Missouri Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Success Story
“I’ve never put limitations on (myself); I always believed I had potential to be the first black president.” Tyrone Flowers has lived this philosophy all of his life. This type of thinking enabled him to accomplish great things — One being the founder of Higher M-Pact, an organization he created to reshape and guide the lives of high-risk urban youth while offering them hope and the opportunity for a successful future.
Born to teenage parents but raised by his grandparents, Tyrone’s childhood was anything but stable. Thrust into the foster care system at age 7, he experienced life without direction. One bad turn of events led to another, and Tyrone found himself in the McCune School for Boys, a facility for juvenile offenders in Independence. He was only 16.
From McCune, Tyrone was placed with the Division of Youth Services (DYS). Once released, he attended high school and began playing basketball, offering proof that he lived his life without the limitations of his upbringing.
His life philosophy would be challenged at the age of 18. In May 1988, he was shot by a teammate. Three bullets ripped through his body, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down and with limited use of his left arm. His life without limitations did not seem too promising. Or, did it?
Tyrone received physical rehabilitation at the Kansas City Rehab Institute. It was there that he became involved with Vocational Rehabilitation (VR). His counselor was Elector Anthony. Now deceased, Anthony was well-respected and loved by co-workers and VR consumers. “She believed in me,” Tyrone said. “We had a friendship.”
VR provided the resources necessary to convert Tyrone’s house into an accessible home. VR paid for a lift, a shower chair, and construction that enabled him to get into and around in his home.
Tyrone was still determined to live without limitations. The fact that he would use a wheelchair for the rest of his life did not stop him from setting and reaching goals. With help from VR, he obtained an associate degree from Penn Valley Community College in Kansas City. He then went on to receive an undergraduate degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia, majoring in sociology and minoring in psychology. VR paid for his MU education as well. From books and supplies to computers and software, VR provided assistance for anything not covered by scholarships or grants.
More than just financial support, Tyrone also received emotional support from VR. He appreciated how receptive his counselor was to his needs. “Most people want to address what they think your needs are,” he said. “She listened to what my needs were.”
“Elector became more than just a counselor,” Tyrone said. “We were two individuals talking about life, not just VR. That made it more than just services.”
As a senior at MU, Tyrone completed a practicum at the McCune School for Boys, the same facility he had been incarcerated in years ago. His life had now come full circle. He spent time with the boys, discovering that they needed someone to relate to. They just wanted to talk about everyday life.
“Some didn’t even know how to tell time,” Tyrone said. “It wasn’t because they were dumb; they had never been taught because of their lifestyle and background.”
At the time, Tyrone didn’t realize what kind of impact he was having on the boys, and vice versa. But his passion for what he was doing gave him inspiration for the future. He decided that he wanted to develop community programs for adolescents just coming out of the juvenile justice system. He felt that high-risk youth needed a program to teach them responsibility and accountability.
“That is when I decided to go to law school,” Tyrone said. “I knew that having the heart to work with high-risk youth wasn’t enough. I needed a law degree to back it up.” He knew he had to understand the juvenile justice system from the legal perspective as well as from the personal side, and VR again provided funding for Tyrone’s continuing education.
It was during law school at MU that Higher M-Pact came about. There were children at his church without Easter baskets. “I guess that was my first fundraiser,” he said. “I needed 30 baskets, so I went to Osco’s (Drug Store) for baskets at a discount, and I asked schoolmates for donations.” He said that by the end of one lunch period, “I had enough resources to buy 120 baskets.”
By the time he received his law degree in 1998, the program had grown to surpass 1,000 baskets. He had the school’s and community’s involvement, but he knew he needed consistency to keep the program alive. He created his own business cards and named his growing program Higher M-Pact.
Today, Tyrone’s organization has a board of 20 members and revenue in excess of $300,000, all generated through donations. His wife of 13 years, Reneé, also works at Higher M-Pact and sits on the board of directors.
As evidenced by the many awards he has received, Tyrone’s accomplishments are held in high esteem. Though he admits that receiving personal recognition from the president of the United States was an amazing feeling, the award that means the most to him is the 1993 Male Volunteer Award that he received from the Jackson County Family Court for his work at McCune.
Tyrone never dwells on his past. Instead, he uses it as a tool to be successful today. “I’m no different than the guy next to me that’s walking, but I am different,” he said. “You need to realize that people with disabilities are well capable of doing (things). It’s just going to be done differently.”