My name is Newoka Baker and I’ve been a member of Independence Center since Sept. 23, 2014.

Before I came to Independence Center, I pretty much hit rock bottom. At the time I was enrolled at St. Louis University and on the path to law school when I was diagnosed with PTSD and a physical disability. My diagnosis changed everything and I had to shift my career focus for my own health.

I heard about Independence Center from another local community resource that helps people with disabilities find employment. When I became a member of Independence Center, I learned that they partnered with Legal Services of Eastern Missouri and someone suggested that I apply as a paralegal.

Since applying, I’ve been accepted as a paralegal in Consumer Law and I assist people with disabilities with their credit card debt and bankruptcies.

Independence Center has helped me go back to school and find employment. They also have a speaker’s bureau where I have more opportunities to share my story to eliminate stigma and educate our community. The picture shown is with an instructor at Title Boxing where I shared my story during one of Independence Center’s events called Knock Out Stigma.

I was diagnosed with depression at 17, but the trauma started in my childhood. At the age of 5 was the first time I was molested and by the time I was 10 I had been raped. The adults in my life didn’t believe me and they would say “we don’t talk about things like that.”

The silence and stigma hurt. The depression grew and completely affected every aspect of my life. But I’m here.

People with mental illness can thrive in the community – and I’m proof of that. I’ve had excellent support from my doctors at BJC HealthCare and community resources such as Independence Center.

I’m excited about my future!