Hakuna Matata

Bouncing down the halls with unbound enthusiasm, sophomore Liza Simkins looks forward to sharing her newest drawing with her friends picturing Donald Duck, Panchito Pistoles, and José Carioca; three birds starring in the 1944 Disney film, The Three Caballeros.

As early as she can remember, Simkins has loved Disney. She aspires to work for the multinational mass-media corporation as a voice actress. She says her favorite character, Panchito inspired her to stay optimistic when her sister ran away at the age of 16 and did not turn up until two years later, in mid-2014, with a newborn child in St. Petersburg.

“I felt betrayed. How could she leave me? What did I do wrong?” Simkins said. “I remember writing in my journal how everyone in my family leaves, and how I try to be there for them, but they can’t do the same.”

Simkins lives a story unlike the fairy tales she loves. When she was two her parents adopted her alongside two other siblings, one of whom was diagnosed with autism. Her birth parents are unknown.

“I was a drug baby. My parents couldn’t care for me. My dad went to jail and my mother smoked,” Simkins said. “The one thing my mother did right was give me up.”

Simkins has fought adversity since birth. She suffered from seizures, panic attacks, and asthma early in life as a result of her mother’s drug addiction. Growing up as the only black member of her family, she took puzzled glances in stride when seen next to her mother and father.

“I have nothing to be ashamed about,” Simkins said. “I don’t want to meet my birth parents because they were never there for me, but that’s ok because my family loves me for who I am, they chose me for a reason, and they’re going to love me no matter what.”

Simkins is all too familiar with abandonment. She hopes living life with free-spirited optimism and open arms creates a sense of belonging for those around her.

“I remember sitting in church on Sunday mornings and writing in my journal ‘Who Am I?’ over and over again,” Simkins said.

Simkins has grown since, proudly boasting that she knows who she is, and who she will become.

“I am me,” she said proudly. “I make my friends happy, I make people laugh, I hope no one ever feels like they’re unloved. I take time making sure my friends know I’m always there for them. I’ll never leave. No matter what.”

Although her biggest fear is solitude, Simkins does not allow her background to affect how she extends a loving hand to those around her.

“Everyone deserves a chance to be heard and have a friend. Everyone deserves to be worry free for a while,” Simkins said. “Regardless of where they come from or where they hope to go, they should love themselves for who they are, and not for who other people see them to be.”

When asked about how she maintains her kind zeal, she said she seeks refuge in her singing.

“When I sing, I let it all out,” Simkins said. “And when I work for Disney, I can continue to find happiness in my work.”

Because of Simkin’s devotion to ensure everyone she meets never feels out of place or unwanted, she wants a career in Disney to give lonely children a voice that will always comfort and keep them company on lonely nights.

“Disney was and will always be there for me when I felt like no one else was,” Simkins said. “I want to continue that magic for others.”