Why Crozet: India Sims Honored by Soul Legend

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Crozet’s India Sims. She was honored last winter by soul legend Mary J. Blige. Photo: Malcolm Andrews.

Why Crozet” first appeared in the Crozet Gazette in January 2019 to report on the many reasons why people like living in Crozet. We’ve highlighted businesses, history, the natural beauty and rural heritage, but some of the most important inspiration comes from Crozet’s people, what they’ve endured and what they’ve learned. This is the story of India Sims, who has overcome enormous challenges and continues to face more. 

When she first heard that Mary J. Blige had a message for her, Crozet native India Sims found the idea preposterous. “So I didn’t believe it,” Sims said. Her skepticism lessened when people representing Good Morning America began to collect permissions and make arrangements for filming her conversation with the hip-hop-soul star. After a few days of this, Sims finally believed it was true.

Also true: Blige had been following her TikTok channel (1uniquechairgirl) for a while, noting the power and joy of Sims’s message to those with disabilities. In their televised exchange, each of the women credited the other with inspiring them. Sims had taken Blige’s hit song, “Good Morning, Gorgeous,” and used it as the backdrop for a short TikTok video. 

Both women understood the deeper meaning of the song. “It’s not about vanity,” Blige said to Sims in her February 14 segment of “Good Morning America.” “It’s about who we are. Good morning, smart woman; good morning, strong woman.” 

Blige told Sims that she was an inspiration to her. “You don’t understand,” Sims replied through tears, arguing that she was the one inspired by Blige. “I used to sing your songs all the time.”

This was not just flattery from Sims. “When I grew up here in Crozet, my mother encouraged me to sing, but I was only allowed to sing gospel. Mary J. Blige was the one exception she allowed.” Sims had a realistic shot at a singing career––in fact, she got to the second round of The Voice––but she has her eye on something that will be of service to people like her, people with disabilities.

India Sims at Grit with employees Kate Burns and Shi-Ann Loving. Photo: Malcolm Andrews.

She’s already reaching her TikTok and Facebook followers with a profound message, one of unrestrained energy and joy. You’ll see her dancing in her wheelchair, riding a motorcycle, indoor sky diving, modeling beautiful outfits, laughingly hitching a bumpy ride upstairs on someone’s back: always beautiful, always a unique combination of exuberance, poise and wisdom. Most of all, she’s always dancing, dancing, dancing with perfect moves—not only in her wheelchair, but in her car, with her sons, in the kitchen and by the pool.

India Sims has never known what it’s like to dance on her own two feet. At ten months old, she was given a spinal tap to help diagnose the reasons behind a persistent ear infection. When the day was over, she still had the ear infection but she was partially paralyzed from a needle break. As the reality began to sink in for her stricken family, Sims was enduring constant fevers and seizures. There was nothing but a weak apology from the surgeon, followed by several years of surgery after surgery. “They didn’t really think they could restore the use of my legs,” Sims said. “But they started trying to fix everything else.”

Even as a young child, she was mystified by the multiple operations. “Not only was I paralyzed, but I was often in a full body cast,” she remembers. Finally, at 10 years old, she told her mother, “no more surgeries.” Her mother knew the strength of India’s spirit and will and listened to her. India gives her mom the credit for her own courage and persistence. “She put the idea of determination in terms a child could understand,” Sims remembers. “She read me “The Little Engine that Could” over and over. The story’s refrain, “I think I can; I know I can,” had a special meaning for the little girl in the wheelchair, dreaming of her future. 

India Sims got the message. By the age of ten, she knew she was unstoppable. In fact, that was the exact word she used in a lengthy two-part interview on the “Women are Worthy” show. “Nothing can stop me,” she told Jacqlyn Charles, the creator of the popular YouTube series. First in her sights were two goals she’d been told she’d never reach. “I was going to learn to drive a car,” she said, “and I wanted to become a beauty specialist.” Sims got some help from disability advocates along the way but it was really her own brand of strength and grace that powered her forward, past reluctance and outright refusals. At her church, she sang gospel. At her school, Western Albemarle, she became a cheerleader. She took courses in masonry as well as in cosmetology. She played basketball. As an adult, she had two sons and raised them alone. She remembers tucking her babies into her jacket to leave her hands free to roll her chair. Whenever there was an obstacle, she thought of a way. 

“Think through a day of someone in a wheelchair,” she said. “How do you get out of bed? How do you clean the bathtub? You never know what challenges you might face.” She said she never, ever thought of her boys, now 16 and 10, as adding to her struggle. “They’re my brightest lights,” she said.

The exuberance and energy Sims shows her followers is real, but there’s another side to her life. She’s been denied more jobs than she cares to think about, and been let go with little notice when employers found the accommodations inconvenient. She’s been offered jobs, but they’ve fallen through when she explained her disability. This happened two times in the last month, she said, once with an office job and once with a spa job. A predictable pattern: she applies for a job, is interviewed––these days most interviews are done by Zoom––and employers are impressed with her experience and confidence. She’s offered a job, volunteers that she’s in a wheelchair, then suddenly the job is “held up in HR” or “our fiscal situation has changed.” It’s hard to discourage her, but the challenges are difficult. Her despair was evident in a recent social media post where she departed from her usual joy-filled video to tearfully beg potential employers to allow those with disabilities a chance to prove they can fulfill job requirements rather than assuming they can’t.

Last fall, she suffered a serious injury at a Texas Roadhouse with a badly maintained rest room, an accident that broke her wheelchair as well as a couple of bones in her back. It was an injury that put her in bed for a month or so. The restaurant personnel hustled her out, not even willing to call an ambulance, she said. 

India Sims is well aware that she may be the only person with a disability that some people see out and about around Crozet. “That’s not because I’m the only one,” she told Jacqlyn Charles of “Women are Worthy.” “It’s because the others are hibernating.” Her compassion for those who are exhausted from navigating an unfriendly landscape has inspired her to come up with a unique business plan. She wants to create a spa with all the related service––hair, make-up, massage and nails––for them. “It would be a place where they could just be themselves and have a relaxing, enjoyable day,” she said. She has considered everything from the lighting to the portable shampoo basins. The only thing missing now is a source of funding. 

It’s been a frustrating process, she said, with little response to her loan applications, but she’ll stay with it. Meanwhile, she’ll keep searching for work and producing her videos, full of the same hope and inspiration that caught the eye of Mary J. Blige. Lately, she’s singing more, and hopes to travel with her son, Darius, to Tampa later this month for a national basketball recruiting tournament. 

No one could put more pressure on Sims than she does on herself, but Blige challenged her with an awesome charge: “We need you,” she said on the televised morning show. “You’re what we need on this earth.”

Find the Good Morning America segment with Mary J. Blige: goodmorningamerica.com/culture/video/mary-blige-surprises-deserving-fan-educates-uplifts-social-82874766

Find the “Women are Worthy” interview with Jacqlyn Charles: youtube.com/watch?v=Mz5ZplUJDSk

Find India Sims on TikTok at 1uniquechairgirl; or on Facebook; or reach her by email: iadbuttercup85[at]gmail.com. 

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