Life only ends when we stop believing! Brenda Myers-Powell, cofounder Dreamcatcher Foundation, learnt to love herself again, love life and live it to the fullest after all the emotional and physical damages done to her for over 25 years of her life.
She dared to defy societal perceptions of the past life she found herself in and found meaning to life. She became the first woman in the state of Illinois to have her convictions for prostitution wiped from her record, and found love, now happily married to her spouse for over 9 years!
Her mother died when she was just 6 months and was left in the care of her grandmother who had drinking problems. She would often bring partners home who were also drunk and they did all sorts to 4 years old Brenda, and this became a regular occurrence.
During the day when her grandmother was off to work, Brenda would walk herself to school and back home with no adult, and molesters around the neighbourhood took advantage of the opportunity.
She gradually grew interest in women who had all sorts of shinning clothes and glamorous hair on unknown to her that they were prostitutes. All she saw were shinning girls and she wanted the shine too.
She became a mother of two baby girls at age 14, and had to get out to make money to feed them when her grandmother demanded that the children be fed. Her first thought was to go stand in the street like the other shinny girls.
In her words,
“I was 14 years old and I cried through everything. But I did it. I didn’t like it, but the five men who dated me that night showed me what to do. They knew I was young and it was almost as if they were excited by it. I made $400 but I didn’t get a cab home that night. I went home by train and I gave most of that money to my grandmother, who didn’t ask me where it came from. The following weekend I returned to Division and Clark, and it seemed like my grandmother was happy when I brought the money home.
But the third time I went down there, a couple of guys pistol-whipped me and put me in the trunk of their car. They had approached me before because I was, as they called it, “unrepresented” on the street. All I knew was the light in the trunk of the car and then the faces of these two guys with their pistol. First they took me to a cornfield out in the middle of nowhere and raped me. Then they took me to a hotel room and locked me in the closet.
That’s the kind of thing pimps will do to break a girl’s spirits. They kept me in there for a long time. I was begging them to let me out because I was hungry, but they would only allow me out of the closet if I agreed to work for them.”
So she began to prostitute for a living. Sleeping with at least 5 men daily and approximately 1800 men in a year she became a toilet for men to dump their dirt in- be it emotional dirt or physical dirt. During such times she experienced life threatening situations with clients who had personality issues. She was shot 5 times, stabbed 13 times, often beaten up by random men, dragged on the floor with a car, suffered degrading injuries, ill treated by the society because she was a criminal (as a prostitute), and emotionally abused every day up until 1 April 1997, when she was nearly 40 years old.
She was rescued by a kind doctor who, after treating her when she suffered serious injuries from an abuse, linked her to a woman, Edwina Gateley, who changed her life forever! She learnt to live herself, love life and pick up the pieces of her life.
She went on to create a foundation, Dreamcatcher Foundation, in 2008 to help other young women in such situations get out of it and rediscover themselves. She says,
“We meet up with women who are still working on the street and we tell them, “There is a way out, we’re ready to help you when you’re ready to be helped.” We try to get through that brainwashing that says, “You’re born to do this, there’s nothing else for you.”
So far, we have 13 girls who have graduated from high school and are now in city colleges or have gotten full scholarships to go to other colleges. They came to us 11, 12, 13 years old, totally damaged. And now they’re reaching for the stars.
So I am here to tell you – there is life after so much damage, there is life after so much trauma. There is life after people have told you that you are nothing, that you are worthless and that you will never amount to anything. There is life – and I’m not just talking about a little bit of life. There is a lot of life.”
Brenda is now happily married, her two daughters, one is a doctor and one works in criminal justice, are doing great! And she’s living her life to the fullest!