Brittany's Story

photography by Yalonda M. James for the Juvenile Project

photography by Yalonda M. James for the Juvenile Project

“I feel like our scars should be something to be proud of. Like, I got a scar, okay, it healed. I’m a warrior. I’ve been through this. I’ve healed from it. Now I can move on to the next thing. I wouldn’t change anything.” 

“Everybody’s experience is different… but to me, foster care felt as though I was sheltered, ‘Oh, because she has this long rap sheet, I’m not going to allow her to work, because it’s such a liability.’ When I was transitioned to DJJ, and moved to a step-down facility, they would say, ‘OK, we’re going to give you the opportunity to work at a day care.’ So it was like, they were willing to take the risk… It lets me know that there are people that genuinely care about me, and believe that I can rise above my then-circumstances.”

Brittany is a 25 year-old mother of two who works in a day care center and as a Youth Support Partner for MAAC (Multi-Agency Alliance for Children), mentoring youth in the foster care system in Georgia. She grew up in Atlanta in a two-parent household. At the age of 13, she was placed in foster care when her father's mental illness worsened. The instability of moving a lot, attending 12 different schools, and her behavioral issues in foster homes led to multiple placements in Regional Youth Detention Centers. Ultimately, when she was 16, the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice committed her to a long-term group home called the Harvest Lodge for Girls. It was through this placement that she was hired to work in a day care center for the first time.

Interview with Brittany Myers, conducted by Joann Self Selvidge for The Juvenile Project (TJP) on September 2, 2017 in Atlanta, GA.

Joann: "Okay, so let's start out. Tell me your name, and how old you are, and what city we are in."

Brittany: "My name is Brittany Myers, I'm 25 years old, and currently we're in Atlanta, Georgia."

Joann: "So tell me a little bit about your background, where you grew up, what your life is like as a child and kinda junior high, high school years."

Brittany: "Well I was born here in Atlanta, Georgia, to a two parent household. At the age of 13 I was placed in foster care. And at 16, I was placed in DJJ. And so with my childhood, it's been really up and down, different placements, RYDCs, and it just really wasn't that stable until 17 when I was placed in a group home called Harvest Lodge."

Joann: "What's it called?"

Brittany: "Harvest Lodge for Girls, and that's located in Lithonia, Georgia."

Joann: "Okay, let's keep going. So my next question would be, you mentioned RYDC and DJJ, so you can tell me what those mean, but what does that mean for somebody who is unfamiliar with [juvenile justice facilities]. What does that mean, RYDC and DJJ? And what did that mean for you in terms of your life? Ups and downs... when you turned 13, what happened that precipitated this?"

Brittany: "So for me to be placed in foster care, my father, he had mental illness. I believe he had depression, and one day he just snapped, and I went to school, and they looked at me like, "Okay, you can't go back home." And so that was that, and so I believe I was placed in a shelter for children that had just been placed in foster care and had to wait there for a little bit."

"Now to talk about RYDC, it stands for Regional Youth Detention Center. And for us here in Atlanta, we say kiddie jail. And for me, the reason why I was placed there numerous times was because I wouldn't behave in places like I should, and I'd get kicked out. So it was kind of like a holding cell until my case manager found a next placement for me."

Joann: "Did you have any siblings, or were you doing this by yourself?"

Brittany: "Just by myself, no siblings."

Joann: "What was your school environment like? You said it was at school they said you can't go back or whatever. I mean you said you got into this first placement as a result of some people at school who are ...? So tell me what that was like, what was that experience like?"

Brittany: "Well I was placed in South Metro, and that's pretty much for children that had behavioral problems, so before I entered foster care at 13, I had behavior issues where I constantly kept getting kicked out of school. So at that time, before I entered foster care, to me, at that time it was stable because I was at home. I knew my teachers, I knew I'm going to see them the next day, it's very consistent. Now when I entered foster care, it was totally different because I still had the behavioral issues, so I was being moved around a lot. So I've been to like 12 plus schools altogether, so that's middle and high."

Joann: "Tell me about each of those schools, like what was it like?"

Brittany: "It's a blur. Even just being 25, when I try to look back, I can't really remember too many people. A remember a couple of months back, I went to Little Caesar's and this boy, he was like, "What's your name?" And I was like, "You know my name. If you ask that, you know." And I say, "What's my name?" And he said, "Brittany Myers." And I was looking at him, and I was like, "I don't know who you are." He said, "I remember you, we used to hang out, we used to talk, I had a big crush on you." And when I couldn't remember who he was, it hurt him. So to see that expression on his face bothered me because it's like, okay my experience from being removed from the school affected others. And I had no idea."

"With middle and high school, I've just been to so many different schools that ... And even prior to then, because I got kicked out of regular ed went to that alternative school, and then went to, I can't think of the exact name, but psych ed. That's where I was living, so it's just kind of up and down, up and down."

Joann: "Did you ever get any sort of help, like counseling, or help that really helped you?"

Brittany: "I like to say this, and I know some people don't like it, but I felt as though DJJ was very beneficial to me because they understood what I was going through, and they cared about me, so they always pressed me to make sure I do very well when it comes to my education. And so when I was in DJJ, I had awesome counselors, I had an awesome probation officer. And with my probation officer, she was really in tuned into what I needed. So she put me in certain places that would be beneficial to me, so when I got to DJJ, I got the best help."

Joann: "You were 16 when you got ..."

Brittany: "Mm-hmm (affirmative), I was committed."

Joann: "Okay, so tell me what DJJ stands for."

Brittany: "Department of Juvenile Justice."

Joann: "Okay. And when you say you were committed, what does that mean?"

Brittany: "I was a delinquent. I committed crimes, and it caught up to me, and I became committed to DJJ."

Joann: "So tell me, between the ages of 13 and 16, you were bouncing around, right? Is that what you said?"

Brittany: "Mm-hmm (affirmative)."

Joann: "So were there any relationships that you had with people who were your age or people who were older than you, what relationships were consistent during that time period in your life?"

Brittany: "Just my case manager and my mother. So my mom, even though I was in foster care, she was my advocate. So if things weren't right, she would go to my case manager and say, "Okay, I understand y'all have custody of her, but at the end of the day I'm her mom, and I'm gonna make sure she gets the best care." And prior to entering foster care my mom was seeking help from DHS, and they were saying, "Well, she hasn't committed any crimes or anything," so my mom has always been my advocate."

"And concerning my peers and stuff, I really wasn't concerned about that, I was just thinking about survival. Like how can I get out of this? What's next? So that was it for me."

Joann: "What was it that you wanted to get out of, to get away from?"

Brittany: "I felt controlled, like I didn't have a mind of my own. I couldn't do things that regular children could do while I was in foster care. DJJ was totally different."

Joann: "How was DJJ different?"

Brittany: "Well to me, foster care, and this is my personal experience, everybody's experience is different, I can't say my experience would be like the next person that can't say that, but for me, it felt as though I was sheltered. "Oh because she has this long rap sheet, I'm not going to allow her to work because of such a liability." When I was transitioned to DJJ and moved to a step down facility, they would say, "Okay, we're gonna give you the opportunity to work at a day care." So they were willing to take the risk while I was in DJJ, which is kinda crazy, but it's the truth. And so I appreciate being committed."

"Like some people say it was awful, not for me, it lets me know that there are people that genuinely care about me and believe that I can rise above my then circumstances. So I love it, I loved it."

Joann: "I'm just trying to think about your environments, describe some of the environments that you were living in. Like what were the worst types of environments that you were living in? And what were the best types of environments? Like if there's a spectrum, where did it switch from being, "This is absolutely awful, I've got to get out of here," to "Well I could handle this, but I'd really like to be somewhere else?""

Brittany: "Well, like I said, when I got committed ... So let me back up, so even though when I was in foster care they still put me in RYDC, but I couldn't stay there because I wasn't committed. So they'll hold me there until they found me another placement. Now when I become committed to DJJ, I end up transitioning to RYDC, which is more long term. RYDC is short term. And so for me, the places my probation officer picked, it was pretty good. So I can't think of a bad situation, she would always check on me, she would always check in with the case managers at the placement."

"So like I said, it was a positive experience for me. And I felt as though the places I went to, the people cared, too."

Joann: "Were these fully residential placements where you were going to school there and you're living there? Tell me about the types of placements, like what was a typical day in the life in the DJJ placements?"

Brittany: "So with the RYDC, I mean we had school there. It was really structured, you really can't do too much. But like I said, the people there, they were still teaching us life skills and having those personal talks, you know, not making us feel like caged animals, so it was bearable to serve a year there. When I was stepped down, it was called Coastal Harbor? I can't think of the name, but it's a treatment facility. I went there, I felt the same way, like the people cared, so I felt as though I can thrive. I was only there for three months, and then I went back home. That wasn't a good idea, I ended up back into RYDC."

Joann: "You said you went back home to your mom?"

Brittany: "Yeah, I wasn't ready. And so then I got arrested, was placed in RYDC, and my probation officer found me a group home to go to, which was called Harvest Lodge for Girls, which was amazing. Before I went there, she asked me a couple of questions like, "What is your religious beliefs? What do you like to do? Do you want to be in an environment where there's diversity?" And I was like, "Yeah, I'm a Christian, I like being around different people, different cultures." And so that's what Harvest Lodge was."

"And so with that, it was awesome. The owner of the group home, she owned a daycare that I worked at, so I was able to work on my employment skills. And I was able to interact with other people. I felt trusted, like she trusted me, I was able to go to college, she allowed me to go to college by myself, she didn't have to take me. So when I was at Harvest Lodge, I just thrived there, I loved it because the owner truly cared about me. She's also my pastor now, and so I could tell she loved me."

"And so when you've been moved out of your home, going into foster care, different placements, and then being committed to DJJ, and going to different places there, and you end up somewhere where the owner really cares about you, she comes and sees you, like I've seen her every day except for the weekends. So she would come to the group home and ask us how we're doing, she would help us get our hair done, our nails done, make sure that we're fed, if something was missing she would replace it. So she just had that kind heart."

"And I was able to relate. I was able to appreciate that, because that's what I wanted in my mother. And so I loved it."

Joann: "So how old were you when you, technically, when you had to transition out of DJJ... You said you were able to find a placement in a group home, tell me about that transition. What were you responsible for at this point that you had not had to be responsible for? Like the transition to adulthood basically. What was the hardest part about that?"

Brittany: "It wasn't hard. Because like I said, the environment when I was in a group home, that's what you're asking about? She just gave us freedom. She said, "I know y'all have this rap sheet of committing all these offenses, but when you come here, I'm gonna give you a chance. Now if you mess it up, that's on you. But if you come here, you abide by the rules, you focus on your education, focus on working, we're with you." And so it was awesome, it was really beneficial, and it wasn't hard because I had my support."

"Like if I ... When I was going to college, I thought I couldn't do it because I was told I was stupid and dumb, and that's where I was like, "No you're not, you can do this, go." I ended up doing good, I was like, "I made an A? Hold on, wait a minute." So there was nothing hard about being placed at Harvest Lodge."

Joann: "What was college like?"

Brittany: "College was interesting."

Joann: "Did you get a high school diploma or did you get a GED?"

Brittany: "Mm-hmm (affirmative), I graduated from her school. So with her, she owns a group home, she owns a day care, and she also owns Urban Academy High School. And so I got everything I needed in one place."

Joann: "So tell me about where you went to college, and what you were interested in, and what you majored in, and all of that."

Brittany: "I went to Dekalb Tech and I was all over the place."

Joann: "Did you graduate?"

Brittany: "No."

Joann: "Okay. Are you still in school, are you working?"

Brittany: "Am I in school now? I'm taking an extended break. Am I working? I work at the daycare. I work at her daycare."

Joann: "Okay, cool, so you're still there?"

Brittany: "Mm-hmm (affirmative), I went back in March. She said she needed help, I said, "I'm there for you.""

Joann: "That's awesome."

Brittany: "And it pays wonderful too."

Joann: "What other kinds of employment have you been able to have in the meantime?"

Brittany: "Where I worked for MAAC, was a contractor, pretty much it was called Youth Support Partner, and I like to say in layman terms, a mentor. So I mentor other youth that were in foster care. And that was awesome too."

Joann: "Tell me about that, you were saying that you really enjoyed talking with other people to help share your story to help them. How did you start doing that?"

Brittany: "Well after I left Harvest Lodge, I went back home. I think I wasn't ready then, I just kept making poor decisions. Like I had children out of wedlock, and just was really ruining myself. And like I said, my religious beliefs, I'm a Christian, so one day this light bulb cut on, and I was like... You know, I really didn't have much control over my life when I was a child, but I'm an adult, and I'm gonna take control of my life. And so I met Miss Hudson at an event, I can't remember where, and she works here at MAAC. I'm trying to remember, let me backtrack, because I'm trying to figure out how I met her."

Joann: "That's a good question."

Brittany: "How did I meet her? So I think my mom put me in connection with ILP. And ILP was saying, ‘We're hosting these different events at different places.’"

Joann: "What does ILP stand for?"

Brittany: "Independent Living Program. And I said, "Sure, I ain't doing nothing else, I'm just sitting at my mom's house. Let me get out of here." And so I went and Miss Hudson was hosting a Georgia empowerment meeting. And I met her, and she was like, "Sharing your story could be liberating. And it's a healing process, and you can help many people that's been in similar situations as you." And that was like the spark. And so when she said like that, and I started sharing my story more, I was like ... You know, there's things that I hadn't dealt with, so at first I was sad and depressed."

"And then I thought about it, and I was like, "Okay, how can I benefit from going through this phase?" And so instead of being so negative, I decided to be optimistic. And that helped me, and so the more I shared, the more people was like, "Oh, thank you, now I can think differently on how to treat children at foster care and DJJ." So that's how it all started, hopefully that made sense."

Joann: "That's awesome. It does, it does. How would you describe yourself at age 13?"

Brittany: "Hot mess. Zero. I was really a mess, really a mess. I was really a mess, I had behavioral problems, I experienced several forms of abuse, and I really didn't have a supportive household. I wasn't living in a great household."

Joann: "What did you enjoy doing when you were that age? What was your escape, or your solace?"

Brittany: "I didn't have one. Now that I think about it, I didn't really have one."

Joann: "Did you have one as you got older? Like things that you enjoy doing, and things that you were like, ‘I’m gonna do this, and this would make me happy?’”

Brittany: "Well I didn't come around until I hit 23. Yeah, so."

Joann: "What did you find when you hit 23?"

Brittany: "I like to write. I like to read, I like to do advocacy work, I love people. And that was it."

Joann: "That's awesome."

Brittany: "I just hate that it took so long, but I'm glad that I was able to find something I can enjoy, find an outlet."

Joann: "So how would you describe yourself today?"

Brittany: "Optimistic, thriving, self-discovery. Yeah, hopeful."

Joann: "So what do you see for yourself in the immediate future?"

Brittany: "A billionaire owning multiple businesses, being an awesome speaker and writer. It's gonna happen, Brittany Myers, remember it if I'm not married by then."

Joann: "Tell me about working with kids, what's that like?"

Brittany: "It's interesting because, you know, when you come up from a rough childhood, you don't necessarily know what love is. Better yet, your idea of love is twisted. And so when you say, "Hold on, how my childhood was, the love that I received, it wasn't okay." So now you have to learn how to become soft, if that makes any sense. You have to become soft, you have to understand that what you went through is, okay, that's passed, but when it comes to children, you have to put all that aside and love on them."

"So it started with me having my own children. I was at a conference and I was saying my main issues. I didn't experience the love that I wanted, so how would I be able to love my own child? And with that question in mind, I was like, "How can I do this?" I was looking on blogs and stuff. To me, from what I've read, it just don't come easily, you have to work at it."

"So with me having my son first, and learning how to love him, that opened a door for me to be able to love children. And so that's how it started."

Joann: "You have one child?"

Brittany: "I have two."

Joann: "You have two, tell me about your kids."

Brittany: "They're awesome, my daughter's a diva, my son is a genius."

Joann: "How old are they now?"

Brittany: "Five and two."

Joann: "So how do they inspire you? What are the things that they do that ... All parents have that "Oh my, that is amazing," you have these kind of moments where you learn the personalities of your children. Tell me about what they're like that surprises you about them."

Brittany: "My daughter is a reflection of me on the good side. I'm not gonna talk about the bad side, but she's just really outspoken, outgoing. So people, personally, people love her. I work at her daycare, and we walk in, everybody's running to her, she's this big ball of light. My son, he's more so, like, introverted. Really smart, a thinker, he's okay with that. He's confident with himself with being by himself, he doesn't have to be a part of the crowd, which I love. And so, did I answer your question?"

Joann: "Mm-hmm (affirmative)."

Brittany: "I did? Okay, good."

Joann: "What are your hopes for them?"

Brittany: "Hmm?"

Joann: "What are your hopes for them?"

Brittany: "To find love, to find themselves, to strive for excellency, and to contribute to this society. Not just settle for okay, don't settle at all, just shoot for the stars. And I want them to know, like, you know, your mommy did all these things because you guys are my inspiration. So now it's time for you, when that time comes to inspire, influence others. So I have big hopes for them."

Joann: "When you have been able to work through Empowerment, and through the other programs to be able to talk to young people, can you tell me about an experience that really touched you in terms of the reaction that someone took away from your story? Or kind of think about the moment when you were like, "I could do this, this is what I want to do.""

Brittany: "When I met Miss Hudson. Like her spirit is just so amazing. It's like whatever she offers you, you're supposed to say yes because you know some good's gonna come out of it. So when I met her, and when she hosted an event, it was like, "I would love to do something like this." And when you meet people with a good spirit who have good intentions, when you know they're just not here for the money, they're actually here to help heal the youth that have been through traumatic experiences, just be like, "Okay, if they can sit here, come up here, do this to help others, then I can come out of my funk and do the same." So shout out to Miss Hudson."

Joann: "What is your advice to people who've been through similar circumstances?"

Brittany: "Grieve, accept your feelings, don't try to suppress it because it makes it worse. When the time comes, work through it, accept help. And decide to move forward, don't allow your past to handicap you. Just be mindful of what you're saying, what you're doing, it's a lot of things that I can think of. And the most important thing, find yourself. Don't allow other people to define you, find who you are. And that takes some time, it takes some time. And don't try to rush it."

"Like "Okay, my friend, she's doing all this at 20, I'm 20, I don't have that..." Don't look at everybody else, compare yourself to your higher self. And that's it."

Joann: "Have you been able to kind of... Like, they do policy work here, have you ever had an opportunity to speak to lawmakers or the legislature? Like people who can change the way the system does not work, or to make it work better. If you had to give those people advice, what would you tell them?"

Brittany: "Have an open mind, that's it. Have on open mind, don't be so closed minded. Don't think that because you have these degrees that you know everything. Actually take time to talk to some youth, get to know them. Look past what you think that you know. And it's okay to have feelings and show them, don't be so uptight. Be approachable."

Joann: "If you could've remade your experience in the best way, how would you make that system look? What were the things about your experience that you would change if you were in charge, if you could make it change?"

Brittany: "Well for me, I know it sounds strange, I wouldn't change anything because it made me who I am today."

Joann: "Good answer."

Brittany: "I couldn't, because like where I'm at now, had I not experienced those things, I wouldn't be here. I'd probably be average and nothing special, nothing unique, just a regular life. And I feel like our scars should be something to be proud of. Like I got a scar, okay it healed. I'm a warrior. I've been through this and I've healed from it, now I can move onto the next thing. I wouldn't change anything. And I think about some of my brothers and sisters in foster care. I'm pretty sure there are others that say, "Hey, things didn't go the way I expected, but look, I'm doing this, I'm speaking about my experience, I'm writing about it." But if they didn't have that experience, what'd they be able to write about?"

"I think now some of them would be like, "No." I just... but we all have to go through something, and you have two options. Either to sink or swim. Nothing. I wouldn't change anything."

Joann: "Do you have a mantra, or words to live by, things that you help to remind yourself every day like, "I'm gonna center myself, I'm gonna focus on ..." I know that changes over time for certain people, but kind of, what are your current words to live by that you help center yourself?"

Brittany: "My words hold weight."

Joann: "Hmm?"

Brittany: "My words hold weight. So if I'm constantly saying something negative, my atmosphere if gonna be negative, but if I say something positive, then it'll turn positive. So that's my thing, my words hold weight. So every day, I get up, I say affirmations, even if I feel sucky for just five minutes. I check myself, I say, "Okay, I have the power to change my day." And so I say affirmations, and I go from feeling sucky, to wonderful, to feeling unstoppable."

"So we gotta be mindful what we're saying. If you're saying, "I'm tired, I'm overworked," when you go to work, how you're gonna feel? Are you gonna do your best that way? No, you say, "Okay this is a challenge and I can overcome it." You feel as though you can conquer it. So I just be mindful, be mindful of my words."

Joann: "Well is there anything that we didn't talk about that you want to talk about? Did I miss anything?"

Brittany: "My experience in DJJ was awesome, shout out to my case manager. I don't think I can say her name. I don't think I can."

Joann: "It's okay. What's the name of your pastor, the woman who owns the ..."

Brittany: "Oh, Dr. Dannetta B. Sparks."

Joann: "Tell me about her."

Brittany: "She's amazing. You know in this day and age, you come across leaders in the pulpit who's not about what they talk about. She's definitely what she talks about, she's about helping her community, helping people overseas. She truly loves people. She's the epitome of a phenomenal woman. She doesn't look down on people, even if they're having hard times. And she knows they can do better. Now she'll say, ‘Now Brittany, you know not to do that. But here are some solutions, how do you feel about them?’”

"And she'll work with you. And she's really involved in the community. And like I said, once again, she's a phenomenal woman. And I was talking to her, was it last Sunday? Yeah, last Sunday, and I was like, "I want to be like you," and she said, "No, don't be like me, go past me, get off my shoulders, go past me." And I was like, "Wow, she wants me to aim higher." And for her to not even be my mother, to say that, to see the potential in me, she's that light. And it's her job to pass that light to others. She's awesome."

Joann: "So now that you're 25 years old, what's your relationship with your mother like?"

Brittany: "She's my mother."

Joann: "Does she get to hang out with her grandbabies?"

Brittany: "Yeah, I respect her, and I've come to a place where I cannot be mad at her. I have to forgive her, even though it's challenging, because she's only displaying what she experienced in her childhood. Sometimes that's a challenge for me, because when you're an adult, you should know better, but if that's all you've been exposed to, what can you do? And so I accept her for who she is, I accept the situation that we all encountered, because you know, she also experienced some trauma."

"You know, when I was placed in foster care, my dad committed suicide, so I have to also take myself out of my position and say, "Okay, take myself out of my shoes and put myself in her shoes, she lost her husband, she lost her child." So that's why I don't blame her for everything. I just say, "Okay, she's human too, she's been through things. Now I have to forgive her and move forward." So I respect my mom, I honor my mother as I should, and I teach my children to do the same."

Joann: "Well, thank you so much."

Brittany: "Thank you, I'm honored to be here."