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Chandra Leigh Brown: An Interview With The Soul of a Survivor
~ By Fran Briggs
 

Chandra Leigh Brown is a woman who lives a life of dedication and perseverance as she fights for the rights of the disabled, and differently-abled. Following a horrendous car accident where she was ejected through her car's window, Brown suffered multiple fractures and a severe brain injury. Left on life support, she was not expected to live. But it was while she was unconscious that Brown says that she was determined to "go back" because she still had things to do.

Chandra eventually completed three years of physical and cognitive therapy (which included relearning the alphabet and how to tie her shoes). While it's true that she has not fully recovered from the extent of her injuries, she speaks with a clear, calm, and upbeat voice, and enjoys working out three days a week. Her personal nature includes a heightened sense of humor, and an infectious smile and laugh.

Passionate and determinedly inspirational, Chandra Brown is devoted to serving disadvantage youth and women. She is also an advocate for social change having adopted a resolve to help disabled individuals worldwide with their plight for living in a more equitable society.

I sat down with the Chandra Leigh Brown and interviewed her as part of the OnTheMove Interview series. We talked about her accident, her road to recovery, how she became the International Chairperson for Disabled Individuals for the Oprah Winfrey for Nobel Peace Prize Fan club, and her vision for her future.

Fran Briggs: Good morning, Chandra. Thank you for taking the time to speak with us today.

Chandra Brown: You are welcome. And, thank you for inviting me.

FB: May 3, 2002. Would you briefly describe the events of that day just prior to your accident?

CB: I woke up with the idea of going to visit my mother. I was living in Jonesboro, Georgia and my mother lived in Mableton, Georgia; it's about a 40 minute drive. I went to the gas station to fill up my car and proceeded out of the parking lot after I filled the tank. And, that's all I remember.

FB: Has your spirit changed since the day of the accident? If so, how?

CB: My spirit has changed a great deal. I've always believed in God, but I am happier. I smile more and I am more humble. I feel good about life and about living and carrying out God's divine plan. I have been awaken by God's love and power! Today, I feel God's Hand on me -- holding me and supporting me on my journey.

"Since my accident, I have taken what I learned from sports, and applied it to my life living with a brain injury. That is the conditioning and discipline part. Fall down 7 times; get back up 8 times. No pain, no gain. I could never give up. I thrive on challenges." - Chandra Leigh Brown

FB: Many people simply give up after experiencing a traumatic, life-altering event such as you did. Was there ever a time when you felt like giving up after the accident?

CB: Give up? No. I would always have to give my best -- whatever the situation may be. I've been an athlete most of my life. I played basketball, played a little tennis, and I ran to stay in shape. Since my accident, I have taken what I learned from sports, and applied it to my life living with a brain injury. That is the conditioning and discipline part. Fall down 7 times; get back up 8 times. No pain, no gain. I could never give up. I thrive on challenges. Giving up has never been an option of mine. I do get tired, frustrated, and angry with myself. My life is so much different from what it used to be -- it does get frustrating. There are times when I have to take long breaks to regroup with myself. After that, it's time to get the job done. I have learned to go at my own pace.

FB: You are the International Chairperson for Disabled Individuals for the Oprah Winfrey for Nobel Peace Prize Fan Club. How did that come about?

CB: I was on the computer getting lost one day (laugh) and I came across Mr. Rocky Twyman's website, oprah4peaceprize.org/ I signed the petition and told Rocky my story. Rocky emailed me back after visiting my web site, (http://www.thesoulofasurvivor.org//) and he asked me to become The International Chairperson for Disabled Individuals! How could I decline such an honor? I told my partner, Janet about it and she has joined the crusade. We have been canvassing on behalf of Oprah. We have gone to The Carter Center in Atlanta, Georgia to promote Oprah for the Nobel Peace Prize and I gave my testimony. There was also an article that was published about us in the paper while we were at The Carter Center.

FB: What are some of the milestones that you have accomplished as an advocate for the disabled and challenged?

CB: A speaking engagement -- at Shepherd—Kendra Moon, at Shepherd Center. It's a rehabilitation center for brain injured and spinal cord patients. They found out about my website and asked me to speak to a group of their clients. I want to show them that, even with this challenge, we can still live a productive life. My second milestone was when I became a Court Appointed Child Advocate Worker (CASA). I work with abused and neglected children in foster care. I may be a littler slower now, but I still have a voice for others. It's not just all about me.

I told my supervisor, about my brain injury. To my surprise, she told me that she already knew. You see, when I initially contacted her about volunteering, I forgot to remove my website information at the bottom of my email correspondence to her. I didn't want to reveal my brain injury because I have been discriminated in the past and not given a chance to prove what I was capable of performing certain job functions. She just saw something totally different about me and trusted me with one of the toughest case loads my (training) class had.

FB: What is/was the most powerful thing that you either experienced or discovered?

CB: Since the accident, I have experienced the true realness of God. I have always been a believer. However, while on life support, God visited me. I told God that I was not ready to go.

FB: Chandra, what would you say to someone who is struggling with their different abilities to the point where, they just want to give up?

CB: I would try to show them the importance of never giving up -- whatever the disability or challenge is -- don't give up. I would tell them that I know that our body is not the same as it use to be. I would tell them stories about me and how I begin to laugh at myself at times. I would also explain to them that there are times when I get frustrated (we need to know the truth and have real life stories to go by) at myself, and how that energy has used up the rest of my energy for that day to try to improve and/or work on bettering myself. We don't need to wallow in self pity. We will get exactly where self pity has taken others like us; and that's no where. I would also give life examples of today's heroes.

Exercise is very important. My personal trainer, William Jenkins, has me on a program to help me lose the 35 plus pounds I gained because of the meds I was on. My memory is much more clearer and stronger because of what I am doing. And, I'm putting good, fresh fruits and vegetables into my body. We must be made aware of what we do with our body. Doing exercise will change your tune about giving up.

FB: What would you say has been your biggest surprise?

CB: My biggest surprise was after my accident one of my cousins came to see me at home. She was a straight A/B student with dreams to become a lawyer, but got hooked on drugs and never made her way back home. She has children but stays away from her family months and sometimes years at a time. So, it was a blessing and surprise for me to see her. I know that her heart means well, she just has a problem.

FB: Would you share some of the new things have you learned about life as the result of the accident?

CB: The first thing I did after my accident, once I understood what happened to me is that I had a talk with myself and I told myself that I could still do it. I had to change and change and change my program of what my life used to be. I had to make things as simple as possible for me. I found out that there's power in simplicity, meaning, the more I keep things simple; it won't complicate my ability to get the task done correctly. This gives me the freedom not to be limited if I just keep my task and life simple.

FB: You have a powerful website which you use as a tool to embrace, enlighten, and encourage disabled and challenged individuals, everywhere. What has been the general reception from your visitors?

CB: Thank you. I have received nothing but praise about the site. I think the tab, "People Are Talking," is the most beautiful page to me on the web site. It pumps me up on my hard days. My late, best friend's daughter is the very first one to make a comment and then there are all kinds of different people ranging in different ages from across the US. The reception has been warm and the people are excited about this web site becoming bigger. It's not quite a year old. It will be a year old September 22nd of this year (2006).

FB: You have such a tremendously positive and warm spirit. To whom, or to what do you attribute it to?

CB: Again, thanks. My grandmother, Mildred E. Smith has such a beautiful attitude about life and her relationship with God. My grandmother still gets on her knees every night to say her prayers, She's 86 years old. No matter what is going on in my grandmother's life, she stays a lady. I have never seen her lose face. My late grandfather, Carl D. Smith, Jr., my late best friend, Annetter E. Cleveland. My grandfather died of cancer and Annetter died of breast cancer. I had watched both of these two people have a long tough fight with their illnesses. The only time they complained about the pain was chemo and at the end of there're fight with the disease.

I am told that Annetter would come to visit me while I was on life support and not talk to anyone, just come in with me talk, sing and pray. No one knew at that time just how sick Annetter was. I am forever grateful for having such a wonderful friendship of over 20 years. Annetter's son-in-law, Stephen Nuttall (owner of – http://www.soulphoto.net//) is the guy who put up my site because, he knew that Annetter would have wanted him to help me.

FB: Chandra, What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of getting involved in working with the differently-abled and challenged, but has absolutely no idea where to start?

CB: Get educated on the subject. Two people may have the same thing, but sometimes it affects one person differently from the other person. Ask questions. The most unintelligent thing is not asking a question. Go to the doctors, their assistants ... go to the library and do research. Go to the hospital and ask to do volunteer work. You can also get on the Internet and find wonderful new things to learn.

FB: There is a page on your site where you express what you are thankful for. Have you always had such an attitude for gratitude?

CB: I have always been thankful to God. Since my accident, my whole attitude has been more profound. I just want others to catch on, I want it to become so contagious. God is good! I know that God has his hands on me. How else can you describe me? God has allowed me to come back to earth to be a strong, positive voice for the challenged/disabled, the abused, the neglected and sexually abused children.

FB: You're beaming with positivity; is your positive energy something that you struggle with sustaining?

CB: Hmmmm... My attitude in life has always been positive. I recently went to Emory Hospital to take a neuro-pschy exam. The doctor is a qualified brain injury specialist who performed the test. She said that I am dealing with my brain injury fine and I can go to any job to work, and I can go to school. I am all right where I am in the universe today. I accept my brain injury. That does not mean that I am giving in; nor does it mean that I am giving up on what I want to accomplish. The doctor also stated that I am at an "average level" for someone living with a brain injury. This is the only time I will be OK with someone calling me average (laugh)!

FB: What are some of the things you consider unacceptable in your life?

CB: I will not accept any negative individuals in my life. Such as individuals who steal, cheat, or lie. Not that I am better than anyone else. No, I am just better off not be engaged with, or intertwined with negativity in my life.

FB: Tell us, what does life look like for Chandra Leigh-Brown five years from now?

CB: Very soon I will change my name. In the book of Genesis, 32:28, it says, "You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed."

I would also love to get my B.A. degree. I have a history in my family that the women have gotten their education. My grandmother, Mildred E. Saunders Smith. After raising her two children, she went back to school to get her degree. She is an author of a children's book and a book on poetry. I have a cousin, Dr. Jane E. Smith, who has done marvelous work for the African-American Community and now she is the Executive Director of Center for Leadership ... Civic Engagement for Spelman College. I also have a deceased aunt who has a school named after her, Bazoline Estelle Usher Middle School. I really want to be a member of that club. I want my degree. I need to show myself that I can do it and show others that it can be done. I want to lead be example-the right way.

FB: What projects are you working on now?

CB: The projects I am constantly working on include getting my story out -- from childhood to adulthood. I want my book to be published. I also want my own radio talk show. I can start off with an Internet radio talk show. I have other projects I will later name. I also want my very own comic strip which will tell about the lives of individuals who have challenges/disabilities. I was in a clinic one day and Whoppi Goldberg was on the TV educating teen-agers about sex and AIDS and other diseases. I thought after I saw that program, "that's what I want to do!" I want to educate individuals about the different challenges and disabilities. I want to be the spokesperson.

FB: Chandra, is there a thought or idea you wanted to leave our readers with?

CB: I want readers to know that every 15 seconds someone in the US will have sustained a brain injury. That number is more than cancer and AIDS put together. Someone in our family will have one. We all need to be educated about this disability. As well as other disabilities. Back to having a brain injury. There are some individuals who are ashamed of it because it is a mental challenge. I and I know that there are others like me who are not ashamed of it-just glad we are alive. Just get educated about it, because it coming to your doorstep sooner than you know.

Fran: Thank you Chandra for spending your time with us today.

Chandra: You are welcome. I honor your greatness! Thanks for inviting me.

Chandra Brown was interviewed in July, 2006. She can be contacted at:

e-mail: thesoulofasurvivor@gmail.com

website: http://thesoulofasurvivor.org


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