A life redeemed
After a childhood filled with misery, underdog author fosters his story
Published: Thursday, January 17, 2013
Updated: Thursday, January 17, 2013 18:01
Anthony’s foster parents abused him sexually for as long as he could remember.
Junior applied mathematics major Nigel Brown-Ward’s foster parents abused him as well.
Anthony ran away when he was 6 years old and was raped on the streets of Niagara, N.Y. Shortly afterward, he spent the night in a crack house where an older woman molested him.
Brown-Ward had the same fate.
Anthony is a figment of Brown-Ward’s imagination and is the main character of his self-published novel, The Life of Me. While Anthony’s life is fictional, it is based off the events that occurred throughout Brown-Ward’s childhood.
Brown-Ward has sold 1,800 copies of his first novel – a majority of them as eBooks. He hopes to continue to spread the message of what can happen to kids within the foster care system.
Brown-Ward describes one of the many times he suffered sexual abuse from his childhood through Anthony’s eyes:
“Every time he penetrated me, an abusive blow from my past struck me … I had no tears, only a rush of hate at the world I was thrown into and a hunger for vengeance to all who injured me mentally, emotionally and physically. It seemed like hours as I lay there bloody from my a** being ripped apart. He got up and simply left like he just finished a business proposal.”
Brown-Ward, who considered himself a difficult child, was tossed through 39 different foster homes before he turned 14 years old.
His parents were declared unfit to raise him and his two siblings due to drug abuse when he was 11 months old. Brown-Ward was then split up from his 3-year-old brother and 1-year-old sister in the foster care system; while he went to Niagara Falls, they were sent to Rochester, N.Y.
Similar to Anthony, the main character, Brown-Ward would run away from his toxic home life only to be placed right back into the system and into yet another abusive and uncaring house.
Events like this caused an immense amount of anger to build inside Brown-Ward.
While he couldn’t speak about the events he endured when he was a child, he began to write poems at the age of 11 to escape the “hells” in his mind.
It was his way of imagining a better future.
“I wrote very emotional poems that expressed the hard times I was going through,” Brown-Ward said. “I wrote about the pain I was going through and the hate I was going through from my past. I wrote about the hope that one day I wouldn’t be in that situation and one day I would do better than where I came from.”
This is a trait he passed on to the characters in his book.
Anthony explains his need to relieve anger using poetry: “[My poem book] was my best friend, and my rage got jealous because writing my pain down was the only way I didn’t have to deal with [it].”
It wasn’t until Brown-Ward was 14 that he decided to share his poems and story with the world. This was the same time he moved in with his last foster parent, Annette Knight, and his life started looking up.
Knight, now 72 years old, had already been a foster parent for 26 years before adopting Brown-Ward.
As a biological mother to five children, to Knight, being a foster parent isn’t about the money – it’s about the difference she can make in the lives of the children she adopts.
Brown-Ward accepted Knight as his grandmother, a name he uses to describe her to this day.
She is characterized in his book as Anthony’s grandmother, Ms. Green. Anthony and Ms. Green maintain a very similar relationship to the one between Brown-Ward and Knight: familial and loving.
When Knight first read the book, she was in tears.
“I started crying when I read his book because there were so many things in there that were a part of his life,” Knight said. “Even though he wasn’t able to talk it out face to face, he was able to put it in the book. To me, that is a process of healing and being able to move on in your life. I am so proud of that man.”
To this day, Brown-Ward is thankful for the time and energy Knight put into raising him. While other foster parents didn’t care about his mental health, Knight went to counseling with him until he was able to keep his anger under control.
“He was quite challenging and I was always thinking, ‘How am I going to deal with this kid?’ But when a person tells me, ‘I don’t want to deal with this kid’ it makes me want to deal with it more,” Knight said. “I have a lot of love to give and God knows I love that child.”
Her tough-love approach to parenting allowed her to become one of the few people Brown-Ward could trust and look up to. Knight was the driving force behind Brown-Ward’s education. She helped him get through high school and into college because she considers education to hold enormous value in her life even though she never went to college.
“[Education] is the biggest key of all and I believe you can do it no matter what,” Knight said. “You can become successful. Don’t use the things that have happened throughout your life as a crutch. Rise above all of that and you can be even better. That’s what I tell my children: Don’t be like me when you can be better.”
These values are reflected in The Life of Me through Ms. Green’s conversations with Anthony. She encourages him to stay in school despite multiple suspensions. Brown-Ward was suspended and expelled in high school due to fighting and talking back to his teachers. According to Knight, he was a challenging, argumentative student and many teachers didn’t understand what he had gone through. Anthony is the same way.
While Anthony is portrayed as an only child in the book, Brown-Ward’s older brother, Talmage Brown-Ward, played a major role in encouraging him to continue with his education. Talmage paid out of pocket to help with the application and enrollment fees to make sure his brother was able to go to college.