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A life redeemed

After a childhood filled with misery, underdog author fosters his story

Senior Life Editor

Published: Thursday, January 17, 2013

Updated: Thursday, January 17, 2013 18:01

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Alexa Strudler /// The Spectrum

Nigel Brown-Ward, a junior applied mathematics major, wrote and self-published his book titled The Life of Me, which is based on the true and inspirational story of his life growing up through the foster care system.

After being apart for nine years in different foster families around the Buffalo/Niagara region, the two eventually found each other and reunited at the age of 9. They have formed an “unbreakable bond,” according to Brown-Ward.

“If I could say I looked up to anyone or if anyone was a father figure to me, [someone] who always taught me to follow my dreams or take risks because you never know what’s going to come out of it, it would be my older brother,” he said.

This is where the lives of author and character separate. Anthony never gets the chance to further his education due to the dramatic events that unfold throughout the book.

While this story originated as an autobiography, Brown-Ward decided there could be a deeper meaning than just sharing his personal struggle. He believed a fictional representation would be more relatable to a general audience.

He wanted his book to be about the situations people go through on a day-to-day basis, about what people may not know their fellow peers go through daily.

Brown-Ward values the importance of writing about what he knows. That is why the struggles Anthony goes through, the relationships he forms and the poems he writes all come from Brown-Ward’s life experiences.

 “There is a difference between an imaginative writer who can write off of their imagination versus a writer who can work off of his or her experience and who can also make it knowledgeable and a great read,” Brown-Ward said.

Even though he doesn’t write about his years in college, Brown-Ward takes his opportunity to further his education seriously. When he was accepted to UB, he was awarded scholarship money through the Education Training Voucher (ETV) program. ETV awards grants to current and former foster youth to help pay for college or specialized education.

Brown-Ward met Denise Hare, a senior academic adviser, when he was admitted to UB. According to him, she changed his life and made it possible for him to thrive in Buffalo. She helped him find a place to live and find food when he couldn’t afford it. Hare never expected anything in return. She said his graduation would be enough of a reward.

Even though writing is a major part of his life right now, Brown-Ward is at UB to earn his degree in applied mathematics. He plans on getting his Ph.D. in applied mathematics, cryptology or statistical analysis.

He said he has a mind that needs to be constantly challenged and changed.

However, depending on how everything pans out with his writing, he may never end up using his degree. He said it will enable him to be able to have a career as an educator of math and not just an author.

“I am going full-fledged [with my writing], but I know I will always have my degree,” Brown-Ward said. “Writing is a gift. It is something I am naturally good at. Being a voice to people is something I know I’m good at.”

Most of his time goes toward producing his book. He self-edits, self-publishes, self-markets and self-promotes.

Brown-Ward has never taken a college English class but doesn’t consider that to be a disadvantage to his writing. He said a lot of great authors – such as Zane, an erotic novelist – started out as self-publishers.

Create Space, an independent publishing company, prints The Life of Me on demand. The company also set up a connection between Brown-Ward and businesses like Amazon and Barnes & Noble so he is able to sell his book online.

However, Brown-Ward takes it upon himself to promote his book and expand his readership. He uses social media outlets such as Facebook and his website, lifeofmee.com.

“[Word of mouth] spreads fast,” Brown-Ward said. “It doesn’t matter if someone finds you annoying because you are always pushing your book. That’s just what happens. You can’t be afraid of anyone. In reality, it’s your job as a self-published author to market and advertise for your own book.”

Beyond sharing his story, Brown-Ward wants to help other foster children who share similar experiences as he did while growing up by founding a charitable organization.

This organization will target foster children starting in ninth grade and teach them the importance of staying in school, applying for college, getting involved and “having a life outside the system.” Brown-Ward estimates a project like this will cost around $85,000 to get started and be initially successful.

Knight isn’t surprised Brown-Ward wants to make a difference. It was one of the values she instilled on him as he grew up with her.

“He has a heart as big as this world, but for it to really open up, it’s hard,” Knight said. “He puts that tough-guy attitude up sometimes but I always tell him, ‘come down a notch and come down, baby.’ I told him not to let his good looks run him over or go to his head.”

Knight said it is important to give back because she believes “someone along the way gave to you.”

Brown-Ward hopes his book will serve as a start to change the way people look at children in the foster care system. Hare believes even though Brown-Ward told an engaging story, a fictional book is not likely to have the same impact on society as an autobiography.

“[The book] provides no real documentation,” Hare said. “However, it does expose some real concerns about foster care and growing up around a criminal and dysfunctional element.”

This is the mindset Brown-Ward wants his readers to develop. He wants the average person to see what some children go through when they are lost or uncared for in the foster care system.

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