Today we’d like to introduce you to Dr. D. Rica Wilson.
Alright, so thank you so much for sharing your story and insight with our readers. To kick things off, can you tell us a bit about how you got started?
On the edge of the cotton fields in a small southern town, I was marinating in both possibility and turbulence in 1975. As the daughter of a teen mother and absent father, one might say the cards were stacked against me from birth. My fondest and most challenging memories of my childhood are of playing double-dutch with my grandmother’s heavy green water hose, red light green light stop, freeze tag, and searching for four-leaf clovers with neighborhood kids. I can’t forget the joy of riding my big green wheel as fast as I could through the “projects.” We walked though the path” to get to Young’s Market, a small store on the other side of the projects, and I spent my grandmother’s purple and red food stamps on Now & Laters, Fire Balls, and big red Icee’s.
I fell in love with the little library in my small South Carolina town. After leaving grandma’s house, the library was a place that I could read., explore, and get lost in books before going to sleep in our mobile house, a 1975 gray Ford. Reading books allowed me to transport myself into worlds where I didn’t need to do my homework using the street lights from the local hospital parking lot, where we slept cause momma said it was safe. Despite doing my homework by the lights in the hospital parking lot, my homework was always on time, and my grades showed it. We washed up at the local Union Hall. The bathroom was behind the building with a little stall and dingy sink. Momma popped the trunk of that gray Ford, pulled out a clean white sock and some Ivory soap to wash us up really good. My sister never got an extra face washing from momma. The school day always began with, “gimme some spit” cause momma was sure that she missed getting my eyes clean before school, so she used my spit to make sure no “cold” was in my eyes before I got out of our car that doubled as our house to enjoy a day of learning. I wonder if the teachers knew that I was homeless. No one ever asked and I never told.
Finally, we were able to rent a room. The room was in a big ol’green and white house on a dingy street-clean street. I was happy to be out of the car but embarrassed cause we only had one room in the house. Of course, I pretended that it was our whole house. The last person that I wanted to know the truth was the neighborhood bully because she was beyond mean. She teased me and my younger sister every day about something-especially when I wore my momma’s clothes to school. I guess that she could tell my skirt was way too big, and maybe she could smell the oven smoke coming from my underwear because momma just hand-washed them and pulled them straight out of the oven to make sure they were dry. I don’t really know what her problem was, but momma told me to stand up for myself. I did. I stood up for myself and my younger sister one day on the corner in front of Trinity Baptist Church, and the bully never bothered us again.
Things finally got better for us. We moved out of the one room. The car finally broke down, and we had to catch cabs, ride the city bus, or walk, but at least we weren’t living in the 1975 gray Ford anymore. Our new apartment was all ours. We didn’t have any furniture, but we had more than one shared room. Momma started college, and life seemed to be getting better.
By ninth grade, I was struggling. We moved out of our apartment into a single—wide trailer. I attended one of the richest schools in our new town, but I was one of the poorest kids. Every other band kid went home to a mansion, and I went home to a single-wide trailer in a trailer park. The pressure was mounting. During my 9th grade year, I only passed one class during the first marking period-band. The sadness and depression of dealing with layered childhood trauma was suffocating me.
I was trying to learn, but memories of my stolen innocence made it hard for me to move. The downward spiral continued until I was 15. After a challenging first year of high school, we moved again. I returned to my hometown, and there I vowed to never earn less than a “B” in school. I didn’t know how to deal with the sexual abuse or other issues that broke my heart, so I tucked them away and became an overachiever. I was on a mission to prove to my biological father that he was missing out on a great daughter, and his abandonment was not hurting me. I had a plan, and I knew that if I could get into college, I could escape poverty, living in a trailer, and working in a chicken factory in my small town. I shared my vision with one of the high school guidance counselors, and she told me that I should look into a trade because I was not “college material” especially based on my ninth-grade report card. Fortunately, I ignored her and followed my plan. I didn’t get into Spelman College, but I did get into college. A small HBCU in North Carolina gave me a chance, and a wonderful band and choir director gave me a scholarship. My experience at Saint Augustine’s University in Raleigh, North Carolina changed my life.
Going back to the little southern town without a college degree was not an option. I didn’t have any money, so I worked three jobs throughout college to pay for books and a snack here and there. My aunt purchased 3-5 outfits for me as a high school graduation gift from Cato’s, and I wore the same clothes-in rotation of course from August of 1993 until May of 1997 when I graduated from St. Aug with honors.
I thought it was the beginning of something better. Well, it was and it wasn’t. I graduated from college at 22, and I also met the man that would change my life at 22. We didn’t begin dating until I was 26. I met him while in graduate school, and I spent over a decade playing a different type of double-dutch. This time it wasn’t the green water hose from the projects in my grandmother’s yard. I was jumping in and out of being called names like “pickaninny”, “porch monkey”, and “bitch”. I was jumping through heavy emotional hoops unlike the hopscotch that I drew on the sidewalk in the projects using South Carolina red clay rocks. The hopscotch looked like skipping across emotional and verbal chess boards after being told that I was “worthless” and “just couldn’t do anything right.”
I am sure there was a bottom of the barrel, but for years, I refused to see it. I was too smart to be in an abusive relationship, right? I suddenly became disabled at 38, and I lost my ability to walk. I remember sitting in a recliner for three weeks needing assistance to do basic things like wash, and he never helped me. A pile of dirty clothes for both me and the children were sitting in a trash bag near the recliner where I slept, and he never offered to help me wash myself or learn to walk again. He did eventually wash the clothes because he said that “his house” smelled like “ass”. It was always “his house”, and according to him, I was a “lazy woman” and “squatter” despite the fact that I was a full-time mother and crawling like a baby to care for our children since I could not walk. He always demanded that I pay 1/2 of the mortgage with my disability check, and when I didn’t he referred to me as a “motherfucker” that didn’t want to help him pay the bills. He always reminded us that his house was not a “hotel”, and in his frustration, he ended his sentences with hurtful words when referring to me and the kids. Depression was an understatement. I packed our bags several times. Most times, I returned. I saw the look of disappointment in my son’s eyes each time that I returned to his father’s house. Where was I going with three kids? I was out of money and could not continue paying for the hotel.
I definitely didn’t want my children to sleep in the car because I experienced car living as a child, so I went back to his house and endured another round of all things abuse but a slap or punch. Maybe that’s how I survived because abuse was a punch, right? He didn’t put his hands on me, so it couldn’t really be abuse. We just had a bad argument, right? I knew what was happening was wrong. My children knew it was wrong. The neighbors often heard what was happening, and they also knew it was wrong. I saw the neighbors starring and sometimes someone would build up their nerves and ask, “are you okay?” I smiled and said “yes”, but that was not the transparent truth. I was not okay. My children were not okay, and I needed to get myself together. One day, I looked in the mirror and told myself that I was “enough”. I had already started planning to leave, and I packed whatever I could in trash bags and crawled to the front door since I could not walk without an assisted device. We left when he was at work, and that was the last time that I lived in “his house”, a house of hell.
The journey out of his living hell was long and difficult. When it was good, it was imaginary great. However, when it was bad, it was horrible. Holidays were some of the worst times-especially Christmas. I was always called “bitchy” or some other humiliating name on Christmas-in front of the kids. There was always a Christmas argument about some little thing. Maybe I wanted to play Silent Night by the Temptations, and he preferred that I stop wishing for a”Disney experience”. Maybe I wanted to cook, and he told me that that it wasn’t going to happen because he didn’t like the smell of food in “his house”. Maybe I wanted to wash our clothes, but he added pillows and a basket to block the washing machine because I was not “allowed” to wash clothes in “his house”. I was annoyed because he knew I could not walk, but he always poured loads of Carpet Fresh on the carpet where I was crawling.
My hands and clothes were always covered in carpet freshener once I reached my destination in the house. There was so many humiliating moments. One day I asked him to close the blinds so the neighbors would not see me crawling up the stairs, and he offered a simple solution. He said, “if you don’t want them to see you crawling, get up and walk. Oh, you don’t want to walk. No, I’m not closing my blinds.” The humiliation did not stop during holidays. He always managed to ridicule and compare Christmas gifts. I was struggling to provide our basic needs-for myself and our three kids because he used his money to support himself-primarily. He always managed to tell me that he would not take care of a “grown woman.” and I needed to “get a job.” Of course, the kids heard it, and they began to wonder why I didn’t work anymore. Despite my disability and parenting the children full time, I was still “lazy”, according to him.
I am so glad that he ended the relationship with me. I was struggling to leave because I did not want my sons to come from a single parent household. I had to make it work for my kids, right? I couldn’t make all of the wrongs right because we shared children. I had to choose me and love myself better. Leaving his house was the best decision that I ever made. However, one of my son’s often ask why I didn’t leave sooner. The memory of packed trash bags in the hallway that didn’t leave soon enough will always stay with him. I can’t fully explain it to my son now, but when he’s a man maybe he will understand.
When I see the American flag in black with a thin blue line, I think of other women and children who may also experience abuse. I was there when he vowed to protect and serve. I pinned him the day that he became a law enforcement officer, but the story behind closed doors was different. Healing is a journey. Everyday, I forgive him and myself.
Despite my challenges, Brown Girl Wellness, Inc. was born. In the midst of my struggle, I started to help other women and children rebuild their lives. This journey to Brown Girl has humbled me and taught me about servanthood in a new manner. I have shared experiences with a large percentage of women and youth we serve. I know what it’s like to experience food and housing insecurity. I have endured the stench of poverty and abuse. I know what living with a disability feels like. Learning to walk again as an adult at 38 was not fun. There are no bells and whistles along this journey-just real people, real experiences, and the option to keep going. I have chosen to keep going, and I make the same choice daily for myself and for my children. I am Brown Girl Wellness. I am narrative justice. When I am advocating for voiceless and vulnerable women and youth, I am advocating for myself and my children. This work is heart work. Long before this moment, I was marinating in resilience-maybe in 1975 when the doctor offered my mother an abortion, and she opted to give me a chance. Her decision has changed lives. Brown Girl Wellness is dedicated to improving lives of women and youth globally through outreach and human rights advocacy. To date, more than 500 marginalized women and children have benefit from our services annually. We have helped more than 700 children attending Title 1 schools, and our ESL and workforce development program impacts more than 200 youth throughout 5 countries. From Baltimore to Dubai, we are champions for improving lives.
I am just a little brown girl-turned woman from the rural south who lived in poverty, experienced food insecurity, homelessness and abuse. However, I never allowed my circumstances to define me or deter me from my dreams. Helping others weaves layers of possibility into the fabric of our world. I vowed to make a difference, and as a result, Brown Girl Wellness, Inc offers marginalized women and youth hope. I believe when women and children are given an opportunity to thrive, we all win.
Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
– Overcoming abuse
– Growing up without my biological father
– Surviving domestic violence
– Learning to walk again as an adult
– Single parent
The challenges have been ongoing. However, each challenge ushers me into a classroom, and the challenge becomes my teacher. Each lesson helps me grow. No, it has not been smooth, but I am my story. As a result, I enter rooms with empathy and compassion when helping others. The sharp edges of life experiences have prepared me to serve my community with resounding love. Servant-leadership is not a polished task. The task is filled with rough roads, and the roads encourage me to walk in my purpose.
Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?
I am a seasoned educator (over 20 years). I have taught in traditional and community settings.
I have enjoyed my higher education teaching experience as an English & Women’s Studies professor for over 15 years.
Founder/Executive Director of Brown Girl Wellness, Inc.
Co-Founder of Be MoreCreative Community School & Art Studio in Tema Ghana in partnership with co-founders Farmer Nell and Sir Francis Nunoo, our school helps reduce children from poverty through art and fashion instruction and opportunity
Known for teaching
Known for consulting for small businesses and non-profits, grant writing and community building
Known for loving God & helping others
Most proud of being the mother of three sons
My resilience, loving heart, and honest nature set me apart from others. I don’t believe in smoking mirrors. I am what you see. Honesty and service to the community are both very important to me. I love helping others thrive. The world is my classroom. I love folks, and I give my best when the opportunity presents itself-from the classroom to the community.
I also love cooking! I especially love sharing my southern meals, Gullah Geechee-inspired ancestral dishes. I am launching my pop-up kitchen, Gullah ‘Ouse to share a South Carolina home-cooked experience and sea island inspired dishes filled with love.
What does success mean to you?
I define success by the service and love one shares with others-especially shared with those who can never repay the acts of kindness.
- Website: www.bgwellness.org
- Instagram: Brown..Girl.Wellness
Alexis Brown (photos in black attire) Amber Kim (photos at Augusta Fells Savage High School Story Healers Booth) Dr. Rica Wilson (self photo with shades)