‘You can rise above all your scars’
Many of us can't imagine the kind of abuse that American author and motivational speaker Johnnetta McSwain — Clay went through as a youngster.
From age five she was sexually molested by her three uncles; the abuse continued into her teen years at the hands of strange men brought home by her alcoholic mother.
Mrs McSwain- Clay grew up so scarred from the physical pain, neglect and name-calling and was led to believe that no one loved her.
But thankfully her tale has a happy ending after turning her life around at age 30.
She is currently working towards her doctoral degree and has already attained a Bachelor's from Kennesaw State University and a Master's in Social Work at Clark Atlanta University.
The motivational speaker will be the special guest at a local event celebrating Peace Day at the Fairmont Hamilton Princess on September 20.
The event is hosted by local charity Saving Children And Revealing Secrets [SCARS] and Centre Against Abuse [CAA].
She said she was “excited” to share her advice and story with the Island and hopes people are inspired to overcome their own past hurts.
Mrs McSwain — Clay decided to break the negative cycle in her life after reaching a breaking point in 2002.
As a high-school dropout, she had spent years partying and hanging out with the wrong friends. Her life was a mess.
“I woke up when I turned 30-years-old and realised that I had nothing,” she told The Royal Gazette. “I was poor, my sister was on crack cocaine, my mother was an alcoholic and every man in my life had abused me.
“I had no job and two little black boys. I had to do something to save their life and I just looked in the mirror at myself and said ‘Oh My God'.”
In that moment of clarity, she called her landlord to say she was leaving the state. She then rented the biggest moving truck she could find and left with her sons, a GED and whatever possessions she had.
“Something clicked in me that I didn't want to wake up at 40 and be in this same position,” she explained.
“I wanted my boys to be proud of me and to be someone, and I was so afraid of the demonic spirit that had my uncles, and that my two sons [continue that negative cycle and] would grow up and be rapists and hurt someone.”
She also didn't want to be seen as just another abuse victim and wanted to accomplish something great with her life.
Motivated by her university professor, Mrs McSwain- Clay developed a 12-Step Self Awareness Model to help other people overcome past hurts.
She was told by a woman who had been through the 12 step programme for addiction recovery, that she lived her life by similar principles and another light bulb went off.
She said: “I realised I was an addict. I wasn't addicted to alcohol or drugs, but I was addicted to the negative behaviour and the cycle and I sat down and in one night I wrote the Self Awareness Model.”
She said the first step to healing is identifying that you are trapped in a negative cycle of behaviour.
“You can't change anything unless you are aware you need to change it. It's been a popular programme and people call me from all over the world asking me to come and speak about the steps.”
She said pursing her PhD was a “personal journey” and hopes it inspires others to reach for their dreams.
“I wanted young girls to see me and how I went to college at 33 with a tenth grade education, when I could barely even write,” she explained.
“For me failure wasn't an option. I knew change had to start with me because I didn't have anyone to show me a role model and my oldest son was 12-years-old when I moved to Georgia, and the youngest was five, and I knew I had to save their lives.”
If she could give one piece of advice to anyone that has suffered through abuse, it's that they have the power to choose a brighter path for their future.
“You have two options in life. You can either roll over and die and be the victim or you can stand up and fight and take your life back because it's yours.
“What I've learned is you have the right to feel beautiful, no matter what ugliness has happened to you and you can rise above all your scars, whether you can see them or not.
“You don't have to be a victim. You can be beautiful and live again. There's someone who can love you and will love you and you are a queen.”
Mrs McSwain — Clay's story was turned into an Emmy Award winning documentary, narrated by Jane Fonda.
The mother of two was also able to pen her autobiography entitled ‘Rising Above the Scars' — copies of the book will be made available at the event.
The Peace Day Celebration begins on Friday, September 20 with a reception at 6.30pm, followed by the speech at 7pm.
Tickets, $100, can be purchased at 27th Century Boutique, Caesar's Pharmacy and online at www.ptix.bm.
Useful websites: www.scarsbermuda.com; www.centreagainstabuse.bm.