Bernita Bradley on Insecurity in ‘The Girl in the Alley’

The author and founder of Enroll Detroit has turned her pain into purpose.

Bernita Bradley

Turning your pain into your passion is no easy feat. This purpose-driven life calls for constantly standing in the midst of the trauma some spend lifetimes avoiding. It means serving as an example to those who don’t quite have the formula of healing figured out.

While this task is taxing, community leaders like author Bernita Bradley personify the path forward. Bradley took years of bullying, sexual abuse and suicidal survival and put it in her book, The Girl in the Alley – an artistic “unpacking” of a tragic story of pain, passion and purpose.

A bulk of the nonfiction work is an alchemy of poetry and prose retellings where Bradley confronts her sexual abuser in adulthood – along with lessons on forgiveness, and the loneliness in leadership experienced when one has the courage to thwart the verbal attacks of classmates directed toward her body (and others).

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The Girl in the Alley is a book about finding the way home, while also discovering peace of mind. Born in Detroit and raised in Highland Park, Bradley spent most of her childhood – into adulthood – tracking the middle passages of buildings to avoid the very same classmates she didn’t have the courage to confront – for fear of physical harm.

“If my brothers weren’t with me, I would walk alleys to protect myself,” says Bradley. “You didn’t have all of the crazy stuff going on like now. The strangest thing was an 8-, 9- or 10-year-old would be in the alley and feel safer than walking down (their) own street.”

It became her “safety net.” Later in life, she used these instances of insecurity and avoidance to help improve the self-esteem of others. Bradley founded Enroll Detroit (a program that makes sure every family has access to high-quality programs for their children), has served in Americorps, volunteered for Michelle Obama and much more.

The Girl in the Alley, her latest project, was published in January and is currently available at Book Suey in Hamtramck, Bradley’s website and on Amazon for $20. She says telling her story, coupled with hosting support groups for people struggling with suicidal ideation, “gave others permission to live.”

“I realize the power in my story,” says Bradley. “People need somebody to tell them, ‘Baby, I’ve been where you’re at. I was two steps from where you are at, but we have to keep pushing and go through this together.'” 

Bernita Bradley’s 3-Step Guide to Transforming Trauma Into Purpose

Make a plan: Identify a few support people who will hold you accountable as you take the time you need to think through any situation. Give them permission to hold you accountable to not stay in any dysfunctional mindsets or behaviors.

Use your God-given gifts: Pour your hearts’ heaviness into your gifts. This could be anything from art, sewing, crafts or writing. For example: write whatever comes out at the time. Write until your heart’s content.

Be a mentor/give back: Find others who you can help (with) your gift. If you love music, find youth programs and volunteer there. If you are good at sports or engineering, help a youth obtain their goals in (that) field. It will give you such joy to help them.

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