Coming of age is a challenge for all of us, but when the foundations underneath shift again and again, many never find their footing in adulthood. Even with innumerable setbacks, China Brewer has emerged triumphant.
What makes you the person you are? What are some of those things that influenced you, starting when you were an itty-bitty person up until now?
My grandmother, my aunt, my mother and my sister. They are the reasons I am the woman I am today, even with the trials and tribulations that I went through. I grew up as the only girl for 11 years, so I was surrounded by nothing but boys, a good 10 of them. My brothers and my cousins and the guys who were on my street. We became one big family. That’s who I hung with my whole entire life and to this day. Even though I grew up a tomboy, I always had my grandmother, my aunt and my mother teaching me how to be the lady.
The First Ground Shift
When my mother and father split, I started to get rebellious. Maybe when I was 13 and my sister 1 or 2. Then I was left to help raise my sister. I had always asked for a sister, and this brought out my caring, loving side. Up until then, I was ‘one of the boys.’ But just when I finally got my baby sister my parents split up.
So, you had both a caring, loving side and a rebellious side?
Yes, because I just felt like they left me. When dad left he told me “I’m not your father. Don’t call me Daddy no more.” That took me over the edge. I started turning to the streets. I started smoking weed. I started drinking. I joined a gang. I even went to jail one time, but it wasn’t real criminal. I was with a group of girls, and we stole some things. I went to jail.
GET OUT! GET OUT!
I got more and more rebellious, this time toward my mother. I just felt like she left me to raise my sister. She found another boyfriend and put him over me and my sister. So, that’s when I started selling drugs. I sold crack, pills, heroin, weed. I was in a gang caught up in all type of gang fights. One day my mother put me out, and I was homeless. I was like 16 years old. I was just out on the street. I slept up under bridges, I slept behind my grandmother’s house. Back and forth to my friend’s house. Still selling drugs. I did that about a year.
And your baby sister?
She was with my mother. But I always snuck back to make sure she was alright. Once I really started thinking about her feelings, I had to get myself together.
You cared all through this time, even with …
I always believed in God. Something my grandmother and my Auntie instilled in me. No matter what you do, you always cover yourself.
I always kept that in mind when I was out selling drugs and sleeping wherever I was sleeping at, drinking and being wild. I always remembered, “Cover yourself,” no matter what you’re doing. Then I came back home from being on the street, but still rebellious. I came back to mom. There was a little change, but not a big change. It was always, “Get out! Get out!” Then this last time she put me out, I just really went in with the drugs, really started smoking weed heavy. I started doing Ex pills (Ecstasy), drinking heavy. The homelessness just took off from there because I refused to go back. I was out on the streets again for a year and a half. Then my sister begged me to come back. She begged me and begged me and begged me. It took like 2 months before came back.
How old was your sister at that time?
About 12. I made up my mind when I came back, it was all about her…because she was hurting. She got so used to me being there, taking her to school. Doing her hair. Buying her brand name tennis shoes. Playing with her. She got used to that sister love. It got to the point she was calling me Mommy. Everyone used to think that was my daughter.
Then me and my father got back into our relationship. We talked. He knew what I was outside doing, selling and all. My dad used to sell weed. He said “If you’re going to do this, let me teach you. I don’t want you to do it, but you’re not going to listen. You’re a hot head right now, so let me teach you.” (to sell drugs)
Finding My Footing
But something inside me was changing. I just got to thinking, “I need to change as a woman. I need to find out who China is.” I started figuring out the things I like to do. I figured out that I know how to do hair, because my grandmother, she was a beautician. I figured that out, and went to hair school, and I got my cosmetology license.
But in the middle of all this, my mother met somebody else and I found out he was selling drugs. We were living with him. I told her but she didn’t listen. So, I got rebellious again. “Why she won’t listen to me? She won’t listen.” Until one day he exploded. He put his hands on my mother in front of me, so I beat him up. I went to jail…3 months.
Beat him up?
I hit him with a lamp. Then I got on top of him and beat him. He called the police on me. But just so happened, my sister – my everything, my lifeline – she knew how to use phones, and she knew how to take pictures and record. She recorded the whole thing without us knowing it when he hit my mother. That’s how I got off. They dropped the charges. From that day forward I said, “I got to change my attitude.” I was too rebellious. I was too hot. I didn’t have that attitude where I cared no more. I had to get back to caring.
The Ground Shifts Again!
There was something different about that day. The mail came early. The dogs went barking. It was just different that day. It was a very peaceful day, but then I start smelling something. I was the only one in the house. I was sleeping in my mother’s bed. Something woke me up and I moved to a different room. Then my friend called me. I say to my friend on the phone, “Something is not right. I’m smelling something.” I seen smoke coming from my mother’s room. The whole side of her bed was on fire. Normally, I would be in her room watching the stories and fall asleep but something kept me up that day. I hung up on my friend and called 911. I walked out of the house then I started blowing my mother’s phone up. She wouldn’t answer. Blowing my sister’s phone up. She wouldn’t answer. They were out shopping for her 8th grade graduation. Finally I got my sister. I say, “Put mommy on the phone.” I say, “Just put mommy on the phone.” I say, “Ma, you need to get here fast. The house is on fire.” I hung up and burst out in tears. It was on the news. All type of people donate money, clothes, bed sets, everything. We found a new place to live.
Another Ground Shift!
Yeah, I didn’t even tell you about my aunt. She was “that lady” everyone loved. Everybody she saw, it was hugs and “I love you” and “May God be with you,” to everyone walking down the street. She was one of those ladies, you couldn’t see her without going “Aww, we love you.” I was there when she died. She died in the car with me. That changed me.
That’s when my grandmother really started taking ill, but nobody paying attention to the signs.
She fell and hit her head on a brick and that started the dementia. But at the time she was still walking around, independent. Once we moved, the dementia really got going. At the time, I was going to school to get my GED, back to finding out who China is.
I was working. I didn’t pass my GED. My mom had a whole new boyfriend, so now I have to take care of my grandmother with dementia and my sister. I made the decision to stop working, to stop going to school, and to give my grandmother all my attention. When my grandmother got really sick, it was to the point where I had to wash her, change her diapers, make her take her medicine. Things like that. My sister, she in high school, she going through the female thing and I said, ‘It’s time for me to grow up.’ That’s when I learned patience and from there I never looked back. I never went back to the streets. I stopped smoking weed. I dedicated my life to my sister and grandmother.
Turning a Corner
I always used to ride by 2100. Never knew what it was. “What’s this? Do they give out meals? One day I’m going to walk and see what it is.” When I found out, I say, “Ooh, I would love to work there.” Through all my trials and tribulations…and going through all the things with my mother’s boyfriends and my dad…my sister with her little secret pregnancies and me being Big Sister hiding it – it grew me up. I didn’t want to be in the streets no more. I didn’t want to be homeless no more. I didn’t want to go back to that life. I left that alone. Now I been here 3 years. I still hit some bumps, but I know how to handle it as an adult, as a woman, and have a heart.
When I started with LMM, I started at the Haven Home with the women and children. Everybody came in there crying. I’d get on the floor and hug them. Let them know it’s going to be all right. I know what it’s like. You’re tired of being tired. But, if you keep walking, you’re going to live again. You’re going to breathe again. I did.
When I came over here to 2100, it was icing on the cake because I was raised with all guys. When they see me, I brighten their day. “Hey Sis. Hey Auntie. Hey China.” I get guys coming to apologize to me. “I’m sorry I disrespected you…You just the sweetest person ever.” I say, “It’s cool. It’s alright. You going through something. Everybody going through something.” I never been a judgmental person. I know what it’s like to be in a situation where don’t nobody care. I’m here to help. When I started to go to church the Pastor and this lady tell me there’s something special about me…a glow. That I can save somebody’s life. I have that way. I think that’s why God put me here. I love the residents, even though they get on my nerves sometimes!
You’re the Second Shift Supervisor, and received the Residents’ Choice Award this year. They nominated you for being the most compassionate on Operations staff.
It was a proud moment. My hard work did not go unnoticed. Mr. Blunt (Operations Director) asked me “Can you go to the hotel?” Can you do this…can you do that? All kinds of adjustments needed to be made on Operations staff during COVID. I was there. It was never no problem.
Once more, the earth shifts
All these losses I done had within these last few years – my best friend passed away. Then my other friend, he passed away. We were going to go to school together when he passed away. Then my brother went away. My God Sister died 2 weeks before my birthday last year. Death was trying to get me down. I felt my supporters was leaving me, but I could hear them say, “Don’t you let it. You got this. We’re here to make you strong.” I got to do this for them too because they was rooting for me.
How does your experience help you as a Supervisor here?
A lot of guys talk about the depths.
Depth of experiences, how they never bounced back from it. How being homeless had them depressed, how drugs just took them under. I understand and I tell them what my grandmother used to tell me: “Life is like a card game. Whatever hand you’ve been dealt, you play it to the best of your ability.” If you’re dealt a bad hand, you can still get up out of the spot you’re in. I tell these guys, “Now listen here!” (Laughing)…then we talk. Yeah. My life experience taught me a lot, especially being around boys. Taught me about hard times, about getting through.
What happened with your sister?
My sister stays in Georgia, 3 beautiful kids, she’s engaged. I made sure she graduated. Made sure she walked across that stage. Now, she got to grow into the woman she was designed to be. I’m proud of her. Beautiful. I’ve learned I can be that go-to person to take care of people…everybody don’t have patience for that. I got to be that woman my grandmother taught me to be.
I Still Dreams
I’m going back to school to learn business management.
What kind of business?
It’s going to be like a plaza with a hair salon/barbershop with the nail techs and the make-up artists. I want to have the massage therapists. I want a whole big One Stop Shop. A hair store and a gas station. A little restaurant where the clients can go in and sit while they wait to get their hair services. A place where everyone can feel good.
It is such an honor to hear the struggles, the hopes, and the dreams of China, and to see the caring, loving side that emerges throughout. It is no wonder China received the Resident’s Choice Award.