One absent mother.
One abusive father struggling with addiction.
Six foster homes.
Countless hospital and treatment facility stays.
You'd think all of that would add up to an angry and defiant young woman. And, in many ways, you'd be right. Brooklynn is angry. She is angry people treated her the way they did, especially the very people who were supposed to love and protect her.
But, at age 15, Brooklynn—a petite young woman with long, thick hair piled haphazardly atop her head, deep-set blue eyes, and a feisty attitude—is also wise beyond her years. Her wisdom and beauty shine through in her poetry—poetry that tells her story and of wisdom well-earned through a young life filled with tragedy.
Brooklynn's mom dropped her off with her father when she was three years old, and she hasn't seen her since. She spent the rest of her childhood with her dad and a revolving door of stepmothers. Her dad started abusing her when she was five.
"It lasted until I was 12. Through each mom, through each state, through each house. It didn't change. But I didn't tell anybody because he was my dad. I didn't want to lose the only person I'd ever had."
At age 12, Brooklynn was fed up. She was so angry one night after her father was done beating her that she crawled out her window and told the neighbors.
Unfortunately, happily-ever-after didn't start there. While she did escape the abuse, Brooklynn wasn't able to take down the wall she'd built to protect herself from the outside world. If anyone got too close, she lashed out in anger.
"I was the smart kid in school, but I was never a well-behaved kid," Brooklynn said. "I could never make any friends because I was just so angry. I was just angry, and angry, and angry, so I lashed out and pushed people away."
Since the day she crawled out of the window, Brooklynn has lived in several foster homes, tried to kill herself at least twice, and has moved back and forth between treatment facilities. Through it all, she has hung onto her anger.
"Anger is a starting emotion," Brooklynn said. "When I get angry, it starts other emotions. I get angry and I feel the depression. I start asking 'Why?' 'Why did this happen to me?' And then, in the end, I feel numb because the emotions are so overpowering. All you can do is put up the wall to keep them out."
Something changed when Brooklynn came to Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch. She started to take the wall down, brick by brick.
It's difficult to pinpoint an exact moment that changed the trajectory of Brooklynn's life. Instead, it's all the small things Brooklynn experienced at the Ranch that showed her she deserved to be loved.
"I think I finally realized what I deserve. I'm not a victim, I'm a survivor. I continue to thrive every day and I have something to live for," she said. "The people here surround me and support me. I don't have to worry, 'How am I going to get my next meal?' 'How am I going to keep myself safe?' 'Are they going to hit me?' 'Are they going to rape me?' I don't have to worry about any of that now and it feels so amazing."
Brooklynn credits some of the changes in her attitude to Madison Novacek, her English teacher at Dakota Memorial School (the on-campus school of Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch). In Ms. Novacek, Brooklynn found not only a talent and love for writing, but a person who believed in her.
"Ms. Novacek is just an amazing, amazing person. I wouldn't be able to write the things I do without her. She started it all. She chose me to enter my work into the Scholastic competition. That made me feel on top of the world. Like, somebody could see that kind of potential in me—that's crazy!"
Brooklynn doesn't have it all figured out, and she still gets angry. She lives her life for today, and for the next day. "Because if you live for more past that, it gets too hard. If I think past tomorrow, I start worrying about it.
But, during her time at the Ranch, Brooklynn has started to think beyond tomorrow. She is now living with a new foster family and hopes she can stay there until she graduates from high school.
"There are just so many amazing qualities about my foster parents. I keep seeing these amazing things and I'm just waiting for something to pop up, but it's not happening. I'm just so grateful for them."
As we visited, Brooklynn was about to leave Dakota Memorial School to go to a local public school. She was looking forward to getting involved in speech and debate; and working more on her art and writing.
She is also starting to believe she could go to college. She wants to learn how to use her art and writing skills to reach children growing up in similar situations.
"I want to get my story out there," Brooklynn said. "I want other people to read it and know it's OK to be helpless, that it is OK to not be OK. I want other people to see it and be able to speak up for themselves. I want to use my artwork to advocate for people experiencing abuse."
Brooklynn also wants Ranch donors and staff to know how they have impacted her life.
"Their donations have supported me with my lifelong happiness. Their money built this place, and has provided the people who are forever going to leave an impact on my life. I want you all to know you are making an impact. Whether you're behind the scenes or in the front row, whether you're silent or not—you are making an impact."
To the Fargo Youth Home, the teachers at DMS, her foster family, and the donors who support the Ranch, Brooklynn says, "Please do not give up, because we need you."