My name is AC… today I am 35 years old… and I am most definitely a survivor! Abuse first entered my life when I was 9 years old courtesy of my stepfather in the home I shared with my mother in Los Angeles, CA. Up until that point my childhood had been a joy and my mothers the best mommy any girl could ask for. She was absolutely the most beautiful woman ever to me; with the brightest smile. . My mother taught me how to love unconditionally and with her I always felt safe. However, once she allowed my stepfather into our lives; she changed into a person I did not recognize. She became weak and controlled by this man; characteristics I had never seen her display. After only a few months of living in our home, he began to isolate us from our family and friends; and started to control every aspect of our lives down to every cent of my mother’s finances. My stepfather began to physically abuse my mother; and the love I had for her would not allow me to stand by and watch the woman I loved more than anything be mistreated. My mother had always taught me to fear nothing; as God doesn’t give us a spirit of fear. Therefore, I began to take up for my mother when my stepfather would beat her; causing him to turn his hands to me and begin physically abusing me as well.

     As if beating us awfully weren’t enough; he was also verbally and emotionally abusive to no avail. It was pure torture as we weren’t just punched or slapped around; he beat the crap out of us, often until we were bleeding profusely or even vomiting. My stepfather would use billet clubs, sticks, and extension cords to beat us for hours at a time. Often there were times when my mother would need medical attention but she could not call an ambulance or go to an ER; she had to go lay in her bed and deal with it. It was like living in hell with a real life monster. My childhood abruptly ended and I was forced to be an adult fending for myself. He no longer allowed my mother to care for me. So, simple things like combing my hair, cooking my meals, providing me with clothes and shoes for school were no longer available for me. I had to cook and clean for them both, was tortured with mice, placed in the dumpster in my alley, and not allowed to watch television – go outside to play – or engage in any other social activities with other children.

     Then as if taking the joy of my having a strong loving mother and a healthy childhood weren’t enough; my stepfather began molesting me while my mother was at work. He stole my innocence and literally tried to break me because he knew that although my mother feared him; I didn’t fear him at all. Just about every night I thought about ways to kill him to save my mother and me from his terror. But I never acted on it simply because I did not want my mother to be mad with me. I even got the courage to tell my mother he had been molesting me; and when I did she took me right in the room to him and told him what I had said. He laughed and told her, “If she says I did it, then I did it”. She did absolutely nothing! That was the moment I began to resent her and anger started to grow within me towards her.

     I was a model student in school, extremely smart, and placed into a gifted program, top of my glass; but I was going to school daily keeping this heavy secret about my home life. It was like having to be an actress and it became unbearable. So after being physically, sexually, & verbally abused from the ages of 9-12 years old, I finally built up the courage to confide in a friend and run away from home to her house after school. But, her mother brought me back to my school and told them what was going on. My principal informed me that ever since my stepfather had isolated me they had been keep a close eye on me because my aunt and father in New Orleans had mailed her a letter saying they suspected abuse, but that they had been shut out of my life. My principal said she never had any proof and called the police in that evening. The police booked me as a runaway and took me to the hospital to be examined. I was then placed in a foster home while I awaited court proceedings for my custody to gain custody of me.

     After a few months in foster care, my father was given custody and I moved back to our hometown of New Orleans. However, my father was sickly, being on kidney dialysis and couldn’t really care for me; so I lived with my aunt. She tried her best to fill the void I had of being without my mom; but no one can replace your mother. I didn’t understand how my mother could choose a man over me. So, I used to refuse to talk to her and would tell people she was dead when they asked where she was or why I lived with my aunt.

      On New Years of 1993, just 2 months before I turned 13 years old, I finally had a conversation with my mother. She apologized, asked for my forgiveness, expressed how much she loved me, and told me she needed me; begging me to come home. I told her that I would never come back to her home because she could not protect me from her monster. She then told me, that she was coming to me then; that she would leave him. We arranged for her to sneak from work and pick up my twin baby brothers whom my stepfather had fathered from their daycare and catch a flight to New Orleans with plane tickets that my grandmother would buy for her. BUT 2 days later, January 3, 1993, my aunt returned home from work to inform me that my stepfather had learned of her plans to leave him; and he murdered my mother. He stole the most precious thing I’d ever known from me!

     I died inside that day. This man had beaten my mother so badly that her ribs, hand, and nose were broken; and she laid in her bed broken like that, then he stood over her and shot her in her face. He called his mom and sister as my mother laid there dying…. cleaned the scene… and his gun…. all while my toddler brothers looked on. He was arrested then released because he told the police that my baby brother accidently killed my mother playing with his gun while he had it out for cleaning. AND LAPD went for that, not because it made sense, but because they were a black couple in South Central Los Angeles; and my mother’s life just didn’t mean much to them.

     I refused to let my stepfather get off scott free and told my family I had to do something. So, my aunt contacted to DA on my behalf and told them they needed to talk to me because most definitely this man had murdered my mother in cold blooded rage. I flew back to L.A. and after speaking to me, the DA picked him back up and began a thorough investigation. Forensics ended up proving that there was blood under the cleaning kit; meaning my stepmother tried to clean up his mess. Ballistics showed that my mother was shot from someone standing over her; something a toddler could not do. I ended up testifying against him at trial and the monster looked me in my eyes and laughed as I looked at pictures of my mother lying in her own blood, dead. He was convicted and sentenced to California Life. When he became eligible for parole I gave my testimony as to why he shouldn’t be released but the coward wouldn’t even appear at his hearings and face me. He stole my innocence, my childhood, & my mother from me; but he never broke me or stole my inner strength.

    I have however lived with a pain and a void that has never healed and never been filled. But as time has passed, I’ve learned to live with it better. My father passed when I was 15 years old; and because I had still never processed my abusive childhood nor my mother’s murder, I began to act out. I left my family and started living on my own. I looked for love in all the wrong places, especially the streets of New Orleans. I cursed and blamed God. I was angry and hurt! BUT God never left my side and I didn’t even know it!

      At 15 years old I had my first child for a man 6 years older than me. Not realizing all of the things I was doing to myself was because of the abuse I had endured and that I was actually abusing myself. My daughter was born premature and ended up being disabled. I always provided good care of her and myself. Always had my own. Prided myself on being “strong”. But in actuality I was weak inside crying out for help. I went from one unhealthy relationship to the next but would never let anyone abuse me. I had my 2nd child when I was 20 years old. Then when I was 22 years old I left a man who I loved and who I thought loved me; who also was very wealthy and resourceful, which made him think I would never leave him.. He had never so much as raised his voice to me or disrespected me. BUT he could not handle me leaving him and had me & my 2 year old son kidnapped. My ex-lover tortured me for 7 hours, setting me on fire and pouring boiling water on me; telling me I had hurt him, so now he was going to hurt me. That was the first time since I was in my mother’s home did I feel I was in danger and that I wasn’t in control. At that moment I called out to God. I repented and prayed. I promised to God that if he got me and my son out of that house I would turn away from the streets and live my life right. My son and I were in my ex lover’s house for 3 days before I was able to escape.

    I was naked and burned horribly but I grabbed my son and ran to his neighbor’s house and called for help. We ended up in protective custody hiding in a domestic violence shelter never able to return to our home or retrieve any of our belongings. I had to start my life all over again from nothing. It was like being in a Lifetime Movie. A truly humbling experience. We relocated from New Orleans to Seattle for our safety and I began to rebuild our lives.

      In February 2005 I returned to New Orleans to care for my aunt who took me in when my mother was murdered and my father was too ill to care for me. She was dying of bone cancer and leukemia. In August 2005 Hurricane Katrina came and devastated my life again, causing me to relocate to Atlanta GA and have to start all over from nothing AGAIN. In 2012 I had my 3rd child and had pretty much established my family here in Atlanta. Everything seemed to be on track for me. I was taking my trials and turning them into testimonies and focusing on creating a legacy that could be proud of and that would set them up for success.

      Then in November of 2014, I met a man from my hometown of New Orleans who is much younger than me but who I feel deeply in love for. Things moved very fast between us and I ended up pregnant by March 2015. Not long after he started displaying characteristics that I saw in my abusive childhood with my stepfather. Instead of running for the hills, I tried to fix him. My finances declined, and I found myself in the same cycle my mother was once in… being isolated and controlled… blamed for his disrespectful behavior… and it even turned into physical violence. He never abused my children but for the first time in their lives they witnessed me being mistreated. I kept telling myself, “I know better… Why am I allowing this...? If I don’t get out I will end up like my mother.” I had to call the police on him 3 times to remove him from my home. A little time would pass, he would apologize saying he was going to change, and I would let him back in. Until I woke up and had enough! I snapped out of it and realized that I was not about to let him steal me from my kids like my stepfather stole my mother from me. I had to remind myself that love doesn’t hurt and that if he was hurting me he didn’t care about me or our unborn child. I got a restraining order against him and by the grace of God I am standing strong; and trying to rebuild my life.

      Now that I am a woman; I realize that even the strongest women can become victims of abuse. That my mother didn’t turn her back on me. She has gotten herself into a situation where she was brainwashed and manipulated. I’ve forgiven her and I’ve forgiven myself. I used to blame myself for leaving her with my stepfather; thinking had I not ran away, I would’ve saved her life. When in reality my stepfather probably would have murdered me too. Now that I have an intimate relationship with God; I realize that He allows everything to happen for a reason and that although I may not always understand why, and some of it hurts intensely, He is working it all out for my good. I believe God allowed me to go through all I went through so that my life could be a living testimony to help masses of people. I believe that it was to make me into the woman that He intends for me to be; so that when my purpose is fulfilled I will be able to relate to, reach, and heal those who need me.

     A few years ago I formed a non-profit agency in honor of my mother and named it after her, The Cheryl Ann Corporation. Its mission is to shape the lives of troubled, abused, and homeless teenage girls from the ages of 9 to 18 years old. To help them find refuge and resources to set them up for success in life and help them heal through their pain. I feel that I can help them because I’ve already been through just about anything they could have experienced; so they will feel the genuine desire to help them and open up to me. I know God made me a strong woman so that I can change the course of the lives of multitudes of young females.

     I had the vision but I let my annual registrations fall behind and owe filing fees and need to pay my 501(c)3 filing fee as well in order to get the ball rolling with my nonprofit. So in this upcoming year, it is my biggest aspiration to get my nonprofit where it needs to be as far as in  good standing with the Secretary of State AND thriving as a functioning organization serving the metro Atlanta area. I see a building that provides housing, community outreach, counseling, and legal services all in a “one stop shop” environment where these young women know they are safe. I want to be able to provide scholarships and business startup investments to these young women. I want them to not have any barriers to pursuing their dreams. I believe that God will definitely make a way if I stay focused and remain faithful.

      At this time I am struggling financially; but now that I have gotten the negative energy of my abuser who was holding me back removed from my life, I am doing what it takes to get back on solid ground. I appreciate that your organization chose my family as a recipient for your Thanksgiving Turkey Baskets and Holiday Angel Gathering Of hope programs. Every little bit helps and would be greatly appreciated. I count myself lucky to have Women Are Dreamers Too in my life