Leigh Brown is a woman who lives a life of dedication and
perseverance as she fights for the rights of the disabled,
and differently-abled. Following a horrendous car accident
where she was ejected through her car's window, Brown
suffered multiple fractures and a severe brain injury. Left
on life support, she was not expected to live. But it was
while she was unconscious that Brown says that she was
determined to "go back" because she still had things to do.
Chandra eventually completed three years of physical and
cognitive therapy (which included relearning the alphabet
and how to tie her shoes). While it's true that she has not
fully recovered from the extent of her injuries, she speaks
with a clear, calm, and upbeat voice, and enjoys working out
three days a week. Her personal nature includes a heightened
sense of humor, and an infectious smile and laugh.
Passionate and determinedly inspirational, Chandra Brown
is devoted to serving disadvantage youth and women. She is
also an advocate for social change having adopted a resolve
to help disabled individuals worldwide with their plight for
living in a more equitable society.
I sat down with the Chandra Leigh Brown and interviewed
her as part of the OnTheMove Interview series. We talked
about her accident, her road to recovery, how she became the
International Chairperson for Disabled Individuals for the
Oprah Winfrey for Nobel Peace Prize Fan club, and her vision
for her future.
Fran Briggs: Good morning, Chandra. Thank you for
taking the time to speak with us today.
Chandra Brown: You are welcome. And, thank you for
FB: May 3, 2002. Would you briefly describe the
events of that day just prior to your accident?
CB: I woke up with the idea of going to visit my
mother. I was living in Jonesboro, Georgia and my mother
lived in Mableton, Georgia; it's about a 40 minute drive. I
went to the gas station to fill up my car and proceeded out
of the parking lot after I filled the tank. And, that's all
FB: Has your spirit changed since the day of the
accident? If so, how?
CB: My spirit has changed a great deal. I've
always believed in God, but I am happier. I smile more and I
am more humble. I feel good about life and about living and
carrying out God's divine plan. I have been awaken by God's
love and power! Today, I feel God's Hand on me -- holding me
and supporting me on my journey.
"Since my accident, I have taken what I learned
from sports, and applied it to my life living with a brain
injury. That is the conditioning and discipline part. Fall
down 7 times; get back up 8 times. No pain, no gain. I could
never give up. I thrive on challenges." - Chandra
FB: Many people simply give up after experiencing
a traumatic, life-altering event such as you did. Was there
ever a time when you felt like giving up after the accident?
CB: Give up? No. I would always have to give my
best -- whatever the situation may be. I've been an athlete
most of my life. I played basketball, played a little
tennis, and I ran to stay in shape. Since my accident, I
have taken what I learned from sports, and applied it to my
life living with a brain injury. That is the conditioning
and discipline part. Fall down 7 times; get back up 8 times.
No pain, no gain. I could never give up. I thrive on
challenges. Giving up has never been an option of mine. I do
get tired, frustrated, and angry with myself. My life is so
much different from what it used to be -- it does get
frustrating. There are times when I have to take long breaks
to regroup with myself. After that, it's time to get the job
done. I have learned to go at my own pace.
FB: You are the International Chairperson for
Disabled Individuals for the Oprah Winfrey for Nobel Peace
Prize Fan Club. How did that come about?
CB: I was on the computer getting lost one day
(laugh) and I came across Mr. Rocky Twyman's website,
oprah4peaceprize.org/ I signed the petition and told Rocky
my story. Rocky emailed me back after visiting my web site,
(http://www.thesoulofasurvivor.org//) and he asked me to
become The International Chairperson for Disabled
Individuals! How could I decline such an honor? I told my
partner, Janet about it and she has joined the crusade. We
have been canvassing on behalf of Oprah. We have gone to The
Carter Center in Atlanta, Georgia to promote Oprah for the
Nobel Peace Prize and I gave my testimony. There was also an
article that was published about us in the paper while we
were at The Carter Center.
FB: What are some of the milestones that you have
accomplished as an advocate for the disabled and challenged?
CB: A speaking engagement -- at Shepherd—Kendra
Moon, at Shepherd Center. It's a rehabilitation center for
brain injured and spinal cord patients. They found out about
my website and asked me to speak to a group of their
clients. I want to show them that, even with this challenge,
we can still live a productive life. My second milestone was
when I became a Court Appointed Child Advocate Worker
(CASA). I work with abused and neglected children in foster
care. I may be a littler slower now, but I still have a
voice for others. It's not just all about me.
I told my supervisor, about my brain injury. To my
surprise, she told me that she already knew. You see, when I
initially contacted her about volunteering, I forgot to
remove my website information at the bottom of my email
correspondence to her. I didn't want to reveal my brain
injury because I have been discriminated in the past and not
given a chance to prove what I was capable of performing
certain job functions. She just saw something totally
different about me and trusted me with one of the toughest
case loads my (training) class had.
FB: What is/was the most powerful thing that you
either experienced or discovered?
CB: Since the accident, I have experienced the
true realness of God. I have always been a believer.
However, while on life support, God visited me. I told God
that I was not ready to go.
FB: Chandra, what would you say to someone who is
struggling with their different abilities to the point
where, they just want to give up?
CB: I would try to show them the importance of
never giving up -- whatever the disability or challenge is
-- don't give up. I would tell them that I know that our
body is not the same as it use to be. I would tell them
stories about me and how I begin to laugh at myself at
times. I would also explain to them that there are times
when I get frustrated (we need to know the truth and have
real life stories to go by) at myself, and how that energy
has used up the rest of my energy for that day to try to
improve and/or work on bettering myself. We don't need to
wallow in self pity. We will get exactly where self pity has
taken others like us; and that's no where. I would also give
life examples of today's heroes.
Exercise is very important. My personal trainer, William
Jenkins, has me on a program to help me lose the 35 plus
pounds I gained because of the meds I was on. My memory is
much more clearer and stronger because of what I am doing.
And, I'm putting good, fresh fruits and vegetables into my
body. We must be made aware of what we do with our body.
Doing exercise will change your tune about giving up.
FB: What would you say has been your biggest
CB: My biggest surprise was after my accident one
of my cousins came to see me at home. She was a straight A/B
student with dreams to become a lawyer, but got hooked on
drugs and never made her way back home. She has children but
stays away from her family months and sometimes years at a
time. So, it was a blessing and surprise for me to see her.
I know that her heart means well, she just has a problem.
FB: Would you share some of the new things have
you learned about life as the result of the accident?
CB: The first thing I did after my accident, once
I understood what happened to me is that I had a talk with
myself and I told myself that I could still do it. I had to
change and change and change my program of what my life used
to be. I had to make things as simple as possible for me. I
found out that there's power in simplicity, meaning, the
more I keep things simple; it won't complicate my ability to
get the task done correctly. This gives me the freedom not
to be limited if I just keep my task and life simple.
FB: You have a powerful website which you use as a
tool to embrace, enlighten, and encourage disabled and
challenged individuals, everywhere. What has been the
general reception from your visitors?
CB: Thank you. I have received nothing but praise
about the site. I think the tab, "People Are Talking," is
the most beautiful page to me on the web site. It pumps me
up on my hard days. My late, best friend's daughter is the
very first one to make a comment and then there are all
kinds of different people ranging in different ages from
across the US. The reception has been warm and the people
are excited about this web site becoming bigger. It's not
quite a year old. It will be a year old September 22nd of
this year (2006).
FB: You have such a tremendously positive and warm
spirit. To whom, or to what do you attribute it to?
CB: Again, thanks. My grandmother, Mildred E.
Smith has such a beautiful attitude about life and her
relationship with God. My grandmother still gets on her
knees every night to say her prayers, She's 86 years old. No
matter what is going on in my grandmother's life, she stays
a lady. I have never seen her lose face. My late
grandfather, Carl D. Smith, Jr., my late best friend,
Annetter E. Cleveland. My grandfather died of cancer and
Annetter died of breast cancer. I had watched both of these
two people have a long tough fight with their illnesses. The
only time they complained about the pain was chemo and at
the end of there're fight with the disease.
I am told that Annetter would come to visit me while I
was on life support and not talk to anyone, just come in
with me talk, sing and pray. No one knew at that time just
how sick Annetter was. I am forever grateful for having such
a wonderful friendship of over 20 years. Annetter's
son-in-law, Stephen Nuttall (owner of – http://www.soulphoto.net//)
is the guy who put up my site because, he knew that Annetter
would have wanted him to help me.
FB: Chandra, What advice would you give to someone
who is thinking of getting involved in working with the
differently-abled and challenged, but has absolutely no idea
where to start?
CB: Get educated on the subject. Two people may
have the same thing, but sometimes it affects one person
differently from the other person. Ask questions. The most
unintelligent thing is not asking a question. Go to the
doctors, their assistants ... go to the library and do
research. Go to the hospital and ask to do volunteer work.
You can also get on the Internet and find wonderful
new things to learn.
FB: There is a page on your site where you express
what you are thankful for. Have you always had such an
attitude for gratitude?
CB: I have always been thankful to God. Since my
accident, my whole attitude has been more profound. I just
want others to catch on, I want it to become so contagious. God is good! I know that God has his hands on me.
How else can you describe me? God has allowed me to come
back to earth to be a strong, positive voice for the
challenged/disabled, the abused, the neglected and sexually
FB: You're beaming with positivity; is your
positive energy something that you struggle with sustaining?
CB: Hmmmm... My attitude in life has always been
positive. I recently went to Emory Hospital to take a
neuro-pschy exam. The doctor is a qualified brain injury
specialist who performed the test. She said that I am
dealing with my brain injury fine and I can go to any job to
work, and I can go to school. I am all right where I am in
the universe today. I accept my brain injury. That does not
mean that I am giving in; nor does it mean that I am giving
up on what I want to accomplish. The doctor also stated that
I am at an "average level" for someone living with a brain
injury. This is the only time I will be OK with
someone calling me average (laugh)!
FB: What are some of the things you consider
unacceptable in your life?
CB: I will not accept any negative individuals in my
life. Such as individuals who steal, cheat, or lie. Not that
I am better than anyone else. No, I am just better off not
be engaged with, or intertwined with negativity in my life.
FB: Tell us, what does life look like for Chandra
Leigh-Brown five years from now?
CB: Very soon I will change my name. In the book
of Genesis, 32:28, it says, "You shall no longer be called
Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with
humans, and have prevailed."
I would also love to get my B.A. degree. I have a history
in my family that the women have gotten their education. My
grandmother, Mildred E. Saunders Smith. After raising her
two children, she went back to school to get her degree. She
is an author of a children's book and a book on poetry. I
have a cousin, Dr. Jane E. Smith, who has done marvelous
work for the African-American Community and now she is the
Executive Director of Center for Leadership ... Civic
Engagement for Spelman College. I also have a deceased aunt
who has a school named after her, Bazoline Estelle Usher
Middle School. I really want to be a member of that club. I
want my degree. I need to show myself that I can do it and
show others that it can be done. I want to lead be
example-the right way.
FB: What projects are you working on now?
CB: The projects I am constantly working on
include getting my story out -- from childhood to adulthood.
I want my book to be published. I also want my own radio
talk show. I can start off with an Internet radio talk show.
I have other projects I will later name. I also want my very
own comic strip which will tell about the lives of
individuals who have challenges/disabilities. I was in a
clinic one day and Whoppi Goldberg was on the TV educating
teen-agers about sex and AIDS and other diseases. I thought
after I saw that program, "that's what I want to do!" I want
to educate individuals about the different challenges and
disabilities. I want to be the spokesperson.
FB: Chandra, is there a thought or idea you wanted
to leave our readers with?
CB: I want readers to know that every 15 seconds
someone in the US will have sustained a brain injury. That
number is more than cancer and AIDS put together. Someone in
our family will have one. We all need to be educated about
this disability. As well as other disabilities. Back to
having a brain injury. There are some individuals who are
ashamed of it because it is a mental challenge. I and I know
that there are others like me who are not ashamed of it-just
glad we are alive. Just get educated about it, because it
coming to your doorstep sooner than you know.
Fran: Thank you Chandra for spending your time
with us today.
Chandra: You are welcome. I honor your greatness!
Thanks for inviting me.
Chandra Brown was interviewed in July, 2006. She can be