In The Beginning
“Incest was not in my vocabulary,” said Brittni Kellom, a 32-year-old sexual assault survivor from Detroit, Michigan. Her voice is airy and light, one not weighed down with the experiences of her past.
Brittni grew up enclosed by the loving grip of her tight knit family which included her grandparents and her mother, who at one point all lived under the same roof.
From the outside looking in, Brittni had a pretty regular childhood. She had love and support and flourished under the watchful eye of her family who encouraged her individuality and showered her with attention due to the fact that she was her mother’s only child.
And then at age 12, life made a dramatic switch. Brittni and her mother moved out independently from her grandparents. And as many fatherless children do, Brittni craved to reconnect with her father after years of no contact.
For a short time, the relationship fostered until it decayed into something much darker.
Four Long Years
“The abuse was really a growing process. It did not start off as intercourse,” Brittni said. “It was more so from my recollection, him having conversations about sex. At 12, you are sort of having those conversations with your parents, but it was the level of detail that he was sharing. And then began to be inappropriate moments of touch and contact, but still innocent. Like, those moments when daughters dance on top of their father’s feet, but he’s having an erection,” she said.
“I mean, I did not have enough in my toolbox to know that’s what was occurring. And then my abuse mainly started off in my sleep. So that was kind of an attack on my body that I really couldn’t control that played into this feeling of shame and ‘why couldn’t I have done something?'” she said. “So these are things that I remember to this day and reflect back on and knowing I was truly a child. I had no way of knowing to really protect myself.”
Brittni said the abuse shamed her into silence, compacted with her mother’s health issues where she struggled with lupus and epilepsy. The weight of being pulled from her family was too much to bear. So she buried it.
“I did not tell because I was afraid, it was because I was protecting my family. I knew my worth as an only child so I didn’t want to be grandparent-less and without my mom,” she said.
And after four years of mental manipulation and sexual abuse, Brittni found herself pregnant with her father’s child at the age of 16. In stolen moments before, she tried to share her abuse with those who she deemed as trustworthy, but was always made to feel burdened down with more shame.
Brittni summoned enough courage to tell an older godsister, whose mother alerted Brittni’s mother during a lunch conversation. Brittni painfully decided to abort the child, and her mother moved to act by helping her daughter come forward to the police.
In the early 2000’s the stigma of incest and sexual abuse still remained an unspoken subject. For a young black girl in Detroit, for a young Black girl in America, the prosecutors simply did not believe her story and decided against pressing charges. To date her father is walking around as a free man.
“This was at a time where it wasn’t #MeToo,” Brittni said. “There weren’t centers that were especially for this when it came to kids. So there was just a deep, deep ignorance when it came to kids sexuality and the amount of times sexual assault occurs, and in families.”
Brittni said she later learned that she was not the only victim of her father. Two half-sisters revealed they were also sexually abused by him at one point.
“This is not new in the Black community. We always think of a ‘uncle’ or ‘grandpa’ or ‘so and so’ that is very much around but you’re told to stay away from this person because ‘they’re not right,’ or whatever that sort of ambiguity means,” said Brittni.
Pushed to act and with the love, support and business savvy of her mother, Brittni decided she would begin a non-profit foundation for others who suffered the same fate of sexual abuse. She called the organization “Just Speak,” a reminder of the painful silence she endured for all those years. At 17, she was now on the path to recovery in finding a way to the light.
She completed her education and is currently a mindfulness coordinator at a local Detroit school and a certified trauma practitioner.
Brittni now sits as the executive director of Just Speak which targets sexual assault survivors aged 5-18 at Henderson Academy in Detroit. Just Speak includes workshops, training, and public presentations for social and educational institutions. Just Speak launched their newest campaign “Move” which helps young women survivors through the power of dance. Her work and dedication has led her to win a fellowship to the Red Bull Amaphiko Academy for social entrepreneurs.
After years of therapy, which included an intensive day PTSD program, along with visits to psychologists and therapists who specialized in sexual trauma survivors, she learned to process the weight of what occurred over those four years and the magnitude of what came after. Brittni is also very spiritually grounded and practices yoga, as a form of wellness.
She hopes in the future her program will be embedded within other schools in Detroit, and even nationally.
“I shared my personal story with the conviction that it would cause others to lose the shame and disgust that covers their body,” Brittni said.
“I just want to continue to ride this journey of being ok, and being able to talk about when I’m not which is few far and in between these days,” she said. “That I’m always climbing the next mountain fearlessly, and doing what I need to do to make my family and my ministry proud. I want to leave this earth being completely empty in a good way.”