The “ego death” and creative rebirth of UM-Flint graduate Brittini Ward

CW: Sexual assault, suicidal ideations

FLINT, Michigan -- There’s an ancestral elegance to Brittini Ward visible as she poses initially shy and reserved but later confident and boastful for photos. It shines through, radiating like the sunlight that causes her skin to sparkle gold, much like her spirit and vibrant smile. Her passion and drive to represent the fullness of the African diaspora swing heavy from her ears. Her shaven head symbolizes her move into the freedom of expression and self-love. Yet her gaze houses untold stories, one’s like her being molested and attempting suicide and the desire to want to tell her story. All of that has led Brittini from her native Detroit back to Flint to speak to me.

Ward worked with the Educational Opportunities Initiatives’ CEO Pre-College Program, performed poetry readings with Dr. Traci Curri, joined Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Inc., and led Black Student Union.Our conversation takes place on a bench in Wilson Park, directly across the street from her alma mater, the University of Michigan-Flint. Although Ward isn’t from Flint, her impact within the city as an activist, artist, poet, educator, Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Inc. member, and former president of UM-Flint’s Black Student Union remains. It is a city that houses joyous nostalgia and traumatic events. 

“When you get back to the roots of it all, it makes you feel a certain type of way. Just being here in this space is important. I remember when I first came to U of M-Flint, I was not who I am today,” Ward says, holding her hand to her chest, exhaling as she stares across the street. “I was broken. Every time I drive back, I’m like, wow, this is my second home. I was so engaged and submerged in Flint.”

Her engagement with Flint was varied and broad. Ward worked with the Educational Opportunity Initiatives’ CEO Pre-College Program, performed poetry readings with Dr. Traci Curri, and joined Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Inc., inciting community work and engagement. Under the mentorship of Delma Jackson III and Regina Laurie, Ward became entrenched in Black Lives’ advocacy and led Black Student Union through die-ins, university protests, marches, and meetings with the vice-chancellor and provost. But in the midst of this was a woman suffering from depression and carrying the weight of childhood secrets. 

“I was in Flint, and then I went to Texas to do AmeriCorps to pay for my grad program in Arizona. I graduated, I had this degree, and on top of that, I had this trauma I’ve carried for 10 years,” Ward explains. “I was molested and hadn’t told anybody. It’s easy not to think about the bones in the closet. The flood came, and I almost committed suicide in Arizona.”

Ward didn’t follow through, but the act resulted in her hospitalization and abrupt return to Detroit. Choosing to confide in her parents marked a spiritual shift in her life—one she calls her “ego death.” She explains, taken aback by the relative ease of telling her story, that the experience felt “like a weight was off me,” and with it a sense of “newness,” release, and inner peace. As part of this newness, Ward recognized things about herself that had been “repressed.”

“It was a building back up of who I am and who I was. It was like, I’m B. Ward, I’m a social justice queen, but it was this other part of me that I never expressed, never was able to share,” Ward says. “[Being] molested as a child repressed my sexuality, and it came out in [unhealthy] ways. I was in abusive relationships. How I looked at people and my dad and men hugging me, in general, was a thing.” 

Through this process—one which Ward readily admits has “been an evolution” of “loving myself more and more”—she found her spiritual sense of self and utilized her creative gifts as a way to heal. Growing up in Detroit with her mother, father, and sister, Ward’s creativity was limitless. Between listening to Erykah Badu, drawing Tweety Bird pictures, writing poems, and sliding them under her parent’s door, she fancies herself an “old soul.” Through the mediums of poetry, graphic design, paintings, and now cooking—all things that “come from spirit, God and [are] innately within me”—Ward began rebuilding herself and reflecting on the messages and strength that came from mentors pouring into her.  

“This book has my poems in it, but also a blurb talking about the why and what. I decided to stop hiding behind my writing and start writing in a way that tells my story.”It all culminated into the various creative endeavors that she now pursues. Ward is an entrepreneur through her multiple businesses: BWard Designs, focusing on graphic design, photography, and videography; BWard Paints, which highlights her paintings and artwork; and the newly birthed B.Vegan, a pop-up eatery providing vegan cuisine to the community, in addition to BWard Poetry. These things have pushed Ward into sharing her truth and becoming more vulnerable—mainly when she cooks. It’s the spirit and soul of her ancestors that inspires her and that she infuses into her creations.

“When I cook, I think about this feeling of wanting to feed the community, this feeling of people wanting to enjoy it. I think about the type of energy that I want them to have when they eat it, and the same with my paintings [and poetry,]” she states. “Some of it comes from my own experiences—my trauma. When I paint, it’s this expression of everything inside me. I’m so grounded in my truth because I wasn’t before.” 

Now looking forward, Ward understands and appreciates the journey before her. Having stared death in the face and reborn because of it, her commitment to speaking her truth, being authentic, and serving the community—be it in Flint or Detroit—commands her spirit and propels her forward. These stories and others Ward intends to share in an upcoming book titled ARMS, LEGS, HIPS, THIGHS
  
“I was going through this transformation these years. It’s been a journey from the start,” Ward says with a triumphant laugh. “This book has my poems in it, but also a blurb talking about the why and what. I decided to stop hiding behind my writing and start writing in a way that tells my story.”

To learn more about Brittini Ward, you can visit her website. You can also follow Ward on Facebook and Instagram. To request a commissioned piece of artwork, poetry, logo design, or to order vegan cuisine, you can follow BWard Designs and B.Vegan.

Read more articles by Xzavier Simon.