We had the good fortune of connecting with Shakera Bramwell and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Shakera, where are your from? We’d love to hear about how your background has played a role in who you are today?
I’m from the slums of Kingston, Jamaica. I passed the first 12 years of my existence in Kingston, Jamaica. My mother was there to nurture me through the first six years of my life before she was murdered at gunpoint on our front step at 2:00 am. As this occurred, I, wide-awake, looked on and my two younger siblings slept some feet away. Many nights found me restless when zinc fences and rooftops creaked from neighboring gang lord’s henchmen’s seeking out sons to murder and daughters to rape. Many nights I only fell asleep after hours of brooding, wrestling with myself about whether it was safer to sleep with the lights on or off, under or on the bed, or not sleep at all. At these times I would remember the night after my mother’s murder when I was awoken, panic-stricken at 4 am at the smell of gasoline being thrown against the age-old, lifelong, sun-drenched scrap wood holding up the zinc roof—the home I shared with my grandmother and her other seven children. The zinc roof would have been all the evidence left of our existence in the morning, had it not been for a nine-year-old me suffering from insomnia alerted the household at the sight of smoke. That’s how my family almost went out; my sister, me, my great-grandmother, grandmother, grand aunt, all 3 aunts, 4 uncles, and their children. That’s how we would have gone only a day after my mother was murdered, our ashes to be placed beside my mother’s dead body.
My grandmother had eight kids, four girls, and four boys. Currently, 6 are alive; four of whom are hiding from revengeful ganglords in Jamaica and, of the four, one is a ganglord himself. Another is an illegal immigrant in America. Three of the eight were murdered. My mother was the first to go, gunned down on her doorstep in front of her children. My second eldest uncle, a high school graduate fluent in Spanish and accounting, turned ganglord, driven mad by power and unfulfilled ambitions, was gunned down in his shanty by one of my distant uncles. The youngest of my uncles was shot in front of four of his nephews and nieces.
Today, I am a black queer woman and undocumented immigrant from Kingston, Jamaica living in Boston, Ma. I suffer from PTSD primarily experiencing daily auditory hallucinations and night terrors. I hear voices. These voices are discernable as the voices of my mother and grandmothers who have passed. The voices first surfaced in 2016 during my junior year in college in which I found myself homeless. My DACA and work permit had simultaneously expired and was in renewal so I could not work legally. I found myself homeless, sleeping on my college campus, walking around with my mother’s voice in my head. Most voice hearers have negative voices. Before the onset of the negative voices, I only had my mother’s voice in my head. When I slept in the lounge on the University of Boston Massachusetts campus my mother would wake me up early in the morning, instruct me to clean up myself, brush my teeth and wash my face. One morning we got into an argument about eating breakfast. I had a few bucks that I was saving for the bus, and she insisted I used it to buy breakfast. We argued, she prevailed and I bought breakfast. I think someone gave me a couple of dollars later that day.
The stress of being homeless and all the other troubles it brought on caused me to have a mental break and brought on the auditory hallucinations. For 2 months, I walked around with the voices of my mother, grandmother, and other matriarchs in my family who have passed in my head for two months without anyone knowing. The voices would summon each other daily in my head to argue with each other about the state of being. They would accuse each other of failing me, argue about the best way they can help me, and some would just say leave her be she’s not deserving.
During this time, I decided I wanted to start a non-profit organization. A lot of my college friends were experiencing housing and food insecurity and suffering from various mental disabilities. I wanted to help them. Along with those who were undocumented and formerly and currently incarcerated. On few occasions, my voices and nightmares have led me to question reality. When I was down and out my mother’s voice use to comfort me by telling me the Rebel Cause Inc the nonprofit I was filing for at the time would be successful and make history. Sometimes she would quote exact figures, saying, “they will give 20 thousand, 50 thousand…and such. In our 4th year of operation, Rebel Cause Inc had won over 70 thousand in grants.
Years later, the voices woke up me one morning and said to me “they’re going to let you go today,” repeatedly until at 3:00 pm that day my boss called me into his office and said, “we’re going to let you go today.” On another occasion, I woke up from a nightmare in which I was breaking up with the love of my life. In the nightmare, I found myself in an attic sitting on the mattress that was on the floor, looking up heartbroken at my partner standing in the doorway. I told my partner the details of the nightmare the next day. At the time I had moved in with my partner and her roommates. They had me convert the living room into my temporary bedroom. The roommate on the second floor was supposed to move out in a few months and I would take their room. However, on a whim, the roommate living in the attic decided to take some friends up on the offer to move overseas or travel cross country, and there I was moving into the attic on October 31st three weeks after the dream. I thought my bed frame at the time wouldn’t fit due to the low ceiling on one side of the attic room so I left my mattress on the floor. My partner and I broke up said night. It’s been three years since we have broken up and the voices in my head talk about her almost every day. The voices do fixate on other things, which I have come to realize to be traumatic experiences that I am unconsciously or consciously battling. Once I have come to terms with an experience, they don’t bring it up anymore.
I’m still trying to make sense of the spiritual nature of the experience outside of the confines of western medicine that doesn’t have answers to the phenomenons I am experiencing. Although, they can be hella annoying sometimes, especially when I masturbate and they call me “nasty” and “batty gal.” By the way, the voices speak to me in patios- which I find to be hilarious. I find the whole experience to be intriguing. In many ways, the experience has helped me work through some of my most traumatic experiences and help me build confidence and resilience. The voices cut deep when they are negative, speaking to my anxieties, insecurities, and traumas. They remind me of times when I used, abused, taken advantage of, and laugh and tell me I’m stupid for those times. I mean imagine being at work all day, and having voices in your head telling you, you are stupid all day long. I rest assured that no one can say anything that can hurt me today because the voices in my head do that daily. I’m stronger for the experience. And I’m thankful that as it often does, that I was not driven mad by the experience.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
Rebel Cause Inc. (RCI) is a Boston-based incubator that facilitates cross-collaboration between groups of disenfranchised people seeking to improve the quality of life in their community. Since its incorporation in 2016 RCI has evolved to promote various forms of activism and advocacy. We focus on storytelling, mutual aid, and capacity, and coalition building. Our primary goal is to promote equity and representation for marginalized communities around the world. We partner with local grassroots organizations, artists, and activists through a coalition fostered by incubation, sponsorship, capacity building, and resource-sharing. We aim to develop a global Black-governed movement ecosystem by directly supporting Black-led organizations, projects, and mutual aid models. We are a power-building, power-with movement-based coalition. Ultimately, our goal is to create a global coalition of BIPOC community leaders, organizers, activists, artists, and organizations. We center Indigenous informed worldviews that aim to dismantle capitalism and related -isms that service the exploitation of natural resources in the name of the current, white- European-American superiority paradigm. We believe our work is a spiritual endeavor and we are accountable to our internal, and surrounding community.
When Rebel Cause was founded I believe 3 out of 6 of us were facing housing instability and experiencing overwhelming symptoms of PTSD, BPD ADHD, Anxiety, and Depression brought on the stress of having to support oneself through college, dealing with housing, and food insecurity, and toxic family dynamics. It has never been easy for my team to carry out our mission. Today we all still battle the abovementioned issues- we are all minorities. Our team represents the youth of diverse marginalized communities. We are POC, Black, Indigenous, queer, sexual assault survivors, first-generation college students, disabled, refugees, orphans, and children of immigrants, single-parent households, and incarcerated parents. Our perspectives inform our non-hierarchical, power-with, organic leadership structure to prioritize collaborative values and self-actualization that we may not feel for ourselves, and allow us to witness others in their humanity, which we expand globally.
Shakera Anieke Bramwell (they/she), our President, is a Black, non-binary, lesbian, and undocumented immigrant from Kingston, Jamaica. They are a coder, activist, and natural-born leader. Kit Amreik (they/she), our Executive Administrator, is a Black queer, non-binary trans woman. They have done conflict resolution, police de-escalation, activist, and community organizing. Kit Amreik is an independent teacher of Transformative Justice classes versed in Community Accountability Processes and Crisis Response/Psychological First Aid framework. Dominique Washington (they/them), a graduate of Spelman College, a historically women’s and black college, is a biracial, non-binary, queer person and our Director of Development. They are an artist, farmer, former community organizer, and storyteller. Donny Wright (he/him), another director, is a Black, formerly incarcerated individual who later graduated from Boston University summa cum laude with a B.S in Interdisciplinary Studies and Social Justice. These are just some of the ways in which our team intersects with the communities we serve. We are most of who we are, and that we are representatives of the communities we intend to serve.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I would start the week off by going kayaking on the Charles River, then to Newbury Street to do some shopping and grab cupcakes from Georgetown cupcakes. During the weeknight, we might venture to the Franklin Park Zoo for their light show. I would bring them to spend an afternoon or evening on the courts of Malcolm X Park in Roxbury to shoot hoops and play cards with the old heads. On the weekend, a Friday or Saturday we’d venture to La Fabrica for silkrnb night or Goodlife. On Sunday we’d do a late brunch and head to Shojo – Chinatown Boston for their chicken and waffles and the venture to the wave day party.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I want to dedicate my shoutout to my mother Kaydeen Kelly and grandmother Desrine Bailey and all the black women lovers I have had over the years. On the night she was murdered… my mother woke up at around 4 am to a knock on our front door. I woke up to find her standing at the door to saying to whoever was on the other side, “it’s just me and my three kids in here/.” She slightly opened the door and they forced it open, breaking the lock. My mother stepped out and stood facing her murderer and said nothing. She didn’t scream for help or anything. She was found with a bullet hole in the middle of her forehead. A jealous lover of my mother killed her. My mother kept quiet and bargained with her murderer not to harm children, sacrificing herself for us. She is s forever in my heart the bravest person I know. Years before, I must have been three years old. Late one night my mother walking home with me was catcalled by a male stranger. She did not respond and in turn, the man stabbed her in her eye. I only remember my mother with one eye.
I cry for black women every day- imagining how many have been lost, stolen, raped, and murdered without concern or care from society. Fifty percent of women murdered in the United States have been murdered by their male lovers.