No one encouraged me to be productive, to make something of my life. Hell, I thought selling drugs and prostituting were careers so naturally when I grew up I followed in those footsteps. I became a prostitute which led to drug addiction and then the cycle began.

Nothing good became of my life, each day got harder and harder. The more I lived the more I hated myself. I just didn’t understand what I had done to deserve such a horrible life. On a daily basis I would wonder how was it possible for someone to have a child and leave them to feel like this? I thought of suicide many times, but I was too afraid to do it so I knew I wanted to live, I just didn’t know how to live.

One day a friend said to me,”Brandi, you ain’t nothing but a dressed up trash can!” I got angry. I knew she was telling the truth — I just didn’t know how to take it. It hurt my feelings, but it made me self-reflect. And the way I treated myself since has been drastically different.

About a month ago I signed up for a program called Project Empowerment. And I got a chance to get to know the real me without all the hurt, pain, and resentment. This program has inspired me above anything I could’ve ever imagined. I went into that class of 30 students as the only transgender person and I thought for sure it would not work. I was mistaken. The program focused on me, it challenged me to be better, to fight harder, to not give up and take my place in life as a professional woman. No more drug-addicted prostitute. No, today I am working as a hair stylist assistant and I feel good about myself. When I look in the mirror, I see hope! Those days of wanting to kill myself are over. A second chance has come and I’ve taken full advantage of it.

The director of Project Empowerment recognized the change and growth within me. I must tell you it feels good when other people start to see things in you that you never thought were possible. It does something to your soul and it gives you an immediate sense of confidence, wow! Somebody believes in me. Unexpectedly, he called me up at the  graduation as a surprise speaker. Now that’s growth, and I spoke from the heart. When I was done everyone was on their feet giving me applause. That’s never happened in my life and I didn’t know how to process it, but I knew it felt good so I took it in as my moment of celebration. Being celebrated for doing something good.

Your life doesn’t have to be what it was yesterday. If you find yourself looking in the mirror and hating your inner self, take a moment, reflect, and then let life present itself. A second chance came to me and I took it. I’ve never been more happy. Make yourself available,  be ready, asecond chance will come.

If you walk away from this story with one thing, let it be this: If you allow your past to define you, you’ve lost and it will most certainly confine you. The past is what it is. Embrace the future and step into your second chance.