Individuals of all economic strata are shedding their jobs, hometowns, and lifestyle to embrace a wider experience and a more meaningful existence.
Devon Brooks went to Nice as one of Canada's delegates to the G20 Summit Young Entrepreneur Conference, an annual conference that brings together influential entrepreneurs from G20 nations to identify the ways governments and business communities can best harness the potential of young entrepreneurs while also driving public policy, raising awareness and providing a voice for entrepreneurs around the globe. More recently, she became the youngest mentor in the Canadian Youth Business Foundation's mentorship program. Brooks was 21 years of age in her second year of college when she launched her first successful business venture. In the five years since that brand, the Blo Dry Bar, was launched it now has 26 franchise locations across the U.S. and Canada. This landed her on list after list of top young powerhouse Canadians, from the National Post’s Worthy 30 to Profit’s Top 30 Entrepreneurs in Canada and Chatelaine’s Women of the Year. In late 2010 Brooks left the company, though she remains a shareholder. She has started working on a new venture: the branding of Devon Brooks. She soon started doing public-speaking jobs through the Lavin Agency, speaking about branding, culture and her personal experiences with post traumatic stress disorder.
The Post Traumatic Stress Disorder story began when Devon was 18 and she and a girlfriend had accepted the invitation from a known and trusted friend to stay overnight at his parents’ house in Montreal. As her girlfriend slept in one of the other rooms, the so-called trusted friend raped Devon. She was able to escape and was taken to a rape clinic after which she immediately flew home to Vancouver. Then only three years later she was living in a rental apartment in London, England, while attending university. She answered a knock on the door to find an old boyfriend standing there who forced his way into the apartment. He barricaded the apartment, took her mobile phone’s SIM card out of her phone to prevent her calling for help, grabbed a knife and terrorized Devon for hours.
"I was scared beyond belief. He told me to write down my last words to my family. He said if he couldn’t have me, no one could." Devon recalls.
Even though the apartment walls were so thin that she could practically hear her neighbours brushing their teeth, not one of her neighbours called the police or attempted to come to her aid when they heard the disturbing sounds coming out of her apartment. Devon was on her own, and once again she escaped and went to the police. Eventually this deranged ex-boyfriend was sent to prison and Devon had to find a way to cope with the emotional aftermath which hit her with mind numbing force. Your genes can absorb the impact of trauma, but your psyche certainly carries the burden. Brooks was diagnosed with PTSD and depression. She was exhausted and felt sad every day. She was surrounded by people but they didn’t know what to do to help her.
Fortunately she had her mother and her business partner who afforded support and understanding.
"Sexual and violent trauma is an act between people; it changes the way we feel about humanity," she says. "I started to realize that what is most difficult about moving on is the conversations I’d have to have. People do not want to talk about it. They are scared to be vulnerable. They were afraid it would make the violence more real."
Brooks was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and was tempted to kill herself rather than spend hours every day trying to convince herself to get out of bed, or passing out because her panic attack made her cry so much that she couldn’t breathe.
"Most victims are caught in feeling terrible all the time," she says. "This was about me taking the reins and sparking the conversation. I need to be able to talk more about it as social conversation."
A friend asked her why she was willing to direct such a public spotlight on these deeply personal parts of her life. Brooks shrugged her shoulders - "This is life. Life is messy. This stuff is happening everywhere."
She is not discounting the role that therapy or medication can play in helping people cope with traumatic events. She is not saying that her own way of taking back possession of her life by confronting the victim in her and not allowing herself to remain victimized, is the only way to recover. But talking about it, and not in hushed tones, is what has worked for her. And she wants to encourage others — both the people who are victims and the people they tell their stories to — to be able to tell and listen to these stories without drama. "Violence is happening to people all around us, every day. We need to be able to able to talk about it as part of our everyday lives".
At the recent TEDX Kids BC at Science World, Brooks told her young audience that "we can’t live in fear of conversation. We think trauma happens to one person. No, it happens to us. It is all interpersonal. Each of us plays a role in changing that dialogue. We have to embrace vulnerability and encourage victims to tell their stories, to let light shine where violence has cast a shadow". The TEDx Kids@BC and TELUS partnership provides kids and youth a platform to inspire their peers and to create change both locally and globally.
Since sixty-one per cent of sexual assaults happen to people who are younger than 18, special care was made to invite teenagers to her TEDX talk. In her audience there must have, by odds, been people who had been victimized, or who knew someone who had been victimized. Brooks needed them to know it was not only okay to talk about it but it was something they, and society, had to do. "We can’t live in fear of conversation - there is no in-between. You are either a bystander or a difference-maker in the face of changing trauma."
Brooks had to find the balance between the benefits of talking about these traumatic things in her life and knowing when she could not let the story become the entire narrative of her life.
"The beauty about it is that things come to the surface. It is not taboo. The more we have these conversations, the less big they will feel. This is your story and you have to live it,” she says, “but there comes a time when you have to create room for a new story. There has to be a point where the story ends.”
Devon has started to speak publicly on topics like depression and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), over-coming violence, and maintaining momentum when you can barely handle getting out of bed. Unfortunately, she has a close relationship with the reality of these issues and how they impact women. She was assaulted in two entirely unrelated incidents at the age of 18 and then again when she was 21 years old, and went through the ensuing judicial process that eventually led to a guilty plea by both men. In both cases she had a personal relationship with the assailants. In a nutshell, she knew, and had trusted both of them. She understands deeply how violence effects women — and unfortunately violence, and it's effects, are a major issue for women.
Brooks is now an independent contractor helping companies build brands. She spent seven months setting up a communications department for the popular website Metrolyrics and she’s helping British Columbian artist Martha Sturdy refine her personal brand. After that she will turn her efforts to a top secret boutique hotel in Vancouver. The Canadian Youth Business Foundation enlisted Brooks as its youngest mentor to assist entrepreneurs building businesses. She has also represented Canada at two G20 Young Entrepreneurs Summits. One was held in France and the other in Mexico.
Vivian Prokop, CEO of the Canadian Youth Business Foundation calls Brooks one of the most effective mentors the foundation has ever had.
"I don’t know how she got all this skill at such a young age," adds Prokop. "This is an old business soul."
Yabanci is a book by a Dutch woman who moved from Holland to Turkey to start a new life in a Turkish village overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. A great read for those who are considering a move abroad or have lived in a different culture. Available in English as an ebook or in Dutch in both print and popular ebook formats...
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