Lydia Brown

Lydia Brown

It’s about my determination to be someone other than just a mom, someone, that can help people who have been in my same situation, to give hope to others and let them know that whatever they’re going through they’re not alone.

Lydia

The modern internet has created a dynamic landscape for networking. That cannot be denied. We often focus on the negative things it has cultivated in our culture, but the internet has amplified so many unheard voices. I am a small publisher in the Midwest, headquartered in Munster, Indiana with a heart for Chicago urban issues. I focus much of my work on those issues and overturning the media-driven narrative of the urban decline in ‘Rust Belt” cities. It’s the people that are still in the city fighting for their ancestors’ hope to be revealed is what guides me to expose their greatness.

When I received a LinkedIn message from Lydia Brown, I thought, another sales pitch, no shade to the grinding hard workers that pop up in our messages, but I get it, it comes with the territory.

However, that’s not what it was. It was a Chicago native lifting her voice–taking a chance on putting her literature out there and using modern networking systems to do it.

Let me tell you all, I was impressed because I know that is not an easy thing to do; to say look at me when for so many years you have been overlooked doesn’t come easy. Lydia didn’t say look at me exactly, but she told me about her poetry book, Strengths In Weaknesses: Hope Through Poetry, so I decided to read a few pages. At that point, I knew she was one of the people that I do this for; so I scheduled a time to meet with her for an interview. I could tell she was a bit nervous when the interview was approaching, so I tried my best to be as informal as possible. We met virtually, another one of those new-tech perks. 

Lydia’s Background

Lydia is a 48-year-old Chicago native with a very unique story, who with a disability takes care of her creative 13-year-old daughter, Lauren with the help of her boyfriend of nine years. Lydia narrates her journey like a true storyteller, authentically navigating through her truths, some truths that many would bury, but boldly, she speaks about becoming a panhandler at a young age. Through this experience learning so much about life and living in a city like Chicago. She began writing at 26-years-old as a way to cope but thought during the pandemic that it was time to share her journey through poetry.


She recalled leaving her mother’s house at 16-years-old, at one point going back and forth from her mother’s house to her sister’s home ultimately, being homeless, she remembered what her life was like being a woman alone downtown Chicago and sleeping on buses, at bus stations and sometimes near stores because these places were bright (well lit). She recounted, “One time when I was on the bus (sleeping), this guy, I didn’t know; It was two dudes, and I woke up, and he was rubbing my leg, and I looked at him, and I’m like, what are you doing? The bus driver,(trying to remember), I think the bus driver stepped off because I didn’t see him, so he wasn’t on the bus. So they were getting off, and they stopped, and they started rubbing my leg, and I’m like, no, thank you. He was like, you can come with us. I was like, no, I’m good. You don’t have to touch me. I’m good. When they got off the bus, I was like, okay, alright, that happened. I said that I wasn’t hurt, so I wasn’t going to tell the bus driver, but I was definitely scared.”


Fearful, she knew she had to get money to survive, so she watched people around her who were panhandling. She thought she could do it without being aggressive and verbally abusive towards people. So she got a cup and began asking for spare change. She recalled feeling regret, but she decided to be on her own and knew she had to figure it out, so she continued and panhandled for about 10 years.

Photo credits: Courtesy of Chicago Public Library

After being alone for some years, she met her long-time boyfriend, Tony, of nearly 19 years and the father to Lauren (Tony passed away in December of 2015). When they got together before finding a home they lived in many hotels, she remembered one vividly near a restaurant on Belmont called, River Kwai. Recalling what those days were like with Tony, living in a hotel, she said,

The last hotel we were in was that one on the birthday. Me and Tony, we would get up every morning, like 4:30, 5:00 when we get on the bus. And I would go and sell my streetwise papers in front of Dunkin Donuts from 5:30 to about 09:00 AM. And it was hard because first of all, I was pregnant. I was like, I think five to six months pregnant. I was in a manual wheelchair and Tony would have to carefully wheel me over ice and around ice and try to slip me off the curb without hurting me to get me to the bus stop so we can go work. Because at that hotel, it was, I think $50 a night. And so during the holidays and cold times, I would make maybe, like, three, maybe 400 depends on who’s giving me money and what was going on. So I would make enough money for us to pay the rent. We did not mess around with that money. Like, we paid the rent, we would get food and we would get food for the refrigerator that they let us have; and because they stopped us from cooking in the room because of the hot plates we had to order out. Like, we had to do that. And that cost us so much money. Yeah, so much money.”

Lydia is disabled, she has cerebral palsy. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, cerebral palsy refers to a group of neurological disorders that appear in infancy or early childhood and permanently affect body movement and muscle coordination Cerebral palsy (CP) is caused by damage to or abnormalities inside the developing brain that disrupt the brain’s ability to control movement and maintain posture and balance. The term cerebral refers to the brain; palsy refers to the loss or impairment of motor function.

Her doctor realized there was a problem when she was pregnant at 19-years-old. She was using crutches to remain mobile, but when that got difficult at around three months pregnant, she was given a manual wheelchair. Those times for Lydia were hard, to say the least. She did not have much family support and found herself in a bad situation that she had to leave; she had two daughters that she ultimately placed in their father’s care. Also, while being alone with no house, she was placed in a shelter learning that shelters were not set up for people with a disability she also had been raped while on the streets and that led to pregnancies where she gave her children up for adoption.

It was after all this that she found Tony., or he found her. He was her protector. She said that he took care of her. She described on the audio attached above how he knew everybody, and that made her feel safer; she at that point did not have any problems. She went on to say how she met so many people because of him, everybody from the police officers, to the workers at Northwestern Hospital to the retired railmen.

Lydia’s Book Intro and Review

Lydia says on her LinkedIn page: “I wrote this book during covid, and it is a book of my thoughts and feelings, and how I felt about things going on in the world last year {during the pandemic}. And also it’s about my determination to be someone other than just a mom, someone, that can help people who have been in my same situation, to give hope to others and let them know that whatever they’re going through they’re not alone. It’s my first book, so it comes with many different emotions and views of myself and the people around me. It is a clear look into who I was then to who I am now.”

That excerpt from her social media profile is important to share because it’s important for people to shape their own narrative. Enhancing her story with that posts shares in how she wants to be represented in publishing. What was intriguing about Lydia was her willingness to be open about her story, all the many different layers of it; all of us are complex individuals. What is most exciting about humanity is our layers.

Lydia’s collection of poems in, “Strengths In Weaknesses: Hope Through Poetry” we get to see those layers through each poem. She talks about love, mistakes, heartbreak, feelings, ups, and downs. In one of her poems titled, Truth for the Soul is this battle between love and lust she says, “I just want to be happy trying to change and grow. It’s not easy when your mindset is locked and how you handle situations is not the norm. And you want your heart to stay open and not get cold.” Many of us can relate. Here I ask Lydia a few questions on what helped her bring her book to fruition:

Q & A

Nia

You definitely have a very captivating story. Like, I can get lost in your story and you tell it so well, you tell it with great detail to where I almost can see it.

Lydia

You’re not the only person that said that.

Nia

That’s your gift. That is your gift. So don’t ever stop telling your story. People will get lost in it. And that’s a good thing. Don’t ever stop that. That is God-given. So anyway, what is the title of your book?

Lydia

Strength in Weaknesses. Hope Throughout Poetry.

Nia

What was the purpose initially of your book?

Lydia

Well, we were on lockdown and everything was just absolutely crazy. And I just was in the house, and I kept having all these thoughts rolling around in my head, and I was, like, upset. I was stressed. I was kind of depressed about what was going on in the world and then how people were getting sick and dying and how people were treating, like homeless people during all this. And I’m just like, okay, alright, let’s go straight to ColorNote(notes app). Let’s start writing, and that’s what I did.

Nia

Good. So who was your target audience? Who were you thinking about that when you were writing?

Lydia

Definitely my daughter, myself, her father, my new boyfriend. And just, like, the world around me, just everything that I saw within the first year of COVID, everything I heard, everything,, I’ve seen on TV or YouTube or read. It was just everything. I don’t know. I’m trying to figure out how to talk to you. That’s why I keep saying, like, okay, COVID has changed me in such a way that I used to go outside every day, run the streets, do stuff, enjoy myself with my family. And I don’t do that anymore. So it’s changed me because now I’m scared of people in a sense. I’m worried about myself and my child and my family. I don’t feel safe even at home, because people are running around robbing people. They’re robbing people. They’re killing people. You could be in your house, you could be at the store, somebody dying. They’re like, pick-pocketing carjacking, like, looting everything. And it’s like, I’m just.

Nia

Funny you say that because from your past where you experienced some of those things, right? You experience being robbed, but you didn’t have this fear that you have now that you’re describing to me now.

Lydia

COVID messed me up, I don’t even want to go out. The weird thing is I want to go outside, but literally, when I tell you I cannot go outside. I’ve been saying for the last couple of weeks, like, I went out on my birthday with Lauren. We went out, and I was gone maybe an hour. We went to a restaurant and ate in the neighborhood, and I came right back. That’s not me. Usually, I’m, like, running around, like, being crazy, like, stuffing cakes in my mouth and just absolutely wild, like, on my birthday, because I’m happy, and that’s not what happened. That’s not what happened. COVID has definitely changed me for the worst. Like, I want to go outside, but I have this fear there’s something that’s going to happen, and I just stay in the house. It’s not normal.

Nia

It’s not normal. No. But do you think it’s Chicago? Do you think that’s a fear that is related to your environment, like being in Chicago, or do you think it’s just an overall feeling about what’s happening in the world?

Lydia

I think it’s definitely like a part of Chicago, for sure, but it’s happening in the world. But I just don’t understand. I say to myself, okay, you could at least go outside, like, on your ramp and play with the dog or something. And I’ll think about it in the morning. Then by the time the afternoon here, I’m like, no, I’m good here. I can’t go outside. I don’t want to do anything, and I don’t like being like this. But, I worry sometimes about somebody hurting me in front of Lauren.

Nia

Yeah, I understand this pandemic has done a lot of harm. I don’t know if you know that I work for Northwestern. You mentioned Northwestern earlier, and I do violent death reporting, and I also do overdose death reporting. And so I get to hear and see a lot of the trauma that this pandemic has done to us as a society. It’s just kind of deteriorating our livelihoods, kind of right before our eyes, because a lot of people become addicted, kind of from what you’re saying, because they already have these issues that they’re living with, and then they find themselves bound because of this pandemic and dealing with pains and things like that. So they take painkillers and then taking the painkillers creates addictions. Just all of these issues t has come out of this pandemic. And it’s overwhelming to a degree on our mental health because we have our physical health we have to take care of, but then our mental health, too. Right.

Lydia

Because I’m telling you, I don’t drink, I don’t do drugs, I don’t do anything. So I’m basically just sitting here, like, unmedicated in any way other than taking my daily medicine, and I’m just sitting in here hurting. I’ve been this way since COVID, I still have my work and my writing and my daughter in my relationship with my friends and stuff. That’s the only thing that’s holding me together.

Nia

I understand. I hear you. Yes, I hear you. And then you have to deal with that. But, amazingly, you found coping through writing. I tell people all the time that it is definitely a coping mechanism. And for you to be able to find that is inspirational. It’s very inspirational. And I’m sure that your story is going to inspire and help a lot of people. And are you a believer?

Lydia

Yeah, I believe in God. I have just been through a lot of stuff, but I do believe in God. I don’t necessarily go to church because I’ve been through some things with people that claim that they were part of the Church. So I don’t do church, but I do believe in God.

Nia

You have a strength that is not normal.

Lydia

Are you calling me a superhero (laughing)?

Nia

So you have to have something that you lean on that’s very powerful because you have amazing strength, some of the things that you are talking about even now in this current times, people would shatter and wouldn’t be here telling their story and talking about it. But you have supernatural strength. If you want to call yourself a superhero, you go right ahead (laughs).

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