Prom is a social event that often marks a milestone in a young person’s life. National Prom Day is now celebrated on March 31st of each year. PromGirl LLC, a retailer that is known for selling special occasion fashion, introduced the holiday. While proms are commonly attended by high school juniors and seniors with graduation in mind, some individuals such as Leanna Braun, did not have an opportunity to attend the momentous occasion, or participate in other adolescent traditions, because of balancing parental responsibilities at a young age.
“I was a fresh high school graduate two weeks prior to giving birth,” Braun said, recalling a time when she balanced becoming a new mother and completing high school. “I had to recollect my thoughts in the sense of knowing that the little bit of time that I had left to enjoy being a teenager was coming to a slow end to a degree.”
The 29-year-old Annapolis native who founded a nonprofit called She Is Incorporated in February 2020, reflected on giving birth to her first child at 17 years old.
Braun’s responsibilities sunk in instantly when she gave birth to her son. According to Braun, even before she graduated from Annapolis Senior High School and became a young parent, she helped to raise some of her brothers and sisters. Their mother had a drug problem. She left when Braun was ten years old. Braun is her mother’s oldest child.
“With an absent mom who was a mentally and emotionally sick drug abuser, I just overall experienced a lot of trauma. I was robbed of my childhood. A lot of my mother’s pain was bleeding through me as the picker upper,” Braun said.
Her stepfather was heartbroken that Braun became interested in boys when she was 14 years old. She thought a young boy filled a void in her heart. After Braun got pregnant by him, she disappointed some of her family members. Braun dealt with motherhood with limited support. She moved in with a brother and his wife. The change of address came with restrictions and real-world lessons.
When Braun reached the age of 19, she was a mother of two.
“I remember having my car repossessed and having no money to feed my children and crying to God to shelter me and my kids,” Braun said, recalling the cycle of losing things she needed and regaining them.
She persevered beyond broken relationships and a host of challenges, including becoming homeless and needing resources. Braun did not stay down. She got her life together, secured another apartment, and asked God to help her serve a purpose. Braun is now employed by the City of Annapolis. She previously worked as a geriatric nursing assistant.
In 2020, Braun founded a nonprofit that supports teen mothers called She Is Incorporated. She now provides a platform for teen mothers to have support.
“We teach them basic life skills, parenting techniques, we practice women empowerment, and we service that percentile of the community that’s going through the emotions of parents, overall, just being a support system to them. Those young mothers realistically are ages 12 to 21,” Braun said.
She added that older women who have been teen moms have been included. The nonprofit has expanded beyond Annapolis, but Braun’s organization has also partnered with Annapolis Senior High School. More expansion is on the horizon.
Myeica Butler is a 33-year-old Annapolitan who had a child when she was 19. The mother of three, volunteers to help Braun with her nonprofit. She mentioned that young girls who are aware of Braun’s experiences have been pointed in the right direction, since Braun has a network of women who can support them. Butler said that Braun has provided help with mentoring, baby clothes, other baby items, backpacks, school supplies and other resources.
“She [Leanna] does a lot,” Butler said. “She tries to be a support.”
Braun recently published her first book entitled “From Heartbreak to Healing: The Reality of Teen Motherhood.” Braun explained that the story is 100 percent true. Other teen mom testimonies were contributed by women she admires.
Braun mentioned that parents should give youth guidance at home before they leave the nest. In some households that do not consist of two parents, when support is lacking, youth may turn to friends or try to figure it out themselves.
“I couldn’t be more thankful that I am the person that I am today to be able to tell my story openly,” Braun said, mentioning her own self-healing. “I remember those moments of not being able to look at myself in the mirror and having so much doubt.”
Visit www.sheisincorporated.org for more information about Braun and her book.