Johnnetta McSwain

Johnnetta McSwain

“Whatever happens in this house stays in this house,” my momma would shout to my sister Sonya and I. Growing up in the Birmingham, Alabama, as a little girl, you didn’t tell your momma’s business. And sadly, the same rules apply in millions of households today.

Born to an alcoholic mother and an absent father, the odds were unceremoniously stacked against me as soon as I drew my first breath. My momma disappeared for weeks at a time, leaving us at my grandmomma’s house, where the sexual abuse started at the hands of my three uncles, and occasionally my great-uncle. Sonya, James, and I were all around the ages of five and six.

The constant ravaging of my body and mind served as a daily reminder that I was not wanted and not loved by my family. “I wish I never had you! I wish I would have left you in the bushes to die! I wish I would have flushed you down the commode.” I can still hear these words from my momma.

I began a life of self-destruction and eventually dropped out of high school at age 17. By 19 years old, I gave birth to my first son and applied for housing assistance and food stamps, continuing the warped tradition in my family. At 26, I birthed my second son.

At age 30, on an early misty morning, I took a long-introverted look in the mirror at the woman I had become. In that moment, I knew it was time to change my life by telling my secret so that I could save my two sons from the same generational cycles of abuse and poverty. I relocated to Georgia with a GED and a dream to be the first doctor in my family. I started college and, in just three years, graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Kennesaw State University, the first in my family to do so. Two years later, I earned a Master’s in Social Work at Clark Atlanta University. In December 2015, I was awarded a PhD, in Social Work Policy and Administration from Clark Atlanta University, making me the first doctor in my family.

In January 2008, I worked on the Emmy® Award-winning documentary that depicts my journey of overcoming horrific childhood sexual, physical, and emotional abuse, and victories that continue to shape my life, called The Road Beyond Abuse, narrated by Jane Fonda. In 2010,

I released an autobiography, Rising Above the Scars.

Tragically, on August 10, 2021, I lost my only sister and protector Sonya to 28 years of battling crack, mental health, depression, anger, pain, and HIV. She could never overcome the sexual, physical and mental abuse that plagued us as children and young adults. Her words, “Why Didn’t Nobody Believe Us, Why, Why?” still reigns true today in millions of families. I believe you!