Briana Williams is out there proving to the world that young Black single mothers can achieve their dreams.
The 24-year-old recently graduated from Harvard Law School with her 1-year-old daughter, Evelyn, right by side. And to no one’s surprise, her story of resilience went viral when she posted pics on Instagram sharing her special moment with the world.
She shared that last April she finished her take-home final while in labor because she didn’t want her pregnancy to interfere with her grades.
“I went into labor in April during final exam period. I immediately requested an epidural so that my contractions wouldn’t interfere with my Family Law grade. And, with tears in my eyes, I finished it. This ‘biting the bullet’ experience is quite quintessential of my time at Harvard,” Williams wrote.
She added: “I did not think that, at 24 years old, as a single mom, I would be able to get through one of the most intellectually rigorous and challenging positions of my life. It was hard. It hurt. Instagram can make peoples’ lives seem seamless, but this journey has been heartwrenching. However, I am happy to say that I DID do it. Today, Evelyn in my arms, with tears streaming down my face, I accepted my Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School. At first, I was the anomaly of my [marginalized] community. Then, as a single mother, I became a statistic. Next, I pray that- for the sake of my baby, I will be an example.”
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I went into labor in April- during final exam period. I immediately requested an epidural so that my contractions wouldn’t interfere with my Family Law grade. And, with tears in my eyes, I finished it. This “biting the bullet” experience is quite quintessential of my time at Harvard. To say that my last year of law school, with a newborn, and as a single mom was a challenge would be an understatement. Some days I was so mentally and emotionally fatigued that I did not leave my bed. I struggled with reliable childcare. It was not atypical to see me rushing through Wasserstein to the Dean of Students’ office with Evelyn in her carriage, asking DOS can they keep her for a few until class was over. If not, she’d just have to come with me to class. Evie attended classes often. So I’m going to be honest with you guys.. I didnt think I could do it. I did not think that, at 24 years old, as a single mom, I would be able to get through one of the most intellectually rigorous and challenging positions of my life. It was hard. It hurt. Instagram can make peoples’ lives seem seamless, but this journey has been heartwrenching. However, I am happy to say that I DID do it. Today, Evelyn in my arms, with tears streaming down my face, I accepted my Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School. At first, I was the anomaly of my [marginalized] community. Then, as a single mother, I became a statistic. Next, I pray that- for the sake of my baby, I will be an example. Evelyn- they said that because of you I wouldn’t be able to do this. Just know that I did this BECAUSE OF YOU. Thank you for giving me the strength and courage to be invincible. Let’s keep beating all their odds, baby.
Williams sat down with HelloBeautiful to talk about the struggles she faced as a single Black mother in law school, why dropping out was never an option and how her daughter taught her what real strength means.
HelloBeautiful: When you first found out you were pregnant, what did you think?
Briana Williams: I was just like ‘Wow.’ I knew it could be possible, we weren’t using preventive methods or anything. Looking back, I was just immature. We were just being careless.
Now, my family was pretty disappointed. See, out of 6 kids and my parents, I’m a first generation college student and I got into Harvard. I’m the one they brag on and now I’m pregnant. They were concerned about how I could balance my academic responsibilities with my role as a mother.
HB: How did you balance both?
BW: It was the hardest thing I have ever done and continue to do. My ex broke up with me right about the time I found out I was pregnant. And he’s not really around to help.
There were so many days when I couldn’t even get out of bed because I was so depressed and exhausted. And it was just so much work: I was a teaching assistant, Communications Director for the Black Law Student Association and running a podcast. I just couldn’t find the will to do it all. Thankfully, the days I was slept all day, my daughter would sleep to. It was as if she knew what I needed.
But there were definitely times when I felt like Evelyn would think I was a bad mother, but I know that she’ll look back at this sacrifice and be proud of me.
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The first time I stepped on Harvard’s campus was for Admitted Students Weekend. Accompanied by family and close friends, I walked into a classroom of about 20 other students who'd also been accepted. I was afraid. What I would soon identify as "imposter syndrome" immediately hit me as I greeted other students who proudly wore name tags that exemplified their ivy league backgrounds. There must have been a look on my face because my dad came up behind me and whispered- "you scared!???" I'm a small-town girl from Atlanta. My mom has six children, and I was the first and only in the family to graduate from college. I went to college with one suitcase and one pair of shoes, holding on to a bible that my older sister had tucked away in my bag. I'd worked full-time as a waitress and bartender in New York to get by. Being in such an intellectually stimulating/ rigorous environment was not only intimidating- I was scared shitless. "Heck no. man!" Is what I responded. "Good," my dad said, "Because you got something they don't got- you're street smart. You're book smart AND you're street smart." During my time at HLS, I've realized how much truth there was to the statement. Despite the institution's structural issues, I found ways that I could appreciate coming from a disenfranchised background. I could look at the law through the lens of a black woman and (eventually), a financially independent single mother. I used this to my advantage. I made sure to engage in courses that contextualized the law with my blackness, femininity, and income strata. I joined organizations, clinics, and fellowships that would allow me to advocate on behalf of those who, like myself, had trouble navigating their way into higher education. I found a community, friends, and a platform in this. Now, I am happy to be joining a top law firm in Los Angeles, where I will not only be a member of the litigation department, but I will have the autonomy to undertake several pro bono opportunities. Daddy, I'm not scared anymore. We made it!
HB: Did you have any family near you to help?
BW: Not. What I learned from this experience is that I had to open myself up to other people and ask for help. I am usually so private and didn’t want to burden anyone, but I knew I couldn’t do this all on my own. I had to create a support system and meet friends that really helped out with watching Evelyn when my child care fell through. I would also bring my daughter to class or have people in the Dean’s Office watch her. They just love her!
HB: Why was it so important for you to share your story?
BW: Like I said before, I’m pretty private, but I was so overwhelmed with emotion and having my daughter by my side. This is my greatest accomplishment, going to law school, and it was a big deal to my family and my community. So I wanted to share it with people and it was awesome.
HB: Were you surprised to see your posts go viral?
BW: I was really shocked. I thought it was going to get a couple hundred likes. But the response has been so overwhelming and people have shared their struggles with me. But I also want to say to people who say I made it look easy, people post the success, not the struggles. I wasn’t posting the pics of me crying, or frustrated or waking up in the middle of the night. You don’t see the process, just the outcome.
HB: What’s next for you?
BW: I am back in Los Angeles, working at a law firm doing litigation and studying for the bar exam like 10 hours a day. Evelyn lives with my father and stepmother two hours away. It’s hard to be away from her and every time she leaves, I cry, but it won’t be like this forever.
HB: What has your daughter taught you about strength?
BW: She’s taught me how to never stop and just keep going. I gather a lot of my strength from knowing that I have her, she depends on me 100 percent of the time, so I can’t let her down. I truly tell myself that I can do anything if I put my mind to it and walk in that power as well.
HB: Any advice for other young single mothers who feel that they can’t live out their dreams?
BW: Society tells you that you are inhibited from living the way that you want because you had a child. But you don’t have to choose between being a mother and what you aspire to be. That, and becoming the woman who you want to be–the one with the career and the education–will make you a better mother in the end.
Just don’t let anyone stop you.