Former courtesan becomes mentor

A former prostitute is reminded of her days days on the street through the eyes of at-risk girls she is now trying to help. Brenda Myers-Powell, 51, no longer trades sexual favors for cash. These days she works as a volunteer at DreamCatcher, a non-profit

A former prostitute is reminded of her days on the street through the eyes of at-risk girls she is now trying to help.

Brenda Myers-Powell, 51, no longer trades sexual favors for cash. These days she works as a volunteer at DreamCatcher, a non-profit organization that she co-founded two years ago with her friend, Stephanie Daniels Wilson.

DreamCatcher provides free HIV screening and counseling, sex exploration, etiquette, substance abuse classes and group therapy for females age 12 to 22 who are at risk for drug use, prostitution, dropping out of school and becoming a runaway.

“These girls are experiencing some of the same things that I encountered when I was on the streets,” Powell, 51, told the Defender.

Myers-Powell said she still recalls at age 9 how she used to see women in her West Side neighborhood standing on the corner all dressed up.

“I told myself then that I would someday look like them, all shiny and stuff,” Myers-Powell said. “By age 15, I was prostituting myself.”

“The most I ever made was $10,000 in one night sleeping with a Nigerian businessman,” she said. “But no matter how much money I made, I always felt like when the men got up off me and left, they took a piece of me with them.”

Myers-Powell and Wilson believe so dearly in their cause that they have been funding the organization themselves. But Powell is afraid she may have to soon close the organization’s doors if more funding is not secured.

“While we are receiving some grants, for the most part, this is a self-financed organization,” she said. “These girls depend on us, and we do not want to let them down because too many people have already done that.”

Most of the 25 participants of DreamCatcher, 6810 S. Ashland Ave., are Black, and are walk-ins or referrals from other social service agencies, Powell said. Some of the girls are runaways and prostitutes.

“We have girls in the group who have prostituted themselves for simple things like toiletries,” Myers- Powell added.

And even though she is married and lives in the south suburbs, Myers-Powell said she has not forgotten where she came from. That’s why in 2007, she helped draft the Predatory Accountability Act which allows a prostitute to sue anyone who forced her into prostitution–such as pimps.

Fortunately, Myers-Powell was able to change her life and come off the streets. She considers her transformation a remarkable turnaround.

But she knows that it wasn’t easy to do, and through her organization, she is trying to help other girls and young women. “Once the streets get ahold of you, it’s hard to break away.”

Copyright 2008 Chicago Defender. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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