Photo courtesy of Briana Williams
Briana Williams was 23 years old, a second year law student at Harvard, when she found out she was pregnant.
Her story has garnered a lot of media attention, because despite the obvious challenges of being pregnant and later a single mother, while working through one of the most rigorous academic programs in the world, she did it.
She graduated in 2018, a 24-year-old with her daughter by her side, and is now an attorney in Los Angeles. But her journey was far from easy, and now, a new scholarship led by actress Ashley Bratcher seeks to help other women in her position.
Choosing to succeed
Initially, Briana had been hoping that the father of her child was going to be involved, but as the baby developed, things didn’t turn out the way she had planned. It became clear that he wasn’t going to be in the picture, and she was going to be alone on this journey.
Fear slipped in—and she started to wonder if she could do it.
“[As] my school work, job application process and my pregnancy became more demanding, the thought of giving up seemed to be the only dance that I could lead,” Briana told Good Morning America. “I was already an anomaly. I was a first-generation college student … I was younger than most in my class and I came from a marginalized background unlike most of my peers. Now, I was unmarried and unstable (financially and emotionally).”
Exhausted and stressed, Briana felt scorn and judgement from her peers. At times, the pressure was almost too much.
But she reflected on some tough times in her childhood where she had persevered and succeeded before, and that kept her going through her pregnancy.
She drew courage from a moment in time when she couldn’t even attend high school, because after losing her home and becoming homeless — she no longer had proof of an address. “I eventually stormed into the front office of my high school and gave them a choice–either they would let me enroll, or be complicit in my turning myself in as a truant. I needed to go to school.”
“Looking back…I realized I was that same girl,” Briana said. “I had to choose to succeed.”
So despite the difficulties, she stuck with it.
Briana’s baby, a little girl named Evelyn, was born just four weeks before her summer internship began. She asked for an epidural so she could finish an exam through contractions before delivering her baby and she went through labor alone. Immediately after birth, she returned to her studies, typing papers late at night alongside her baby, just one week old.
“Sometimes I’d be at work literally laying my head down trying to go to sleep. Because I have no help with childcare, I am bringing her to meetings, bringing her to class. To say that my last year of law school, with a newborn, and as a single mom was a challenge would be an understatement.”
Briana graduated with her law degree in 2008, her little one by her side. “I didn’t think I could do it,” she said. “It was hard, but I am happy to say that I DID do it. I pray that for the sake of my baby, I will be an example.”
The path is hard, but possible
For many women like Briana, the prospect of raising a child alone while going to school is intimidating, to say the least.
Over half of single mothers in college work more than 20 hours a week while taking on a full course load, and caring for one or more children. In order to afford both school and childcare, many single mothers are forced to take out higher student loans to offset additional childcare costs—even if they do receive childcare subsidies.
A recent report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research states that “most single moms earning B.A. degrees graduate owning about $30,000 in student loans on average, compared with about $24,000 for all women graduates.”
In some cases, receiving financial aid for schooling can make single moms ineligible for food stamps and affordable housing.
But, even though it’s difficult, the challenges are not stopping many women from pursuing their dreams.
In fact, 11% of all college undergraduates are single mothers. How do they keep going when the hurdles seem insurmountable?
Briana Williams says it was her daughter that motivated her most. “Evelyn,” she wrote to her daughter in an Instagram post, “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.”
These tenacious women are pursuing their education because they know it comes with a better life for themselves and their families: greater economic security, more job opportunities, higher wages, and an increased likelihood of having employer-based health insurance — and, because it is their dream.
They deserve support and encouragement, but sometimes that’s hard to find—especially for mothers in unplanned pregnancies. Now more is being done to help them.
A new scholarship for women in unplanned pregnancies
In partnership with Heartbeat International, Unplanned Actress Ashley Bratcher recently announced a scholarship fund aiming to take some financial burden off of the mother as she pursues her education and bravely chooses life for her child.
Women who qualify for the grant will be eligible for annual $5,000 scholarships to put toward their education.
“Women CAN pursue their careers, live out their dreams, and have richer, more fulfilling lives while balancing motherhood. Sometimes, it just takes a little help,” Bratcher said. “I wanted to be a part of empowering mothers to chase their dreams and to provide a means for those who choose life to continue their educations.”
This scholarship is helping pave the way for these women and their children, making it possible for their goals to become reality.
“While plans may shift when the unexpected happens, it doesn’t mean that dreams need to stop completely,” reads the scholarship’s website.
Bratcher was especially excited about the partnership with Heartbeat International, a crisis pregnancy resource group.
“Working with Heartbeat is an opportunity to direct women to the support that so many of them are seeking,” she said. “Not only will the scholarship financially support the decision of mothers to continue their education, but it will also connect them to an organization that will support them throughout their pregnancy and beyond.”
Today, this scholarship supports women who walk in Briana’s shoes — helping them pursue their education for a better life for their family. It reminds them that they are strong, and capable—that they CAN do amazing things in their life (even with little ones in tow!). And most importantly, that they are not doing it all alone.
With perseverance and support, achieving that dream is truly possible.
To learn more about the scholarship, and to support it, please visit www.unplannedmoviescholarship.com