Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. raised $1,000 during sexual assault, abuse and violence month in April and will be presenting the check to the Shelby County Crime Victims Center and Rape Crisis Center on June 14.

Latricia Thomas, a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., challenged two Zeta Phi Beta chapters in the south-central region to raise money and donate the funds to an organization that benefits victims of sexual abuse. The winning chapter chose Shelby County’s Crime Victims Center and Rape Victims Center.

“My sorority is always looking for ways to impact the community, and with me being a nurse I wanted to help defeat this ongoing epidemic that I see occur too often in our own communities,” Thomas said. “I wanted to educate our communities and raise awareness that sexual assault doesn’t just affect women and girls, but males as well.”

Thomas, chief financial officer of Soldiers Walking with Jesus Christ (SWWJC) and a BSN, RN at St. Francis Bartlett Hospital, searched for an expert she thought would relate well to those attending the fundraising event at Naked Truth Liberation and Empowerment Ministries on April 21.

“I thought to myself, ‘who would be better than Dr. Johnnetta McSwain?’ … She was the first person who came to mind and I knew that I had to get her for our event.”

McSwain keynoted the event, which was dubbed the “Speak up and Speak out Abuse Symposium.” She is returning to Memphis for the check presentation and to promote SWWJC’s event #WhatAboutYou? The event is Oct. 6 at 1 p.m. at Chuckles Comedy House. It features McSwain honoring National Domestic Violence Month #YesYouCan #MeToo.

McSwain lived through brutal experiences with childhood sexual abuse, physical and emotional abuse, incarceration, drugs, promiscuity, shoplifting, self-destruction and dropping out of high school. Now she is a sought-after inspirational speaker and best-selling author. Life-changing decisions she made at age 30 positioned her to help other women and girls dealing with similar situations.

The younger of two children, McSwain was born to an alcoholic mother and absent father.

“The odds were stacked against me even as I drew my first breath,” McSwain said. “By the innocent age of five I was viciously raped and incestually battered by my three uncles while in the custody of my grandparents.”

At 17, McSwain had dropped out of high school. In a downward spiral, she began to run the streets, shoplift and have children with absent fathers (two). She lived on Section 8 assistance and depended on welfare for survival.

“I never did drugs, but I was addicted to the streets.”

Her epiphany came while standing before her bathroom mirror.

“It was my 30th birthday. I remember because I was picking out my outfit to go to the club and I took a long, inverted look in the mirror at the monster I had become and I knew it was time to change my life and stop letting it change me,” McSwain said.

“I thought about my two sons and how I didn’t want them to view their mom as a failure. I also knew that every male in my family had touched me inappropriately and I had to break the cycle then.”

McSwain moved her sons to Atlanta overnight from Birmingham with a GED and a dream: To become the first doctor in her family.

McSwain received her bachelor’s degree from Kennesaw State University in three years. Two years later, she earned a master’s degree in social work from Clark Atlanta University (CAU). In December 2014, McSwain became a doctor and earned a Ph.D. in Social Work Policy and Administration at CAU.

“I have to save all the little Johnnettas out there, I have to.” McSwain said. “I want young women to know that they can do anything and be anything and know that failure is not an option. If I can do it, they can too.”

(Ariel Hall, a rising senior at LeMoyne-Owen College, is an MPLOY Youth Summer Experience program intern at The New Tri-State Defender.)