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Brittany Poitier is in the driver’s seat of her future

Talking to University of Phoenix (UOPX) alumna Brittany Poitier is a little like watching a drag race, the sport she both loves and leads. In conversation, as in life, she goes full throttle — and she does so with all the panache of a souped-up Challenger (like the one she races). She is as direct as a landing strip, her speech peppered with colloquialisms that nod to her South Florida upbringing.

Her overarching message, however, is as lofty as her personal goals, which have led her to become, yes, a professional drag racer but also achieve multiple degrees, become a family counselor and ordained minister, serve as a community liaison for Broward County schools and advocate for childhood literacy as well as for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD).

“Love one another,” she says simply. “It breaks down so many barriers. The reason we are having so many issues globally … is because we’ve lost the true definition of love.”

This outlook has seen Poitier through many challenges, from teen motherhood to clinical depression to losing 200 pounds to reclaim her physical and mental health. Serving from a place of love — for herself, her family and her community — is what makes Poitier a force for positive change in the world.

At the starting line

One of Poitier’s favorite sayings is, “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” and she’s been living according to that principle since high school.

Growing up, she was bullied for her build and for her learning style. She was introverted.

As a teenager, she became a mother.

Yet, through it all, she had the support of her big, blended family. Her best friend and half brother, in fact, was the reason she pursued her bachelor’s degree in psychology at UOPX. As a 20-something mother with two children, she had her hands full. But she also felt a calling toward psychology. This was at least partly because she’d always had an instinctual understanding of her beloved brother’s behavior, which had landed him in and out of jail during his life. 

“People would always write him off, like, ‘Oh, he’s just a bad apple,’” Poitier recalls. “But me, because I’m so analytical, I was like, ‘No, there’s a reason. There’s a cause and effect.’”

When Poitier shared with her brother her dream of studying psychology, his reaction was instantaneous and absolute. “He’s like, ‘That’s what you need to do. You have a heart, and that is exactly what field you need to be in.’”

Navigating her education

Poitier readily admits she struggled with academics in her youth, but she was committed to earning her degree as an adult. At UOPX, she found the perfect partner: an institution where barriers are systematically removed to help adults reach their educational and professional goals.

How doctoral alumnus Ron Lewis went from unmotivated to motivational

“University of Phoenix was giving options to individuals that other colleges would not,” Poitier says. “UOPX gave me that chance. They gave me that opportunity.”

It was a chance, but it wasn’t a cakewalk. Or even a racetrack. Poitier tackled the coursework on campus for most of her degree program, and she made close friends with her peers. (Her teammates even became her youngest child’s godparents!) She leaned on them when life threatened to disrupt her education and learned that it might not be easy to ask for help, but sometimes it’s just necessary.

 

 

Like when her brother, the one whose encouragement was pivotal to her matriculation at UOPX, died from diabetes complications during her last year of college. Or when her grandmother died three months later. Or when she divorced. Or when her son was diagnosed with autism.

Any one of these circumstances might’ve derailed a less determined student — but Poitier is no ordinary woman. By 2013, she’d accomplished what seemed impossible: She earned her diploma.

“I made it through, and I walked the stage,” Poitier says. “It was one of the proudest moments of my life, because I know those who went before me, like my brother and my grandmother, they were so proud of me. It was an amazing accomplishment.”

Life, however, wasn’t done with her. “The day I walked across the stage, I found out that I was pregnant with my last child,” Poitier says, her laugh still suggesting a level of astonishment at it all.

Race for change

With three children to care for as a single mother, Poitier was poised to hear the message her close friend delivered when Poitier became an ordained minister.

“He was like, ‘You can’t just sit. There’s more that you need to do,’” Poitier recalls.

She enrolled in a master’s program and really began to tap into her community at that point. As a Black female drag racer, she routinely visited schools in her community, which is how she began to realize there were some serious gaps in a lot of critical skills and services. 

For example, she saw how children needed better literacy tools, and so she launched the Brittany P. Literacy Awareness Program. Through it, she partners with more than 500 teachers in Florida. The mission? To get books into the hands of kids. (Establishing a series of sidewalk libraries is next.)

 

 

She has also evolved her company, Brittany P. Racing, to serve as a platform for autism, IDD and ADHD awareness. And, as a licensed marriage and family counselor, she works with cities in South Florida to provide free counseling and coaching services twice a week to underserved populations. 

Black and Hispanic communities, she says, tend to view seeking professional support as taboo, so she brings those services to them.

It’s a dizzying amount of activity. For Poitier, however, it’s just the beginning. “Even when I go to sleep, I’m still thinking about things that I could’ve done or need to do.”

A moving finish line

Today, Poitier is pursuing her doctorate in public administration as well as board certification in Christian counseling. Someday, she’d like to help bring forth laws and institutional change to benefit those who need it most.

In some ways, she’s following in the footsteps of her family, especially her paternal grandmother, who inspires her the most. Her grandmother worked as a missionary, living a life of service to those around her.

Poitier is on track to do the same. Her past as a shy girl, as a teen mom, as a struggling student — none of that defines her. It doesn’t even slow her down. It simply informs her future.

“Just because you had a rocky path does not mean that you don’t have a bright future,” Poitier points out. What she once lacked in support she now gives to others. After all, love will make you do extraordinary things.

“In love, you find fellowship,” Poitier says. “In love, you find brotherhood. In love, you find empowerment. In love, you find encouragement, motivation, togetherness. I think that’s what this world is missing today.”

Phoenix Feature video - Brittany Poitier raced toward her dreams