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Everything We Know About Ma’Khia Bryant: How A Community Failed Her

Did Ma'Khia's community fail her? I think so.

Her Voice

If you don't want your family member to go to jail or an officer-involved shooting, deal with your family issues without the police. Once the police are involved, you no longer have control.

What we saw was another young Black life taken away too soon. What we saw was a 16-year-old girl who was loved by many gunned down by another White police officer again. And we called it systemic racism, police brutality, and all the things. We said the system failed her again. We blamed the police, and we blamed the system. But when did we stop to examine what was going on with this adolescent in the home? With the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, we can easily categorize this tragic death as systemic racism, but some beg to differ. I beg to differ.


This incident is multi-layered with complex issues. I see how the foster system failed this teenage girl. And with that being said, I see how family dynamics played a role in this particular incident too.

What I mean by this is, we have a young teenage girl growing up in a broken home with (as far as we know) parents that couldn't care for their children. Then, we have relatives stepping up to care for said children but do not have the capability or means. Next, we have an overburdened foster system placing kids in overburden foster homes with foster parents who cannot provide the proper attention and care.

And I see how a young police officer made a split-second choice when he could have made other choices based on his training to diffuse the situation. Ma'Khia Bryant didn't have to die. But when a police officer is called to a scene where a deadly weapon is involved, he or she is forced to stop any threat with minimal to no attention to situational information. The officer has to try to save lives while immediately stopping a perceived threat.

All of this leads me to question: Did Ma'Khia's community fail her?

All of this makes me wonder what the real issue is. Let's look at some known facts.

Ma'Khia Bryant’s Family Dynamics

Ma'Khia Bryant was a daughter, sister, granddaughter, friend, and honor roll student. She was also a foster child. In two years, Ma'Khia was placed in five different homes. Due to confidentiality reasons, we may never know why Ma'Khia and her sister were placed in foster care, but multiple dysfunctional homes did play a role in this incident. According to an article bycity-journal.org, she and her sister were removed from the care of their mother in March 2018. Police responded to an incident at the Bryant residence with clear evidence of abuse and unsupervised children.

As any grandmother would, Ma'Khia's grandmother took temporary custody of her grandchildren. But because their mother failed to comply with court-ordered mental health counseling and visitation orders, Bryant's grandmother was then forced to return her grandchildren to foster care. Fast forward to foster care.CNN reported police records show multiple 911 calls in the last three years to all of the foster homes Ma'Khia lived in.

Now, can you see the level of dysfunction and emotional chaos Ma'Khia had to live with? For roughly two years, she may have felt unsafe, unwanted, and unprotected with the lack of stability in the home. As a result, this may have caused Bryant to engage in violent behaviors like pulling out a deadly weapon to survive, given the events that led to her death.

America’s Foster Care System Failed Ma'Khia Bryant

In an article byThe Grio, American journalist and author, Dr. Stacey Patton, shares her personal experience in the foster care system. Patton calls the American foster care system traumatizing; being placed in foster care can cause stress and additional trauma to a child based on the type of home or agency the child is placed in. She states statistics regarding Black children and foster care.

"According to federal data, Black children are placed into foster care at twice the rate of white children. They are more likely to be placed into foster care than receive in-home services even when they have the same problems as white children. Black children stay in foster care longer, receive fewer services, are more likely to be given psychotropic medications to control their behaviors, and increasing numbers are being funneled through the foster-care-to-prison pipeline."
"This is not a system that is designed to heal, empower, or prepare children to become healthy, thriving and productive adults. When Black families and communities fail their children, they are placed at risk for an entire ecosystem of negative outcomes."

What people don't know about the foster care system is that it can be very damaging to a child. According to theNew Jersey Herald, it was Ma'Khia's parents and the foster care system that created a girl so mad she wanted to kill someone. Bryant wasn't born angry, they teamed up to put the knife in her hand. Did you know that according to theNational Coalition for Child Protection Reform (NCCPR) foster care is considered unsafe for children? This same agency has reported the rate of sexual abuse to occur four times higher than the rate in the general population. In group homes, there was more than ten times the rate of physical abuse and more than 28 times the rate of sexual abuse as in the general population.

Now, can you see the type of environment Ma'Khia Bryant may have been living in? Can you see how a system neglected this child? If you ask me, a social worker should have been called to the scene too. Maybe then, the police officers called to the scene would have made an informed decision as opposed to reacting to a perceived threat. Then maybe more than one life would have been saved that day.

But based on laws, Ma'Khia still may have been arrested for a criminal act and placed in the juvenile justice system. There was only one victim that day and it was not her.

Ohio’s Foster Care System Failed Too

It has also been said that families and children fall through the cracks when people are not performing their job adequately. To be a civil servant is to protect and serve. The assistant director, Scott Britton, of the Public Children Services Association of Ohio, disclosed Ohio's foster care system struggled to help families with a high turnover rate or loss of caseworkers in recent years. It wasn't until recently Ohio State created an advisory panel to find ways to improve their foster care system which included recommendations of additional support and oversight.

In addition to system racism or police brutality in shooting deaths like Ma'Khia Bryant, we must also examine the home.

Accountability starts and ends in the home.

Featured image by Stephen Zenner/Getty Images

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You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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Feature image courtesy of Elisabeth Ovesen

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