Brianna Hamilton-Maynard used to be extremely shy. It took her time to build the courage to talk to a group of pregnant girls as young as 13 through her job at J.A.M.E.S. Inc., which stands for Just About Mothers Excelling in School.
The Tulsa-based nonprofit was established by Alisa Bell in 2006 to encourage and support higher education aspirations among expecting and parenting teens and adolescents up to age 24.
“I asked myself, ‘Why am I being quiet? I have a story to tell that I’m sure could resonate with one of the people listening,’” Hamilton-Maynard says.
She was raised in Lubbock, Texas, by a single mother who died from cancer in 2013 when Hamilton-Maynard was a high school senior. Her older sister, Chasity Harrison, became her legal guardian. Harrison lived on the other side of Texas, so she convinced the school to graduate Hamilton-Maynard early, so she could relocate.
Then came a phone call. For the first time in more than a decade Hamilton-Maynard was talking to her dad, who lived in Tulsa. She says at first it was “weird,” then their relationship warmed. He asked her to come to Tulsa, so she boarded a Greyhound bus.
“I really got to know my dad and changed my whole perception of who I thought he was,” she says. “Then he died in a car accident about four months after I got here. He was hit by a drunk driver. I was 19 and had lost both my parents in a year.”
Hamilton-Maynard had told her dad she wanted to be the first in the family to graduate college. She enrolled at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College in 2014 to fulfill that commitment. To make a living, she walked to work each day to the Taco Bell until a neighbor, Alden, offered to give her a ride to keep her out of the cold December wind.
“He started giving me rides, he dropped me off and then picked me up, and we started to be friends,” she says. “Then being young and good friends leads to having sex in college. Then with having sex comes the babies. I got pregnant, and it made my work in school very hard. It made everything very hard.”
She and Alden married while she was pregnant with their son, A.J. Spending most of her days alone while he worked full time, Hamilton-Maynard says her confidence was gone.
“I was jobless and depressed and feeling stuck,” she says. She had her second child, daughter Aubri, a year later. “I had two kids out of school and a husband working a good job. I was like, ‘Well, where can I go from here?’”
Then she learned about J.A.M.E.S. Inc., which changed her life. She attended a 2019 summer parent academy with A.J. She had found something to latch onto that helped motivate her to return to school.
Now Hamilton-Maynard, 26, is a communications student at Oral Roberts University who will graduate in 2022. When she’s not in class, she works for J.A.M.E.S Inc. as the vice president of the Young Parent Advisory Board. The former introvert is now host of the nonprofit’s Young Parents Podcast. She also enjoys spending time with young women in similar situations and encouraging them to succeed.
Hamilton-Maynard recalls a conversation with a pregnant 16-year-old whose father had died. The girl said she might not finish high school. Interactions like these encourage Hamilton-Maynard to continue her work with teen parents. “Maybe there’s another girl like her I can talk to or that I could connect with and help,” she says.