BrandyAnn Brior recalled how her young son changed her life.
"I just looked at him one day. I was hurting, he was hurting. I was stressed out," Brior said. "I just knew he could not go through what I went through as a kid."
Brior said she was born into a life of poverty and fought to break the cycle. She said she lived with her grandparents growing up.
"My mother was German and Cherokee,” she said. "My Mom said my dad was black and Mexican, so I grew up not knowing who I was."
Brior attended Muskogee Public Schools, but dropped out of high school. She found herself traveling the country selling magazine subscriptions.
She recalled having problems with alcohol while raising her son on her own.
She said that, after that fateful glance at her son, "I started reaching out."
Brior went to the Oklahoma Department of Human Services for financial help, then earned her General Equivalency Diploma through Union Public Schools.
She went through a DHS program called FOCUS, then got involved with the Bridges Out of Poverty program.
"I started learning what responsibility looked like," she said. "I began forming more of an idea of what I wanted my future for my son to look like."
She said such programs, plus Alcoholics Anonymous, saved her life.
Brior is taking nursing classes at Connors State College. She also maintains a fitness regimen, working out three to six times a week.
"It’s very relaxing, a way to cope with stress, like reading," she said.
Community service also keeps her going.
She is treasurer of Muskogee Oklahoma Native American Association, as well as Muskogee Equality.
"I fight for the underdog," she said. "Both these groups are fighting for underdog in town."
A year selling magazine subscriptions helped BrandyAnn Brior learn to step out and hold her own.
She recalled sitting with friends at a Denny's when a magazine subscription service job recruiter went straight to their table.
"He actually ended up selling me on a pipe dream," Brior said. "They give you just enough money to live, but not enough money to really establish yourself somewhere. It's very militant."
She recalled going door to door, meeting people in 42 states. She had to sell seven orders a day, paid up front.
Brior recalled feeling traumatized many times.
"I watched it break a lot of people," she said. "It was one of those difficult situations that put you under pressure and showed you what you're made of."
She said she learned she was stronger than she thought she was.
"A lot of times you got to be very intimate with the people who would answer the door," Brior said. "I found this humanitarian commonality no matter where we went. People want to relate to others. They want to feel like they want to belong, have friends."
Finding out more about her heritage
Brior recalled growing up aware of her Native roots, but not steeped in the culture.
"They told me origin stories, or the reason why we hang fish heads comes from our indigenous beliefs that fish heads kept bad spirits away," she said. "I think it was because they were focused on other things."
She recalled praying for ways to get more involved with her native tribe, the Cherokees.
She saw a Facebook post about a Muskogee Oklahoma Native American Association meeting. Then, a friend she worked out with invited her to an Indian taco dinner and an organizational meeting.
"With those two first-sign, second-sign kind of things, I thought this was some kind of validation and something I needed to chase and get behind it," Brior said.
Brior landed a position as association treasurer.
"It gives me a sense of belonging," she said. "I've learned the history of the establishment of the United States as a country, and I feel those people need some representation and get something back."
She said she at first felt bad about not knowing much about her Native culture.
"But once I met more people my age, I learned that it's slowly been lost to them, too," she said. "And there's a big need to bring it back. I can forgive myself for not knowing."
Brior said she had always wanted to be a "healer.”
“My idea of what I was put on this planet for was that I was going to know how to help the sick and injured people in my community,” she said. “I was going to help them fix their problems. I would win the support and trust of my community because I could help heal their bodies.”
She said she always equated that role with doctor.
“Once I learned what the job duties of a doctor versus duties of a nurse are, I'm leaning more toward nurse practitioner; then, if I get my medical degree, it's going to be a doctor of osteopathic medicine. It's more holistic."
A Live Your Dream Scholarship helped her get into Connors State College. Brior said filling out the application helped her focus her life.
“The essay they have you write, it was actually healing," she said. "I had to come to terms and process some things."
She recalled floundering her first semester, earning 2.31 GPA.
"I got my act together, bounced up to a 3.7 GPA," she said.
Actual college work has been a roller coaster, she said, noting the difference between classroom work and hands-on nursing classes.
“I had to recalibrate the way I think,” she said. “That's what's scary. I'm applying it to people who are dying or are injured. That's what adds urgency to it.”
HOW DID YOU COME TO BE AN OKIE FROM MUSKOGEE?
"I grew up here. I ended up traveling with a crew that sold magazines door to door. I lived in Florida, California. I got pregnant and went to Hawaii. Decided to come back to where I had friends and a family unit. I knew the Cherokee tribe offered programs to help me through college. I moved back here, got my GED and started attending college."
WHAT DO YOU LIKE BEST ABOUT MUSKOGEE?
"I like that it's a slower paced town. Every town has its crime and unsavory character. This one is not as bad as opposed to places I lived while raising a kid. We can actually take the time to slow down if we need it. I can teach him. I like that people know everybody. There's kind a stability to the town."
WHAT WOULD MAKE MUSKOGEE A BETTER PLACE TO LIVE?
"They need progressive policies, to evolve and catch up with the rest of the United States."
WHAT PERSON IN MUSKOGEE DO YOU ADMIRE MOST?
"Dr. Diane Mashburn. Head of nursing at Northeastern State University. She's probably had most impact on me. She's been a great mentor. She gives great advice."
WHAT IS THE MOST MEMORABLE THING TO HAPPEN TO YOU IN MUSKOGEE?
"The time I won the Live Your Dream Scholarship. Being a first-generation college student, it's stressful trying to break that cycle and stressful trying to think about how you're going to fund higher education, especially with a small child."
WHAT DO YOU DO IN YOUR SPARE TIME?
Treasurer of Muskogee Oklahoma Native American Association and Muskogee Equality.
HOW WOULD YOU SUM UP MUSKOGEE IN 25 WORDS OR LESS?
"A nostalgic place. People really come together when there's somebody in need."
NAME: BrandyAnn Brior.
HOMETOWN: Madera, California.
EDUCATION: Pershing Elementary, Ben Franklin Science Academy, Alice Robertson Junior High, Muskogee High School. GED from Union Public Schools; Associate degrees, Connors State College. Studying nursing at Connors.
PROFESSION: Independent tutor.
FAMILY: One son.
CHURCH: Omnist. "I'm deeply spiritual."
HOBBIES: Going to the gym. Reading. Researching.