Meet Brooke Axtell, the woman behind last night's powerful Grammy moment
“Authentic love does not devalue another human being, Authentic love does not silence, shame or abuse.”
Those were the words of Brooke Axtell, a survivor of sexual abuse and an activist, who silenced the Grammy celebrations and provided a profoundly sobering moment. Her spoken-word piece introduced Katy Perry’s emotional rendition of “By the Grace of God” and sent a powerful message about domestic violence to millions of viewers.
Axtell is a Texas-based poet and activist who overcame acts of unimaginable cruelty as a young girl. As a seven-year-old in Dallas, while her mother was in the hospital, she was entrusted to the care of a succession of nannies. One of them physically abused her and exposed her to sex trafficking and the world of child pornography.
“Because of the coercion, the fear and the shame, I didn’t disclose the abuse to my family,” Axtell said to Austin’s KEYE TV. But as Axtell began to process her horrific experience, she decided to interrupt the cycle of shame by speaking out and, eventually writing down her experience for a 2012 anthology.
She is now the founder of Survivor Healing and Empowement, an organization that advocates for survivors of rape, sexual abuse, and domestic violence. She is an activist for a number of other organizations, including the Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network (or RAINN).
“I think one of the greatest challenges as a survivor of human trafficking is the sense of isolation,” Axtell told Texas television station KXAN. “The sense that your community isn’t aware that this is happening, and the sense that it isn’t a priority.”
Now, Axtell uses her experience to help other survivors, and to point out signs of possible trafficking to stop it.
So she’s been fighting to make survivors heard with her words, giving speeches and writing op-ed for the likes of The Wall Street Journal and The Boston Globe. She often weighs in on issues relating to sexual and domestic abuse, as in her Forbes article “The Language of Rape Matters,” in which she argued, “It matters how we talk about rape because we cannot resolve an injustice that we cannot clearly define and understand.”
She also published several volumes of poetry, including Daughter of the Burning and Gathered Light.
“I’m just one of many who survived this,” Brooke told KEYE. “And I see my trauma as a form of knowledge and that knowledge I have channeled into the power of compassion.”
Last night, she broadcast to millions of viewers, with such pronounced compassion, that domestic violence is intolerable and that fellow survivors are not alone. It was an unprecedented, beautiful and deeply important moment in Grammy history, and it won’t soon be forgotten.