Student with rare brain condition tapped for leadership conference
Published 8:00 am Sunday, March 5, 2023
With her community’s help, a Natchez student could be on her way to Washington, D.C., this June as the only nominee from Natchez-Adams School District to represent her peers at the Junior National Young Leaders Conference.
Brenisha Howard, an eighth-grader at Natchez Middle School, has overcome a lot to reach this level of achievement. More so than most — in fact.
Brenisha was diagnosed with a rare brain condition called Pseudotumor Cerebri in December 2021. Her condition causes cerebral fluid to build up and put pressure on the brain. Its symptoms mimic having a brain tumor, causing tinnitus, headaches, cognitive impairments, loss of vision or possibly blindness. She went from being an honor student on a ninth-grade level to a third-grade level with an individualized education plan, said her mother, Emily Howard.
There is a lot she can’t do, like play certain sports. There was once a time that she couldn’t spell her own name when she knew that she could before. But one thing Brenisha hasn’t done is give up.
“I’m so proud of her,” Emily said. “Most other students with her condition probably would have given up. But she keeps pushing.”
Brenisha added, “And the thing about me is if anybody’s upset around me, they won’t be able to stay sad long.”
Brenisha has studied at home in addition to working hard in school and is now back to an eighth-grade level.
She has also published a book about a girl who has dreams and her dreams come true in real life, so she uses them to help people, Brenisha said.
“I guess she is me,” Brenisha said.
Brenisha just moved to Natchez this school year after living in St. Francisville with her grandmother and one of her biggest role models, Brenda Guillon.
“She’s kind of one of my biggest inspirations because she, like me, struggles with different types of pains and stuff every day,” Brenisha said. “But she still gets up. She makes cakes and she sells my great-grandmother’s recipe, Emily’s Southern Fillings.”
Brenisha and her mother had to move from St. Francisville to Natchez to be closer to surgeons who could help her condition. Just last week, Brenisha had surgery to drain some of the fluid from around her brain. When she got home from the hospital, Brenisha found a surprise letter in the mail.
It was an invitation to Washington, D.C. for the conference. Her teacher Natasha Patten nominated her to go. Before then, Brenisha knew nothing about it.
“I was so surprised to see that letter,” she said.
With her family living on disability, Brenisha and her mother make and sell artwork and candles to help pay for her medical bills. Brenisha said her artwork is also her therapy to keep her condition from making her feel depressed.
Emily started a GoFundMe account for her daughter to help them pay for tuition and travel to the two-week educational conference, which includes an exclusive capitol experience and a visit to the House of Representatives to hear from a member of U.S. Congress. Registration and fees are due April 19.
To support Brenisha, visit gofund.me/5ec6b502.
“When I received that letter, I was shocked,” Brenisha said. “I was so excited because I knew I could do it, but I never thought I would do something like that.”