Flea Style is all about celebrating small businesses and unique one-of-a-kind style. So it may seem a little strange that we wanted to highlight a corporate law attorney that served years as an accountant at PricewaterhouseCoopers, the second largest professional services firm in the world, on our latest Fridays with Flea Style podcast episode.
But, that’s exactly why you can’t judge a book by it’s cover (or in this instance, a polished professional by her business card). Brittany Barnett gave up her cushy job and crazy-good paycheck to start a small non-profit business fighting for a creative career path that not only lets her live her best life, but saves lives too.
Yes, we’re partial: We think all of our podcasts are inspiring and worthy of a listen. But, this one is a must. From Brittany’s courage to leave Corporate America and fight for what she believes in to simply being a shining example of leadership and grace with some of the best advice we’ve ever heard, you seriously don’t want to miss this candid conversation. See some of the Cliff’s Notes below!
Hi Brittany! Tell us a bit about yourself!
I grew up in a small rural town in East Texas called Bogata with a population of 1200 people. I was a cliché small town country girl with big city dreams. I wouldn’t change my upbringing for the world.
Why did you become a lawyer?
There was very little diversity in my small town. I wanted to be a lawyer since I was in Kindergarten, but, as I got older, I began to think that dream was out of my league. In hindsight, I think it was because I didn’t know any lawyers and I never saw any lawyers that looked like me. It’s so true that representation matters. After I graduated high school, I decided to study accounting and it was then that I met my mentor in college. When he decided he was going to go to law school I said, “Wait a minute. If he can go to law school, I know I can go to law school!” So really it was that being proximate to someone that was following the same path that helped lead me to becoming a lawyer. Still at that time, I had never met a lawyer. And it was actually during this exact time that my entire life changed — in a matter that I never thought it would — when my own mother went to prison.
Talk about that a little bit.
I always say a defining moment in my life can be attributed to a seven-digit number: 1374671. It’s a number that was assigned to my mother by The Texas Department of Criminal Justice when she began serving an eight year prison sentence. I come from a blue collar, working class, Southern Baptist family. My mother, a nurse, was what you would call a functioning drug addict. No one would have noticed she was. When my sister and I left the nest for college, she spiraled out of control and it ultimately led to her incarceration.
Is this the pivotal moment that shifted your focus and what you wanted to do in life?
My mom’s incarceration was a pivotal moment for me to start Girls Embracing Mothers. My sister and I would go visit her every month. One of the things that stuck out the most to me during our visits was the way younger girls would interact with their moms. They would look them lovingly in the eyes, hug them, sit in their laps… It was evident that we all unconditionally loved our mamas. It was in that moment that I knew instead of asking “Why me?” that the question shifted to “What is this here to teach me?” I needed to go through that experience with my mom so that I could get on path with my purpose which is to help other girls going through that same situation.
You built an entire career as a very successful corporate lawyer and you left it all to fight for what you believe in. What made you finally take that leap to go work for yourself full time?
I always wanted to do it all. I wanted to be the corporate lawyer. I wanted to be general counsel, to be the Clair Huxtable in real life for young girls of color. I wanted to blaze that trail. But I was also very passionate about criminal justice reform. During law school I started getting involved and almost obsessed with cases in which non-violent drug offenders were being sentenced to life without parole. I came across a case of Sharonda Jones who was a first time, non-violent drug offender sentenced to life without parole. I had had a mother in prison and so I sent her a card. I told her I was a law student and I didn’t know how I was going to help her, but I wanted to help her. I took on the case pro-bono through law school and it took six years but I was able to finally get her clemency from President Obama. She had been sentenced to never be released and she was finally free.
That’s beyond admirable! You also started your non-profit during this time. How did you start your G.E.M. after having a totally different full-time job? Financially how did you make that leap?
Some I learned through the skills I was able to acquire as an accountant, because, at the end of the day, a non-profit is still a business. My career as a corporate lawyer was very financially successful as well. I was able to save and have a cushion there. I left because people like Sharonda Jones needed me. There was no way that I could do the corporate work and save people’s lives. That’s why I left. I really wanted to be on this life-saving journey. Now having two non-profits, it’s been a little difficult financially but if I’m going to truly follow my passion I have to truly believe in the power of my own wings. That’s where I’m at now; I don’t know what the future holds for me. I’m just trusting and believing finances will come. Honestly, two years after leaving my corporate career, I have not been wanting. I truly believe if you follow your passion, the money will come.
What is the best business advice you’ve ever received?
To be a servant leader. It’s not always about the daily grind. The question should be, “How can I use this daily grind to promote the greater good?”
Last meal on earth?
Homemade mac and cheese
What’s your bedtime?
What’s your wake up time?
Last movie you saw?
A documentary on Netflix called The Stair Case.
Dream dinner guest?
Dream travel destination?