Nola Brantley is best known publically as a nationally acclaimed advocate who has played a large role in spear-heading the DMST/CSEC* awareness and advocacy movement in the state of California since 2001. But Nola Brantley is a very multi-facetted human being—she is a mother, an activist against all forms of social injustice, a motivational speaker, a woman of color, a survivor, a sister, a visionary. This page is here to help you get to know Nola as a holistic individual. All of the experiences that have shaped Nola in life both personally and professionally have culminated in the tremendous and diverse resources she brings to the table in the services provided by Nola Brantley Speaks.
*Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking / Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children
Nola was born into circumstances of intergenerational poverty in San Francisco, California. There, she was raised with six half siblings, all from different mothers or fathers. Nola's father was a veteran of the Vietnam War who came from a family with a history of incest. Her mother grew up part of the New York State foster care system for many years and was targeted for child sex-trafficking during that period. Neither of her parents graduated from high school or attended college.
Nola was sexually abused on an on-going basis by her father before she could walk or talk. In order to protect her children, Nola's mother escaped the abusive relationship when Nola was three years old. This act of profound love and courage freed the family from the increasingly dangerous abuse but also left her mother to struggle as an impoverished single parent who had to work multiple jobs in order to feed her kids. Nola and her siblings grew up bouncing around from one low-income housing project to the next, throughout San Francisco, sometimes on the verge of homelessness. The crushing economic reality her mother was facing meant that she was not available to closely supervise her children at every instant, leaving them vulnerable through no fault of her own, to the predators of the community.
As she approached her teenage years, Nola was sexually exploited by a variety of men in the community. Just before the age of 15, Nola was targeted and slowly and deceptively recruited into sex trafficking by a law-enforcement officer who worked at her school site. Nola Brantley has traveled the continuum of abuse that many sex trafficking victims and survivors have traveled. Her experience, direct or indirect, with the compounded risk factors of poverty, unaddressed trauma, intergenerational abuse, foster care involvement and misuse of authority all serve to give Nola a powerful firsthand understanding not only of the DMST/CSEC issue, but also of the underlying societal tapestry that creates and perpetuates the current epidemic of exploitation and violence plaguing the United States.
Even while experiencing her own challenges and abuse, Nola involved herself from a young age in social justice oriented community activism. As her journey of healing unfolded, sisterhood within the female community played an important part. "I was surrounded by a bunch of women that empowered me and were able to help me reveal who I really was," Nola has reflected. Part of this process also involved developing healing practices that Nola still uses to this day to ground herself, a significant one being her deep connection with nature. “I find my peace in nature,” she says. “Being there reminds me of both how small I am in terms of the bigger equation and also how big I am in terms of the bigger equation. I believe it’s necessary in life for one to re-create herself, and out in nature I find that opportunity.”
Motherhood also played a big role on the path to healing and empowerment. "Motherhood made the commercial sex industry not an option for my life. I could not bare the thought that an act of violence—which is so common in the so-called “industry”—would leave my kids without a mother and in a position where they would have to navigate all the trauma that I had to endure or worse."
In her life, Nola has not only been a mother to her three children, but also a mother to the community, especially to the many young girls who have experienced DMST/CSEC that she has loved, supported, and mentored. "I feel like I embody a universal mother spirit. I feel a deep desire to mother all things that need mothering, even people who are older than me."
Likewise, Nola is someone who vehemently believes in the sacredness of the childhood experience and our responsibility as adults to protect it. "If everybody had a perfect childhood," she says, "the world would be a nearly perfect place. And by 'perfect' I don't mean something you see on an old sit-com. A perfect childhood simply means experiencing unconditional love, having your basic needs met, and having equal opportunity to create yourself without the hindrance of external oppression, in the present and in the future." This is the vision Nola Brantley Speaks works to bring to fruition.
The Beginnings of an Anti-Trafficking Pioneer
In 2001 Nola went to work at Scotlan Center, an Oakland-based nonprofit organization working on a variety of social justice issues at the local level. Nola was chosen for the directorship of a parenting program where she began to connect with girls and young women in the community. Upon her arrival, the program she headed was at risk for losing funding and being shut down; however, through her passion and drive, Nola was able to turn that one struggling program into multiple programs—a girls empowerment program, a teenage parenting program and a child abuse prevention program—that were run for six years. Her work there would lead to a pivotal point in her own personal and professional growth: that is how she would begin to witness firsthand, the overwhelming epidemic of DMST/CSEC in Alameda County.
“I didn’t begin doing DMST/CSEC activist work because I was a survivor; I discovered I was a survivor through doing the work,” says Nola.
After seeing girl after girl, many as young as , coming through the programs to receive support, it became clear to Nola and her colleagues that a large number of them were being commercially sexually exploited and trafficked. Nola, along with a small group of fellow young female community activists then took action: they became part of the Alameda County DMST/CSEC Task Force and ultimately decided that the issue was so central it merited its own organization. It was then, in 2007, that four young, passionate and dedicated women founded the now nationally recognized organization MISSSEY (Motivating, Inspiring, Supporting and Serving, Sexually Exploited Youth).
Forging New Ground in the Anti-Trafficking Movement
As the group was co-founding MISSSEY, Nola’s leadership qualities made her a natural fit for Executive Director of the organization. Nola served as MISSSEY’s Executive Director from the organization’s inception until 2014. Under her directorship, the organization provided services to over one thousand survivors of DMST/CSEC, and trained over 15,000 professionals in the field.
During the same time, Nola was also becoming nationally recognized as a powerful voice for the issue of child sex trafficking through her moving and information-packed public speaking. Through this activity, Nola felt within herself a deep desire to make her voice heard on as large a scale as possible to give a voice to the voiceless. As this desire further articulated itself, Nola passed the torch as MISSSEY’s Executive Director and founded Nola Brantley Speaks.
And this is where we find Nola at the current moment of her journey: poised to use the gift of her bold, impassioned voice to enlighten world-wide audiences about issues that often lurk in shadows and are spoken of only in low whispers, if at all. While the DMST/CSEC issue remains a central focus of Nola’s work through Nola Brantley Speaks, she has broadened her focus to intelligently weigh in on any and every issue that negatively impacts women and girls, and by extension, the world.