It’s one thing to make lemonade out of the lemons life gives you. It’s a completely different feat when that lemonade ends up providing much-needed sustenance for your entire community. That, in a nutshell, is the story of Susan Burton. At 69 years old, she is an ardent activist, author and founder of A New Way of Life—a non-profit organization that helps formerly incarcerated women gain re-entry into society. Meeting or listening to her, you’d never think her upbringing was a tumultuous as it was. Her demeanor is inviting and calm. She speaks with a slow-paced drawl reminiscent of Maya Angelou and her words are precise and carefully thought out.
But, before she was the woman The New York Times called a modern-day Harriet Tubman, Burton lived a thousand lives and then some. Her story hits every statistic there is about the life of a poor Black girl in America: From childhood sexual abuse to alcohol and drug struggles, it highlights just how the U.S. fails Black people daily.
Still, Burton has broken every chain that bound her, going on, in her 40s, to found a non-profit organization that gives other women help and hope.
Here is her incredible story of making amends, self-forgiveness and paying it forward.