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Powerful Women: Let's Talk – 73: Brenda Brame

Brenda Brame
Brenda Brame

Brenda Brame, Program Manager for United Way’s Kent County Tax Credit Coalition, joins us on this edition of Powerful Women: Let’s Talk

Brenda Brame is the Program Manager for United Way’s Kent County Tax Credit Coalition. Through her efforts with the Kent County Tax Credit Coalition, and the volunteers, this project has generated over $106 million dollars in refunds and credits and served more 107,000 taxpayers. Whether advocating for senior citizens, increasing Social Service Awareness, or bridging the gaps between economic classes, Brenda is on a mission to improve the quality of life in our communities.

Powerful Women: Let’s Talk is created by WGVU NPR and made possible by WGVU NPR sustaining monthly donors. Become a sustaining monthly donor now at wgvu.org/donate to support WGVU NPR’s local programs, including Powerful Women: Let’s Talk.

Full Transcript:


Produced by women about women. Powerful women, Let's talk. Is a series of interviews with women who are trailblazers and have helped shape our world transforming who we are, and how we live.


Jennifer Moss: Hello, everyone. Time for powerful women, Let's talk. I want to thank you so much for joining us today, I’m Jennifer Moss and it's a pleasure to bring you today's powerful woman, Brenda Brame. Brenda is the program manager for the United Way's Kent County tax credit coalition. She's been in this position since 2003 and in this position, Brenda develops free volunteer income tax assistance, sites, recruits, volunteers and so much more. Plus, she works for the community, making sure that the public is knowledgeable and aware of the free tax services that each volunteer income tax site offers as well as information about the earned income tax credit. We're going to talk more about what more of what she does in just a moment. But first want to fully welcome Brenda Brame to powerful women, Let's talk. It's such a pleasure to have you here with us today Brenda.

Brenda Brame: Thank you, Jennifer. And thank you for having me.

Jennifer Moss: It's our pleasure. And so a little bit more about Brenda before we begin the actual conversation she served on and still serves on many committees in West Michigan. And this includes urban young life, the Girl Scouts of Michigan shore to shore Board of directors board development committee, Black women's roundtable and the greater Grand Rapids advocates and leaders for police and community trust steering committee. Plus a whole lot more. She's also won the community pillar legacy award and she's a Giants award winner as well. Thanks again for joining us. We're going to start with your work at the United Way's Kent County tax credit coalition so through your efforts and that of the coalition along with your volunteers. Of course, your project has generated more than a 106 million dollars in refunds and credits and has served more than 107,000 taxpayers. This is very important work in our community and the best-kept secret is a lot of people don't know they missed out on so much.

Brenda Brame: Correct. They really don't know about the credit, for one. They don't know about the earned income tax credit which was why I was initially brought on, was to make sure that people receive that credit. First of all to know about the credit. They receive the credit and they really get the credit free because at the time over 11 million dollars and that credit alone was going unclaimed. Now we don't know how much actually goes unclaimed because IRS no longer tracks it. However, every time I'm talking to someone, they're like last week I was in her store and I was like, oh, let me tell you about something that you may not know about. You can call 211 to have your taxes prepared for free. If your household income is $58,000 or less and then that lady looked at me and say, oh, you didn't know about that, did you. She said no. I said tell you what I'm going to do. I'm going to bring you some flyers by for your employees and you could share the wealth. I said because most people don't know that that's services offer to them. And that is offered absolutely free. They also don't know that everyone preparing those returns have been certified by the IRS and I said don't worry about your information because we do background checks on everyone and she was excited to be able to offer that service to her employees and knowing that it would be absolutely free. And It would be like a gift to them at no charge to the company.

Jennifer Moss: Absolutely. And a lot of people getting the news mentioned they don't know about it. Who is this intended for? Who qualifies for such services?

Brenda Brame: I’m glad you asked that question because a lot of people think that, you know, they may not qualify for the services. Well, I don't consider $58,000 low income. So we always say low to moderate income families and individuals. I mean, this year if you're single person, married or unmarried you may get earned income tax credit, of between $500- 1500 depending on your household income. Now a household of maybe 4 to 5 people could get a income tax credit of over $6700 depending on your income and how many children you have in the household, these credits for working and non-working. We know we have the child tax credit. There's the home heating credit, the property tax credit. All of these credits are available to our community members as long as your household income is $58,000 or less. They're available to you as so many people say, well, I can't afford it because it costs so much to have my return prepared online. That's why I'm here. What I need you to do is call 211 and get an appointment at one of our sites. It doesn't matter if you cannot hear we will get an interpreter for you. It doesn't matter if English is your second language or not because we'll make sure there is an interpreter for that. We want to make sure that everyone is served and served with respect and with quality. And if you say Brenda, my household income it's over $58,000 say don't worry, don't worry. I need you to go to the United Way website, click on free taxes and prepare your own return free. I mean, it is $73,000. You can do it for free. And if you run into a glitch. There's a number for you to call or e-mail to get an answer.

Jennifer Moss: One thing I love about even just beginning the conversation. But I see an excitement and a commitment from your dedication. So, you know, whether you're advocating for seniors or you're increasing Social Security awareness you are bridging those gaps as you talk about between economic classes. You are on a mission to improve the quality of life in our communities is that important part of your journey.

Brenda Brame: That's an important part of my journey. There's been a time in my life where life happened to me. I needed services and didn't know about the services that were out there and really there wasn't anyone to tell me about the services. I just so happened to be walking down the street because I would always try to take my daughters from my first life to free activities because my motto is just because you don't have the funding doesn't mean that you can't do things and enjoy life. So I would find free activities in Grand Rapids to do and we would walk by the women's Resource Center. We happened to go in and they began to help me walk through my journey. And there from that part, I established a village and so I'm on a journey to make sure that people have a better life regardless to what that life looked like, what it may have looked life, even if you're gainfully employed life still happens to you. You just may need someone to listen. You may need someone to say what to do. What do you think about this. Is that a good idea. And I always tell people don't ask me unless you really want to know that. What I want to know as to when this this process. And so they will start unpacking and repack in to see what the steps need to be and just process the entire thing, just like my work and process it’s timeline and make it happen. So yeah is my it is definitely my passion and my desire to help others to have a good life, a valuable life. A quality life. It doesn't matter if it's the little people. or if its seniors, mature adults, because there's so many mature adults who don't have anyone looking out for them.

That's actually how I got into this

Jennifer Moss: And so many people miss out on a piece of life thinking that either I don't deserve it or I

cant get to that or, I can't you know, it's just not going to happen for me. So helping to improve others. You know, as we talked about, that's part of your journey. But I mention too, as you mentioned, kind of alluded to in your own walk. It hasn't always been easy. As we talk about powerful women, have there been any barriers that perhaps you've encountered as you traveled a long life/career, life/career path.

Brenda Brame: Yes, there have been barriers. I've had barriers like other African American women have had. First of all, I'm a lady, undeniably. I enjoy being who I am. Second of all I’m a African American lady And that is that's been hard because people don't always think we’re supposed to succeed and we do. They don't always have this notion that we're truthful. There's a underlying agenda and that's not always the case so I've had to deal with that. I've had to deal with people asking me several times. Is that what you said? Is that correct? Do you have the paperwork? Do you have the data? Are you sure?

Jennifer Moss: because they didn't believe you?

Brenda Brame:Because they didn't believe me. And my thing is that's hard. You know, that's not something that society talks about. They don't talk about us not being believed or us as

African-Americans and African-American women being second guessed. Why can't you just take my word. Why do I have to be in a lie. That has been the hardest thing for me in my life. You know, just believe me, I don't have a reason to lie, i tell people at my age. Now what do I have to lose by telling the truth.

Jennifer Moss: Have you made progress with that? Do you feel like you are received and you're what

you're saying is accounted for and believed by those presenting it to.

Brenda Brame: Yes. Let me put it like this. There are people that I had to ask God to put in my life to help me get my work done. Someone of my pieces of wisdom to someone else would be don't be afraid. to have God put in your life to help you get your work done It's not about people seeing me. People seeing you. It's about to end results of that work within make someone else's life better because what I do is not about Brenda its about all the people that I serve. And so He's put people in my life to help me navigate. Those rough roads and that's made a difference. So when I think of it like that like you have made some progress.

Jennifer Moss: Like they say, the Word says work unto God, not into man.

Brenda Brame: Exactly! And I've always that in my work as a ministry and not a job. I say I just happened to get paid for my ministry and what I love doing. And it's so lovely.

Jennifer Moss: So Brenda along that we continue on the journey and we talk about those things. How did you find your voice? You know, you've got to get comfortable in your own skin to be a leader to be able to do what you do, to be able to speak the things that you're talking about. How did you get that voice going and get comfortable enough to to do what you do.

Brenda Brame: Wow. That's yeah, that's a big question. Well, okay. So I’m married to the Reverend Doctor Walter Brame

Jennifer Moss:That is correct.

Brenda Brame:And so people who know him know that's huge. And I heard someone introducing me and they were always introduce me Brenda Brane that is Dr. Branes wife Why? And I would think like, wow, OK, I'm a person too and then someone said and this is Ellen James as she would never know how much that meant to me. She said this is Brenda Brane Dr. Walter Brames wife. But she's a woman in her own right. That gave me power that I didn't even realize ahead. It's like okay, I matter. I make a difference. I have a voice and I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. And then I remember with say, you know, you got to move ahead and you got to do what is right and get to do what is here and you got to do what is on us. And I was like, God, I can do that. As long as you walk with me, I

can do this and I can get this done so I always ask him to open doors to me to speak truth to power. And that's why I always said don't ask me anything unless you really want to know.

Jennifer Moss: Get ready, get ready, get ready [laugh]

Brenda Brame: Yes [laugh]

Jennifer Moss: You work with a lot of people. What are some of the leadership traits that you've established or that you look for in others?

Brenda Brame: Honesty, that's huge. Your word has got to be your bond. People used to say that and they don't say that anymore. And I will tell people my word is my bond. I don't have millions of dollars. But if I tell you something, you can take it to the bank and draw interest on it. So I look for that. I look for integrity, honesty. I look for you to mentor others to support others. I look for no judgment zones in leaders granted Hey, we look at us really. Does she have that on? I had to back up, said, wait a minute, haha, I don't know the story behind that. So all I can do a set the example and just to develop a no judgment zone attitude. And I know that may sound and look the same. But people trust you when they sure that you're not going to judge and I can promise you little people. They know when your real so don't fake it with them, especially with the high schoolers.

Jennifer Moss: The younger generation -they don't fake it.

Brenda Brame: Please. they don't fake it. They know and will call you out.

Jennifer Moss: And that's probably very true. Very true. So you also work with various groups outside of the coalition getting records expunged. Tell me a little bit more about that. because that important work in the community for those who are in need.

Brenda Brame: I've had people who wanted to volunteer with me who had felonies. First of all, to volunteer with the Kent County tax coalition. We're not going to only allow you to have a volunteer opportunity. But we're giving you a skill free of charge. So you'll be able to prepare taxes because you have a certification, you have a skill that you can use moving forward. If you have a felony, you can't volunteer with me. And that's a chapter in your life may have happened when you're 18 or 19, you're 30. You went on to be a productive citizen, but it's still on your record. So working with my daughter, my daughter in love, Tracy brame. And then my my son, we get to work with expunges as a hey, what can we do to help the people. And then I work with Jubilee Jobs at the time and we decided that our day of caring would be an expungement day where people who had a felony who had a one-time felony, a misdemeanor. They could come in to really figure out if they had a record because sometimes people think they have a record. We found that they don't. have a record and to just help them to walk that path because it costs for ichats So we were able to to give free Ichats and one time we were able to get attorneys to do the work pro bono and to show people how to to sit out the paperwork to figure out what is. What life really happened to you. What happened to you in life, I should say. Did it really happen. So we have to do the expunge to clear those records. I will never forget one day I walked in church and one of the ladies ran up to me and grabbed me. She was said thank you. Thank you. Thank you. And I'm like I appreciate. Thank you. You're welcome. But thank me for what. She was saying. she said you helped me to get my record straight. I thought I had a record. You sent me to the right people only for me to find out I don't have a record at all.

Jennifer Moss: She was living under something that you don't even need.

Brenda Brame: Yes, yes, she I mean, apartment. You can’t get an apartment if you have a record, a decent job if you want to volunteer to children's school. You can't volunteer. You may have the skills to be the PTA president. But you can't because you have a record

Jennifer Moss: And they're not just any crimes of certain levels of concern to expunge that.

Brenda Brame: And, let me be clear, If you have a CSC. We love you. However, we can't help you with that. If you committed murder, you know those kinds of things. You can't

Jennifer Moss: certain areas and certain areas, but that other stuff.

Brenda Bramw: Yeah. We will send you to the right person.

Jennifer Moss: Absolutely. So tell me when you look back, what would you say to your 25 year-old self?.

Brenda Brame: To my 25 year-old self kind of thing. Where was I when I was 25 and I was 25 years old I was traveling in my first life. I think I was in Alaska and I would tell myself to enjoy life more. I would tell myself to reach higher. I would tell myself you're more than who you're married to. I would tell myself to love on your children more, then you could ever possibly think possible because they're Not always going to be children. I’m a cry baby. I would tell myself to just enjoy life. Enjoy the life that God has blessed you with. And regardless to what you go through to remember that your trials and not always about you even though it's happening to you and it doesn't feel good, but you’re going to have to tell someone else how to walk that walk. That's why I

say the trials that we go through are not about us. It's about those who are coming behind us. That's what I would tell to my 25 year old self.

Jennifer Moss: And that could actually be your words of wisdom, as my next question is going to be what would you tell people to encourage them. But I think you said it- did you not.

Brenda Brame: Yes, yes, it would be. That is what I tell people when I’m ministering to them -that you're what you’re going through this now; there’s a woman that youre going to have to tell-- You can make it through. It's not always going to be like this-- young man. I need you to be encouraged, it’s not always going to be like this. I’m Sorry [crying]

Jennifer Moss: You're fine. Absolutely fine. Take your time. Take your time. Those are great words to encourage

Brenda Brame: They think of powerful people. They think of leaders. They don't think about their vulernabilities and I keep it real with people and I say, don’t get it, twisted When you look at me, look beyond what you see because it is that I'm a real person. And i’ve had some real trials But I promise you, if you stick with me, I'm help you through yours and I will pray you through.

Jennifer Moss: And that's that heart we started with and talked about your dedication, your passion and it goes beyond obviously the tax coalition.

Brenda Brame: Oh, yes,

Jennifer Moss: It goes so far beyond that. Brenada Brame, thank you so much for taking time to talk to us today. What a great conversation. What words of wisdom we can all carry with us. We so appreciate you.

Brenda Brame: Thank you. Thank you. I didn't mean to be a cry baby.

Jennifer Moss: And that's okay.

Brenda Brame: it's just my passion.

And that's OK, that's what powerful women is all about. So we so appreciate you and we appreciate you tuning in. Thank you so much for joining us for another edition of powerful women, Let's talk. I'm Jennifer Moss. We'll see you next time.


>> Produced by women about women these powerful podcast focus on powerful women in how their strength transforms who we are and how we live. Want to hear more powerful women. Let's talk get additional interviews at wgcu.org or wherever you get your podcast, please rate and subscribe powerful women. Let's talk is produced by WGBH at the Myer public broadcast Center at Grand Valley State University, the views and opinions expressed in this program do not necessarily reflect those of WGVU. Its underwriters or Grand Valley State University.


Jennifer is an award winning broadcast news journalist with more than two decades of professional television news experience including the nation's fifth largest news market. She's worked as both news reporter and news anchor for television and radio in markets from Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo all the way to San Francisco, California.
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