Brittany Tanner wears a white and grey striped shirt and a brown hat as she stands holding her son, Akai. (Brittany Tanner)
Brittany Tanner is a Bay Area vocalist, songwriter, and entrepreneur. As a member of the hip-hop ensemble SOL Development and the collective BE-IMAGINATIVE, both featured in the KQED Arts documentary When the Waters Get Deep, Tanner has helped work to disrupt the hopelessness from gun violence. She is also a founder of The Song Remedy, a healing circle and space led by Black and brown women dedicated to transforming pain into medicine.
I remember once cleaning my mom’s whole house because I didn’t have money to buy her a gift. Now that I’m a mother myself, I see that one day a year is not enough to repay her for all the magic, dedication and love she’s gifted me, but a reminder to uplift and praise her every damn day.
I was born to Sabrina McDaniel and Carnell Tanner August 8, 1985. They were both sixteen at the time. I had an amazing childhood. I grew up a country girl in Bakersfield, California. My great-grandpa always had some grapes fermenting in the bin outside, and my uncle Steve who lived next door kept chickens and homing pigeons, plus a team of the most vicious pit bulls. We’d occasionally catch crawdeggs in the canal, then sit in a circle popping the meat out the tails. There was a mulberry tree in the backyard, plenty of skinned knees, more than a couple black eyes, a whole lotta cussin’ and then church with grandma every Sunday.
My brothers and I were bad as hell—it was just the three of us for a while, until my mom had my younger brother and sister. Then there were five of us. We’d ride our bikes all over the neighborhood, getting chased by dogs, playing knock-knock zoom-zoom at night and just getting into all the trouble we could think of. We grew up in the house that my grandma Rene used to live in, built by my great-grandpa. He and my great-grandma Miller lived a house and a huge field down the street from us. My aunt Sandra and uncle Andre lived to the right, and my uncle Steve and aunt Dametia lived on the left.
When my mom was at school or work, the neighborhood watched and cared for us. My uncle Steve used to watch us through his blinds. I remember looking up and trying to see if he was looking at us so I could make my next move. You didn’t want to get caught by him—he gave the type of whoopin’s that make you hold your breath for a long time.
One day me and my brother Meechie were lighting little fires in the field, but putting them out quickly so they wouldn’t get too big. I had sandals on, so Meechie had to stomp the fires out for me. Well, he was lighting one and I was lighting one, and I guess he took too long getting to mine and the whole field caught on fire. When it got too big we had to run and get the adults. I was hysterical the whole time, not because of the fire but because of the ass whoopin’ I knew we were gonna get. Meechie took all the blame and I kept on with the hysterical crying, in shock and relief. I never thanked him enough for that.
Me, Meechie and Darius would fight all the time—like physically fight. We would even have boxing matches in the backyard with our cousins with no gloves. There was no scratching allowed. I used to think that rule was because I was a girl until Meech came in the house with a welt on his face and we all got in trouble. Another time, Meech and Darius were playing tug of war against me and they colluded to let go. I flew into the wall and got knocked out. When I awoke, they were both hovering over me, with Meech telling me to wake up and Darius starting to cry.
No matter how much we fought in the house, though, we had each other’s backs outside. In those days everybody knew everybody, and they definitely knew my folks. The Millers, McDaniels and the Woffords on my mom’s side and the Antonys/Tanners on my dad’s.
It was one of those sunny days and my older cousin Kreshell took me to Sixth Street Park. We weren’t even there an hour and they started shooting. I mean shootin’ shootin’, like AK-47s or something. I was by the swings and my uncle Steve told me to run to the bathroom, when I tell you I was the tallest kid in there, crying out to Jesus! I was in there talking ’bout “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus!”
The next morning I was at church repenting, crying my eyes out and telling the whole church how I felt a bullet go straight through my back but God saved me. I remember all the mothers and my grandma laying hands and praying for me. In each moment, there was always my community coming together in ritual to nurture my spirit and pass down wisdom. Sometimes that looked like a whoopin’, sometimes it looked like a hug, sometimes it was everybody kickin’ it at the family BBQ, and more times it was your mother telling all your business so the rest of the family can hold you accountable.
When I was 18 I moved to Las Vegas trying to be grown. I was so lost. I felt my family didn’t understand me. I wanted to become a singer and was taking all the wrong paths and meeting all the wrong people to achieve that dream. I remember being surrounded by people but still feeling so alone. Just because I was finding my own way didn’t mean I had to abandon who I was and where I’d come from. I continued to fumble for years trying to connect with spirit and find my way.
It wasn’t until 2012 when I moved to D.C. and found my adopted community that I began to learn my full purpose. Not only did I began to see my calling as a vocalist but I realized I was so much more. I began to transition back to my roots. It started with me wanting to eat better and then I started being accountable for my bullshit. I was having difficult conversations that forced me to take a deep look into myself. I’m still looking.
I moved to Oakland with my SOL Development family in the summer of 2015. The year before I moved to D.C., I wrote the song “Brother.” I had no idea that in 2021 I’d break down and cry every time I heard it.
On October 17, 2019, my brother Demetrius “Meech” Tanner was murdered in Baltimore. My cousin Sandee called me, told me to sit down, and told me he’d been shot. I was doing my sis Lauren’s (of SOL Development) hair. I couldn’t even finish. My partner Nell drove me to Bakersfield to be with my family, and when we got there I laid in the bed with my mom and we cried. We’d been filming the documentary When The Waters Get Deep for a whole year. I felt so privileged to be in such healing spaces facilitated by BE Imaginative. Those interactions catapulted me into the healing work I began with The Song Remedy. And through all the healing work and transitions, I’ve always had to lean into community. That is my sacred place.
I became a mother August 30, 2020. My pregnancy was full of mixed emotions. I felt the joy from preparing to bring new life, but there was so much grief. I began going live on Instagram and sang whatever affirmations people would write in the comments. I began to once again feel community. Their affirmations were speaking directly to me, and the grieving that I was running from flowed right out of me.
As a mother my number-one priority is to always pour into myself in that way, to stay committed to growth and healing, to ritual, to sacred community. I fall short of that often, and try my best to be transparent about that, so that my community can play its part and step in when needed.
Being a mother—a Black mother—is the hardest, most rewarding job, but it is impossible without aunties, uncles, cousins, grandmas, grandpas and loved ones.
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