Brayan Brito had always been fascinated with invention. As a child in Guatemala he would make his own toys with things around his house. When he got older he learned about Nikola Tesla and became intent on creating his own Tesla coil, so he took apart his brother’s computer to come up with the right materials. “I couldn’t get all the materials I needed so I couldn’t do it, but I wanted to — even if I had to destroy the computer,” he laughs.
Tinkering with how things work was Brayan’s refuge, but life at home was difficult. He grew used to threats and feeling unsafe, but when he was 16 things got worse. He contacted the police and even got his case to court but nothing happened. “I suffered from depression almost every day,” he remembers. “I didn’t want to do anything but sleep and be at home. I decided to come here.”
Brayan was granted asylum and moved in with some family members. Though he was safer in Virginia his depression persisted. Strife within his family forced him to move in with strangers, sharing space with people he didn’t know. He got a job at a restaurant to support himself, but it required him to work 12 hour shifts. Brayan went to high school in the morning and then went straight to work where he would stay until after 3 am.
One night Brayan was followed by a group of men. They attacked him, and Brayan started running — he was terrified. He made it to an apartment building where he hid until morning and then trudged back to his house shortly before school started. “When I got here I just slept, woke up, took a shower, put my clothes on, I put a bandaid on and went to school. And I did that for another month. No one asked me about the band aid or anything, so I just continued doing my routine.”
His priority was his schoolwork. He worked to get good grades and eventually his teachers started to notice him. “That’s how I started to get support…they saw I had issues with a place to live and that’s when they told me about Second Story.” Brayan got connected with Second Story and now lives in the basement of a host family’s home. “It allowed me to have my privacy,” Brayan shares. “It helped a lot with school. It showed me a new chapter. It felt like right in the moment where I got my own place a new chapter started in my life.”
Around that time Brayan also heard about the Centreville Labor Resource Center, a project of the Centreville Immigration Forum. “I got there and I was fascinated to see that this place was there…and I needed that place.” He signed up for ESL classes and realized that the center needed other immigrants, like Brayan, to help them. “I was very thankful and I wanted to help in any way I could.” He began volunteering and a year later they asked him to be a part of the board of directors. “I was able to be the voice of my people in that community, to acknowledge their needs, what is happening, and what we should do….It’s where I started to make my first skills as a leader.”
Another important thing changed once Brayan found Second Story — he had his own space to use as a lab. He remembered his first passion, the Tesla coil, and with his own space Brayan was able to create his own Tesla coil and other inventions.
Now he’s dreaming of college. He would love to go to MIT and study robotics or computer programming. This year he received the Harry F Byrd Junior Leadership Award, a $10,000 scholarship for leadership in the community. The group chose three people from each congressional district and narrowed it down to one person from each. Brayan is one of eleven winners, and he accepted his award on Valentine’s Day at the Richmond Supreme Court.
He wants to change the world with clean energy, keep doing what he does best and sell his ideas. But he wasn’t able to do it alone. “Everything that I was able to do was because of the support of a lot of people in my community.” His dreams gave him hope, too. Brayan set his eyes on Elon Musk and his work, completely inspired by his inventions and commitment to making the world a better place. “He has been an inspiration for me to dream big, even when the odds are against you,” Brayan says.
Brayan’s past tells a story of achievement, prioritizing mental wellness, and pursuing your dreams. But the stories of his future are surely most exciting. Perhaps he will be our next Tesla or Elon Musk, the one next generation’s youth look to for inspiration and invention. One thing is certain: the community that came around Brayan when he needed help the most is now better off because of him.