Black News and Black Views with a Whole Lotta Attitude
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Black News and Black Views with a Whole Lotta Attitude

NFL Star's Mom and Domestic Violence Survivor, Sabrina Greenlee, Triumphs in the Face of Tragedy

The mother of NFL wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins shares her personal story of survival at The Root Institute

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Author, motivational speaker, advocate, Sabrina Greenlee
Author, motivational speaker, advocate, Sabrina Greenlee
Photo: Courtesy of the subject

Twenty years ago, Sabrina Greenlee suffered a vicious attack on her life that left her blind. But with faith and fortitude, she fought her way back and is now using her experience to help others. The domestic violence survivor, author and motivational speaker shared her emotional story of trials and triumph with The Root’s Deputy Editor Tatsha Robertson in a one-on-one conversation at The Root Institute this week in Washington, D.C.

Humble Beginnings

Greenlee was born and raised in Clemson, SC, five minutes away from Clemson University, where her son, Arizona Cardinals wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins would eventually become a standout football player. The memories of her time in the small room she shared with her mother and two brothers, with only a sheet separating them from her grandmother, are both happy and painful. “It was a place everybody brought their children to spend the night with their cousins on the floor. A lot of soul food cooking. A lot of things transpired,” she said.

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But the place she grew up was also where she was sexually assaulted at 10-years-old by a man she knew as Uncle Rev. Lottie Davis. Greenlee admits that although she has no problem saying her attacker’s name now, that was not always the case. At the time, her mother and grandmother didn’t believe her. They even continued to put Greenlee in situations to face her attacker. That sent her down a negative path. And it would be years before she realized the situation wasn’t her fault. “I began to resent everyone around me, and I started looking at myself as a victim of the circumstances.”

Devastating Loss

Four years after the rape, another devastating tragedy would change Greenlee’s family forever. One Friday night in 1985, Greenlee watched as her two brothers and two cousins got in the car with her uncle to take a trip downtown. “They get in the car, but they didn’t know that my uncle had been drinking,” she said. Soon after they left, Greenlee heard what she would later realize was the car crashing. “My brother and two cousins come running back, and I realize they are hysterically crying,” she said The car they were riding in flipped several times and ejected Greenlee’s brother, who was 12 at the time, into a ditch. “They picked up the car, and I immediately got in the ditch,” she said. “I’m holding him, and all I can think of is getting him to my mother. I nestled my body under him, and held him until he took his last breath.”

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Greenlee says her brother’s tragic death caused her mother to check out on her and her surviving brother, who were 13 and 14 at the time. And while her mother wasn’t watching, Greenlee discovered boys and found herself pregnant at age 16. And by the time she was 18, she was married to a man who abused her.

Sabrina Greenlee (l) and The Root’s Tatsha Robertson at The Root Institute
Sabrina Greenlee (l) and The Root’s Tatsha Robertson at The Root Institute
Photo: The Root
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But when she met Steve Hopkins, Greenlee thought she’d found her soulmate. “DeAndre’s dad came when I needed a savior. I was so broken and so lost, but he never abused me,” she said. He was, however, a drug kingpin. And Greenlee was the Bonnie to his Clyde. “I knew it was wrong, but I didn’t care. I was ride or die.”

Hopkins eventually got caught and found himself facing federal and state charges and 102 years in prison. But one month after what would be his last visit to his lawyer, Greenlee and Hopkins were in a terrible car accident. The love of her life died from injuries he suffered when their son was only six-months-old.

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Now a single mom, Greenlee used stripping to support her young son. “That was the one time in my life that I was seen and good at something. But of course, there were many days that I sat outside in my car and cried because I knew there was something better for me.”

But her struggle was not over. And in 2002, Greenlee faced yet another tragedy. A relationship with a man she had been dating for only a short time led to an attack on her life that would leave her blind. “I didn’t know he had a girlfriend,” she said. In a fit of rage, the woman attacked Greenlee with a concoction of lye and bleach. “When she threw it, I fell to the ground. And as I’m touching my face and back, the skin is coming off in my hands. A white curtain came over my eyes which I later realized was me going blind.”

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Twenty years after her tragedy, Greenlee remains an outspoken domestic violence advocate and uses her powerful voice to help the voiceless.

Part 2: There is more of Greenlee’s compelling story to come on theroot.com.