An attorney at one of the leading law firms in San Francisco, California, Cupcake Brown spent 14 years as a drug addict and prostitute after leaving an abusive foster home. Involved with gangs and often homeless, she endured rape, alcoholism, serious injury in a drive-by shooting, and other assaults. As she struggled for many years to get clean and sober, Brown continually succumbed to the lure of street life. Finally, she found enough strength in her religious faith to succeed in beating the obstacles that had once seemed impossible to overcome. Putting herself through school, Brown established herself in an intensely competitive profession and began traveling throughout the country as a motivational speaker and advocate.
Though Brown was not born into a privileged family, her first years were stable and happy. She received her unusual name when her mother, not fully alert after giving birth in 1964, asked for a cupcake and the delivery room nurse wrote that down on the birth certificate. Brown grew up in San Diego, California, and enjoyed a fairly typical childhood until age 11, when she came home one day to discover her mother lying dead in bed from an epileptic seizure. As soon as she was taken away from her stepfather and placed in foster care, her troubles began.
Ran Away from Foster Homes
As she recounts in her memoir, A Piece of Cake, Brown was given alcohol and was physically and sexually assaulted within the first week in her foster home. She ran away, finding refuge with a young prostitute who gave her drugs as well as tips on how to sell her sexual favors on the street. "I actually never looked beyond tomorrow," Brown said in an interview with Margena A. Christian in Jet. "Being a child in the streets, it was always about today. I'm going to get high today. Where am I going to sleep tonight? I didn't have time to worry about tomorrow." Every time she was returned to foster care, she would run away again. By the time she was 13, Brown was selling drugs and had become pregnant. The pregnancy ended in a miscarriage after other foster girls in the home where Brown was staying attacked her.
Brown decided to hitchhike to Los Angeles, where she was soon introduced to members of the Crips, a notorious gang. The bond among gang members, she recalled to Entertainment Weekly contributor Karen Valby, was something she desperately craved. "To this day," she said, "I haven't felt that kind of love and camaraderie…. In a gang, they don't care if you're drunk, loaded, crippled, blind. But, yes…it's an unhealthy kind of camaraderie." The cycle of alcohol, drugs, and crime continued, intensifying over the years. Brown used crack, LSD, cocaine, alcohol, and anything else she could find. Shortly before she turned 16, she was shot in the back in a drive-by incident while celebrating her upcoming birthday. Two bullets lodged in her spine, and doctors warned her that she might never be able to walk again.
After a week in the hospital, Brown regained feeling in her legs and was discharged back to a foster home. "This time it was actually a blessing because it was my way out of a gang," she told Christian. "You don't just walk away from a gang. It's blood in and blood out." Though Brown did not graduate from high school she did receive some clerical training at school and managed to get and keep a job, supporting herself as a legal secretary starting in 1987. Her drug and alcohol addiction, however, continued to dominate her life. Obsessed with getting a fix one day in 1989, she stole from a dealer who beat her senseless, then raped her and left her body near a dumpster. He even took her shoes. When she woke up, she realized she would die on the street if she didn't get help—and get it fast. "You could see the imprint of my ribs—I was a size 1," Brown said in remarks quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle. " I had no shoes. My hair was sticking up like Buckwheat. My lips were cracked and burnt from the crack pipe." She walked 60 blocks to the law firm where she worked, and told her boss, Kenneth J. Rose, that she could not get straight on her own. He helped her check into a rehabilitation facility.
Put Herself Through College
Though she was happy to be clean and sober at last, Brown relapsed after about two months. "The new was unfamiliar," she told Christian, and she began seeing her old friends again, whose influence dragged her back into her old self-destructive habits. But she was able to emerge from this period with renewed determination to fight her addictions. Using her religious faith to guide her, and relying on the support of her stepfather, Tim Long, and other positive mentors, she made it. And as she pointed out to Valby, "I was not only able to change, but was able to make drastic changes." Without even a high school diploma or a GED certificate, she enrolled in San Diego City Community College. At times, she had so little money that she could afford tuition for only one class, but she persevered. She graduated in 1995 with honors, transferring to San Diego State University as a full-time student later that year. Brown earned a degree in criminal justice administration, magna cum laude, in 1998 and then enrolled at the University of San Francisco School of Law, working four part-time jobs while attending classes full-time. "I worked my ass off," she said, quoted by Valby. "Nothing was given to me, and I mean nothing." Brown earned a law degree in 2001 and was admitted to the California bar later that same year.
As a litigator with Bingham McCutchen in San Francisco, Brown focuses on antitrust and trade regulation, securities and corporate governance, and white-collar crime. In addition, she is a popular motivational speaker and advocate for children's rights. Encouraged by a former professor to write about her life, she began setting down her memories but worried that the near-constant haze of drugs and alcohol in which she had lived for so long had distorted her recollections. Determined not to misrepresent what really happened, she talked to people from her past to corroborate details. She even hired a private investigator, whom she paid out of her own pocket, to confirm that events as she depicted them were accurate.
The resulting book, A Piece of Cake, became a New York Times bestseller. Speaking to Christian in Jet, Brown said that her experiences taught her courage—because "it doesn't take courage for that which you are not afraid to do." God, she added, saved her "for a sense of motivation and encouragement to others because I am so normal. God makes the impossible possible. So there are no excuses but you."
A Piece of Cake, Crown, 2006.
At a Glance …
Born in 1964 in San Diego, CA. Education: San Diego Community College, AA (with honors); State University, BS, criminal justice administration (magna cum laude), 1998; University of San Francisco School of Law, JD, 2001.
Career: Littler Mendelson, San Diego, CA, legal secretary, 1987-97; Bingham McCutchen, San Francisco, CA, attorney, 2001-.
Memberships: McAuliffe Honor Society; California Bar Association.
Awards: University of San Francisco School of Law; Judge Harold J. Haley Award for Exceptional Distinction in Scholarship, Character and Activities; National Law School, Dean's list; San Diego State University, Donald Leiffer Outstanding Alumni Award for Distinguished Service.
Addresses: Office—Bingham McCutchen LLP, 3 Embarcadero Center, San Francisco, CA 94111.
Contemporary Authors, Thomson Gale, 2007.
Publishers Weekly, November 21, 2005, p. 36.
Jet, April 24, 2006, p. 52.
Entertainment Weekly, March 3, 2006, p. 72.
Ebony, March 1, 2006, p. 28.
New York Times Book Review, February 23, 2006, p. E8.
San Francisco Chronicle, July 14, 2000, p. A17; May 21, 2001, p. A17.
Cupcake Brown,www.cupcakebrown.com/index2.html (July 5, 2007).