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Turning Trauma into Bravery

Luke Reynolds
Assistant Professor of Education Luke Reynolds was inspired during the pandemic to pen Braver Than I Thought, an inspirational book exploring trauma through the lives of public figures like Padma Lakshmi, Selena Gomez, and Chadwick Boseman.
By: Megan Tkacy

Luke Reynolds is lucky to be alive.

Years ago, he survived a head-on collision on the highway at 75 miles an hour—an event that should’ve killed him, he said.

“My experience of learning to drive again, and getting over that emotional and physical trauma, is one instance I drew upon as I wrote about other people,” said Reynolds.

The author of 17 books and a father of four sons, the Assistant Professor of Education most recently turned his pen toward the stories of 60 public figures who, like Reynolds himself, each turned a personal trauma into resilience.

In Braver Than I Thought: Real People. Real Courage. Real Hope., “I wanted to explore people I admired and look at their lives through the lens of how they learned to live with trauma, cope with it, and still be the best versions of themselves,” said Reynolds.  

Exploring the stories of everyone from Harriet Tubman and Joan of Arc to Padma Lakshmi and Demi Lovato, Reynolds was most fascinated by the late Chadwick Boseman, star of 2018’s Black Panther.

“He’s one of those few transcendent figures who’s consistently talked about as someone who was the same on-screen and off-screen,” Reynolds said.

While each individual in Reynolds’ book has a different tale of trauma, a common thread unites them. “Whether it was an acid burn or battling cancer, they didn’t push down their trauma—they embraced it,” he said. “But they didn’t let themselves be defined by it.”

To tell these inspirational stories, Reynolds relied on historical archives and cross-referencing accounts to paint the most accurate picture of someone’s journey. For more contemporary figures, he applied the same approach, relying on the internet’s robust offering of articles and videos.

The prospect of interviewing these celebrities himself “would have been super cool and incredibly fun,” Reynolds admitted, “but my editor and I realized that would take a long time. Plus, there were so many great interviews and primary resources that I could draw from and still write a meaningful story.”

The idea for Braver Than I Thought came to Reynolds during the COVID-19 pandemic when several of his students struggled with resuming in-person learning and some experienced difficulty speaking in front of their peers.

“This book came out of seeing the effect trauma has had on students—both my previous students, and my current college students,” he said. “I hope readers see themselves in these stories and see they’re not alone.”

Reynolds developed his passion for understanding trauma after teaching in public schools.

“That’s when I began to see the impact trauma can have on kids and how it affects the way they view themselves, the way they learn and view the world,” he said. “It’s helped me connect with students, to talk in a deeper way about what’s going on and support them and help them succeed.”

These days, Reynolds views his post-crash life as bonus time—and he strives to make the most of it. That means writing a lot, no matter how many rejections come his way. “I still get probably 10 times as many rejections as I do acceptances,” he said with a laugh. “But I do love writing.”

Right now, he’s at work on a young adult novel exploring the topics of race, weight, and privilege. He’s also involved in several research projects, while simultaneously revising his own picture books.

“What I love about Endicott is that we’re encouraged to be the best teachers we can be,” he said. “We’re also encouraged to pursue these writing and research projects. And when I write and when I research, I feel like I bring that into the classroom and it makes me a better teacher.”

As for students working through trauma, Reynolds has some advice beyond the pages of Braver Than I Thought: “I try to follow these three mantras: When you’ve been hurt, it’s an act of courage to call someone and talk to them. And if we’re willing to talk about stuff, we can manage it. If we don’t mention it, it becomes hard to manage.”