Updated: Jul 3
Sunday, December 13, 2020
I 'm from Western Pennsylvania, born and raised in Beaver County then moving to Allegheny County in 1982 seeking greater opportunities as a single Black mother. The majority of the homes I played in as a child were headed by single mothers, many of whom were on welfare like my mom . Some worked outside the home, but that was not the norm. If being a single mother didn't have challenges enough for my mom, add nerve pills, alcohol, government workers, school truancy officers, hospitals and institutions to the mix.
To say I had a rough start is an understatement. It is a truism that we are products of our environment and destined to perpetuate it unless intervention makes sense and takes place expeditiously. White America is the enemy of good information delivered opaquely. When the communication and the help programs seem more punitive than helpful they get rejected and the community continues to languish and deteriorate. In the Black community the disparities ranged from poor/inadequate transportation for accessing basic necessities to doing the unthinkable to supply necessities to your home and children. One of the long lost services for the marginalized and disenfranchised is grocery delivery, which is making a comeback even if for different purposes and consumer groups. On some levels it is providing a needed service for those mom's whom are unable to get out to a decent store outside of the community. A community that has been unable to sustain operations due to extremely overpriced loans, low patronage and internal and external theft.
I had some hurdles to overcome. As I reflect upon my childhood I can see the systemic oppression that was destroying the African American chance to build and sustain wealth. Instead it was deliberately creating a silo in which the anger and depression created a dark mix for societal ills. In turn blaming us for the societal ills that had become a way of survival in the black community. In the 1960's when our black men- fathers and brothers returning from the Armed Forces were scarcely able to secure gainful employment in the local steel mill, took whatever jobs they could be hired for, those who were unable to secure legal employment began to create ways to make money not always legally. Thus began the mass incarceration rates that has hugely contributed to what is now a booming economic penal system, that created another racially motivated oppression that benefits white America. There were however Black Families who were a shining example of the American dream they had somehow found an open door, a leg up if you will. They'd received a decent education, were able to attend college, primarily through a high school sports scholarship, and then was able to be employed in their field. This allowed for home ownership, a car, nice clothing and separation from us who lived in single parent homes in public housing, stood in free government food lines, and dressed in hand me downs torn and ragged clothing. It divided the black community into us and them, with shame and envy being pervasive emotions. However few there were examples of a Black America that'd jobs other than the steel mill, in my family my mother's brother was an attorney, and our welfare caseworker was a woman of color, as was my speech pathologist. I just wasn't old enough to know that our living experience was substandard, since we were all together in the same situation, it was viewed as normal for us. We were different only from the television programs we watched and yearned to emulate. The Cleavers, Family Affair, and the Brady Bunch and then Julia and Flip Wilson all depicting the standard of White American successes. When we finally got Diahann Carroll as a Black Nurse many of us wanted to become nurses of which my own sister did become a nurse. When single mothers dated or had boyfriends we'd all hope he'd be prince charming and make us a family, only for the welfare caseworker to shoot that down as unacceptable while receiving government funding.
By the time I had reached the 3rd of 4th grade I'd begun to exhibit maladaptive behavior that needed addressed, one of which was what is called a lisp speech impediment, the other was truancy, stealing and lying. We'd had many visits by the truancy officer who'd discover we were home alone because my single parent mother had gone to clean the homes of White America, leaving before being able to prepare us for school. Most times we didn’t' open the door as we were forbid to, and sometimes we did out of fear of not opening the door. I remember having a school counselor that did his best to help us and he was appreciated. I would often pen our absentee excuses in my mother's penmanship as was quite good, but not good enough. Lessons of problem solving, deception an cover up became a regular experience throughout grade school and middle school. Covering for a parent that had alcohol/substance abuse issues impacted me for years to come although I wouldn’t realize that until late in my 30's when history began to repeat itself.
I never saw it coming, didn't recognize it when it got here and had to experience quite a few emotional, spiritual, mental and physical low's before seeking help and understanding of a life spiraling out of control and needing guidance and direction to regain control to make something of it. I was 36 years old and a single parent of two daughters. Once I hit the proverbial brick wall it came tumbling down and I used those bricks to rebuild the life I am now living and wanting to share with the girls in our educational system. It is those girls who are living the life I describe, the life I repeated, the life that in a corralled community seems familiar and hopeless. The life that we get accustomed with, the life we think cannot, and will not change. The conversations we are privy to saying politicians are crooks, the system is corrupt, you can't get a decent job in this city/county, all the good Black men are married to white women, black men are drug dealers and criminals, your father is the father to many children and the women tear each other down mercilessly, and the list of maladies go as far as hatred for these children. Being a single parent makes life more difficult. For single parents who are trying to work, but daycare costs are prohibitive, subsidies are oppressive, the appointments you have to attend jeopardize your job attendance, the paperwork and eligibility requirements make it impossible to advance your financial stability. If you get a raise on your job it doesn't elevate your living standard because the childcare and the rent subsidy are increased proportionally to your raise so you never prosper. You work extremely hard to find out the White Female doing the same job gets paid 30 to 40 % more. You are both angered and defeated, hopeless and unable to quit. The need to work a job, not pursue a career has already been determined by the status of single parent. Our lives have changed from creating and pursuing meaningful career choices to putting food on the table, keeping the lights, water, gas and phone paid. It literally sucks the joy out of your spirit and creates a darkened climate in the home. If I have no hope, I cannot create a hopeful atmosphere or encourage my family. If my day to day experience is one of turmoil, anguish, and anger of toiling every day from the long multiple bus rides to and from the dead-end job sometimes more than one job, just to pay the bills, there is no one benefitting from such an oppressive existence. These are the things experienced as a single parent. Once I married and no longer received any subsidies learning to manage variable costs became a test of successes and failures. The thing I have is an indomitable spirit to survive and prosper for me and my daughters. I could list countless challenges I faced as a Black women but the challenge that most needs overcome is the stigma surrounding being Black, lazy and uneducated.
Between 1987 and 2001 I had a series or employment opportunities that became bricks in my proverbial wall. Each one placed at a higher elevation based on it's providing something vital that the last job did not such as a benefit package that would allow me to discontinue the government program provide medical card.
Then the next opportunity paid more money and allowed me to leave public housing and pay market rent in a nice apartment. Then the next opportunity allowed me to advance throughout the organization while providing a pension match system and a 401. Also during this timeframe I was able to return to college and received a B.S. in Business. There were other bricks being added to the wall that served to decrease the stability of the wall. It was as if I was living in two different worlds at the same time. I had residual cultural childhood idea's that did not serve the life I was building, but I was unaware of how things from yesterday can/will an do impact your tomorrow's. I had anger issues that translated into physical violence and angry verbal assaults. I had poor self-awareness and esteem issues that led to low visibility and creativity. I'd fly below the radar and not live to my potential thereby self-limiting my opportunities. I'd developed that same need for nerve pills and alcohol for coping with fear and anxiety, and this went on until the proverbial wall came crashing down in 1994. In my case the wall coming down, worked in my favor, it allowed me to get the help I needed to overcome some childhood trauma's and then proceed to creating and living a realistic life for myself and my family. Now nearing the end of my story which began in 1957 I am approaching retirement in three years, and I have seen, experienced, and learned so much during these years in which my choices were governed by necessity instead of by desire or choice. Once my mental health had been addressed I was able to begin a career at the bank and move from a call center representative, to officer of the bank within 15 years. After 18 months in the call center with rotating shifts between 7:45 and 8pm, I bid into a department that was better suited for my children, working 8:15 - 4:30 with one late night. It is in that department that my creativity and self-awareness allowed me to advance to Officer of the bank. My advancement and promotions are the results of the direct mentoring provided by the Black American that headed the department as he noticed in staff meetings that I had comments, concerns, and solutions. It is important to me that Black America Females have a choice for their lives and I feel like that begins in grade school, in the Education system. It's is where my passion lies and where I feel I can best make an impact with my story. It is an embarrassing one, one in which little girls are forbidden to discuss the things that saddens them, makes them anxious and fearful , which possibly contributes to a pervasive shame as a person of color. This must change, it is never a little girls responsibility to shut down, and shut up ! They and the parents need to know, we can do better, and we must, for our future and the future of our babies.
How does all of this pertain to my starting a podcast?
The American dream is a nightmare for Black America, home ownership comes with a huge price tag that is not financial in nature. Programs and legislature that again looks like help but is actually systemically corralling us into the safe spaces i.e. nice affordable integrated neighborhoods that makes White America comfortable. The stigma surrounding Black America is slowly beginning to change, mostly due to horrific tragedies like the regular occurrence of police shootings and arrests in the Black community while White America arrests and shootings are disproportionately and unfairly handled. With the protests all across United States calling for Police reform it has exposed a much larger racial disparity that has become deeply embedded in every system of record. Education, Family, Health, Business, Government, and even Religion.
The time seems to be ripe for change, it has now created an appetite for involvement beyond boycotting, sit ins, and protests. Now is the time for each person to find their place on the proverbial wall, where will you volunteer, where will you contribute financially, where will you share your time, talent and resources for change in Allegheny County. How will we impact government, business, and Science? Where is our passion, what makes us most angry, if we could but change something with a pen what would that be, what law would I write? Me - my new law would be that every school district be given the opportunities and financial resources to service the students sufficiently(equitable resources). We will not have a situation where parents are choosing to send their children to private school and paying taxes in the school district where their children could not get a quality education, we would not have a lottery where parents had to participate in a lucky drawing to have their children educated in what was called a magnet program, these things are ridiculous and based on poor property values in that school district, which is again directly tied to racial make-up. These issues are systemic and built on failure models that are circular, pervasive and infuriating. My only question is how can I help?