Front and Center is a groundbreaking series of op-eds—published by Ms. and created in partnership with the Magnolia Mother’s Trust—which aims to put front and center the voices of Black women who are affected most by the often-abstract policies currently debated at the national level. The series highlights the success of Springboard to Opportunities’ Magnolia Mother’s Trust, which this year will give $1,000 per month for 12 months to 100 families headed by Black women living in federally subsidized housing.
What possibilities could open up for low-income families if financial survival weren’t always top of mind? What dreams would these mothers and families be able to pursue? What activism and community leadership might arise? The series will answer these and other questions, by placing one mother’s story front and center every other week. The first-person accounts in this series are available for reprint. Find additional guidelines at the end of this story.
I’m 42 and I have two kids—my son Darren is 20 and my daughter Dakota is 11. They are my world. We live in a subsidized housing complex called Lincoln Gardens in Jackson. I grew up here, in North Jackson.
I feel like there’s not that much to tell about my life. I guess one important thing to mention is that I have sickle cell anemia. It’s a blood disorder that’s hereditary. For most people, their blood cells are O-shaped. With sickle cell, you have crescent-shaped cells. It’s something that mostly affects Black people, and other races too, but white people don’t really get it. So what happens is you’ll get a crisis where your blood stops up, like a faucet that’s blocked. And that will give you a pain crisis.
I have three different kinds of pain medications I take on a daily basis. I’m really careful about the meds, because a lot of people with sickle cell end up addicted to pain meds. And I can’t let that happen, I’ve got two kids to take care of. But the pain—oh my goodness, it is so intense. It is something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Some nights, the pain is so bad I cry myself to sleep.
It has left me disabled, so I can’t work. I’m in and out of the hospital, especially during the winter time. There’s something about the cold and also the rain that makes it worse for me, and it’s one of those things where the older you get the worse it gets. So with me being 42, it hits me really hard.
I’m so glad my kids don’t have it, since it’s passed down, it’s something you’re born with. One day when I was around two, my mom noticed I wouldn’t get up and walk, so my parents took me to the emergency room and from there they found out I had it. It turns out my mom and my dad both have the genetic trait, so that’s why I have the disease. They didn’t know they had it before me. My dad especially, he doesn’t go to the doctor much—you know men are like that sometimes. We’re very close. He jokes sometimes, “I don’t have no sickle cell, you can’t be mine.” Which is extra funny because we look so much alike—when you’re looking at him, you’re looking at me. And when you’re looking at me, you’re looking at him.
So it’s hard that I can’t work now. I had been working since graduating high school. I went straight from being in school to working for an elementary school. And then after I had my son, I started working for a day care. Then I worked at the Courthouse Gym, at the day care there. At that point, I was working two jobs. I’d work at the Courthouse in the daytime, then the day care at St. Matthews in the evenings. And at some point while I was doing those two jobs, I got hurt. I’d be on the floor all the time with the kids, and I don’t know if it just all wore on me or I pulled something, but I ended up having these really bad leg problems. It started in my right leg. The sickle cell definitely contributed to making it worse, and I ended up having to have both my hips replaced. I was just barely 30.
That was back in 2012, so between the leg problems and the sickle cell getting worse, I haven’t been able to work since then.
I really, really miss working. It’s hard. I miss my babies—the ones I used to take care of. You fall in love with these kids spending so much time with them. I had one girl who came in at maybe eight weeks old, and I had her until she was four or five. That was my baby; she used to come home with me, stay with me.
“After I had my son, I started working for a day care … [but] between the leg problems and the sickle cell getting worse, I haven’t been able to work since then. I really, really miss working.”
So it’s been hard, being away from my work babies and also being a mom to my own kids while I’m sick. Even when I’m in the hospital, they’re always there. When it was just my son, he’d come and curl up in a chair right next to the bed. He wasn’t going nowhere. And then when I had my daughter, Dakota, it was the same—they’d both be right there next to me in the hospital. And then I don’t know what happened, I guess some other kids must’ve been acting up, but the hospital passed a rule that kids had to be 13 or older to stay. And that meant the kids weren’t able to be with me, which broke all our hearts.
But we’re all still together at home—my daughter is doing virtual school, and my son works at a restaurant. And right now, in the summer and then into the fall, it’s not so bad with being in the hospital—I’ll maybe have to go once and be there two, three weeks. But in the winter time, I’m going to be in there at least once a month. I’m lucky though, everybody helps out with the kids—my parents, their dad.
Things have been hard during the pandemic—I’m so scared to get sick I just don’t go anywhere, unless it’s to a doctor’s appointment, to get my medicine or to the grocery store. If I don’t have to go, I’m not going. I try not to leave home. And I’m so tired of home, I’m so tired of my house. I’m going stir crazy being in the house so much. I’ll be so glad when all of this is over with. Goodness.
Being in the Magnolia Mother’s Trust program, that’s been good for me though. There’s the financial part of it, but really the thing I love the most is that we have this group chat with the other ladies, and every morning someone just says, “Hi, hello!” “Good morning” and I just love that. I didn’t have that before. I mean, I have my friends, but I just really love getting to know all the mothers. One is about to have a baby, and I’m so excited about it. I’m so ready to see that baby!
“Being in the Magnolia Mother’s Trust program, that’s been good for me … The thing I love the most is that we have this group chat with the other ladies, and every morning someone just says, ‘Hi, hello!’ ‘Good morning’ and I just love that. I didn’t have that before.”
My kids were just my babies yesterday, and now I look at old pictures of them and think, “Where has the time gone?” My daughter went to visit my sister last fall, and she was there from August until my birthday in October. And in just that time, she had grown so much! When I saw her I just cried and cried, I love her so much. And my son, he’s a mama’s boy, he says he’s going to build a big house and we’ll all live there together one day. And I tell him, it’s okay, we’ll see each other, but we can have our own separate houses.
Before, I didn’t know what Magnolia Mother’s Trust was about. I have a new family with the Mother’s Trust. They’re a new part of my community. When I think about what I’m excited about in the future, I just want to see my kids grow up—just watching them grow up, when they were just my babies yesterday.
Front and Center pieces are free to republish, under the following guidelines:
- To ensure context isn’t lost, at the top of your reprint, include a line that reads: “Front and Center is a series of op-eds—published by Ms. magazine and created in partnership with the Magnolia Mother’s Trust—highlighting the success of Springboard to Opportunities’ Magnolia Mother’s Trust program, which this year will give $1,000 per month for 12 months to 100 families headed by Black women living in federally subsidized housing. The series aims to put front and center the voices of Black women who are affected most by the often-abstract policies currently debated at the national level.” (You can use editorial discretion to alter or shorten the text slightly.)
- You may also republish the photographs included in this story.
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Have questions on the series? Read more here, and direct specific questions to Katie Fleischer at email@example.com.