Front and Center: “I Had To Quit My Job To Help My Baby,” Says Johnnie, Essential Worker and Guaranteed Income Recipient

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 was born in Clarkson, Miss., but moved to Jackson when I was three—so I’ve been here most of my life. I have one child, a daughter who just turned 14. She’s going into high school, and I am just not ready for it!

On the weekends, we love to go out to eat. My weekends are for her since that’s when I don’t have to work. She wants to be an actor or singer. I want her to try out theater classes so she can see if she really wants to pursue that as a career, but I also want her to have something to fall back on in case that doesn’t work out. She loves to create things, so I think science is something she should look into studying in the future.

I originally started out working as a certified nursing assistant. I got into that because when I was in high school, my first boyfriend became paralyzed. I was one of his caregivers and then went to work in a nursing home. I did that until 2009, when I went to work for the Mississippi Gaming Commission. I got that job because the mother of the executive director was in the nursing home, and he was really struck by how I cared for his mother so he hired me to work on his team. Doing that allowed me to go back to school, which was a big goal of mine.

I currently work as a case investigator and contact tracer for the Mississippi Department of Health on the COVID-19 team. When the pandemic first hit, I was working at Koch Foods as an office clerk. I’d sign the drivers in and out of the food processing plant. It was stressful during the pandemic, because drivers were coming from all over the country and we stayed open because the food service industry were deemed essential workers. I was also just coming back to work, because I had been ill from January to early March. My short-term disability claim for that time period was denied at first because my doctor didn’t submit the paperwork by the deadline, so I had to go through the whole process again to finally get compensation for the time I was off work. I went to my boss to see if there were any kind of assistance programs the company could offer because I was going into the pandemic not having worked for a few months and without any income, and he said no. 

My hours were cut because of COVID-19, and I was putting my health at risk having to work during the pandemic because we didn’t know where the drivers were coming from in the country and I was touching all the paperwork they touched. I did my best to stay safe—I wore a mask, I socially distanced, I used lots of hand sanitizer. I’m truly grateful that I never got COVID-19. 

The first stimulus check helped me catch up on back rent since I didn’t have any income while I was ill in early 2020, which really helped me. My neighbor also took great care of me, and would always check up on me and my daughter to make sure we were okay and give us some extra food. 

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During the pandemic, it was really hard for me because it was mandatory for me to go to work, but then my daughter was home from school and I didn’t have anyone to be there to help her. I also didn’t have internet at home, so I had to pay to get that so that she could do her school work online. It was really a struggle for both of us—it was hard for her to learn from a computer, and I had to put in the extra time to try and teach her between work.

I ended up leaving my job because it was not safe and my daughter was not able to continue with school without my help. If I could’ve had somewhere to take her where she could get help with her online school, then that would’ve allowed me to keep my job. But I didn’t have any options, so I had to quit my job to help my baby. I want her to have an education and I couldn’t let her fall behind. 


I didn’t have any options, so I had to quit my job to help my baby. I want her to have an education and I couldn’t let her fall behind. 


If I would’ve had some assistance from my employer, I also wouldn’t have been behind on my rent. Not having any income during the time I was out sick was really challenging; my car also got repossessed. So it took until getting my stimulus check that I was able to catch up on my car payments and insurance and get my car back, which was the way I got to work. I’m lucky that my new employer is better about support than my last job—if you need a ride or something, they will make sure to try and help you. 

I really think the government needs to have some kind of program to make sure that essential workers are taken care of if there’s another pandemic. I also think all communities need some kind of food pantry that has things like water, tissues, access to hand sanitizer since those basic needs to survive were things we struggled with during the pandemic. I really just think that employers and the government need to be prepared better for something like this – have supplies, have support programs, have a plan in place. I just think of all of the people who lost their lives and it makes me so sorry all of this happened the way it did.


I really think the government needs to have some kind of program to make sure that essential workers are taken care of if there’s another pandemic.


I have been trying to complete my MBA program, because I only have two classes left to finish. Before all of this, I was working and saving up to finish those classes, but when the pandemic hit I just couldn’t save any money because it was two months I wasn’t working before I got my new job. So now that I’m part of the Magnolia Mother’s Trust, I’m able to save some money to finally finish my degree. From there, I want to get my Ph.D. So that is my goal I’m working toward while I receive this money. 

My dream job is to one day own a nursing home. I really want to work with the Alzheimer’s unit—those patients are very special. I used to be a caretaker for someone with Alzheimer’s and that really put me on a path to wanting to work with other patients in an Alzheimer’s and memory care unit. I like to listen to their stories; they are really going to give you some history. I just love to help people, to take care of people. It’s one of the gifts I’ve been blessed with so I want to put it to good use and be of service. 

That dream for myself gives me hope, seeing my baby go to high school gives me hope—I want to see her doing well. I’m doing well in my life and have things on track, and I want to do better for myself and do better for my daughter. 


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.
  • If you share republished stories on social media, we’d appreciate being tagged in your posts. You can find Ms. on Twitter @MsMagazine, on Instagram @ms_magazine and on Facebook. Springboard to Opportunities is on Twitter @SpringboardToOp, on Instagram @springboard_to and on Facebook.

Have questions on the series? Read more here, and direct specific questions to Kylie Cheung at kcheung@msmagazine.com.


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About

Johnnie had to quit her job as an essential worker during the pandemic to care for her daughter, and now works for the Mississippi Department of Health.