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 do nails for a living, and other than when we had to close for a while last year, have been doing them through the pandemic. I did it very safely, even more so than the requirements of a regular nail shop—Lysol, bleach, everything. I was worried but I kept working because I needed to make money—it took a while for unemployment to finally kick in. The owners of the building where my salon is, they don’t care that I wasn’t working or losing money. They want their rent, AT&T still wanted their money for the internet, Verizon still wanted their money.
I was fully unemployed in April of 2020, but it took until the middle of May to get any unemployment. And the only reason I was able to get that is because I was working part-time by then and I happened to do the nails of a woman who worked intake at the state unemployment department, and she made sure my claim finally got through. So it ended up being okay.
Once we were allowed to open again fully, business was great. I didn’t realize that people would pay upwards of $100 for nails with the little diamonds on them, so I wasn’t going to say no to that. I literally started at 8 in the morning, and didn’t stop until 11 p.m. That was almost every day for the first few months after the lockdown.
I was just telling my client, “Everything happens for a reason.” You could look at it like everything with COVID was a negative—and for some people it surely was—but I got to spend more quality time with my kids. We painted every night, we played games every night. From the financial perspective, there were bad things that happened, like my car got stolen. But from the extra money I had through the program, I was able to buy a new car. I would keep checking online for cars, and I was patient and saved my money. I just really didn’t want to have a car note.
I was also able to use the money to help pay for my kids’ school and make sure they had what they needed. I’ve been getting more clients, so I’ve been redecorating the salon. It’s a mess right now, but it’s going to be beautiful.
So I used the Magnolia Mother’s Trust money to make money, and I’ve helped some other moms in the program from my year do the same—one woman started a clothing boutique. And imagine if all of us in the community just bought one thing from her, how much money would that be? We have to look out for each other. Because it’s hard. Sometimes when you don’t have money and then you get money, you spend it so quickly. You have to pay Peter so that Paul will be fine.
One woman started a clothing boutique. And imagine if all of us in the community just bought one thing from her, how much money would that be? We have to look out for each other.
Even with the money not coming in any longer, I know I’m going to be okay. Because I’ve set it up that I have multiple streams of income. I’ve been able to invest probably $11,000 into my salon since I started receiving the money. New items to sell, putting money into making it look nicer, now we have this beautiful pedicure area in the back.
And I still manage to work at my old job at a beauty wholesaler, too. I keep that job, even though they don’t treat me well. There was a whole mess where someone called and said I was rude on the phone, and even though I knew I would never do that, they didn’t believe me. It turned out, it was my white co-worker who was rude to the person. Nothing happened to her for it, but when they thought it was me, they tried to fire me.
It’s a racist place and I know I should leave, but I get a big discount on the beauty supply products for being an employee, and that helps me in my own salon. I don’t want to have to deal with ignorant people, but working there has given me opportunities like having my own salon. So it’s hard to lose those connections that are important to get ahead. Black women have to put up with a lot of crap, and sometimes you have to weigh out whether it’s worth it or not. And for me right now, that five hours I work there a week is something I can put up with because, in the long run, it’s helping everyone who depends on me.
Black women have to put up with a lot of crap, and sometimes you have to weigh out whether it’s worth it or not.
There’s this untruth that women like me sit at home and don’t do anything. From TV and things, they think that we’re at home sitting lazily doing nothing, making all these kids, everyone takes their money and just runs and goes shopping. And that’s definitely not the truth. I can’t tell you the last time I’ve been in a mall or whatever, I just go to the grocery store to get things that we need. I’m not lazy, I work my butt off day and night. Nobody wants to be broke, I know I don’t.
To change that misconception, I think people need to hear our stories, just like this.
And now everyone is talking about guaranteed income, and it started here in Jackson. It’s helped hundreds of families, and I know it’s changed life for my family. As a Black family, as a Black mom—they talk about you because you do need help. Or they think you’re strong so you don’t need the help. But if the help is out there, don’t put a label on it. Go out and get the help. They’re gonna call you the names but who cares. All it takes is for one person in your family to catch COVID, and then you can lose everything.
As a Black mom, they think you’re strong so you don’t need the help. But if the help is out there, don’t put a label on it. Go out and get the help. All it takes is for one person in your family to catch COVID, and then you can lose everything.
My other favorite saying is “for a reason, a season or a lifetime.” And I didn’t want the money for a lifetime. I want to be able to look back and say: It happened for a reason, it was one of the best things that ever happened. I told my kids when we started getting it, we’re not going to count it. It’s going to go in the bank account, and if something comes due, we’ll use it. But we’re not going to start counting on it because it’s not forever.
And as hard as I work, it’s given me the ability to—maybe two days a month—I don’t start the car, I don’t get out of pajamas. Those are sometimes the best days of my life. I literally just relax. I’m like, “Ooh, let me take a nap.” Fall asleep for a little bit, do something for a little bit, “Ooh, I need another nap.” That’s my body saying: You’ve worked hard, you deserve a few naps.
In the future, I want to purchase a home. I don’t need nothing fancy, just a starter home. So I just have to save up some more, and get my income to debt ratio where it needs to be. I promise you, I’ll buy a home very soon.
And I have other dreams—one day you’re going to see my name in Essence. Maybe as a celebrity stylist, or because I started a school for entrepreneurs.
So that’s what I’d tell the new group of women getting this money: Save some. It’s hard to do, but it’s possible. And invest in yourself. That can be anything—it doesn’t have to be starting a business—it could be self-care or learning something new.
But you’re the most important investment you can make.
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.)
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