Front and Center: ‘A Lot of Single Mothers Want to Work—They Just Don’t Have the Support or Family or Guidance’

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 (MMT), 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.

My name is Joni. I’m 38 years old and I live in Lincoln Garden apartments, a subsidized housing complex, in Jackson, Mississippi. I have two teenage daughters: Shaylan, 17, and Hayley, 16. Shaylan just took the ACT, and my younger one wants to take it too. She already knows she wants to go to Alcorn State University and practice cosmetology. I’m encouraging her to do anything she wants to do—whatever she wants, I know she can do it.

I’m currently a bus monitor for First Student, a school bus company. I find joy in being able to get up and go to work every day and get inspiration from people’s kids.

Most of the jobs I’ve had have been working with children. I worked in preschool for the past 10 to 12 years. I’d love to run my own home daycare for newborns to 2-year-olds. There are a lot of moms who work nights who need babysitters, and it’s hard to trust people with your children. I would like to have a night daycare where moms could know their children are safe.

(Photo courtesy of Springboard to Opportunities; art by Brandi Phipps)

Before starting Magnolia Mother’s Trust, I was making about $700 to $800 a month. It really wasn’t enough. Once you pay your bills, you don’t have any back up and you’re back at square one. You have to feed your children, you have to feed yourself. Even with SNAP benefits it’s still a struggle. I try to cover everything, but the majority of the time I’m still short and I have to try to make it stretch.

When you have growing children, and they’re eating and eating, it gets hard. The cost of gas is so high, and I have to put gas in my car every three days because I’m constantly running back and forth with my kids trying to get here and there, as well as driving to and from work. That’s just life. 

I’m going to be honest, before MMT, if it wasn’t for my parents, I don’t know what I would’ve done. They’ve been a big help. When I’ve been short I’ve had to depend on them. “Daddy, do you have this?” “Mom, can you loan me that?” But I don’t like doing that. I’m grown, and they have their own bills. 

There are a lot of single mothers around here who want to work and just don’t have the support or family or guidance in front of them. That lack keeps them in the same position. For some people, all they have is themselves. I would love for there to be a program that supported younger moms—teen moms, or women in their early 20s. It would offer them basic knowledge on how to feed, change diapers, and how to manage buying diapers and formula and things they need for their babies. Being a new mom is scary! It would be like a mom mentorship program.

When my kids were first born, I was receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (Editor’s note: Mississippi is currently embroiled in a corruption scandal around this program, with nearly $100 million in funds meant for families like Joni’s used for the pet projects of state officials and celebrities instead. MMT Founder Aisha Nyandoro recently testified on Capitol Hill about the need to reform the program to one more like MMT). I haven’t gotten it since then because I’ve always tried to keep a job. I’m not prideful, so TANF was a big help for me. It started me off and it gave me a sense of wanting to keep going and provide and get out there and find jobs. 

I don’t agree with the politicians who say programs like MMT stop people from working. I have always kept a job no matter how much it was paying. Just because we’re getting assistance doesn’t mean we don’t have to work. You can work AND get assistance. Getting assistance actually drives me to want to do better. I can’t be at home doing nothing. I have bills, I have kids, everyday life is happening. With the grace of God, I gotta keep going.

Being a part of MMT is a blessing. To know that I have a back up and can worry less about having enough gas or having to call on my mom. Now that I have this income coming in, I can save a little bit more. I can try to preserve a little bit more. There is light at the end of the tunnel.

Eventually I’d like to own my own house, not rent. I want to build a home for me and my kids. A place where I don’t have to answer to anyone, where no one can tell me I need to go or that I’m being evicted. The sense of ownership is so important. Knowing that it’s mine and I worked hard for it and no one can take it away.

While in the program, I’d like to be able to do some of the things my kids want to do, rather than just what they need. They want to go to different places but I don’t usually have the money to take them. So I say, “Maybe we’ll go next time if I have something extra left over.”

Now I do have a little extra—and I want to take them sightseeing, or out to eat.

My eldest is driving now so I’d like to try to get her a car. They want to have their hair done. They have to worry about people saying things because children these days are cruel. Not everybody has the same advantages as everybody else.

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 Katie Fleischer at

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Joni works for a school bus company to provide for her two teenage daughters. She dreams of one day opening a daycare that would give parents working the night shift a safe place to leave their children.