Fifteen Minutes of Feminism

Fifteen Minutes of Feminism: Majority Rule #4, Our Families Are Supported (with Aisha Nyandoro)


April 4, 2023

With Guests:

  • Dr. Aisha Nyandoro. Dr. Nyandoro is the CEO of Springboard to Opportunities, and director of Magnolia Mother’s Trust, a guaranteed income 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. Dr. Nyandoro has more than a decade of experience developing, implementing and evaluating programs that are aimed at improving the quality of life for individuals with limited resources, and has worked with various organizations and in various capacities as an academic evaluator, philanthropist, and nonprofit executive.

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In this Episode:

Looking back on Women’s History Month, we’re wondering: What will it take to achieve a society that prioritizes—and achieves—true equality? Our answers to those questions are the Majority Rules: a series of rules, created by Supermajority, intended to guide us to our ultimate goal of gender equality.

Today, we’re diving into Rule #4, “Our families are supported.” The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted many of the existing gaps in our care infrastructure, uncovering the millions of Americans who tragically fall through the cracks. In this moment, we’re faced with a number of questions—how can we ensure that our systems that are set up to help and support people? Specifically, how can we make sure they address the pressing needs of families, women who engage in caregiving, and individuals that come from communities where they are struggling to survive, let alone thrive?

Background reading:


00:00:10 Michele Goodwin: 

Welcome to Fifteen Minutes of Feminism, part of our On the Issues with Michele Goodwin at Ms. Magazine platform. As you know, we are a show that reports, rebels, and we tell it just like it is, and on Fifteen Minutes of Feminism, we count in our own feminist terms. We’re always examining the past as we think about the future, and this episode is part of a series that we are doing with Supermajority and we have the Supermajority Rules, and in this episode, we’re delving into rule number four, our families are supported.

Now, as you know, these statements that have gone along with these Majority Rules are affirmative. They speak to the aspiration of these times. It may not always be the case that for women across the country that they feel that their families are supported or that their lives are supported or that their government represents them or that they are actually equal in society according to pay, impact, political representation, and in fact, when we think about these issues, we know that there have been histories of injustice and histories of inequality. 

The global pandemic of which we are still in has highlighted many of the existing gaps in our care infrastructure and the millions of Americans who are falling through the cracks, and so there are important questions about how can we ensure that our systems that are set up to help people, support people, lift them up are set up to be inclusive for families that need support and help, for women who engage in caregiving, for individuals that come from communities where they are struggling to get ahead and struggling to get ahead intergenerationally. 

Molly Crabapple

So in unpacking these issues I can’t be more pleased than to have joining me Dr. Aisha Nyandoro. She is the CEO of the Springboard to Opportunities organization. She’s been on our show before. She’s director of Magnolia Mother’s Trust, we love that organization which this year will give 1,000 dollars per month for 12 months to 100 families headed by black women living in federally subsidized housing. It is a version of care that is so unique but it’s been working, and Dr. Nyandoro has more than a decade of experience developing, implementing and evaluating programs that are aimed at improving the quality of life for individuals with limited resource, what is a basic income that family should have is part of the agenda that she’s putting forward, and she’s worked with various organizations and in various capacities as an academic evaluator, philanthropist, and nonprofit executive. Really, really, truly, we could not be more excited than to have her on our show, so sit back and take a listen. 

Such a pleasure to be with you and I’m so impressed by all of the incredible work that you do, Aisha, and so I want to start off by asking you about the kinds of investments and caregiving that need to be made in order to help ameliorate the existing inequalities that we see all around us. When it comes to families being supported, what kinds of investments are necessary? 

00:03:49 Dr. Aisha Nyandoro: 

Yeah. Thank you so much, Michele, for that question, and thank you for having me again. It’s always great to be in communication with you and your audience. 

And when I think about the investments that are necessary for care, that’s a complicated question because at first we have to get to the place where we even value care and we recognize that the care economy is actually an economy, and we recognize that the labor that is done in the home is actually labor. 

I had this conversation actually with my 12-year-old last night and we’re talking about one of his friends and I was like, oh, you know, does his mom also work outside the home or whatever the question was, and he said, oh no, she doesn’t do anything, and I was like, oh, no, no, no, no, no. We reframe that and let’s have a conversation about what it actually does look like if you are caring for a home, I said, so you can call her the CEO of her home, you can call her a home worker, there are so many different labels, but just to say that, oh, this mom doesn’t do anything, it’s a narrative that is actually very harmful, and you know, that was a conversation with my 12-year-old, but unfortunately that is the mainstream narrative when we think about care.

So when we talk about what’s needed for the care economy, we first have to recognize that care is labor and we have to also recognize that that labor is being underpaid, understaffed, and not centered into the conversation around what it will look like to have equitable outcomes in a way that is necessary for us to get to a thriving ecosystem. 

00:05:22 Michele Goodwin: 

I’m so happy that you mentioned that, really grateful because so many people do ignore the fact that it is real labor. It’s taxing, it’s often physical, it’s psychological labor, it’s mental labor. I mean, virtually every aspect of how a body and mind could be placed into service is the caregiving that takes place within the familial setting, whether that happens to be in one’s immediate family, with a distant relative, with elder care, it’s all of that. 

And you are right. I mean, underpaid or sometimes not paid at all or recognized by the government even though when one thinks about a kind of social polity, it’s doing the kind of work that if that individual were not there, who would pick up the pieces?

00:06:16 Dr. Aisha Nyandoro: 

That’s right, and not only who would pick up the pieces, how many pieces would fall apart and how quickly would those pieces fall apart? You know, just thinking about the work that is done inside the home with so many of the families that we work with, I understand that if those women are no longer able to show up in a way that they show up for their families, that not only with their immediate household fall apart but the larger subset of their community will fall apart as well because they are holding so many different pieces.

And that’s the part of care, that a care is not just regulated to what’s happening within your home, it is also the ripple effect of what is happening with the larger ecosystem of the community as well, and all of those pieces are disrupted when we don’t talk about the role of care and recognize that labor and really begin to continue to have the conversations that are necessary about how do we lift up this infrastructure, how do we go about making sure that women are compensated for their labor in a way that allows them the ability to pay for care outside of the home if they in fact actually want to work outside of their home.

But then also how are we paying those childcare providers a wage which allows them to show up with love and kindness in their places of employment, and also having the dignity of knowing that I’m actually being paid a living wage. I’m not actually here taking care of someone else’s child or someone else’s loved one but I don’t have the financial ability to take care of mine because I’m not actually being paid a wage that centers my dignity, my humanity, and provides me a living income. 

00:07:52 Michele Goodwin: 

You’ve touched on the question, the point of dignity, and it seems to me that that is such an important value principle to think about within the longer arc of caregiving work and the histories of women being exploited during colonization, enslavement, you know, coverture rules that reached right to even the wealthiest of white women during, you know, the antebellum period, that they too lacked the status of full incorporation and personhood, and in fact, by law established to be the property of their husbands, unable to make decisions for themselves and not recognized within law as being independent persons. 

And so it seems to me that when you’re talking about dignity, you’re talking about something that roots back to an ironic origin story within the colonial period, because on one hand you have individuals that are fighting for their own freedom and equality and at the same time denying it to others, especially women. 

00:08:59 Dr. Aisha Nyandoro: 

No. That’s exactly right, and when we talk about dignity, when you take it way back to the origin story, it really is who’s deserving of dignity and historically who is centered in the care economy, and when we are going back historically, we know who has been centered in the care economy, it’s been black and brown women, and recognizing our full dignity and humanity and recognizing that we need to be compensated for the labor that we were forced to do for years for free, it’s a mind shift for so many individuals, but it’s a mind shift that needs to happen immediately because as we continue to have these dated narratives about what care looks like, it’s not allowing any of us to thrive and it’s not allowing us to have an economy that’s working for all of us and it’s not allowing us to ensure that we are investing in not only the care of our kids, who are our future, but also investing in the care of our elders, who as they begin to sunset need to be cared for, or care for family members that may have been harmed or have disabilities or those pieces. 

So it is interwoven and there are so many layers to it, but the reality is at the end of the day we all suffer if we’re not allowed to be able to provide the best care for our families from infancy to old age. We all suffer, not just some of us, the entire society. 

00:10:24 Michele Goodwin: 

Well, on that note, what does the Magnolia Mother’s Trust do to support families? I just think it’s just such an important organization in our nation’s conversation about how we can move in a productive way in order to address poverty, in order to address dignity, in order to address women being able to take care of their families. 

00:10:53 Dr. Aisha Nyandoro: 

Exactly right. It’s all about agency and trust. So the Magnolia Mother’s Trust is a guaranteed income program. It provides 1,000 dollars a month for 12 months, no strings attached, to black women that live in federally subsidized affordable housing. So we are talking about individuals who are making about 12,000 dollars annually. So when we talk about those who are being left out of the conversations around the care economy, it is exactly this population. 

So what the Magnolia Mother’s Trust does by providing a guaranteed income and stabilizing their economy, they are able to not only participate in the economy in a way that may make sense for them but they’re also able to participate in their families in a way that they may have not been able allowed to participate in previously. 

And I think that’s important because as we’re talking about the economy and the economy not working for those that are most the most financially vulnerable, you know, when I look at the women that we work with through the Magnolia Mother’s Trust, I think some of the biggest harm that is being done is by virtue of our inability to pay, or not…let me take that back. It’s not our inability, our choices to not pay a living wage in this country, we are making it virtually impossible for families to tap in and connect with each other. It is hard to parent in the way that you want a parent when you are working two or three jobs just to make ends meet. It is hard to think about, okay, how do I afford care for my child when we know that on average childcare costs 1,200 dollars monthly per child in some places, and if you’re only making…

00:12:29 Michele Goodwin: 

You can’t make that up. You said 1,200 dollars per child, not three children, and it’s 1,200 dollars a month. It’s per child. 

00:12:40 Dr. Aisha Nyandoro: 

Exactly. Yes, and when we’re talking about safe, adequate care, yes, in some places, that’s the reality. So how are you supposed to know that you are able to provide safe care for your kids when you’re not making a living wage? So we are forcing women to choose between working within the home or working outside of the home, and not only that, we’re making families choose between working period and parenting, and those aren’t choices that anyone should be forced to make. 

00:13:15 Michele Goodwin: 

So there is a lot of work that you are doing, that the organization is doing on the ground, meeting mothers exactly where they are in a community-oriented and centered way, guided by smart investment. You know, some might wonder, well, can’t the government do this? Is it important that it’s, you know, done in private? How do you sort out the sort of importance of what is happening now and who should continue to intervene? Should this be where government steps and should it be where, no, this is the right level where private individuals, private entities need to be doing this work? How do we understand how we maximize and go forward with a project such as? 

00:14:00 Dr. Aisha Nyandoro: 

Thank you. Yeah. Thank you so much for that question. I definitely think it’s something that government should be doing, but government at the federal level. We need universal childcare. We need universal pre-K. We need expanded child tax credit. All of the work that we are doing with our work around guaranteed income is funded by private philanthropy. That’s not sustainable. We are providing beautiful proof points and beautiful data points about what is possible when you allow people to have the financial resources that they need to thrive, just not to survive, but it’s just that. It’s case points in time because we are only able to touch a small subset of the population.

But we have more than enough data now that shows what the government is able to do as it relates to cash without restrictions, and we have more than enough data to show how that cash impacts family in real time. So with the expansion of the child tax credit that we had in 2021, we were able to cut child poverty by 46 percent. So that was families having the resources that they needed to pay for childcare, pay for food, pay their bills, get out of debt, go on vacation, whatever it was that they needed. We saw that in real time. 

So when I think about what’s necessary, it’s definitely government intervention, but it’s government intervention at the federal level. Unfortunately, in this country we have enough data that shows what happens at state level interventions, that if you have state level interventions where you have more…

Children draw on top of a ‘cancelled check’ prop during a rally in front of the U.S. Capitol December 13, 2021 in Washington, DC. ParentsTogether Action held a rally with parents, caregivers and children to urge passage of the Build Back Better legislation to extend the expanded Child Tax Credit that was to expire on January 15, 2022. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

00:15:29 Michele Goodwin: 

They end up being punitive often. 

00:15:32 Dr. Aisha Nyandoro: 

But not only that, they end up not getting to the people. So here in Mississippi, not only is it punitive but case in point, here in Mississippi where we are one of the poorest countries in this state, less than one percent of eligible families actually receive temporary assistance for needy families. Less than one percent. And so you have a plethora of families who wouldn’t benefit from this support, not actually getting access to it because not only is it punitive, but just the state has decided that we’re going to put all of these rules in place that make it virtually impossible for you to tap into getting the support that you need. 

00:16:10 Michele Goodwin: 

So state level kind of blocks. You know, it reminds me when you mentioned this within the context of Mississippi, is that it is a former slave state, Jim Crow prevalent there, and save for federal interventions whether it’s been the Supreme Court, Congress through the 1964 Civil Rights Act or ‘65 Voting Rights Act or the expansion of Medicaid or by executive order, it’s not been a state that has been rallying for the interests of women, nor certainly for the interest of black women historically. 

00:16:54 Dr. Aisha Nyandoro: 

You know, it’s historically, but unfortunately that’s still the narrative and that’s still the reality of Mississippi. It is a state that has not changed a lot of their perspectives on how we go about supporting women. It is a state that still doesn’t have postpartum care beyond six months, I mean beyond six weeks for mothers. It is a state that doesn’t have Medicaid expansion. It is a state that does not have an earned income tax credit. It is a state that really…I love Mississippi, so let me put that out there. I love, love, love this place. I am homegrown goodness, but it is a state that continuously works really hard to ensure that the most marginalized stay marginalized. 

00:17:39 Michele Goodwin: 

Well, you know, I think that the honesty that you bring and the nuance that it’s possible to love our family, love the places where we’re at and still recognize the inequality that exist in those spaces, and it’s just simply undeniable within the context of Mississippi. It just is, those histories, and so at another point maybe we’ll have an episode of the podcast that just simply unpacks, you know, where we are post-slavery in the states that wielded it like a sword and that fought to be able to maintain it. How difficult is it to divest in those states of the badges and the incidence of slavery? 

But I want to turn us, because you know, Fifteen minutes of feminism, we always say we count it in our own feminist terms, and the time goes by so quickly. So I want to turn to Supermajority’s Super Rule which asserts that the people most impacted must be at the forefront of the solutions, and when it comes to issues of the family, how can we support American families? What does that really look like? Here I’m thinking about who should be leading in the conversation. 

00:18:59 Dr. Aisha Nyandoro: 

The family should be leading in the conversation, and I love everything about the Supermajority and the fact that it really is about centering the needs of those most impacted and recognizing their agency and their dignity and trusting them to come up with the solutions, and it’s so simple but we always make it seem like it’s so hard, but it really is just listening. It is listening to community, and that is hard work because you have to be intentional about building those relationships, but you also have to be intentional about removing yourself from what it is that you are hearing and removing yourself from what it is that you thought that you self-perceived ideas or notions were about what the realities would be or what the solutions would be, and just saying, hmm, I’m hearing something different. Let me remove my ego from it and go about actually showing up for families. 

When we started the Magnolia Mother’s Trust it wasn’t our intent, in 2017 when we started thinking about this work it wasn’t our intent to start a guaranteed income program. It was our intent to listen to families and whatever families told us they needed we would go about providing. Families told us that they needed more cash, period. They talked about the fact that they were working, but because of the wages they were receiving they weren’t able to provide for their families. They talked about not having access to reliable transportation and get to and from work. They talked about not having access to childcare to get to and from work. 

So at the end of the day, everything we heard wasn’t, oh, maybe we should just give them more of this or more of that. It was like, oh, it really is just a lack of financial resources and how do we go about giving families the financial resources that they need? And so it really was just about listening and then removing the barriers out of the way in order to go about implementing those solutions. So at the forefront, we just have to listen to community and trust community, and in this country it’s really, really hard. 

00:20:55 Michele Goodwin: 

Right. It seems, well, people are disregarded when they’re telling their own stories. I mean, that too is part of a historical narrative. 

Okay, so time has just flown by. So quickly, then it brings me to a question that we ask on each of our episodes which is about a silver lining. I mean, we’ve talked about some heavy issues and in so much of it, when you think about unequal pay, the high cost of childcare and rent and parents having to work multiple jobs and that isn’t allowing them to get ahead, that’s just allowing them to try to stay afoot and so much more, that it could be really hard to see a silver lining, but we do ask about silver linings. 

And so I’m wondering what you see as a silver lining in the work that you do and as we’re thinking about Supermajority’s effort to help us think about the kind of ways in which we can reframe our understanding of how we go forward. 

00:21:57 Dr. Aisha Nyandoro: 

Oh, I have so many silver linings day-to-day. My entire way I show up and work is about silver linings. I think a silver lining is the fact that the Supermajority even exists and that we are talking about changing the ecosystem and changing the way we frame the conversations and really saying, okay, how do we go about making sure that the most marginalized is put into the solution as to how we go about caring for our families, caring for economy, caring for ourselves, caring for humanity. So that’s a silver lining. 

When I think about my work day-to-day, the amazing women that I get to work with in the Magnolia Mother’s Trust and how they show up with joy and laughter under the backdrop of so many inequities, that’s a silver lining. 

And also for me, the silver lining is I think about my work 100 years from now and I think about the fact that in the 100 years I will be gone onto glory, but the benefits of what it is that we are laying now when we really do talk about how do we create an economy that works for all, how do we get to economic freedom, I know that those benefits will live above and beyond my lifetime. 

So the work that we are doing to really go about talking about reframing and economic freedom for all, just not a few, and how do we make sure that we are centering the most marginalized in those conversations, that’s the silver lining because three years ago, five years ago we weren’t talking about the work in this regard. We were still doing the very punitive blaming individuals rather than interrogating the systems. I had a tongue thing. Interrogating the systems and the policies that allow individuals to be impoverished rather than looking at it, you know. So now my silver lining is that we’re actually getting to the place where we are asking the hard questions and doing the hard work and centering those that need to be centered into the equation of change. So lots of little silver linings to get us going. 

00:23:54 Michele Goodwin: 

That’s powerful. Well, Dr. Aisha Nyandoro, CEO of Springboard to Opportunities and director of Magnolia Mother’s Trust, thank you so very much for joining us at Ms. Magazine for our Fifteen Minutes of Feminism, part of our On the Issues with Michele Goodwin platform. Thank you. 

00:24:19 Dr. Aisha Nyandoro: 

Thank you so much for having me. 

Michele Goodwin: 

Guests and listeners, that’s it for today’s episode of On the Issues with Michele Goodwin at Ms. Magazine. I want to thank each of you for tuning in for the full story and engaging with us. We hope you’ll join us again for our next episode where you know we’ll be reporting, rebelling, and telling it just like it is. 

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This has been your host, Michele Goodwin, reporting, rebelling, and telling it just like it is. On the Issues with Michele Goodwin is a Ms. Magazine joint production. Michele Goodwin and Kathy Spiller are our executive producers. Our producers for this episode are Roxy Szal, Oliver Haug, and also Allison Whelan. Our social media content producer is Sophia Panigrahi. The creative vision behind our work includes art and design by Brandi Phipps, editing by Will Alvarez and Natalie Holland, and music by Chris J Lee.