I am a scrappy activist and advocate. The seeds of my activism were planted all throughout my childhood. I was teased and ridiculed during my school years about my physical appearance particularly my teeth. The teasing and ridicule was incredibly painful but the pain that I felt gave me a desire to fight for those deemed to be the “throwaways.”
When I entered Spelman College, I met people who for the first time in my life, accepted and supported me unconditionally. My years as a student at Spelman cultivated and focused my activism towards improving women’s lives. Spelman taught me that I have a responsibility to use my talents in the service of others. It is the desire to be of service that led me to law school and drives my advocacy on behalf of single mothers and children. I never considered that one day I would actually live the life of a low-income single mother with children in need of someone to advocate on my behalf.
In February 2006 at the age of 43, I started over with two children, $120.00, an empty refrigerator, and two months of outstanding mortgage payments. I thought that starting over would not be difficult because I had the necessary educational and professional credentials. So I jumped on my proverbial bike and started pedaling as fast and as furiously as possible on what I believed would be a short journey towards rebuilding a new life for my children and myself. But my journey has not been either short or easy. My journey brought me face to face with the traditional systems established to provide a safety net for low-income single mothers. I had to find a full-time job preferably with health insurance during a time period of high unemployment. Until then, I had to care for my children with little to no money while simultaneously managing the mental and emotional issues that I kept stuffed inside during a difficult marriage. So I swallowed my pride applied for jobs, made trips to food banks, applied for benefits, and accepted help from friends who have become like family. While time consuming, invasive, and at times frustrating, I did not find any of these designated safety net systems as exasperating as the child support system.
The child support system was created to provide financial support for children. While necessary, the child support system can be very complex and convoluted. When I represented children in child custody and post divorce decree matters, I observed custodial parents, primarily mothers, returning to court again and again in an attempt to secure payment of child support arrearages that were owed. In one of my cases, a mother forgave all but $8,000.00 of the $32,000.00 in back child support that was owed and released the father from paying any future child support. The remaining $8,000.00 was broken down into $500.00 monthly payments that have never been paid. I found myself becoming extremely frustrated for them. At the outset of my own case, I decided that I would interact with the child support system as little as possible and only rely upon my income to take care of my children. This decision led me to conclude that single mothers, regardless of income level, would be better served if taught to be educationally and economically stable independent of the so called “safety net” systems that were established to provide such support. To accomplish this I believe that we must work collaboratively to provide low-income parents, particularly single mothers, with the tools needed to achieve the educational and economic stability needed to maintain a household.
This blog post was originally published by The Aspen Institute, Ascend Program
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