I was nineteen years old when I had my first child. After my family had invested money, time, and other resources into me attending private school all of my life, coming home after my freshman year of college pregnant was not cool. It was then that I really began my practice of self-sufficiency. Fine. Y’all don’t want me to have this baby? Cool. I’ll do it by myself.
And, in some ways I did. Rather than waiting for my mother to cool down and adjust to me living at home while pregnant, I decided to go back to my college town and live with my daughter’s father. I could take care of myself. I would resist asking for help from my family to prove a point — that I could be self-sufficient.
As I struggled as a young mother to make ends meet while earning $5.25 an hour working 3 jobs and taking college courses, I understood that closed mouths don’t get fed. Even if I wasn’t going to ask my family for help, I knew I needed it from somewhere. My daughter’s paternal aunt put me on to how to apply for food stamps and cash assistance. I began to see my school not as a monster to overcome but a bastion of resources that I also deserved to benefit from because I was taking on student debt to be there.
In real life, none of us hardly does anything all alone. We rely on all kinds of systems to support our ways of life. We rely on sanitation workers to collect our trash, for healthcare workers to take care of us when we are sick. We rely on a neighbor to watch our home when we go away on vacation. Even when we think we are going it alone, there’s usually someone in the background lending support.
For me, the away from home community I established began with the woman who ran the volunteer services program at my college. She gave me her son’s old crib and encouraged her staff members to embrace supporting me when I had an infant. She also helped find a placement for me that turned into a 3-year stint at a job. It wasn’t just any position either. I worked at a community foundation and it was there that I was introduced to philanthropy and the non-profit sector. That job shaped the rest of my career and what I decided I wanted to do with my life.
My being able to be in the position to receive this assistance was also rooted in privilege. Even though we lived in the ‘hood, my Black…