This Labor Day, We’re Investing in the Work of Black Women

Typically, when my home state of Mississippi shows up in the news or in history books, we are not given a glowing review. There are a variety of lists where Mississippi ranks last in the nation, and we here are well aware of our history of slavery, segregation, and inequity along racial lines.

But there is another story from Mississippi’s history that I do not think is told often enough. This is the story of low-income, black women who organized to create stronger communities and better outcomes for their people. When they saw the system was not working for them, they made their own way. This includes the women who started the Child Development Group of Mississippi, a Head Start program that provided children in poverty with early childhood education and employed more than 2500 women across the state. It includes the women who started the Community Health Centers in Mound Bayou that became a model for health centers nationwide. It is the story of Fannie Lou Hamer whose first goal was always to empower and strengthen her community to recognize their power and agency.

And it is that story of strong, empowered women leading their communities that I am committed to finding ways to continue telling today, particularly as our struggle for equity is far from over — women are more than eight times as likely as men to work poverty-wage jobs, and the stats are always worse for women of color. For example, when compared to all men, women make 80 cents on the dollar. That inequity grows even wider when you factor in race — the average black woman makes just 63 cents for every dollar earned by a white man. The truth is, we cannot talk about economic security without acknowledging the fact that our financial system has been built to marginalize people of color.

At the organization I run, Springboard To Opportunities, we work with families who live in affordable housing to help them reach their goals in life, work, and school. We pride ourselves on trusting that our families know better than anyone else what they need in order to be successful. But after many years of focus groups, conversations, and round tables, we have found that not many people believe that. Instead, our families are forced to wade through mountains of paperwork just to prove they deserve to receive benefits. And once they do that, they are still only given benefits in the form of what distant policymakers believe they deserve, rather than being given the dignity of choice that the rest of us are afforded.

Most of these families are headed by single, working mothers trying to balance a job, find childcare, and meet the other demands that come with raising a family while adding in the time-consuming work of continually proving you still qualify for SNAP, subsidized housing, or other safety net programs. Our moms have told us time and again that they want to go to school and want to find a career they love, but they need more cash and more time if that is ever going to happen.

That is why I am proud to announce a new initiative at Springboard To Opportunities in partnership with the Economic Security Project: The Magnolia Mother’s Trust. Through this initiative, 15 Springboard families will be given $1000 in cash each month to spend as they see fit, no strings attached. The Economic Security Project has been a champion of guaranteed income models in the United States since 2016, but this will be the first pilot that specifically targets extremely low-income, black women living in affordable housing in the nation. See why we and our partners at ESP felt so compelled to be part of change in this community here:

Our hope is that with a little extra breathing room and not constantly having to operate in survival mode, our families will have an opportunity to dream about goals for their own lives and, just like the incredible women before them, become leaders who help organize for change in their communities. The hope is to scale up the study in future years to both add to the research base around guaranteed income, while also lifting up women with tremendous potential who lack only the opportunities to fulfill it.

We will be learning alongside our families, finding out how this project affects benefits and what our families are capable of when they are offered serious trust and an opportunity to do more for themselves, their families, and their communities.

We believe that all people, no matter what their income level is, have the strength and capacity to be the authors of their own lives. And just as so many women did during the Civil Rights Movement, they have the capacity to write a better story for their communities and, ultimately, for Mississippi. For too long we have allowed ourselves and our fellow community members to live into the story of shame, mistrust, and marginalization. But The Magnolia Mother’s Trust seeks instead to continue the story of dignity, empowerment, and collaboration that also defines Mississippi. We hope that you will join us in continuing to write this story.

If you are interested in learning more or have questions about The Magnolia Mother’s Trust, you can reach out to me at aisha@springboardto.org or go to https://give.classy.org/magnoliamotherstrust to donate.