Thursday, July 25, 2013

Single black mothers: Putting life on hold for your children

Carolyn Rhodes, 40, paused after taking a sip of coffee.  Her silence reflected years of carrying a promise she made 20 years-ago.

“As a parent, it is a must that you now have to put your life on hold for the sake of your child,” Rhodes says. “This can range anywhere from putting a degree on hold, taking a promotion that causes you to travel a lot, and dating.”

In two years her son expects to graduate from Duke University. Raising a black son as a single parent requires all a mother has to give.  We talked about the pain black mothers carry. We talked about death in the streets and incarceration.  She told me she made her promise to protect her son from becoming what she has seen.

Rhodes is the Office Manager for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. Her passion is working with single mothers. In 2010, Rhodes founded Overcoming Obstacles, a nonprofit that helped single mothers become self-sufficient through job training, financial management parental education, and self-esteem building.  Rhodes disbanded the nonprofit due to the strain to raise funds to support the work.

“I see other women who just need a helping hand and a role model in their lives,” Rhodes says.   “Why can’t I set the standards high enough to make another mother want to achieve and accomplish the same things in life? 

Another pause followed the next sip.  I searched for lingering disappointment – not completing her college degree, a missed chance at love or a job in another city.  The theme of her message was unwavering.  Mothers of black boys have to give so much more to shield their sons from the obstacles they face.

 “There are not enough educational resources about parenting.   Not enough financial resources for single mothers,” she said.  “One may assume that because a mother works 40 hours a week, that this is enough to provide for a family.   Not enough family support.  There is a “leave it, to beaver” mentality that has been the biggest obstacles for single mothers.”

The maladies of black boys are often blamed on broken families and inadequate parenting. Children conceived from relationships devoid of love have produced a generation of children grappling to find love.  Many mothers who love their children are left alone to contend with raising children without the resources to offer what is needed to achieve.

Single mothers need more to help them raise their children.  When there’s not enough to go around, Rhodes says mothers have to dig deeper to make a way.  It would help if more was done to support single mothers.

 “Our community needs to go back to the basics of sharing, giving, taking time out for one another,” Rhodes says.  “My grandmother was on a fixed income and was a domestic worker.  However, she never received government assistance and had enough money to buy fresh vegetables, create her own garden, and feed the children in the neighborhood as well as her grandchildren.  She could borrow an egg or a loaf of bread from her neighbor without being judged by the community. This was the spirit of a good community by meeting the needs of the people.”

It’s a lesson Rhodes continues to teach whenever she’s given a chance to speak.

 “Every day, I see a person that looks like me. I see a person that wants the same out of life that I do. I see a person that is looking at me through the same lenses as the world sees me,” Rhodes says.  “So, the passion that I maintain to continue the tenacious drive is that I have someone depending on me.  As a mother, I am the biggest role model for my child regardless of how society tries to shape him.”

Her son will graduate in two years.  Two more years of sacrificing to protect her son from the agony in the streets. Love has carried Rhodes this far.  Faith has guided each footstep.

A few breaths followed the last sip of coffee. She closed her eyes in that gentle way mothers do when considering the love that traveled through the womb.  A smile followed.

Black mothers carry the love of their sons. They know the potential that can be harmed by improper influence.  There’s little time to rest. Often, they have to work alone. Sometimes, they receive the gift of a helping hand.

No time to rest.  Too much is at risk.

The gift of a mother’s love is sacrifice.

Thanks Mama!


1 comment:

  1. I am so very proud of Carolyn Rhodes. She was one of my wonderful students during her high school days here in Durham. I always admired her sense of purpose and her ability to serve as a role model for others. Clearly, she has been a strong role model for her son and for other citizens in our city.

    Thank you, Carl, for spotlighting the leadership and the community work of Ms. Rhodes.