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An Open Letter From A Former Teen Mom To Her Now HS Graduate

Dear Queen

The chains are broken. You broke them. I broke them. We broke them together.

Born to a teenage mother, perpetuating the troublesome cycle, at 17, I too became a teenage mother. Yet, MY truth be told, I became way more than that. I became your mother, I became me.


Your birth altered the course of my life and altered the course of my reality. Your birth placed me in a position to have to fight the greatest battle of all time (well in my mind); it placed me in a position to RISE up, rise up out of all the woes condemned for a teenage mother and rise up out of all the woes condemned for a child of a teenage mother.

Your birth was revolutionary, it changed my life, which universally, has and will continue to change the lives of many.

I remember living in the "projects" (as they call them, we call them "pyramids") in Irvington, New Jersey with no food to eat. All I had was spaghetti noodles and sauce, and even the sauce we were running out of. I calculated my money and I had enough to get back and forth to work, but not enough for the both of us to eat, so I didn't. I didn't eat for three days so you could. I went to work and drank coffee to keep me going, I added half a cup of creamer and eight packs of sugar to make it filling. Gross, right? I know. On the last day of the three, I picked you up from work, you were sick and threw up on the bus.

The author pictured with her daughterCourtesy of Dr. Malachi

Hungered, and frustrated, I said, "Oh nooo Sareen, maaaan come on." Another passenger said to me, "It's not her fault," and I responded, "I know, I'm sorry, I'm so very sorry, I'm just exhausted." By that time, we were already on our fourth bus, one hour into our two-hour journey home. When we got home, I had nothing to feed you that would soothe your aching belly, all I had was those spaghetti noodles and sauce. So, I boiled water, boiled the noodles and put a hell of a lot of spices in it and called it soup. You ate it and you felt better. I was still hungry, but I didn't care, all that mattered was you felt better. On this very day, I said NO MORE.

Teenage mother or not, I refused to allow my child to experience these circumstances.

I refused to allow you to live in the "projects", a home filled with roaches, where bloods were tagging up the building, and drug transactions were taking place in the stairwells.

I refused to allow you to live in a neighborhood where victims of the crack epidemic roamed freely in the streets, looking for their next hit, pipe in hand. I refused to allow YOU to become another statistic, a "fatherless", "born to a teenage mother", raised in the "ghetto" (as they call it, others call it "home") statistic.

On this day, I became a warrior, a fighter, I became sister Betty Shabazz. I became Queen of Sheba. I became Oshun's daughter. I became courage, strength, fortitude, destiny. I became the best version of your mother I could possibly be. I dropped to my knees in plight and rose to my feet in strength and I began to fight!

I fought EVERY SINGLE destructive thing that would get in my path. I balled up my fist, I stuck out my chest, and I fought.

I fought as you watched. You watched me rise. You watched me scream out when I felt like I would break and could no longer endure. You watched me cry out when I had a broken heart, you watched me in fury, you watched me in rage, you watched me roar like a lioness in the jungle watching over her cub. You watched me come up against oppressors, you watched me in elation, you watched me praise. You watched me rise. You watched me become a Social Psychologist (of all things), the President and Chairman of Determined to Obtain Pure Excellence youth development program, an author, and a woman of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Innnnnnncorporated. You watched. You watched me win the war, the battle I fought with all my strength so that you could win.

We won.

Lord God, I still have no idea what that rise looked like from your eyes and still, I may be too sensitive to hear it, to hear your truth. But in my sensitivity, I will never shield you from telling it, as I've always taught you to speak your mind and to SPEAK YOUR TRUTH.

The author's newly graduated daughterCourtesy of Dr. Malachi

This morning, I woke up and realized that I can finally put my weapons down, that the battle is over and I no longer have to fight for you to live.

Graduating from high school with a 4.1 weighted GPA, I no longer have to fight. Graduating from high school with approximately $1,000,000 in scholarship offers, I no longer have to fight. Attending a top performing arts school in the fall, I no longer have to fight. Selected to speak at Kenwood Academy's high school graduation, I no longer have to fight. The war is won man, it's over! Statistically, we were slated to fell, yet, we won! We fucking won! We rose above our circumstances, no we soared above our circumstances.

Battle scars, bruises to our egos, bruises to our spirit, bruises to our hearts, bruises to our soul, bruises that will heal and fade in time, bruised but victorious -- we are victorious!

Now that we've won, I've taken off my armor, my shield is down and I can be vulnerable once again. Vulnerable and soft; a feminine-energy-that-can-heal-a-nation kind of soft. The kindest, most loving, most giving version of myself that I can be for you, your sister, the world and most importantly for me. However, this does not mean I will ever stop fighting for you; I will tear up the concrete from the road with my bare hands should something happen to you. It sounds impossible, but I am certain I possess this kind of strength. For because of you, I know where the strength of a mother lies. I know where my strength lies.

The chains are broken. We broke them. Together, united as mother and daughter, in a single solitary queendom, we broke them. The chains are broken.

Be Blessed my Daughter,

Mom

Dr. Niama T. Malachi is a Social Psychologist, Author, and President and Chairman of D.O.P.E., Inc. (Determined to Obtain Pure Excellence).

Featured image courtesy of Dr. Malachi

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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Featured image by Shutterstock

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