LeadershipRacial Equity

Cash with no strings attached: Changing the narrative of Black mothers and the social safety net

Photo of Aisha Nyandoro for courageous leaders

“My Granny envisioned a Mississippi where everyone had access to education, justice and health care. Not just a few.”

Aisha Nyandoro spoke these words with confidence in front of a packed crowd on the TEDx stage in Jackson, Mississippi. “You all, my Granny was hashtag (#)BlackGirlMagic before that was a hashtag,” she said as the audience laughed. Nyandoro channels her grandmother’s legacy, the power of storytelling and groundbreaking solutions to release the agency and mobility of Black mothers in Mississippi.

Nyandoro is the chief executive officer of Springboard to Opportunities. Springboard uses a “radically resident-driven approach” to provide support and wraparound services to residents living in federally-subsidized, affordable housing. Springboard primarily serves low-income women and children, the majority of whom are Black mothers.

“In Mississippi, one in four children live in poverty and women of color earn 61% of what White men make. Those are inequities that impact all of us,” says Nyandoro. “Because of this, I have to be very explicit in naming race as an issue, because others may not have that lens.”

Nyandoro is quick to mention the influence of her W.K. Kellogg Foundation Community Leadership Network (WKKF CLN) fellowship in helping to hone her voice and build her confidence as a leader.

“It was truly affirming,” she says. “It was career-changing and therefore life-changing. My ability to recognize my leadership and stand on the boldness and responsibility that comes with being a leader is definitely connected to where I am right now.”

Nyandoro has emerged as a passionate advocate for gender and racial justice, using her voice to elevate the dreams and aspirations of the mothers in her community. Entering her eighth year at the helm of Springboard, Nyandoro continues to push the envelope. Her most recent pursuit is establishing one of the first guaranteed income pilot programs for Black women in the U.S.

“We have to invest in the financial freedom of low-income Black women. Because when we invest in them, we are investing in the system and the system is what we have to change.”

The Magnolia Mother’s Trust provides $1,000 a month – no strings attached – for one year to 20 low-income Black mothers living in federally subsidized housing in Jackson. The pilot program led by Springboard, with support from the Economic Security Project, made its first disbursements in December of 2018. The mothers in the program make less than $12,000 a year. These monthly cash disbursements essentially double their annual income.

‘’We learned there was a cash deficit in so many of our communities,” says Nyandoro. “For big things such as a car repair because a motor broke, but there was also a cash deficit for much smaller things.” One mom talked about not having $5 for a pizza to have a movie night with her kids. “So, my heart was broken,” she says.

Nyandoro was compelled to find a way to get cash into the hands of these moms. She spent the next year researching partners in the field and came across an emerging concept that was new to her: universal basic income. She spent six months working with a task force of moms, to make sure the model would accomplish their goals.

Today, some mothers own their own homes and some have completed school. Others have moved from basic employment into careers. One mom saved $13,000, moved into a Habitat for Humanity home and is now working on her master’s in social work. “This work was really about allowing women the freedom that comes with cash and the ability to do whatever they felt they needed to do for themselves and their families,” says Nyandoro.

These women are defying the negative narratives about women of color who use social safety net programs. “Individuals who have bought into that myth – that those who are utilizing the system are milking it and getting rich – that’s not the case,” says Nyandoro. She’s become a megaphone for these moms, telling their stories and all they’ve been able to accomplish in only one year.

Nyandoro closes on the TEDx stage, “My Granny’s imagination is my inheritance. It has made me rich with optimism because I know what is possible when women, particularly brave Black women, from this great state are committed and undaunted in their pursuit of the collective uplift. Trust us. Join us. We will all be better for it.”

More WKKF CLN Stories:

Learn more about the WKKF Community Leadership Network, explore the program experience and meet the Class Two fellows at wkkfcln.org.

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