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How My Mom Scraped Her Way to Success in Rural Florida

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
December 20, 2023 3:02 am

How My Mom Scraped Her Way to Success in Rural Florida

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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December 20, 2023 3:02 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, for our "True Diversity" series with Philanthropy Roundtable, Devon Westhill, President of the Center for Equal Opportunity, tells the story of how his mother managed, against all odds, to work her way to success and provide a future for her children.

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Some models, trims, and features may not be available or may be subject to change. And we're back with our American Stories. Up next, a story from our True Diversity series sponsored by the great folks at Philanthropy Roundtable, America's leading advocate for you to support the causes you believe in. Today we meet a partner of their campaign, Devin Westhill, the President and General Counsel at the Center for Equal Opportunity.

Today he'll share with us a beautiful story about the person who impacted him the most, his mother. For a long time I've been a Steve Martin fan, right? So I was a kid that grew up in the 80s and 90s at the height of the Steve Martin mania, I suppose. I like the quote from Steve Martin's film, The Jerk, where he says, it was never easy for me. I was born a poor black child. I like that because it's a funny line because Steve Martin's white, but for me, I like the quote because it describes a little bit of my past. I'm a very light skinned or bright skinned biracial black man. So I've oftentimes in my life been asked, what are you?

And I've used that line. But at the same time, it does describe the way I think of myself and my upbringing, you know, poor. I was actually born inside of the eastern most edge of Appalachia, but we didn't stay there very long at all. My father developed a bad habit and my mother trying to get him away from bad elements in that area moved us out of that area to Florida, Palatka, Florida, which is very, very small place back then. It's still somewhat small now, but certainly in an impoverished, almost rural kind of area of north central Florida.

The only thing that was an operation there, I think at that time was a paper mill, but we didn't stay very long. The marriage fell apart and, you know, we went through and saw all these sorts of terrible things that people, no matter their race or where they come from, when you're poor, you oftentimes experience these things. We experienced all of them when she was escaping her first husband, my father, and her second husband who was abusive, and she was an alcoholic. We were homeless for periods of time. We lived in a battered women's shelter.

I remember this is where I learned how to roller skate. We had to move into housing projects, and we moved to apartment after apartment after apartment, Section 8 housing apartments. And I switched schools, I think almost every year until I was in fifth grade, when I don't know through what magic my mother, who was raising us on a high school diploma, was able to purchase a house.

It felt like we'd really hit the lottery. You know, that was in fifth grade, and for the first time, I think, or almost the first time, I went to the same school more than one year. I'm very lucky to have had the mother that I had, and I still have. My mother was relentless. One of the things that distinguishes my mother from other people in terms of her ability to overcome adversity is the day in, day out examples that she set. There was no big thing that she overcame. It was the ability to understand and to stay consistent when everything was pressing against her. She raised three poor black kids on her own with a high school diploma as a white woman in all black communities, and to the extent folks understand what it's like in southern black communities for white women, you understand that it wasn't always easy for her to have black kids and to consort with black men in these communities.

It's frowned upon. She was mistreated many times as a result of simply being a white woman in these black communities with black kids. And that flowed to us to some extent as well, but I only now realize just how difficult it must have been for my mother, who has the grit of a god, to take three hard-headed young children separated only by four years, all three of them, and raise them by herself with a high school diploma, working multiple jobs all of my life.

I'm just incredibly impressed by what she was able to do by herself. She worked at a fast food restaurant called Chicken Charlie's in Palatka, Florida. It doesn't exist anymore.

It's long gone. But she'd worked these long hours, and we would have to sort of be babysat. I mean, this was before I think my sister was even in kindergarten.

We'd have to be babysat by multiple different people throughout the day at different homes and so on and so forth so that you just get through a double shift. We moved to Gainesville, Florida, where she got a better job than Chicken Charlie's, which was McDonald's. Our life improved when she got a job at McDonald's in Gainesville, Florida, and moved us into housing projects in Gainesville, Florida. She overcame. She could see the future. She had a vision for a better life for her and for us. So she was willing to take those little baby steps, and she knew in the aggregate that eventually we would be better off, even if it didn't seem like it from day to day, week to week, month to month, year to year. She had a vision that eventually saw us climb, scratch, and claw our way to our own house. By the time I was 10 or 11 or 12 years old to having one of her children become a lawyer, be the first person to graduate from college, she saw this sort of vision that she could create a situation for us, even though she only had a high school diploma and was trying to do this all on her own, and did do this all on her own. It was never going to be guaranteed that one day she would have one day she would have her own house. It was not guaranteed that one day she was going to move on from working at McDonald's to getting her college degree, which she did, to being a licensed clinical social worker, which she became, to getting a master's degree, which she eventually did, to having multiple cars, to having material things, to seeing her children succeed. There was no one incident that I can point to and say that that was it.

That's what made me think that she had GRIP. It was the day-to-day, with no thank you, to take us from one place to another. That is very, very different than most places in the world, most places in history. It's a truly exceptional and unique American experience in the American dream. You can, and should, be able to advance without arbitrary barriers to optimize your own talents and interests and desires to your own idea of success. That's why people are just clamoring to come to this country and always have. The simple connection to what you inherited, or your birth, your race, your lineage, is not the sort of thing that can advance you in life.

At the same time, that sort of thing is not going to hold you back, so long as you possess some inner merit and value and worth. This idea that if you possess those things, the world is your oyster. This country is your oyster. The sky is the limit.

You can go anywhere. And a special thanks to the Philanthropy Roundtable. Their true diversity initiative encourages Americans to embrace all the qualities that make us unique individuals, because there's so much more to each of our stories than what's defined by a group identity or other superficial traits. Devin Westill's Mother's Story, here on Our American Stories.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-12-20 04:21:37 / 2023-12-20 04:26:05 / 4

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