‘Never Give Up’: A Mom’s Story From Mississippi
Brenita Burns is part of the Magnolia Mother’s Trust, a first-of-its-kind program operated by the nonprofit Springboard to Opportunities that provides $1,000 monthly for one year to Black mothers living in extreme poverty in Jackson, MS. The program began disbursements in 2018 to a group of 20 women. It just concluded its second year with 110 mothers, and recently announced it will begin a third cohort of at least 100 mothers in April of 2021. The classes referenced in the essay are optional programs that are a component of Springboard’s mission and include topics such as tax preparation, workforce development, leadership and self-care.
I was born March 15, 1983, in Jackson, MS, the only girl that my mother had of her two children. From an early age, I loved make-believe and pretending that I was always somewhere else in the world, I had a big imagination and was always looking for ways to use it. I think that’s what made me turn to the world of books – I read everything I could get my hands on as a kid. My mom would order me Highlights books in the mail and buy me the Little Golden Book series from the drug store.
I’ll never forget getting a Teddy Ruxpin for my 5th birthday. For those of you who don’t know, Teddy Ruxpin was an educational toy, a brown teddy bear with an opening in his back where you could put cassette tapes and get books to read along with him. He would read to me every day and I thought to myself, I will learn to read, just as well as him. LOL. Of course, I didn’t know at the time that he actually wasn’t real.
But I was so excited about him because every time that he would read to me, I would put myself right in the middle of that book and imagine myself being there in real life. That memory stuck with me. I often remember how happy I was at the time.
Music also was a big part of my life growing up. I love music. I can listen to pretty much any kind of music and be alright with it. At the age of 12, I was introduced to playing the flute, I thought there’s no way I can learn to blow air into this instrument and make a sound come out of it, but there was a natural will in me that wouldn’t let me give up and I told myself, “I will learn how to play this flute and love it.” So, I did. I didn’t know that my hobby would help me pay for a higher education with a four-year band scholarship to Alcorn State University. My love for music opened my eyes the same way that books did and showed me that the world is big and wide, that there is more to life than just Jackson.
Throughout my life, I’ve had ups and downs. I’ve had good and bad days but I manage to hold my head up high and tough those bad days out. So, when I became a mother, I knew I would have to take myself out of the equation and focus my attention on the welfare of my child’s needs.
I did this because of what my mother taught me about love and compassion. She was a nurse and has always been a nurturer that spends the majority of her time thinking about others. She instilled that in her children, the importance of helping people, even when sometimes it’s hard to do.
So, when my son was born, I wasn’t able to keep my job as a hotel clerk that required 12-hour days on my feet. I put my life on hold so I could be more engaged with caring for him, although I never forgot about my life goals and what and where I wanted to be. As I’ve raised my son Brennon, I’ve tried to instill my own values in him. I want to show him the importance of reading, and education, and how there’s much more to life than what he sees within the walls of our apartment.
When he was 7, I gave him a book by Dr. Seuss called Oh, the Places You’ll Go and started to read to him, developing that mother and son reading bond, giving him a feel of what life can be like. I want him to experience college. I want him to get so much knowledge to be successful and create his own legacy for his future family – be driven, humble and motivated. Just to be given the opportunity to shine and seize every moment. The world is big and there are so many opportunities in it.
Now my son is 10 years old and every day I’m thinking more about his future and how I can make things better for the both of us. He’s a child and he’s still growing and that kid will soon blossom into an awesome adult but in the meantime he is playing videos, being a cool kid, a jokester, having fun with friends, learning to be respectful, learning survival, and being a great student.
But while he may be trying to be a cool kid, he still makes time for his mom. My son and I talk a lot, especially before dinner time sitting around on the couch, we talk about life. I talk to him about his education, I remind him that there are many things in this world that can be taken from him, except for knowledge.
I tell him that I’ve learned that life itself is unpredictable but what we all can do is learn from every lesson and don’t let it break us too long. Regardless of what the situation may be, pick yourself back up and keep fighting until you’re satisfied with the results. Being loving, patient, humble, educated, and driven can get us places. I tell him to never give up.
Our children are our future and they listen and watch everything we do, even when we think they’re not. That’s why I hope I can show him that while I had to put my dreams on hold to take care of him, I can now pick them up and continue with them.
Before linking with Springboard to Opportunities, I knew that I wanted to do something with counseling, with the degree in psychology that I received in college. But I always went back and forth with what I wanted to do. But through this program, I know I want to be an advocate for families. I want to help create opportunities like the one I was given through Magnolia Mother’s Trust to others. Opportunities are so important. Any organization can create programs and offer them, but when you have an organization that centers its programs around single moms and their kids, it speaks volumes, because single moms with kids are a statistic. Springboard and their Magnolia Mother’s Trust program centers its programs around single moms trying to make a way for their kids. Having access to help and really just someone to talk to is so important because the truth is, it’s hard enough trying to raise children alone. No mother should be singled out because of race, income, or educational background. We as women should be seen as one. I want to help women that did not receive an education receive one and make a better life for their families. I have this knack for writing and want to one day write my own children’s books or write for a column on today’s events. I want to make sure my son experiences college and that I leave a legacy for my son to be proud of.
Being part of the Springboard community has opened my eyes to a world of possibilities. And to be chosen as a participant in The Magnolia Mother’s Trust was a blessing for me. We are still in a pandemic and people have to worry about whether they are able to pay their bills or buy food. I may have worried about other things, but I’m very thankful that those things weren’t one of them.
But most importantly, the knowledge from the classes that I attended will help me for a lifetime. The program has given me so much encouragement and joy.
I used to read to my son, but now he reads to me, and he tells me what he wants his world to be like. Just the other day he read this Langston Hughes poem to me, and I thought I would share it with you all. It’s called Dream Variations.
To fling my arms wide
In some place of the sun,
To whirl and to dance
Till the white day is done.
Then rest at cool evening
Beneath a tall tree
While night comes on gently,
Dark like me
That is my dream!
To fling my arms wide
In the face of the sun,
Dance! Whirl! Whirl!
Till the quick day is done.
Rest at pale evening…
A tall, slim tree…
Night coming tenderly
Black like me.