All posts tagged: poverty
For 30 years, I ran from myself. Now, I’m graduating from college!
"Hitting me with a truck.
Chaining me to a stove.
Pouring boiling hot water on me.
Being sold and re-sold.”
Allie has overcome a lot of trauma. She now has a 4.0 GPA and is graduating with her Associate’s Degree in English in December 2016. She plans to transfer into a B.A. program at the University of Houston. In the midst of her traumatic childhood experiences, she still graduated from high school at the age of 17. She even went straight to college afterward, but she went through over 30 years of destruction before she was ready to return.
As she is stepping into a new space, we asked her to dig deeper into a darker side of herself that she has done a lot of work to heal from. Personal healing can sometimes comes in the form of sharing our stories.
Today, in addition to being a student, Allie works with different community organizations in Houston to bridge gaps between healthcare and criminal justice professionals, two entities that interact most often with abused women.
Click play on the YouTube video below to listen to Allie’s story, recorded by 3rdMilClassroom. Keep reading to see what she shared with the us as a Jeannette Rankin Scholar.
At the age of 3, Allie was raped by her grandfather for the first time.
Allie endured this traumatic abuse until she was 11 years old when he passed away.
Soon after, she decided she had had enough and decided to run away. To survive, she ran into the arms of “boyfriends” who were 20-30 years old and offered her food, shelter, clothing, and drugs in exchange for sexual favors.
Allie soon started getting into human trafficking. For a long time, she didn’t even acknowledge that what she was doing was called human trafficking and prostitution.
Allie goes back and forth through unstable spaces for years, desperately looking for “a high or experience to cope with issues [she] didn’t want to deal with.”
In her early teens, she started experiencing flashbacks from her past and that’s when her family realized that something was extremely wrong. Drugs helped temporarily suppress the anxiety of the flashbacks.
“I was scared of my own voice.”
You could say she has a bit of a Breaking Bad story because she started making meth by stealing from her school’s chemistry lab. Her successful drug operation led her to develop a heroin addiction. “Addiction turned the fear [of my own experiences] into hate. At that point, everything I was cooking, I was using.”
Allie shared that what most people don’t understand is drugs, sexual abuse, prostitution, human trafficking are all related forms of power and self-destruction.
When she moved to South Central L.A., her body became a part of a local gang’s initiation process. The initiates were forced to kidnap Allie, rob her, and take turns having their fun with her. Her trafficker coincidentally always showed up to save her after these events.
Even when her trafficker stabbed her, this still wasn’t her wake up call because she had fallen in love with him and he made her feel less broken. Amidst the beatings and mistreatment, there was a twisted form of affection and acknowledgment that she feigned for from him.
After going to jail for an eighth felony, Allie decided she was ready to do the work to heal from her past and to save herself.
“For the first time, I was forced to surrender to my reality.”
In 2014, Allie enrolled in a vocational school in Houston after being denied admission to countless programs because of her paper trail of mistakes and felonies.
For so long, she was really just trying to make it, especially with her former trafficker of 8.5 years. If she ever came home empty-handed, he always greeted her with a beating.
“In order to survive emotionally, I created someone else who was able to deal with those stressors."
When do you find space for education in the midst of fighting for daily life?
An oppressor’s strongest biggest weapon is to deny one access to education, to deny one the opportunity of being empowered and educated. An educated woman is dangerous because she is able to rewrite and re-shape her narrative. An education equips women with more resources to be self-sufficient and to better serve her community.
"At first, I didn’t want to dream big because it required sacrifices to be made.”
Allie has been clean for three years and has used her resourceful nature to seek financial aid for her education. We are beyond proud to have her as one of our Jeannette Rankin Scholars.
She facilitates focus groups with imprisoned women who’ve endured child exploitation by using storytelling and art as coping mechanisms.
When she isn’t studying or serving in the community, she loves to spend time with her grandmother and belove dog.
Pictured on right is Allie's grandmother and her beloved dog. Pictured on left is an original piece created by Allie.
“My grandmother has seen me with black eyes and with my pimps and she still loves me unconditionally. She’s my rock.”
Why the United State of Women Matters
Our Executive Director, Karen Sterk, recently joined forces with Michele Ozumba of the Women’s College Coalition and JRF Board Member, Linda Brigham of Coca-Cola and Letty Ashworth of Delta Air Lines on a girls’ trip to the United State of Women White House Summit. From the moment they arrived at 6:15 a.m., they stood amidst long lines of thousands of diverse women, waiting for the greatness to begin. Looking back on it, the “greatness” they were yearning for had already started while in line.
For the first time ever, the United State of Women White House Summit brought together 5,000 women focused on economic empowerment, health and wellness, education, violence, entrepreneurship and innovation, and leadership and civic engagement. As Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi stated, “when women succeed, America succeeds.” We’d like to add that when women of diverse backgrounds, colors, age, and pursuits are supported to succeed, then and only then will America be ready to reach its true pinnacle of success.
Director Sterk expresses:
"I was especially impressed with Vice-President Joe Biden’s open
remarks on America’s rape culture. It isn’t everyday that a man of such power leads a public discussion on the mistreatment of women’s bodies or to pass the Violence Against Women Act back in the 1990s. Vice-President Biden expressed that violence against women is really an abuse of power. Rape is a repulsive obsession to assert and abuse power.
Unfortunately, many of our Jeannette Rankin Women’s Foundation (JRF) Scholars have been robbed of their body’s power at some point. Rape and abuse of any kind can leave victims in a trapped state of fear. Pursuing higher education is one way to reclaim one’s power and overcome the fear of failure."
How do we connect what we do with workforce development?
Women aren’t encouraged to be plumbers, truckers, or mechanics. Yet during one of the sessions hosted by the Department of Education, panelists shared technical education tips and lucrative opportunities from pipefitting to supply chain.
If you are a woman over the age of 35, returning to traditional higher education presents its own set of challenges. Two-year programs at technical institutions can ease these concerns, provide women equitable access to jobs more quickly, and lessen the financial burden of a quality education.
We need to make sure we are exposing women to these opportunities and shattering stereotypes of what success looks like. It comes in different colors, different degrees, different roles, and from different places.
Great summit. Now, what?
The Jeannette Rankin Women’s Scholarship Fund and other women’s organizations are now challenged to deepen our impact and expand our reach, far beyond solely providing scholarships or jobs. We need to collaborate and maintain that same overwhelming sense of urgency and sisterhood from the summit to reclaim our power in this country as women. We encourage you to stay tuned to United State of Women events in your area.
The #stateofwomen proved that this holistic effort to uplift all women is imperative to breaking cycles of poverty, oppression, sexism, and racism. And yes, men we are talking to you too.
The Jeannette Rankin Women’s Scholarship Fund has successfully provided scholarships to over 800 women in 40 years and in the words of First Lady Michelle Obama, “We are not done yet! We have to continue the work.”
Higher education’s multi-generational impact
"The sons and daughters of college-educated parents are more than twice as likely to go to college as the children of high school graduates and seven times as likely as those of high school dropouts."
It’s been shown time and again that when parents go to college, it greatly impacts the futures of their children. Jeannette Rankin Fund directly supports low-income women 35 and older. But the impact reaches far beyond the individual scholars.
Nearly half are the first in their families to pursue higher education; the typical Rankin scholar has two children and lives on an annual income of approximately $21,000. After receiving the scholarship, 95.2% of Jeannette Rankin scholars earn a degree or certificate. 83.3% say that earning a degree has helped them and their families to become more financially secure.
A college degree makes a difference in a family's day to day lives – securing a career with good pay and benefits so they don’t have to worry about how to pay for food or gas for the car or when an unexpected expense come up, like a child gets sick. It also dramatically changes their long-term prospects – they’re establishing a family tradition of education, and conquering poverty permanently.
Alexandra, a Jeannette Rankin alumna, says: “My degree gave me the flexibility to be really present for my oldest and younger son, and both recognize the value of having a good education. I think what they learned in watching me spend 10 years going from zero education to a doctoral degree was that reaching a dream takes work, not giving up no matter what, and giving it all that you have. I gained a tremendous amount of confidence, and when the job market took a dive and I was laid off, I simply started my own research and program evaluation consulting business. I am making a good income, working from home, and choosing the clients and projects that make me happiest.”
Jeannette Rankin Fund supporters make these changes possible for women across the country. Thank you!
Education and Social Mobility
According to the Census Bureau, compared to thirty-five years ago, family incomes have declined for the poorest third of children. In contrast, children living in the highest earning families have experienced a large amount of growth in financial resources since 1975. The Hamilton Project reviews economic facts about our nation’s limited social ladder and how education can help climb it.
One fact in the article is that a college degree can be a ticket out of poverty. “The earnings of college graduates are much higher than for nongraduates, and that is especially true among people born into low-income families.”
The article goes on to say: “A low-income individual without a college degree will very likely remain in the lower part of the earnings distribution, whereas a low-income individual with a college degree could just as easily land in any income quintile—including the highest.” The difference education makes is incredible, and that’s why organizations like JRF are vital.
Lack of funding is one of the top reasons people don’t pursue college degrees. Access to higher education is critical for low-income students, and because of generous donors, 87 women are receiving JRF scholarships this year. These scholarships are helping women break this cycle of poverty. As JRF scholars increase their social mobility, they are better providing for their families and contributing to stronger communities!
To read about JRF scholars, click here.
If you would like to help change the lives, you can click here and show your support!
How to break the cycle of poverty with education
“It’s irrefutable. There’s no question that there’s a connection between the stresses of living in poverty and poor academic performance,” says Neil Shorthouse, president, state director and cofounder of Communities in Schools of Georgia (CISGA).
As an organization that serves low-income women, this tie is abundantly clear. Most JRF scholars grew up in poverty and nearly half are the first in their families to attend college.
An article in Georgia Trend documents different experiences of people who grew up in poverty and how they now fight to increase access to education for others.
The article also discusses the cycle of poverty. Research shows that people who grow up in poverty are likely to stay in poverty. It’s a vicious cycle that continues generation after generation. (National Center for Children in Poverty)
The Communities in Schools network helps provide school supplies, clothing and other assistance to students. They report that 97.6% of the at-risk students they served stayed in school or graduated. That’s incredible!
Something else to consider is that education of parents is a big indicator of child success. (Long-term Effects of Parents’ Education on Children’s Educational and Occupational Success)
At JRF, we hear from our scholars, who are women 35 and older, that they do homework with their kids, that now their sons and daughters are talking about college. Increasing access for adults is vital to breaking the cycle of poverty.
2012 JRF scholar Lecia says: “My educational pursuits have helped me better prepare my family for the future. It helped me to be an example to my children, teaching them that education is a major key to their success.”
What are your thoughts on education and the cycle of poverty?