In 2018, Springboard to Opportunities, a Jackson, Mississippi, non-profit, had a simple idea: what would happen if they gave Black mothers a monthly stipend, no-strings attached? The Magnolia Mother’s Trust is now in its fourth year of giving mothers a $1,000 monthly stipend for 12 months. And the results speak for themselves: 72% of the mothers reported feeling more self-confident through the program and 79% felt more hopeful about their future.
Aisha Nyandoro is the CEO of Springboard and the architect of the Magnolia’s Mother Trust. She’s seen firsthand how the program can be a launching pad for working mothers. Look no further than Tamika Calhoun, a mother of five who was awarded the Magnolia Mother’s Trust in March of 2020, and used the additional money to buy a car and get her children laptops for virtual learning. Two years later, Calhoun is a counselor for aspiring homeowners. “I wanted to help people find homeownership,” she says. “And now I can reach more people in my community to help them find better housing.”
Below, Nyandoro and Calhoun talk about the Magnolia Mother’s Trust, how it changed Calhoun’s life, and what people get wrong about families on public assistance.
Aisha Nyandoro: Tell me a little bit about what your life was like prior to being a part of the Magnolia Mother’s Trust
Tamika Calhoun: Before Magnolia Mother’s Trust, I was on a mission to find a better paying job, something where I could still spend time with my family. I was working for a real estate broker in 2019 and lost my job. Because I didn’t have a car or ride to work, it was hard to find a job. Then [in early 2020] I got a job answering calls for Apple, which I could do from home. It was right before I got the call from you.
What did having stable employment and Magnolia Mother’s Trust mean for your life under the backdrop of everything that was happening with COVID-19 and the world around us?
It could not have come at a better time. I was able to get the kids desks for their rooms as well as laptops. I remember school saying they had limited laptops, so I was like, well, my kids will have their own because I was able to afford it. My kids’ dad was working as well and we ended up losing our SNAP benefits. So we were able to pay for groceries using the Magnolia Mother’s Trust. We were also able to save, and I was able to buy a new vehicle using that money.
I was thinking about how the stability of employment coupled with a relatively small stipend every month allowed you to do a 180. You were able to take care of your kids and get a car, which gave you agency. What sense of security and accomplishment did that give you?
Oh, it gave me a huge sense of security! I know that with my job alone I would not have been able to do as much as I was able to if it had not been for the Magnolia Mother’s Trust supplementing my income. It actually motivated me—because I knew that it would end soon—so it encouraged me to look for a job where I won’t miss the stipend.
I think that’s an important reality, because of the belief of what the mainstream says that, “Oh, if you give individuals a guaranteed income, that they quit their jobs.” And you are saying something totally different. You looked at this as a stopgap—and it actually motivated you more. Why do you think that people believe the opposite of what we know to be true? Because you’re not the only person who has told us this.
I think it’s because we have people making rules who are disconnected from the community. They’re not out here. They don’t know anyone who they’re assisting. There’s a disconnect. They’re not on the ground, coming to the community and seeing what it is that people in the community are doing that they’re providing assistance to. They’re just assuming that that’s what’s going on when really it’s quite the opposite.
No one wants to be in poverty forever. We’re not looking for a handout, we’re looking for a head start. Just give us a head start and watch where we go with it—watch where it takes us. The people who are making rules don’t really know or don’t care to know what it is that they’re actually helping with.
Why do you think that is?
I question their intention. It makes me think based on their actions and them not coming into the community—maybe they don’t care. But you hate to think that they really don’t care! Because you don’t want to think that they’re trying to keep people right where they are.
As someone who has been trying for years to create better opportunities for yourself and your family, how does that make you feel that the people responsible for making the rules just choose to be willfully ignorant?
It frustrates me. It really, really frustrates me—and it bothers me. It also encourages me to pay attention to who I’m voting for and putting in office. And then trying to educate myself so that I can go out to the community with facts: this is who made these rules! This is what this person is planning to change.
I love that. Making sure I’m educated and can educate others. I think it’s worth noting that in the first year we did Magnolia Mother’s Trust you weren’t selected in the lottery. But you stayed connected with the organization. And then in 2020 you were selected. How did you feel when you got that phone call?
I was in shock! I had a mixture of emotions. I was in disbelief. I thought Magnolia Mother’s trust might have accidentally called me. But when they told me it was actually me I remember just falling down on the floor and wanting to scream. I remember feeling so good. But I was happiest about it because it came right after I got my new job. I hadn’t started yet—but I knew I would have that income. I was more excited that I would get to supplement my income. It wouldn’t just be the $1,000 each month. It would be more because I just found a job.
How did Magnolia Mother’s Trust change your life?
I was able to get a lot accomplished. I was able to save. I was able to buy a car. The year after Magnolia’s Mother’s Trust I wanted to find a better paying job—where I could match the income or exceed it—which I did. So it was a pretty good year!
Tamika, every time I talk to you I’m always so inspired by your hard work and determination. What do you feel individuals should take away from your story?
They should take away the “let’s prove them wrong” part of my story. The people who have an idea of what low-income families are like? Let’s show them they’re wrong. I hope that’s what they take away from it.