Daphne Busby, a full-time candidate for a master's degree, a public speaker, and founder of the Sisterhood of Black Single Mothers, has been publicly and creatively dealing with the needs of the single parent for 13 years. During that time, more than 5,000 families have been supported emotionally, spiritually, politically, and practically by the Sisterhood's tightly woven network of activities.
``We don't just `service' single mothers,'' says Ms. Busby, a single mother herself. ``We take a holistic approach to the individual that involves addressing the full spectrum of her needs.''
As Khadija Matin, special projects coordinator at the Sisterhood, puts it, ``that means accepting her not on the basis of who she is when she walks through our door, but on the basis of what she has the capability of becoming.''
``Teen pregnancy was never just a black problem,'' says Busby. ``Count all the white kids that have ever been adopted in this country. There is a system in place for them that removes the stigma and provides childless couples with children. It's been going on historically in white communities. They just had another way of approaching it.''
To meet the needs for high self-esteem and independence, the Sisterhood runs classes in basic everyday skills ranging from banking and budgeting to child development and nutrition.
There is no single ``type'' of mother who draws from or contributes to the Sisterhood's strength. Some are teen-agers, others are older women; some have many children, others just one; incomes vary widely as well.
Busby says that ``just because you have a MSW [Master's in social work] doesn't mean you're worth something to the organization. You have to have a personal survivalism that is valuable and relevant to the group. Women come to the Sisterhood for many different reasons. They are never turned away empty-handed or empty-hearted.''
``We have women here who can't read or write, who are still expected to function as mothers in an increasingly technical world,'' she continues. ``We also have women who are doing very well running their own businesses or teaching at universities.''
The Sisterhood gets its strength from both groups, and it shares the wealth of individual successes. Its four full-time and two part-time staff members, as well as its many volunteers, try to inspire mothers.
``We help them understand that they matter, and if they're on public assistance it's because they have to feed their kids,'' Busby says. ``That's OK, but we let them know that they deserve better.''
Self-knowledge is the key to empowerment, say those who are part of the Sisterhood. And this depends on proper identification of the problem and a refusal to be distracted by its side effects.
Cheryl Knight is trying to get her life together to regain parental rights to her five children in foster care. She puts it succinctly: ``The Sisterhood gave me the feeling that I am somebody. They showed me that I can take control of my life.''