I had a degree in “lived experience” before I earned my degree from Winston-Salem State University. Living in East Winston with my young son, I became a product of my environment. I witnessed how awful the living conditions were. I saw how the community’s living conditions forced people to make tough choices, to sometimes live and behave unethically. Determined not to become another statistic of poverty, I slowly began climbing the ladder to upward economic mobility. But I don’t want to make this journey alone. I want to bring many others with me and have innovative plans to do so.
While still at Winston-Salem State in 2015, working a minimum-wage job, I started Honorable Youth, a local nonprofit that blends short- and long-term programs and services for at-risk minority youth with incentives for single mothers to expand their mindsets and achieve sustainable employment. It’s supported by WSSU’s Center for the Study of Economic Mobility (CSEM) and numerous other donors.
By focusing on helping single-family households break the cycle of poverty to achieve intergenerational wealth and economic stability, Honorable Youth has helped hundreds of young women start on the path to upward economic mobility.
Now, we are stepping up our game.
During the time that I was a single mother living in a poverty-stricken area and going to school, I knew that my surroundings would not determine the woman that I was destined to become. I had support from my family to help me achieve my goals, but I saw dozens of other women living in the same environment and with the same aspirations who did not have a support system. This saddened me and inspired me to figure out a way to be a support system to these women and their children and to help them achieve their goals.
With the help of CSEM, we’ve completed a strategic business plan to create a safe and affordable communal living housing facility, the Salem Cohousing Community, to help at-risk minority youth and their parents achieve economic stability. Our communal living model, which is currently running a fundraising campaign to purchase land, will create a sense of belonging and community and provide the participating women and children the opportunity to overcome poverty alongside other similar families in an environment where there is mutual care and support.
Some of us remember the “communes” of the hippie movement in the 1960s and 1970s. But locally, the communal living model is much older — and more practical and effective. The Moravians who settled Salem had their own communal living model.
In the 21st century, we are bringing our own model of communal living, primarily for single mothers. They are a bedrock of under-resourced communities, sometimes informally coming together to face the challenges of education, transportation, housing, health care and food access they face. Consider that the city’s overall poverty rate is 21.7%, but the poverty rate of single mothers is an unacceptable 45.6%.
We will change that by boosting the cooperation among single mothers and the resources available to them, giving our residents daily access to programming such as financial empowerment, job development, education and psychological support. Through these programs, the women can expand their resources of income, time and well-being to support their children.
Our financial empowerment programming will provide courses on financial literacy and financial planning as well as access to a personal financial coach. The workforce development programming will provide the training necessary to obtain and maintain employment, and economic self-sufficiency.
I have been deeply moved by Honorable Youth’s mission and the work we’ve done to help low-income families of Winston-Salem achieve economic stability. It has been heartwarming to be able to provide them with an organization that they can not only trust but one that actually helps them and their families overcome poverty.
We have built a life-changing organization, and with the Salem Cohousing Community, we will be able to make an everlasting impact on our families and our community.
Rasheeda Shankle is the president of Honorable Youth. For more information about the group and its plans, go to honorableyouth.org.