A 21st Century Journalism Project

Emerging from the Struggle

In People on April 28, 2012 at 4:13 pm

BY: BRITTANY KENNEDY

Gwendolyn Henderson is an African American single mother born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pa. Though she is a single parent, Gwendolyn made a comfortable lifestyle for herself and her children. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Business Marketing and Management from Temple University and secured a good paying job as a Social Worker.  She owns her own home and vehicle and provides the essential necessities for her children.

Gwendolyn is apart of a middle class society, but in today’s tough economy, even she lives close to the poverty line. She knows what it is like to be apart of the struggle, and though she stays above the poverty line, it is no easy task. “There are people that work hard to take care of their family and still don’t earn enough money,” Henderson says. “I think I do a pretty good job of providing for my family even as a single parent, but I’m only a smidgen away from the working poor. At one point of my life I was apart of the working poor,” she says. 

Gwendolyn is very familiar with the struggle many African Americans in poor inner city communities face. She was the youngest of four siblings growing up in the Northview housing projects of Pittsburgh. “I came from the welfare line, I was the one who ate that damn cheese. I know all about it, I been there,” Henderson says.  “I’m only I smidgen away from there today, but by the grace of God I’m not there.”

Even as a child Gwendolyn knew there was a way to get out of poverty. Her exit strategy  involved education. “I was the youngest and  the first to go to college in my family,” Henderson says. After earning a college degree, Gwendolyn faced financial hardships.

“I remember coming out of college working a minimum wage job earning $3.35 an hour,” Henderson says.

Even still, she has never been discouraged. After working for minimum wage, Gwendolyn became a social worker. “I was someone who always wanted to help someone else,” Henderson says. “I was always cheering for the underdog, that’s why I am a social worker.”

The key to Gwendolyn’s success is education and drive. “Without a doubt education has helped me maintain a better life for myself and my family,” Henderson says. “In my position, I have to continue to train and get my certification to be at the top of my game and prevent myself from falling into the class of the working poor.”

Both of Gwendolyn’s children attend Pittsburgh Public Schools. Her 17 year old son attends Pittsburgh Obama High school and her 11 year old daughter attends Sunnyside Elementary School.

Education gave Gwendolyn the ability to climb-up the corporate and social ladder. But the current unraveling of the Pittsburgh public education system dims the light on her children’s education and future.

Like many Pennsylvanians, Gwendolyn is furious with Governor Corbett’s education cuts and the effect it may have on her children. “It is very very sad that we put someone in office like Corbett,” she says. “He’s not worried about his children’s education or those of the same status because most likely their families have money to push their children forward. Unfortunately it hurts the black and other minority working families who are not making $100,000 and above. I don’t know how the cuts will affect my children but what I do know is that it’s nothing positive.”

According to Gwendolyn, funding is being cut from many of the predominately black school districts. “It’s the black children that are bearing the brunt of all these cuts here in Pittsburgh,” Henderson says.

This fall, Gwendolyn’s 17 year old son will transition into what will be the third building since he has attended high school. Gwendolyn does not feel the cuts will have an affect on her 11 year old daughter who is still in her primary education, but once she transitions into middle and high school, she can see the cuts affecting her child tremendously. “ I can see it affecting her in years to come because I do not know where I will send her, because I don’t know what will be available,” Henderson says.

Gwendolyn has even thought about sending her 11 year old daughter to private school, but the cost of tuition would cut deep into her finances.

There is one hope Gwendolyn feels will help her children pursue their college education when the time comes, that being the Pittsburgh Promise. The Pittsburgh Promise is a scholarship program which started in 2008. The program awards children in the Pittsburgh attending public school up to $40,000 towards their college tuition. “I just have to pray that it still remains in place when it’s their time to graduate,” Henderson says. “With the Pittsburgh Promise and the little money I do have, and maybe some other assistance, I can see my children pursing their college education,” Henderson continues.

Though college is a little more than a year away for her son and seven more years away for her daughter, the education cuts in place today are something she continues to worry about. “A lot of minority kids are not going to be able to pursue a college career after high school,” Henderson says. “It’s bad, there is nothing good about Corbett; nothing good will come out of all the education cuts.”

Gwendolyn hopes her children will excel in their education and always strive to do better. “I hope my children understand that education is key. I hope that they take advantage of what is offered to them today,” Henderson says. “Whether it is going to tutoring services after school for extra help or raising their hands every five minutes to ask a question, I want them to take advantage of what is offered today because it will set them up for tomorrow. That is my hope, my prayer, and my teaching to my children.”

Gwendolyn says in order to achieve anything in life one must be educated. “Without that, your not going anywhere,” Henderson says. “It doesn’t have to be college, but some type of trade or certification to keep you moving up because it’s hard out here,” Henderson says.

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