A lifelong passion for advocacy led this mom of six to form an organization that empowers mothers of color to fight for economic equity.
It’s sometimes thought that when a woman becomes a mother she’s destined to become a shadow of herself, but Mothering Justice founder and executive director Danielle Atkinson says it’s in this role that her true power is realized. “In Michigan, in Detroit, black mothers are not only the center of their families, they’re the center of their communities – and, we believe, the center of the economy,” she says.
Founded in 2012, Mothering Justice, Atkinson says, is “an advocacy and leadership development organization working to have a more equitable economic landscape in Michigan for families – and we really center our work around mothers of color, specifically black women.”
Mothering Justice cultivates in its mothers the skills needed to take on the issues most relevant to their lives like. These include livable wages, earned paid sick time and leave, women’s health, affordable child care and safety net programs.
They call these pillars their “Mamas’ Agenda,” developed by having conversations with mothers across communities in Michigan to identify their “pocketbook issues.” Atkinson elaborates: “What are the things that are the difference between making it and not making it?”
Mothering Justice was instrumental in helping the Workforce Opportunity Wage Act become law. In May 2014, former Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law changes to Michigan’s minimum wage policy allowing for gradual increases to the minimum hourly wage through January 2018.
The nonprofit was also successful in implementing earned paid sick time policies, and it’s working toward bettering paid leave and filling the “holes” in safety net programs like Medicaid and SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), all while keeping mom and baby safe.
“Detroit has one of the highest infant and maternal death rates in our country,” Atkinson says, “and black women are disproportionately affected by these issues, trailing their white counterparts significantly in outcomes regardless of income or education level.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that black, American Indian and Alaska Native women are two to three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women. And, with regard to women over 30 specifically, they’re four to five times more likely to die. Mothering Justice wants to address this disparity by encouraging holistic practices like employing doulas and midwives.
Atkinson says affordable child care is “the No. 1 issue that moms are talking about when they’re talking about their ability to make ends meet. People are paying more for child care than they would for college.” The team wants to see government pool more money into this industry so that workers are paid more and more people are eligible for assistance and subsidies. She says, “This is something that hits close to home for me. When I had my first daughter, I couldn’t afford to have her in care as much as I would’ve liked, because it just was not affordable.”
She found that there was space for an organization that centered the concerns of mothers of color, and Mothering Justice was birthed. She says her passion for activism comes from her Jamaican-born parents who fled the country due to civil unrest.
“My mother was registering people to vote before she could vote herself,” Atkinson says. “At every moment, she let my sister and I know that we have to fight for everything, that the world will be unfair to us, but we can change things if we work together.”
Mothering Justice offers training programs like its Mamas’ University, which helps women of color “break down that internalized oppression and understand how organizing is in our blood, in our history, in our lineage.” The Movement Fellowship is a nine-month paid fellowship during which mothers learn skills that they’ll use to nudge Mothering Justice’s agenda forward – and learn how to use those same skills in their own lives. Applications for the fellowship, starting in March, are open now.
After Trump was elected, Atkinson says white women came to them and said, “‘We want to help, we want to do things,’ We’re like, ‘OK, that’s great, but you need to learn how to follow.’” So, they implemented the Accountability Academy to teach white allies to understand white privilege and how white feminism has been a player in institutional racism, inviting them to come into the organization but imploring them to do so in a way that’s respectful. An empowered mother is not always perfect. Atkinson says, “They can be hurt, they can be vulnerable, but they understand that they can overcome and that we have to work together.”
For more information about Mothering Justice or to find out how you can get involved, visit motheringjustice.org or check out their social media pages.