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Building Generational Wealth and Changing the Narrative on Single Moms

JP Alumni Fellow Lavasha Smith knows single moms are world-builders and looks forward to co-creating prosperity for future generations of her family.

Caring for people’s humanity has emerged as key to Lavasha Smith’s lived experience, including her and her child’s JP experience. This shows up in her desire for human-centered public policy and her collectivist approach to thinking about generational wealth.

The 2014 JP Minneapolis alum and 2022 Alumni Fellow knows single moms are world-builders and looks forward to co-creating prosperity for future generations of her family.

What dreams are you working to realize?

I am working to realize how to build generational wealth and to think from a prosperity mind rather than a poverty mindset. One example of this is through ownership, such as land, a cooperative business, and even my voice and the narrative I want told of myself. I think about those types of things when I think about building and maintaining wealth the way that we, as Black people, have always done it — in a collective manner.

When I refer to cooperation, I envision doing it with my family. I want to not only share the abundance with my family, but the journey, our stories, and the freedom it comes with.

What do people wrongly assume about single moms?

People use the term “single mother” as synonymous with pity. You often get the, “Ooohhh” and “I know that’s hard.” But, really, being able to raise children the world needs, take care of ourselves and others, and pursue our careers — on top of all the multiple other tasks we hold — we should be the ultimate example of what it looks like to role model. We have to make the ultimate sacrifices as well as hold our head up with grace even when we don’t feel that way inside.

What should public policymakers prioritize so that single moms can fairly reach economic mobility?

It’s so complex, and it’s so systemic. I think it’s not enough to just say, “We prioritize the mom’s voice, and we’re going to take what we think and go with it.” You have to really set things in place for these families and the children and really implement things.

There might be different ways of listening and different ways of engaging and, really, caring — not just pushing one policy through like, “Oh, yeah, we did this one thing,” and then that’s it. But it’s going to mean continually listening. It might look different for me in Minnesota than it does for you somewhere else, so just making sure that they are continually listening and engaging and implementing those things.

There’s so much you can do because these are human problems. When you start putting all the labels and stuff on it, it becomes more complex. But these are human problems. Moms can’t get to work because they don’t have childcare. That’s real. That’s just some people’s journey, so what are we going to do about that?

“Being able to raise children the world needs, take care of ourselves and others, and pursue our careers — on top of all the multiple other tasks we hold — [single mothers] should be the ultimate example of what it looks like to role model.”

What’s one of your most memorable JP experiences?

That still makes me emotional. I needed a book for my psych in law class, and I was really struggling already with this class and this professor because I had her before. I was kind of ready to quit the class because she was tough.

But I went to talk to my coach and then the family services director, and they just made it work! They talked to me, asking what I needed, and kind of figured out what they could do on their end. They didn’t really try to fix it in the moment or put the fire out. I didn’t expect for them to provide financial support. I just let them know that I had this need and “This is preventing me from being able to take this class. I need this book.” And they just came back like, “We’re going to pay for the book.” I didn’t know what to do. I think I was a little speechless.

Those little things you don’t think change somebody’s day or life — it does. It really played a big part. And so just from them doing that, it allowed me to take a different perspective in that class and pass the class. I was like, “They just come through every time I need something!” They stepped up and showed me what it looked like to care.

How would you describe your experience in the JP mom community?

My experience was amazing. Cooks for Kids providing dinner twice a week; accessible childcare; affordable, safe, stable, and furnished apartment; and the Empowerment and Life Skills classes [now Empowerment and Leadership], along with the community we built. It also had its ups and downs with some of the restrictions, but in hindsight, it’s what I needed. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. It has set the precedence for how I live now.

Back when I was in Jeremiah, we had visitation restrictions, and it allowed me to set those boundaries when I moved out to be able to say, “OK, this is what I’m going to allow in my house, and this is what I’m not.” Or when I need to go have my study time and really focus for an exam, I could go to my apartment where I would have peace and I know no one can bother me there. So it helped me set those boundaries then to be able to get done with schoolwork, and I still exercise those boundaries today.

What do you hope your child will remember about JP years down the line?

I hope my child remembers where we started, how much care he was shown, and everything he learned from his teachers, like the importance of education. That’s something he still talks about, like, “Oh, I remember going to the Red [pre-kindergarten] Room early because they thought I was smart, and they really cared about teaching kids.”

My son ended up going to kindergarten early, and it’s because of all the work that they did at Jeremiah. He started childcare when he was six weeks old in the infant room all the way up until preschool, and they really cared for him like he was their baby, along with me.

The amount of care, support, and love for education — those are the things I want him to always remember. I want him to value education and understand the importance of where it can take you.

What else do you want people to know about JP?

I want people to know that Jeremiah sets the foundation, but moms shape their own experience. The supports are all there, but it’s up to you to utilize it. Take accountability for your experience because you’re shaping your experience while you’re there.

I also want people to know Jeremiah is very intentional with collecting feedback and making continuous improvement. Even when we were there, they asked for a lot of feedback: “How can we do this better? How can we change this?” And not just asking but actually taking it into consideration and implementing it.

Because of some of that feedback, some of the rules are less strict. Even now, like collecting all this information with the fellowship cohort and wanting to have mentorship for the ladies that are in there now. And having JP alumni on the Board [of Directors] and in different spaces. Really, they just care.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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