Meet JP Baltimore Executive Director Danielle Staton

Danielle Staton, JP Baltimore’s inaugural executive director, helps lead a conversation on countering shame about single motherhood and building community.

On June 27, over 50 community members were invited to an intimate conversation between Danielle Staton, JP Baltimore’s inaugural executive director, and JP President and CEO Chastity Lord. The conversation was a celebration of the emerging sisterhood and community among the 150-plus JP Baltimore moms and kids being supported in the campus’s first year.

During this intimate, lunchtime conversation, attendees learned about more than Danielle’s 15-year career in education programming, family and community engagement, college access, and workforce development. They learned how Danielle’s personal journey provides unique insight that influences her passion for the power of JP’s two-generational model.

Two Generations at a Time

Young Danielle, center, with her parents and younger sibling.

When Danielle was 3 years old, her mother enrolled both herself and her child in Head Start, beginning a journey that changed both their lives. “As part of the enrollment process,” Danielle explained, “she completed the family partnership agreement, the goals that she had for herself. And one of those goals was that she wanted to find a job with a career.”

Her mother then joined Head Start’s policy council, through which she learned about an opening for an office secretary role with Head Start. That began her mother’s long career with the organization, even serving as director of finance at one point. She retired several years ago.

“At the time she retired, she was a homeowner,” Danielle reflected. “When we started Head Start, we lived in public housing. And at the end of that time, I was a first-gen college student with a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree.”

“When I see JP moms, I see my mom. When I see JP kids, I see myself, and so I know that [two-generation work] can be done effectively.”

Danielle Staton, JP Baltimore Executive Director

If JP had been around when Danielle was a child, she might have been a JP kid. But she can also directly relate to JP moms’ experiences as a single mother herself — and because of the shame, judgment, and stigma attached to single mothers, she hasn’t always felt comfortable sharing that fact about herself.

“I have never in any job actually said I was a single mom because I felt shame about that,” noted Danielle, who joined JP in December 2022. It wasn’t until she attended her first meeting of JP executive directors that she realized she could release that shame.

“All these other ladies were saying, ‘Oh yes, and I was a single mom.’ And I was like, Everybody’s OK … I can say this and not feel ashamed,” she recalled. “Because all of that is loaded. There are judgments about, ‘OK, did you choose the wrong person?’ Or ‘Why didn’t you get married?’ Particularly when you are a person of color.”

Creating a Welcoming Space

Cultivating a space in which everyone feels welcome is a priority for Danielle and her growing staff. She illustrated this priority with a memory from JP Baltimore’s meet and greet for their second cohort of moms earlier this year — a moment when she knew she was in the right place at the right time.

During the packed event, JP mom Brittney Strickland entered with her two children, one of whom has autism and is very active. Concerned about drawing attention away from the event, Brittney offered to leave with her children, but Danielle assured her, “You’re not bothering anybody. Don’t leave.”

Although most of the moms there had never met before, the group came together as a community and created a judgment-free space. Other moms watched Brittney’s son and made sure she got some food. “We didn’t say anything about the challenge; we didn’t ask anybody to do anything,” Danielle remembered. “Very naturally, it was like this is our village. ‘He is safe — we got you.’” And Brittney and her family stayed the whole time.

Danielle and Chastity then welcomed two JP Baltimore moms to join the conversation: Chantel Berkeley, who’s studying arts and science and who is preparing to transfer to earn a bachelor’s in biochemistry, and Brittney herself, an elementary education major at Morgan State University.

“I didn’t know you could have a balanced life: you can go to school, you can go to work, and then you can also parent. But coming here, being a part of the JP program, I learned that you can have a balance.”

Chantel Berkeley, JP Baltimore mom

Responding to questions from Chastity, both moms shared what their lives were like five years ago and what excites them now.

Five years ago, Brittney had one year left in her education program and was shadowing schoolteachers when she learned of her son’s autism diagnosis. His daycare educators did not have the knowledge to properly engage with him, and Brittney, who strongly values education, made the difficult decision to leave school and focus on his care.

Today, Brittney’s 5-year-old son is thriving. She’s been able to apply her studies and research to craft her own home curriculum for him, and he reads Harry Potter and is spelling and learning addition and subtraction. “It’s learning in a different way. We’re not doing pen and paper. … It’s a lot of fun.”

Brittney is back in school and is participating in JP’s new Early Childhood Education (ECE) Fellowship — JP’s investment in moms and the ECE workforce through the support of moms’ completing associate or bachelor’s degrees in ECE. And now that she’s back in school, she is excited to see it through. “I know how valuable it is, so I’m just ready to finish strongly,” she said.

For Berkeley, five years ago, she was excited to be a new mom but realized she wasn’t prepared to wear so many hats. “I went into provider and protector mode, and I lost sight of myself,” she remembered. “I didn’t know you could have a balanced life: you can go to school, you can go to work, and then you can also parent.”

Now, as one of JP Baltimore’s first Academic All-Stars — moms with a GPA over 3.0 — she’s proud to set an example for her son as a dedicated student. Her son is also excited about school, loves marine biology, and is a talented artist. During this tricky time of balancing parenting, working, and collegiate studies, Berkeley has made it a point to establish an open, communicative relationship with her son so he knows he’s her priority.

Throughout the discussion, including a Q&A with community members, two things were clear. First, each mom had to navigate systems that were not structured with them in mind. Second, these intelligent, driven, education-focused moms deeply love their children and will do anything for them — like all JP moms.

“I wanted to finish school. I valued school. Actually, I graduated valedictorian, so I had a full ride. I know what education means. I know how powerful it is.”

Brittney Strickland, JP Baltimore mom

A Vision for JP Baltimore

After looking back and then at the present, Danielle presented a vision for JP Baltimore’s future. Once they move into their new office space in August 2023, she looks forward to situating the space as a hub for the whole community. She looks forward to growing community partnerships, particularly in areas related to college access, and anticipates JP Baltimore becoming a local leader in that realm.

Danielle also envisions JP moms and alumni as ambassadors, mentors to other moms, and community leaders.

From a two-generation perspective, she can’t wait to see JP moms guide their own children through college application and matriculation processes. After all, their children will be diving into those processes in the next six or seven years.

“Because they’ve gone through the process with their mom — they’ve seen them complete FAFSA, they’ve heard about college tours, they’ve been on college campuses with their moms,” Danielle mused, “they have the social and cultural capital where, when they get to those places, they feel comfortable there and they feel like they belong.”

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