This summer we will celebrate my daughter’s 11th birthday. For us, it means marking another year that she has beaten the odds. For me, it’s another year spent fighting for her access to the resources she’s been promised for her education, and her physical and mental health. Over the past eleven years I have learned how to be a mom to a child with disabilities, finished my education, worked to support us, and learned what it takes to be a strong parent advocate.

What follows is a sadly all too common story. One where multiple systems impact the quality of life of one family. One that implicates all of Pittsburgh’s leaders as to why this city is the worst for Black women and Black girls in the country.

Let’s start with the healthcare system. While I am grateful to the team of doctors that help manage her chronic condition, we have had more than our fair share of traumatic experiences trying to navigate a system that looks upon Black families as less than. It has taken time for me to learn the system to know how to approve and advise the eight specialists that help care for my daughter. I’ve had to put my researching skills and advocacy skills to work to make sure she’s getting what she needs.

And while I work with doctors around my daughter’s condition, I am also trying to finish my education and keep down a job. I have worked for some of the largest nonprofits in this city, none of which were supportive of my situation or allowed for flexibility for me to work remotely. A situation that many parents find themselves in through no fault of their own.

Once my daughter entered school, things were consistently difficult. Unlike other systems we deal with, school exacerbated problems with my daughter’s mental and physical health. Rather than having help in supporting my child’s education, I have to spend an inordinate amount of time on phone calls and meetings, including on Sundays, to address the issues we’re seeing with her educational development.

I was fortunate to understand how to navigate all these complex systems as well as understand how they impacted my daughter. But even knowing what I know, there are still barriers that I can not plan for. The problems Black families, poor families, multilingual families are facing are compounded and should be recognized as such. Either/or is a tool of white supremacy.

We should be working towards centering the most marginalized people, even if it means we no longer support systems and institutions that perpetuate throw away culture of Black bodies. We should not accept the current state of our public education system until our teachers, curriculum, and leadership center the needs of the most impacted families. We should not support our hospital systems until they pay taxes, pay fair wages, and stop killing Black women and Black children. We should not partner or collaborate with nonprofit organizations or corporations who continue holding up racial capitalistic systems. We should stop funding police departments and our carceral system and fund services that address the root cause and supports for the success of those programs.

It’s important to understand, education advocacy isn’t only advocating for education and labor advocacy isn’t only advocating for worker’s rights. Housing advocates aren’t only advocating for housing. We are collectively advocating for a better world for ourselves and our children. There are multiple truths and we should be addressing these issues as such, so that individuals–working mothers–do not have to learn how to navigate complex systems to achieve basic quality of life and quality of education for their children.

Writing this has made me so emotional because without the support of my family who sat in the hospital so I could go to class, friends who would clean my house because I couldn’t maintain a home I didn’t live in, the advocates who radicalized me and provided outlets to identify opportunities to be part of the change I NEEDED, the bosses who let me bring my daughter to work because they knew I needed my job and could still do it, and most important to share a space that centered Black children – if I did not have these people, this community, in my life, I wouldn’t be where I am today and that is very scary.

By Amber Thompson
Founder, Leaders of Change