Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Rising above Reality: The Voices of Reentry Black Mothers and Their Daughters

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Rising above Reality: The Voices of Reentry Black Mothers and Their Daughters

Article excerpt

This article examines the following three themes present in the educational narratives of a group of Black reentry (returning to college) mothers: (a) reentry as a response to a critical moment, (b) reentry as a strategy for coping with challenges, and (c) reentry as a practical step toward getting their daughters into college. Cursory reviews of Black women in higher education and representations of Black motherhood contextualize the struggles these and other Black women have faced in getting an education, raising their families, and maintaining a positive image. The daughters' voices are included to provide a clearer picture of the effect a Black mother's reentry can have on her children-particularly her daughters-who are the next generation of females in her family.


"Reality is something you rise above," said Liza Minnelli referring to one of the most difficult periods of her life ("Liza: A Legend with an L," 1996). For too many Black Americans, the daily act of "rising above" challenges related to inequity and poverty is a stark reality. Specifically, this quote holds special significance for the reentry Black women in this study who struggled against a litany of trying circumstances before and during their journey back to school. Nevertheless, for them, reentry is viewed as a way to rise above their present condition; to alter or adjust to their current circumstances.

The constructs of racism and sexism obscure the lives of Black women in America. These two towering structures influence every facet of their lives; however, from post-slavery times to the present day, Black women have viewed education as a mechanism to ameliorate the negative impact racism and sexism has on their life chances (Giddings, 1984). Both the traditional undergraduate, who enters college directly after high school, as well as the reentry woman who walks through the doors of the academy years after earning a diploma or GED believe in the promise of education. Each buys into the notion that education can be, as Horace Mann once noted, the great equalizer (McKlusky, 1958).

These women are confident that their degree will lead to employment opportunity, job advancement, and respect from others although the permanence of racism (Bell, 1992) and gender inequality, particularly against Black women (Collins, 2000), decrease the odds for their academic success. For example, Black women are often the recipients of an inferior elementary and secondary education, the effects of which are immediately realized when they enter college (Sealey-Ruiz, 2006). Their future degree serves as a beacon of hope to another, somewhat easier life. Therefore, school becomes particularly important for the reentry Black woman who must often care for children, elderly parents, or meet other financial obligations while in college. Regarding reentry Black women, Omolade (1987) and Sealey-Ruiz (2005) noted that obtaining a college degree is a lifelong dream for many who have had to interrupt their education because of family or financial crises.


The purpose of this study was to explore the educational narratives of reentry Black mothers; to gauge the effect reentry has on their lives and the lives of their children, particularly their daughters who are the next generation of females in their families. This article includes brief reviews of Black women in higher education and representations of Black motherhood as frameworks for the women's stories. The phenomena of the reentry Black woman is mentioned, then followed by a description of the participants and the qualitative method used to conduct and analyze this study. Finally, the themes which emerged from the data, along with possible implications for the society concerning the continued increase of reentry Black mothers are discussed. For the purpose of this study, reentry means the woman's entrance or return to college after being away from a classroom setting for five to twenty years or more (Henry, 1985). …

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