Baltimore’s ‘Mom of the Year’ Overwhelmed and Grateful for New Fortune

© Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun/TNS Toya Graham, who was shown in a viral video disciplining her son during the Baltimore riots, talks on Monday, April 27, 2015, about what has happened since that event. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun/TNS)
© Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun/TNS Toya Graham, who was shown in a viral video disciplining her son during the Baltimore riots, talks on Monday, April 27, 2015, about what has happened since that event. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun/TNS)

Three weeks ago, Toya Graham was a recently unemployed single mother of six and grandmother of one struggling to scrape by in West Baltimore. 

Today, she’s the beneficiary of a growing GoFundMe page, and a scholarship fund has been established for her 16-year-old son. She’s fielding job offers, she said, from BET, Under Armour and St. Joseph’s Hospital.

“I told them all yes,” she said. “I know I can’t work all of those jobs. But, I didn’t want to seem ungrateful.”

Graham’s newfound opportunities are the result of one indelible moment: She confronted her son with a barrage of slaps — just as he was poised to throw rocks at police officers by Mondawmin Mall. Captured on video, it was one of the unforgettable scenes from the unrest related to Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old man who died as a result of injuries sustained while in police custody.

The clip catapulted her to overnight fame, with whirlwind appearances on almost every major news network and on shows such as “The View.” She even received a call of support from Oprah Winfrey.

The change in fortune brings her to tears.

“It’s really overwhelming,” she said, sitting in a couch in her living room, where framed pictures of her family and religious scripture adorn a glass table atop paneled wood floors. “When you have struggled for so long, you don’t know where your next meal is coming from. It means a lot. … I’m grateful that they heard me say I was struggling.”

But prior to April 27, Graham’s experiences were not atypical for West Baltimore: going to church, getting by, raising her children in a neighborhood that can echo with gunshots. While one daughter aspires to be in uniform, her son resents the police; Graham fears his story ending the same way as Trayvon Martin or Freddie Gray.

After moving her family from Park Heights to a larger rowhouse in West Baltimore, the 42-year-old health care worker injured her back on the job; she eventually lost her position as a caregiver. She made ends meet with the help of her significant other and an older daughter. Graham also enlisted the help of social services.

To compound matters, Graham said, past legal trouble kept her from getting new employment.

“If you have any criminal background it is hard to find work,” she said. A court records search showed Graham was charged with second-degree assault in 2002, but the case was dismissed.

The number of people seeking work who have such records in their background is so widespread in Baltimore that last year the City Council passed “Ban the Box” legislation that would force employers to wait until they have extended a conditional job offer before checking an applicant’s criminal history.

Graham declined to elaborate on that history but added that “no one wants to work with anyone with a record. Sure, you can get hired at McDonald’s. But you can’t if you want to work as a nurse or as a caregiver with a criminal background. I’m saying this from experience.”

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Source: Baltimore Sun | John-John Williams IV

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