Voices of Everyday Leaders

by Melissa Chadburn | October 15, 2019 2:50 pm

Power Concedes Nothing Without Demand

This evening democratic candidates will gather at Otterbein University in Westerville, a suburb of Columbus, for the presidential primary debates. While they will be discussing our economy and ways to tackle poverty, the people who work in the surrounding restaurants and hotels are tipped workers, who receive the federal tipped rate of just $4.15/hour. Some of them single mothers, with little or no access to quality affordable childcare. This isn’t just true in Westerville, but across the state where there are child care deserts, and some parents are living 200% at or below the poverty level. 

Bianca Edwards, lead organizer AMOS Collaborative

Bianca Edwards knows all too well about the plight of the working mother in Ohio. As an organizer for the Ohio Organizing Collaborative and the AMOS Organizing Collaborative and active leader in PEOPLE4C. She and her allies are fighting hard for what she calls “learning equity.” It has been an uphill battle but AMOS has had some commendable wins along the way. June of 2019 they were able to secure a $2000/year stipend for educators to help offset the funds spent from their own pockets to provide supplies to their students. 

They also won two seats on the school board, one of which Edwards occupies, and most recently they’ve won a narrative shift, in that people are now using language that incorporates the need for infant care and learning needs. So when we talk about childcare we are starting as early as birth and not only three or four-year-olds. 

AMOS Organizing Collaborative

Edwards believes strongly in equitable wages for childcare providers and is pushing hard to make sure owners get higher subsidies. One of AMOS’ goals is to reach out to families in childcare deserts to make sure they get the first shot at quality early childhood education. 

Edwards was raised by a single mother and from an early age was impacted by watching what she had to go through. She has a younger sister and they grew up in Cincinnati. She went to an incredible elementary school, a Montessori school where she felt what it was like to have a lot of teachers deeply invested in her schooling experience, but when she moved on to a predominantly Black junior high she saw that the students there weren’t getting what she’d gotten up until the sixth grade. Once again when it was time for her to go to high school in yet another community, she discovered that she was a year-and-a-half behind. Edwards said that growing up a Black girl in Cincinnati has really informed her about the educational neglect one endures based on the socioeconomic situations of their families. Being both biracial and economically mobile she found that she was exposed to varying degrees of discourse and language around academics and access to education. This made her aware of the disparities and differences and ultimately, passionate about organizing.

Another influence on her life was that her dad had gone to prison for drug trafficking, it was his first offense, and she recalls very clearly the judge saying at his sentencing hearing “I have to make an example out of you.” So while it was his very first offense he went to prison which led him through a downward spiral and further set Edwards passion for justice on fire. She witnessed his experience as a Black man trying to find housing, find a job, losing a job, how hard he worked. The repeated push for him to pull himself up by his bootstraps. Edwards maintains, “Even as a teen I realized that was bullshit.” 

Bianca Edwards, Cincinnati, Ohio

If it was just a matter of rigor, he’d be fine, she knew he worked really hard. She was able to see the racial dynamics at play and how one half of her family had benefitted and were deeply and intentionally oblivious about her father’s circumstances. While the other half of her family was very grounded in the notion that these are the things that have caused harm. Additionally, she was surrounded by a lot of kick ass women, women who were moms who we’re gonna make sure their kids have the best. 

Edwards said that in spite of all the things her family has experienced, sexual assault, violence, great education, horrible education, she is able to see the realities of what exists, what is possible and that motivates her. Four years ago, she didn’t know about about organizing. She was a therapist who managed a domestic violence shelter for six years and tried to figure out what her next move would be when she met an organizer. 

He asked her questions she hadn’t thought of before. When was the last time you felt empowered? When was the last time you told your story?

Questions that lit her up. 

Yet Edwards wasn’t familiar with earlier movements, she had no context how they existed today but as she spoke with him something clicked. She thought of a quote by Frederick Douglas:

“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”

Women Organizers in Ohio

I asked her what keeps her motivated to do this work. More specifically, who motivates her to do this work. She said there are just too many stories to choose from but she’ll settle on two. One is of a mom who she’s known now for a year-and-a-half and this mom is a young Black woman. She is married, she has five kids and more on the way. She is an educator and works in the care field. She works with young kids and every day she gets up and gets her kids together to go off to school, and she gets her self together, and she gets her house together. “Every day she does this. Even Saturday and Sunday she is doing something. She just pounds the pavement.” 

Most astounding to Edwards is that she is always talking to other parents, educators, and owners. No matter what has been thrown at her. Edwards notices that there are times she has broken down and it’s been way after the space where Edwards would have thought a person would break down. “She gives me fucking fire because she doesn’t know quit. Because she knows what’s at cost.” 

Bianca Edwards as a baby, her grandmother, and her mother on the far right in yellow

The other person who keeps her going is someone she has never told how important they are to her. A person who is not on this earth anymore. Her mom. Edwards said, “My mom has been through so much. She was raped when she was younger. She has been through DV relationships, she first left home to go to college. Her boyfriend beat her horribly, so horribly she miscarried. That happened twice. My mom somehow made fool’s gold into actual gold. She worked her butt off. She knew what she wanted and as exhausted as she was she went for it.”

Here Edwards paused. “I want to be very clear. My mom was not a fighter. She was a sweet hippy… I don’t know how to explain her really except through this story.”

“There was a point in time the house we owned had a church next door and they tried to say that two feet of our driveway was their property. My mom found out that the church was told by a contractor that they needed two more feet on their property to make the parking lot they needed.” “So she does all this digging, talking to people, people who go to the church, and she tells them about the pastor and the two feet. She gets blueprints and paperwork. I don’t know how she does it. But she does. She invites people over to have meals with us, church congregants,and she tells them the pastor is trying to push out a single woman and her two daughters.” “Someone from the church came out one day and my mom got into verbal blows with this person. She screamed ‘ Why are you making a single mom with two kids and two jobs give you a thing?’ and the church representative said ‘We thought it’d be easy for you.’ Mom said, ‘Don’t tell me what’s easy for me. You don’t know me and my kids. You’ve never even had a conversation with me.’ That’s when it hit me “Holy shit my mom’s a fighter.” 

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