Dr. Ebony Lumumba could not imagine navigating her undergraduate studies while trying to manage pregnancy.
Lumumba recalls having that thought in 2013 when she was pregnant with her first child and working as an assistant professor of English at Tougaloo College. That time stands out because Lumumba remembers many of her students also were pregnant or raising children while pursuing their degrees.
Buoyed by four years of inspiration and pregnant with her second child, Lumumba acted to create a support system for young women to ensure they didn’t see their pregnancies and children as barriers to their dreams.
“Some of them needed nothing more than an encouraging word or an office where they could pump,” said Lumumba, who is an associate professor of English at Jackson State University, where she chairs the Department of English, Foreign Languages, and Speech Communication and teaches courses in global and American literatures. “Others needed gas money to take themselves and their children back and forth to school/daycare. There were students who needed to complete work early to take an appropriate leave for childbirth. Some of the women just wanted to feel like they had a place on the campus. I realized these were things I could respond to.”
Lumumba responded by creating Mothers Obtaining Justice and Opportunity (MOJO), an organization based in Jackson that works to get mothers through higher education degree programs. Lumumba will speak about MOJO’s efforts to kick off the Social Justice Speaker Series at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 24, in the Gail Gunter Multipurpose Room in the John Clayton Fant Memorial Library. Mississippi University for Women’s Culinary Arts Institute, Fant Memorial Library, Office of Academic Affairs, Office of Housing & Residence Life, Office of Student Life and Ina E. Gordy Honors College are sponsors of the series.
Lumumba said MOJO has supported 25-45 mothers enrolled in community colleges, four-year institutions, and graduate schools as well as women who have benefited from its donation drives. She said funds and resources the organization receives through grants and private donations help MOJO meet the entire spectrum of the needs of a student-mother.
“Through listening sessions and surveys, we inquire about their experiences and craft programming that is a direct reflection of their realities,” Lumumba said. “Previously, we’ve offered childcare grants to aid student-mothers in securing the basic practical needs of caring for their families (i.e. food, diapers, infant formula, baby wipes, clothing, etc.). We also have sponsored education grants for student-mothers to assist them with paying school fees and purchasing textbooks and school supplies.”
During the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lumumba said MOJO offered emergency relief grants to student-mothers that allowed them to purchase practical needs like meals and sanitizing products for their families as well as technology for virtual learning. In addition to tangible assistance, Lumumba said MOJO’s work continues to strengthen the social, emotional, and mental health support system for student-mothers. She said that support is vital because it allows student-mothers to voice their successes, frustrations and questions in safe, inclusive spaces and gives them the time and confidence to help them realize their goals.
Lumumba, who specializes in postcolonial literatures of the Global South and Black mothering as resistance, received her Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of Mississippi, a Master of Arts in English from Georgia State University and graduated Magna Cum Laude from Spelman College with a Bachelor of Arts in English. She said she wouldn’t have been able to navigate that journey without the inspiration of her mother Mary, who was pregnant with her older sister, Kenya, during her sophomore year of college at Saint Xavier in Chicago. With MOJO, Lumumba’s goal is to support as many student-mothers as possible with the resources and inspiration they need to complete their educational journeys.
“We want to encourage women who are building their families and pursuing their education simultaneously to stay the course and curate a society that celebrates mothering while in pursuit of academic, professional, and creative endeavors,” Lumumba said.
The Social Justice Speaker Series originated in 2022 after Fant Memorial Library received The W’s University Initiative Impact Award for its efforts to enhance diversity, promote cultural diversity and cultivate an inclusive campus community. Sadè Meeks (Feb. 16) and Dr. Tim Lampkin (March 21) also will be a part of the series to speak about their social justice initiatives.
“We have been working on organizing a series of speakers that will highlight social justice initiatives in the state of Mississippi and beyond,” said Amanda Clay Powers, dean of library services. “We hope to inspire our students and the broader community by showing the variety of social justice work being done by these inspiring leaders.”
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Jan. 23, 2023
Contact: Adam Minichino