By Aisha Nyandoro
I am the founding CEO of Springboard To Opportunities, a nonprofit organization in Jackson, Mississippi helping families living in affordable housing reach their goals in school, work, and life. We are a radically resident-driven organization, meaning that we trust families to know better than anyone else what it is that they need to reach their goals and design our priorities and plans as an organization according to their voices. In 2018, this led to the creation of the Magnolia Mother’s Trust (MMT), which I have the honor of leading: a guaranteed income program which provides $1,000 a month to extremely low-income Black mothers residing in affordable housing in Jackson, MS. The Magnolia Mother’s Trust was the first to center the narrative of economic justice with gender and racial justice lenses.
The project uses a guaranteed income to provide Black mothers with the financial resources ($1,000 per month /12 months) needed to actualize their goals. Recognizing the isolating effects of poverty and the importance of social capital, the project also offers a community of support. Finally, this project takes a two-generation approach by establishing children’s savings accounts for each child of a MMT mother. Currently moving into the fifth year, the program is the longest-running guaranteed income pilot in the United States since the Nixon administration’s Negative Income Tax experiments that began in the late ‘60s.
To provide some level setting, a guaranteed income helps build a robust floor under which no one can fall. Guaranteed income is meant to supplement, not supplant existing social safety net benefits. It is grounded on the values of trust and respect for recipients with a fundamental commitment to preserving and reinforcing the freedom of choice and dignity of individuals and families. The proposal has been championed as a means of ending poverty, reducing social inequalities, and promoting gender and racial equity.
In the five years in which I have championed for guaranteed income and led in this space, I have seen the field explode. There are currently over 100 guaranteed income pilots being implemented in this country, over 27,000 families are benefiting from the relief that comes with knowing that they will have a steady influx of cash coming into their home. This reality is beautiful, but it’s not enough.
Leading in this space, I have learned a few lessons that are relevant to the Just Economy Institute (JEI) family. But the biggest lesson I have been sitting with lately is that cash is not a balm that solves all ailments. Yes, cash is important, it helps make the stickiness of life a little less sticky, but it is just one solution needed to help cure the ongoing impacts of poverty. Whether it is the effects of not having access to physical or mental health care, working numerous jobs that take away a parent’s ability to spend time with her children, or overcoming the traumatic effects that come from constantly living in a state of scarcity, the effects of poverty are numerous. While cash is certainly a starting point, it is not a silver bullet that can cure all without additional supports and care.
Earlier this week, I received an email that one of the very first moms we supported with MMT lost her 18-year-old daughter to gun violence – a domestic dispute. This mom had successfully moved her family out of affordable housing, but they still lived on the fringes of poverty. Our work as cash advocates wasn’t enough to outrun the lackluster gun polices we have in this country or the limited mental health support we provide.
Alone our work wasn’t enough.
But here is the reality; I should not have to be alone in this work. I cannot be alone in this work. We often want to silo others or even ourselves into neat titles and boxes, but the work of creating a true, just economy is going to take more than what just one of our boxes can offer. It is tempting to keep our work tied up in little boxes because it allows us to believe that what happens outside the scope of our work isn’t our problem – just like it can be tempting to believe what happens to a family in Jackson, MS isn’t our problem. But only our current unjust and inequitable systems benefit from this kind of isolated and individualistic thinking.
When we ask our families to define wealth or prosperity, they talk about so much more than just having money in their bank account. They talk about having enough to support and help out their friends and families in times of crisis or need. They talk about having space to relax, practice self-care, or spend time with their children. They talk about being in a safe and thriving community where they and their neighbors are able to have their needs met. Wealth for Springboard families is not just about net worth or asset values; its about whole thriving communities. And that takes all of us.
The reality is what happens to the least of us happens to all of us. And this is what I hope the JEI family understands: all our work must cross over neat little lines or boundaries because the plethora of challenges are too insurmountable to be solved by one solution. Together, we can imagine a world that is not oriented around a single solution but recognizes that we all have a part to play in building a more equitable future.
Aisha Nyandoro is the founding CEO of Springboard to Opportunities, a Jackson, MS nonprofit that uses a “radically resident-driven” approach to end generational poverty. In 2018, she created the Magnolia Mother’s Trust – now the country’s longest-running guaranteed income program. In addition to leading Springboard’s community work and growing the Magnolia Mother’s Trust exponentially, Aisha is focused on shifting gendered and racialized narratives around poverty and deservedness, and working to show how the success of the Trust can be scaled nationally through policies like the expanded Child Tax Credit and a federal guaranteed income. Her expertise on economic, racial, and gender justice issues is regularly featured in outlets including The New York Times, The Washington Post, Amanpour & Company, Essence Magazine, NBC Nightly News, and CNN. She is a TEDx speaker and a fellow of the Highland Project, W.K. Kellogg Foundation Community Leadership Network, and Ascend at the Aspen Institute. She is a 2022 McNulty Prize Winner and the 2022 Disrupter Change Champion from Community Change. She holds a B.A. from Tennessee State University, and an M.A. and Ph.D. from Michigan State University. When not working to liberate financial capital, she is a wife and mom to two very charming sons.