By the time Shonda* was 10 her life was already a mess. She was failing in school, constantly in fights, and had run into trouble with the police a couple of times. Being an African American girl in an urban area, it wasn’t difficult to guess where she was heading. Her home life was one trauma after another. Dad regularly beat up Mom and more than once it had been serious enough to send her to the hospital. Shonda was angry, scared and out of control.
With some outside help, things began to turn around. Mom kicked Dad out of the house and stuck to it. A chronic illness kept Mom from being able to get a job, but the two of them managed to establish a minimal level of survival with Social Security benefits, welfare, and other “safety net” serivces. Shonda even got diagnosed with AD/HD, was put on medication and started catching up in school.  

Then came 2003 with a huge state budget shortfall. The Governor had promised to protect the tax cuts recently passed for his wealthy friends and so he balanced the budget on the backs of those who could least afford it. One way to save money… eliminate welfare payments for those who get Social Security benefits.

All of the sudden Mom’s income (that was almost nothing to begin with) was cut in half. How is the family going to survive? It didn’t take long before Dad was back in the house – helping pay the bills. Except this time, he wasn’t beating up Mom. Instead he began taking it all out on Shonda. Due to her age (by now she’s 14) and the fact that he doesn’t leave bruises or draw blood, child protection will not intervene.

When Shonda gets to the point where she can’t take anymore, she swallows all the pills she can find in the house and goes to sleep. Both Shonda and those who treated her were surprised that she woke up at all, given what she had taken. But she’s in the hospital now recovering… and then what?

This is a true story about a young woman I know. But how many Shonda’s are there all over the country? I know that her mother and father are partly to blame for not taking care of her. But I will also hold our Governor and the Republicans in the legislature accountable as well. We almost lost Shonda this week so that they could protect tax cuts for their greedy friends.

There are real people behind all of those numbers we see everyday. And we need to keep up the fight – for Shonda.

*Name changed to protect privacy

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