Mother’s Day has passed, but at ESSENCE we’re celebrating Black moms in a big way all month long. To pay tribute to the brave moms out there taking care of not just their own families but ours too, Yes, Girl! podcast presents Black Moms On The Front Lines, a series highlighting incredible women on the front lines.
For our next installment, Yes, Girl! hosts Charli Penn and Cori Murray chat with Dollar General employee Kenya Slaughter on becoming an essential worker during an unprecedented time.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic made its way to the United States, people have been flocking to retail stores to keep their homes stocked with necessary supplies. Retail employees like Slaughter found themselves having to be essential workers when they didn’t ask to be. Slaughter, whose 4-year-old daughter Harmony is on the autism spectrum, had the added stress of trying to find childcare.
Slaughter’s name became nationally recognized after her New York Times op-ed “I Never Planned to Be a Front-Line Worker at Dollar General” went viral. In the piece, she opened up about just how hard it is for essential workers to take care of themselves and their families, and even protect themselves while they’re working.
As a member of Step Up Louisiana, Slaughter continues to fight for dollar store workers and essential workers’ rights. ESSENCE had the pleasure of speaking to her about the underappreciated work she’s doing, which inspired us all.
On taking care of her own family while she also helps us take care of ours:
It’s challenging, but I’m up for the challenge. I make it look easy. I get tired. And I want an off day and a spa day, but I can’t do any of that. So I come home. Well, first of all, my daughter’s 4 years old, and she is on the autism spectrum. So Harmony understands a lot, but her verbal isn’t as good, so she’s not getting her words out as well as she probably should be at 4 years old. So that’s the major issue. So when I come home, I want to go disinfect. I have to try to avoid her to run to the shower first so that she doesn’t see me and want to come hug me, which is really heartbreaking sometimes especially after a long day when I really want to give her a hug, when I’ve had a rough day. But I go in, disinfect. We make teas. Her dad just brought me this tea that we drink to try to keep everything clear and stuff. And we do steams and things like that.
Harmony understands really well, so she actually does the steam with me. And when I say that, I mean literally she’ll come stand in a chair because she’s short, and we go over the pot, and I’ll put a towel over our heads. She’ll put the towel over our heads and take a couple of deep breaths with me. But it’s a little moist, so she’ll jump back. But we do do that here at home, and I’ll just be trying to prep food or get things that are really easy to cook or have his plate ready already, get something that I can throw in the microwave for Harmony. I don’t really like processed foods, but I’m tired a lot of the time, so I have to do what I have to do to make sure that everybody’s fed.
On having to find childcare as an essential worker:
Yes, everything is closed, and it was hard enough to try to get childcare before things were closed and before this pandemic. People are skeptical. People are nervous. People don’t want to deal with other people or children for that matter. So I’m blessed that I do have a team of really good people in my life. Between my sister, my cousin, my hairdresser and Harmony’s aunt, we pretty much make it happen. Or her father and I have our off days align to where, okay, he has to work the days that I’m off, I have to work the days that he’s off, and one of us can keep the baby. And then it’s only maybe two or three days that we may need a babysitter. And we try to rotate so we don’t put her off on anyone because dealing with a child with a disability can be a lot. She’s not fully potty-trained, so no one wants to be trying to help change a 4-year-old. And I understand that. She’s my baby, so I’m going to do what I need to do and put her with people who I trust and who I know actually cares for her and understand. So it’s immediate family, and no one charges me too much or anything like that. I try to bless them and give gifts, give donations so to speak, because they don’t really want to charge me for watching their niece or watching their little cousin. But I still pay because I just feel like it’s right because I would be paying someone else.
On working in a retail store that lacks safety precautions for employees:
I wish that was one of the things we did have, some type of security. We need security anyway. Again, like I say, I’m in the store by myself, so if I’m by myself, I don’t have anyone. I have to focus on the customer ahead of me. People need a lot of stuff. Cashiers can sometimes be like hairdressers, like therapists. I’ll have people tell me their whole life story while I’m ringing up their stuff, and I try to be nice and compassionate and give them some good feedback and some positive vibes because that’s what I do. But generally, there’s no one there to tell anybody to wait outside, we’ve reached capacity. No one to remind people to stand six feet apart. I keep putting up signs because people get offended when you tell them. I’m not used to it. They get real frustrated, and they’re not used to it.
Listen to Yes, Girl! podcast for more intimate conversations with Black moms on the front lines of this global pandemic.