If you’re born Black, you’re already pitted against an indeterminate number of challenges. If you’re born Black and female, multiply them a few times and add a couple more. And if you’re crazy enough to haul off and be Black, female and pregnant when you’re still a teenager trying to finish high school? You might as well figure out how you’re going to wear your hair under the little paper cap and rehearse ways to ask folks if they want to supersize their order for an extra $1.99.

But that hasn’t been the reality for girls who’ve attended Catherine Ferguson Academy in Detroit. Since it opened its doors in 1988, the pioneering school has given its 97% Black student body of teenage moms and mothers-to-be a new lease on education, parenting and in whole, their lives. In a city with a steadily increasing teen pregnancy rate, it’s been a necessity. 

Teachers and school administrators didn’t get their girls through in a “thank God she made it,” skin-of-the-teeth slide to graduation. They prepped them for college — and had an enviable rate of alumnae go on to higher education — all while providing childcare for the babies whose mamas were just barely past the point of being babies themselves.

Their success story was built on taking adverse circumstances and using them as stepping stones, not ankle weights. Notice my heavy usage of past tense verbiage, which indicates Catherine Ferguson Academy is itself past tense. Back in April, Detroit Public Schools put the institution on the chopping block — another one biting the dust over budget cuts. Educating one student at CFA cost a reported $12,619 against the average $7,600 across the citywide system. The school that has done so much for so many young women and their children is slated to close on June 17. But not without a fight.

The handed-down decision sparked the arrest of a teacher, a student and a recent graduate who were carted off school grounds as they waged a sit-in when news dropped of CFA’s impending closure. Now those same women are facing up to 90 days in prison and $500 fines for fighting for the right to shake off all the disadvantages that come along with the stereotype of being a teenage mom from the ‘hood in Detroit. 

Funny how lawmakers want to complain about the welfare system and critics make like so many sistas are willfully living off of public assistance, but guess what, Detroit Public Schools? Ain’t much a young Black woman with no diploma and one or two little mouths to feed can do to make that money when childcare costs darn near as much as college tuition. That’s a set-up for a public assistance situation.

Not that I knock them. I too was a teen mom and that thing will grow you up quick. Not just because you’re forced to scramble for the money to replenish your baby’s never-ending need for Pampers and formula, but because people write you off as a loss before you even have a whole conversation. 

But what saddens and angers me more is that an institution that has prepped so many girls for better lives (ultimately making better lives for their children) is being ripped from our community. Because even if you’ve never been to Detroit (like me), all of us know girls like the ones at Catherine Ferguson Academy. Having a baby early is hard, but it won’t ruin you. Not having the means to take care of it will.

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