By: Lawrence Witherspoon, Director, Center for Family Voice, Groundwork Ohio
"Plant the seed, cultivate the seed, watch the seed grow."
These are the words my grandmother left with me six months before her passing. Her name was Eugenia Harris and while some called her Jean, I called her grandma.
My Grandmother grew up working in the tobacco and cotton fields of Mississippi. She eventually came to Ohio seeking financial stability and took a job working for a cleaning company to provide a better life for her family.
Once my grandmother was able to save up enough money, she sent most of it to her siblings to relocate north of Mississippi, including my mother and me. I remember the day we arrived in Ohio; it felt just like yesterday. She was in the kitchen cooking this wonderful meal for us. I can still smell the fried chicken, biscuits, and pound cake. After eating, I remember seeing people from our neighborhood stopping by to grab food for their own families. At that moment I realized my grandmother wasn’t just my grandmother – she was the grandmother of our community. It was very clear that everyone in our community either knew my grandmother or had heard about her. My grandmother had simply planted seeds.
As a child growing up, I knew my grandmother to be a hard worker and provider. She worked part-time for a cleaning company at night and provided child care for single mothers during the day. She saw a need in the community and was determined to do something about it. What started as extra income for our family became a resource for our community. As word began to spread throughout the community, more families were looking to my grandmother for child care. Eventually, the demand for affordable child care became overwhelming and my grandmother no longer could provide care for everyone who needed it. My grandmother presented this problem to one of the local churches in our community and began advocating for more assistance for these families. My grandmother also began working with members of the local church to provide training on child care and supervision and inspired other women to become child care providers. My grandmother was now cultivating the seeds.
In my adulthood, I started to notice my grandmother’s health decline at a rapid pace. She was no longer able to provide child care for families in our community but continued to support those who were empowered by her to continue the work. During this period, families returned to the community to visit my grandmother, thanking her for providing care for families for over 30 years. I watched children who grew into adults drop off food and gifts to my grandmother, thanking her for taking care of them when they were babies. As an adult, I now reflect on that pivotal moment in life and realize that my grandmother’s impact on our family and community introduced the blueprint that eventually led me to my purpose.
Over the past 15 years, I’ve been an advocate and servant in the community, working in child welfare, early childhood advocacy, and ministry. My grandmother showed me that advocacy isn’t just a word, it's action. If only she could have watched it grow.
It is an honor to continue her legacy, and while our communities have made incredible progress since her early days as a child care provider, most communities across the state of Ohio remain unable to meet the demand for affordable, quality child care. As Groundwork and our partners work to increase access to quality child care, it is community members like my grandmother who will continue to be on the frontlines of community solutions. I encourage you to plant your own seeds, cultivate those seeds and I promise you’ll see them grow!
Our family child care providers across the state play a critical role in the past, present, and future of child care in this state and nation. Read our family child care report to learn more about family child care in the state of Ohio.
Lawrence shared this pivotal story of his grandmother at the graduation ceremony of the 2022 Class of Early Childhood Leadership Fellows. Watch him deliver this story to see his grandmother come to life through his words.