Hello, I am Toshia. Founder and owner of YouNiquely Made. I was a teen mom of two boys by age 18. Though the journey was hard, I was able to beat the stereotype and statistics assigned to single, young moms. Especially a teen mom of color. It felt like almost everyone was against me; that the "system" was trying to ensure my failure based on my initial poor choices. But I refused to fail. I refused to be a statistic. I would ensure my life and the lives of my children would be better. Through faith and determination, Iwas successful, even when the system failed.
Pregnant at 16. Sounds like a TV show. But it was my life. I was a junior in high school (11th grade). As I began to show, six months pregnant, I had no choice but to tell my mother (which is a story in itself). After telling my mother, I began to show in high school. Some of the administrators at my high school tried to send me to an alternative school, saying, "it would be a good idea to go to an alternative school for teen parents to take parenting classes." They even tried to kick me out of Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC), because "I would no longer be able to fit into a uniform.
The truth was they did not want a pregnant teenager walking the halls of a "normal" school, because I was an example of what NOT to do. Just like in the 50s and 60s, unwed young women who got pregnant would be at school one day and gone the next. The solution was not to support, but to shame and hide. I was pregnant in 95, and the belief, still held true. Hide us away.
Everyone told me to my face or behind my back, that I would not graduate high school even though I had 3.82 GPA. But I was not going anywhere. I refused to be a statistic and vowed I would graduate and go to college.
There was a teen parent program that was very short lived. It assisted with childcare cost for those in high school. They covered daycare for me to continue going to regular high school. The program ended the next year. However, they were willing to pay for daycare for me to quit high school and get a job.
That forced me to go to the alternative school, since they had childcare for teen moms who signed up for parenting class. However, my son was always getting sick, from the daycare. When he was sick, He could not go to daycare, so I could not go to school. That caused me to miss too many days, and the school withdrew me, even though I was not failing. I would have to finish my senior year in summer school.
I was fortunate that my older sister was there to help me. Although she lived in Georgia and I lived in Florida, she kept my first son so I could graduate high school. She too had been a teen mom and understood the issues and my struggle. In August of 1997, during summer school, in a small auditorium, I graduated and received my high school diploma. I was also pregnant with my second child.
What was I going to do with two kids?!?! I considered abortion. Went to the clinic, with all the protestors there, calling me all types of names and saying the meanest things. (If you think calling me out my name and degrading me is going to make me listen to you, good luck).
It all became very overwhelming. I could not go through with it. I left, mad at myself. Thinking why I was not strong enough to do it. Now what am I going to do. As I internally started to berate myself.
I prayed and asked God, to help me through this and figure it out. I still was not 18, and the current lease and relationship I was in was ending. I would have to find a place.
With complications with my second pregnancy, I had to stop working. Could not continue to stay where I lived, so his father's mom allowed me to stay with her. So here I was, 17, with one son barely a year old, pregnant with another.
As time went on, my relationship with the father of my second son was becoming unstable. Our relationship was off and on. Finally, my son was born. By now, I was finally 18 and able to get my own income-based apartment. I was on government assistance. All of it…Food stamps, cash assistance, project housing. I needed all the help I could get to get on my feet. I still wanted to get an education. But I also needed to work. I was working part-time at a fast-food restaurant, making a little above minimum wage.
I went to medical assist school, working at night and going to school during the day. Not seeing my kids often, but knowing I wanted better for them and for me.
There were many challenges. Sometimes not having enough money, resources, or support. Yet having the perseverance or endurance to keep going. I was able to go back to school, but not without complications. First starting in junior college and then to a university, where I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice and a minor in psychology. I was able to commission as an officer in the United States Air Force.
Statistics say, I should either be living on government assistance with no education or at best, that I would be making $45-$50 thousand dollars compared The median income for families led by a single mother in 2020 was about making about $50K, well below the $101,517 median for married couples.1
BUT I AM NOT A STATISTIC!! WE ARE NOT STATISTICS!! Today I have two Master’s degrees and I am an officer in the United States Air Force, I make a 6-figure salary. I have savings, investments, and will be able to retire in a few years’ time. I am an entrepreneur. Becoming my own boss as I prepare to transition out of the military. I have led thousands of people throughout my career, I have advised senior leaders up to the four-star level and prepared documents for Congress. I have traveled the world, and so have my children. I have worked in a United States Embassy overseas.
My sons have their high school diploma and some college. They have never been arrested, do not have children, and love God. They have traveled to more countries than states. We are not poverty stricken.
Though life as a single parent is indeed hard. We do not have to be a statistic. We can achieve more, we are fearfully, wonderfully, and YouNiquely Made! Do not allow others to dictate your future because of your past. Each of our journeys will be different....to be our best, to strive for excellence, to live our purpose. That does not mean it is not achievable.
You are not alone and neither am I. I had a community of people along the way. Some who are still here and others who were there just for a reason or a season. Be intentional. Decide to be your best, to strive for excellence, to find your passion, live your purpose, and create a better life for you and your children. Be an example others can follow.
I have been able to help other single mothers. I have mentored teen parents while living in the U.S. and abroad. That is why I started YouNiquely Made. I want you and others to know, that you can be who you want to be. Do what you want to do, and help others along the way.
If you can relate, please comment below. Feel free to share your story. If you feel this can motivate and encourage someone, please feel free to share. Truly, we are stronger together.
I hope to see you on the other side…in excellence and purpose. Thank you for taking the time to read my story.