Upper left corner, Nichole Bass-Hawk, lower left corner, Talaya Bates and mother, Sholanda Knott-Johnson, upper right corner, Alicia Howell, lower right, Audra Carson.
Upper left corner, Nichole Bass-Hawk, lower left corner, Talaya Bates and mother, Sholanda Knott-Johnson, upper right corner, Alicia Howell, lower right, Audra Carson.

Detroit knows crisis and these women know resilience.

DETROIT, MI — Detroit is known for its hustle, grind, music, resilience and of course cars. But the engine of the Motor City is Black women. 

Black women makeup 52.7% of the total population  and statewide, Black women makeup 74% of the voting population, according to a report released on March 9, 2020 by Mothering Justice and the National Women’s Law Center

The National Institute of Health says that women residing in economically deprived areas – Detroit qualifies, 50% of children are living below poverty level and an unemployment rate more than double the national average – are at increased risk of preterm birth and higher infant mortality.  

Yet in the face one the deadliest outbreaks since the Spanish Flu of 1918, Black women — especially from Detroit — are leading by example. 

They are following the wisdom presented by their foremothers, digging deep internally and coming up with innovation and resilience. Black women have historically had multiple streams of income (hustled) to keep the household afloat. 

Here are four principles for us to take note of as we face the days to come. 

Dig deep and keep moving! 

This is advice given by Eastsider Nichole Bass-Hawk. 

Bass-Hawk is a Psychotherapist, and though her parents were addicted to drugs, her dad passed from HIV and mom is still on the streets, her grandmother was a stable force who lived down the street.  Bass-Hawk is the middle of two boys and graduated from Finney Highschool.

When asked what leads Detroit women to be resilient, she said: “The beast of being in Detroit, I say that if you can make it in Detroit, you make it anywhere. It is our upbringing, seeing our mothers and grandmothers. It is survival of the fittest!” 

Her grandmother was a seamstress, cab driver and caterer. She delivered her meals to Chrysler workers at the facility on Jefferson and St. Jean. She also noted her that watching her grandmother with multiple hustles taught her life skills. Her grandmother also owned properties in Ghana and Jamaica.  

Bass-Hawk, who has been married happily married for 19 years but as single mom at 20, says she reflected that even not knowing where she was going, she knew she must keep going. “Remember your source and we are Detroiters, we have been through worse and dig deep,” she said. “We are like the phoenix…we have a moment to sit still to start researching on how to start a business, sit still and heal, and read a book.”  

Be Adaptable! 

Transformational Coach and fellow Eastsider, Alicia Howell is now calling Texas home, but she credits growing up in Detroit for making her “world ready.” She is a graduate of Michigan State University and followed a job down to Texas but found that entrepreneurship was more rewarding. 

“It’s like we have own type of culture our minds and grind, we don’t give up on ourselves no matter what comes against us we will survive…it is the resilience factor, (I will prevail),” she said.  “We will never back down, and we always fight for ourselves…you get knocked down but getting back up is not optional.” 

She credits having mentors and role models helping her along the way. Women like, Kimberly Rodgers, her school counselor and current principal of Northwestern High School as being a huge support and Tinesha Cherry, her former cheerleading coach now motivational speaker. Cherrry would get off work in her police uniform to coach her team. She remembers how Mrs. Cherry, sacrificed her time from her children and husband to be her coach. “We are an adaptable people” she notes. Howell’s words of wisdom are: “Tap into something you love, and things that come from within, we will know happiness when we are submerged in love.”

Pivot, Pivot, and Pivot again! 

Audra Carson, a native Westsider and Cass Tech Alum, has made this a life code. 

Carson is a Chief Beautification Stagiest, known all over the world as “The Tire Whisper.” She makes products out of recycled rubber. “People thought they could  dump things in our community. Water gets stuck until it is cut and attracts mosquitos, which bring disease. Tires are comprised of a lot of flammable elements such as oil, which make them combustible and with a fire like that, water will not extinguish that fire, tires can burn for months.” 

With this work she got world attention from other countries such as France and Madagascar to help them get rid the hazardous tire waste. She’s had several business incarnations and setbacks from her company D-Tred to Izzie Logistics and Distributions to Izzie LLC. She noted her faith and credits faith for helping Black women find solutions. 

“We have an initiate brilliance to come at challenges with the whole self. Most Black women acknowledge a higher power that we align with,” she said. “When the world comes down on us, we go to that resource to get solutions that astound.” 

She also has an eco-friendly janitorial services and beautification company. She believes that when we have beauty around us, we feel and conduct ourselves better.    

Hustle Starts at Home! 

For Talaya Bates, a Westsider and graduating senior of MSU, with a Bachelor’s in Supply Chain Management, noted her hustle, grind resilience also comes from the women in her family. 

“I truly believe I get my hustle, grind and resilience from the women in my family especially my mom. I come from a bloodline of strong-willed, business-driven, loving black women. The matriarch of my family laid the foundation for generations to come. As a result of that, my mother was able to carry out the legacy and the prayers of my great-great mother and instilled the importance of working hard, having my own and pushing through adversity no matter what.”

Her mother, Sholanda Johnson works full time, a mother of three girls, a wife and has a health and wellness business. She had this to say about surviving during Corona, “The biggest lessons that I learned is that the world can change in a split second. You must be prepared to adjust. The world as we know it changed literally overnight…I also learned that having multiple streams of income is vital.” 

These are a few examples of Black women from Detroit. Communities of color are disproportionately impacted by this outbreak as it amplifies many underlying health conditions. A CNN reported that stated, “Black people are more likely than other Americans to have underlying health issues like diabetes, heart disease and lung disease. Blacks also are statistically more likely to live in poverty, with less access to health insurance and more are mistrustful of health care providers.” 

Black women from Detroit and doing what they have done for centuries: leaning on a higher power, creating their own economy, taking note from generations before them and doing it “with style” as Audra Carson adds. If you want to survive a pandemic or anything else for that matter, just watch Black women from Detroit: the iron of Detroit’s unbreakable spirit.