Some of the deepest poverty in North Carolina is right in the middle of the largest cities like Charlotte, Greensboro, Durham, and Raleigh. One single mother in the Triad area is trying to break her family’s cycle of generational poverty.
In April, Rasheeda Brown finally decided, enough was enough.
The 28-year-old was tired of the physical, mental and verbal abuse by her boyfriend.
Brown took her two children, Zaiana, 10, and Zoen, 2, and left her hometown of Philadelphia to move to Greensboro.
She moved in with her aunt, who helped her start this new journey. But things didn’t go as planned.
“It was scary. I didn’t know if I was coming or going,” she said. “I didn’t know which way to go or any of the bus routes. I didn’t know nothing.”
Brown only lived with her aunt for a few days before she decided to leave. She said missing appointments and meetings because her aunt would forget about them or be out of town, made Brown think her aunt was too unreliable for her to succeed in this new state.
A few days after arriving in North Carolina, Brown moved into the Salvation Army’s Center of Hope Shelter and miraculously bypassed the extensive waiting list. She and her children had a safe place to sleep and eat. But Brown felt like a disappointment.
“It was a hurtful feeling because my children [were] looking up to me and I had to bring them into a shelter with a bunch of different people,” she said. “So yeah it was sad, it hurt me to have to bring them into that type of situation.”
Brown isn’t the only one in this type of situation.
North Carolina ranks 39th in the country in the percentage of people who live below the poverty line, according to a 2016 report by Talk Poverty. Roughly 16 percent of people in the state fall under the poverty line.
In Greensboro, currently one out of five people lives in poverty, according to United Way Greensboro.
Brown wants to give her children better than what she had growing up.
As a child, she grew up poor in Section 8 housing to a single mother. Her mother still lives in the same house. Brown vowed to do better once she was out on her own, but she soon found herself in the same situation.
That's called generational poverty.
Michelle Gethers-Clark is the CEO of United Way Greensboro. She says it's easier said than done to get out of poverty that's been going on for generations.
“It's hard getting out of public housing. It is hard graduating from high school when no one in your house has graduated from high school,” she said. “It is hard getting that car and that first house when nobody has been able to do it. So it really is about helping people to overcome the natural barriers that exist when you are born without access to resources that others naturally have.”
The deepest poverty in North Carolina is right in the middle of the largest cities like Charlotte, Greensboro, Durham, and Raleigh. Charlotte’s poverty population ranks above the other three cities at around 18 percent.
According to a report from the research center MDC, children born into poverty in these cities have less than a five percent chance of making it to the upper middle class.
Other factors like environment and behavior play a part in what keeps families in poverty for generations, according to Heather Hunt, a researcher with the North Carolina Poverty Research Fund.
“The schools you go to, the people that you meet, your social networks, your social capital,” she said. “Expectation options, life options that are available to you. What family and friend’s lives and their career courses are like.”
These were just some of the factors that made it difficult for Brown to get out of poverty.
She remembers growing up on food stamps and going to public schools that weren't that great.
She was thankful her mom kept a roof over her and her sister's head.
“She made it do what it do for what she had,” Brown said. “It wasn't no other choice besides public housing and she made the best out of it.”
Then, Brown became a teen mom. She admits that the birth of her children was what started her on this path.
“I definitely feel like me having kids young is what got me here,” she said. “I seen my mom struggle and I always told myself I didn’t want to struggle. I feel like that was the start of the struggle for me, having kids at a young age.”
Since her mom had to put aside her dreams to raise Brown and her sister, by the time the grandchildren came around, she wasn’t the kind of grandma who could help look after them while Brown went to work.
Gethers-Clark said having kids at an early age adds a whole new set of problems when trying to get out of poverty.
“If you do not graduate from high school with some core competencies and the go on to acquire a skill, you will live in generational poverty,” she said. “If you throw into that starting to have children early without your basic education and your own ability to earn a living. You start to then flow into this generational issue.”
Brown is making strides to get out though. She recently graduated from the Family Success Center, a center aimed at reducing poverty in Greensboro.
The Family Success Center teaches its participants everyday skills like money management and how to interview well, among other things needed to succeed in today's society.
Brown now lives in public housing with her two children. Although, she isn't working – she survives off child support income – she hopes to enroll in courses at Guilford Technical Community College.
She eventually wants to go to the University of North Carolina Greensboro and become a psychiatrist and she wants her daughter to become a doctor.
These past few months have been a bumpy ride for Brown, but she said she’s learned a lot.
“I appreciate things a lot more than I did before. And it has its ups and downs,” she said. “Some days I feel like ‘Oh I've got this’ other days I need a push. It's definitely been a roller coaster.”
Editor’s Note: This is the first of four stories about the barriers people face when trying to get out of poverty.