Danielle Atkinson – The Mother of Mothering Justice
(Lara Mossa, Feb. 21, 2020)
Royal Oak, MI – Danielle Atkinson was pregnant with her first child when she found out the organization for which she worked did not provide paid maternity leave. She took only four weeks off to be with her newborn, settling for time off without pay.
“It was a burden for us,” Atkinson said. “We were able to manage, but it was the impetus for us. What are people doing when they can’t do it?”
The Royal Oak resident decided to turn her experience into a way to help mothers – especially those of color – and families get the benefits they need in order to have healthy families. Seven years ago, she founded Detroit-based Mothering Justice, which is an advocacy group for family issues.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2018 just 17% of civilian workers had access to paid medical leave, and only 89% had access to unpaid leave.
“We know that politicians usually drive the conversation around the economy with what is good for business,” she said. “We think we should start an economy conversation with individual economies, personal economies.”
The nonprofit group is in the process of becoming a national organization. Funded by foundations and individual donations, Atkinson is working with about 10 staff members to provide leadership development programs.
There are three main drives for the organization: Mamas’ Agenda, which provides training for mothers to be involved and intricate in the process of policy making; Movement Fellowship, which teaches mothers skills including public speaking, leadership and negotiations; and Accountability Academy, which is focused on allies and people who want to be supportive of mothers of color.
The bulk of the work includes collecting signatures, volunteering for campaigns, going to Lansing and talking to lawmakers and educating the public. There is a stipend for people involved in the Movement Fellowship and a small fee for those associated with the Mamas’ Agenda and Accountability Academy.
Since its inception, Mothering Justice has been instrumental in two successful ballot initiatives. The group lobbied for an increase in the minimum wage and improvements to paid leave in Michigan. Workers can accrue sick time, so they are able to take time off for themselves or their loved ones when they get sick or need to go to a doctor’s appointment, Atkinson explained.
“I think the minimum wage and earned sick time are perfect examples of bipartisan support,” she said. “They’ve been such important issues for so many years with nothing happening.”
There are 5,000 members – mostly in Michigan – as well as advocates all over the country involved in the group. Nationally, Mothering Justice is partnering with other organizations to offer leadership training for families. These issues are not unique to Michigan, she added.
Currently, the nonprofit group is working with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the legislature regarding affordable childcare and infant mortality. Statistically, it has been proven that black women have worse birth incomes and more chances of babies dying. According to the Centers for Disease Control’s 2016 statistics, Non-Hispanic Black Americans had 11.4 deaths per 1,000 births, while Non-Hispanic Whites had 4.9 per 1,000. American Indian/Alaskan Native had 94, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander had 7.4, Hispanic had 5, and Asian had 3.6.
Atkinson said part of the problem could be “implicit bias” among health care workers, who simply don’t pay as close attention to some newborns as others. Mothering Justice would like to see state funding used to train doctors and hospitals to avoid bias.
“I think it’s crucial,” Atkinson said of her work. “It’s an organization that links the knowledge that mothers have with the resources around how the system works and how to influence the system…It’s something that has been missing for a while.”
Atkinson, 38, is married and has six children. She earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology and political science from Pfeiffer University in North Carolina. As an organizer for more than 15 years, she has worked for organizations such as America Votes and State Voices as well as faith-based groups.
Part of what drove her into advocacy is that she did not see a representation of black women working on these issues.
“It feels like this is the work that needs to be done, and I’m part of the group of women that need to be doing it,” said Atkinson. “I like that I’m able to work on my values with other mothers who understand these issues firsthand and make change for millions of people.”
To learn more about Mothering Justice, visit their website at www.motheringjustice.org