At the age of 15, Claudette Colvin found out she was pregnant. The following months of her pregnancy would be spent in the United States Supreme Court fighting for the desegregation of the public bus system in Montgomery, Alabama.
Claudette Colvin was 15 years old when she refused to give up her seat for a white woman on a Montgomery, Alabama public bus. Witnesses state that Claudette was thrown off the bus, handcuffed, and jailed for her refusal to vacate her seat. It is important to note that Ms. Colvin’s refusal predates Rosa Park’s refusal to move to the back of the bus by nine months.
As a former teenage mother–I also had my daughter at 15 years old–and activist Ms. Colvin’s life inspires and saddens me beyond belief. Society seems to believe that the most effective way to deal with teenage pregnancy, and more specifically teenage mothers, is to look down on us, ridicule us, belittle us, and often times force us out of school. In communities of color it seems all of these hurtful tactics are sometimes amplified.
My guidance counselor and my therapist at the time–both black women–gave up on me when they found out I was pregnant at 15 years old. My guidance counselor refused to see me although I was an AP and Honors student and made several appointments to speak with her about applying for scholarships and college. I can also clearly remember my therapist saying “Oh, so you think you’re grown now and don’t need to listen to anybody anymore?” before walking out of the room and leaving me there. Alone.
At 15 I was pregnant and both my academic advisor and therapist gave up on me. I can’t think of a time a young woman of color needs both of these individuals more than high school and more specifically while being pregnant in high school. Instead of casting out teenage parents (I say teen parents because teen dads need assistance, guidance, and support just as much as teenage mother do) our communities need to be rallying around and for us.
If someone in your family or someone you know is a pregnant teen, reach out to them and offer your most honest and genuine support in anyway you can. Call them and offer words of encouragement. Encourage them to continue their education because without an education how can they move forward for themselves and their families?
The worst thing you can do to pregnant and parenting teens are turn your back on them or tell them “since you think you’re grown figure it all out on your own.” No parent, regardless of age, deserves that type of treatment. Those types of actions by elders in our communities have the real and detrimental affects of making that teenage parent feel their life is ‘over’ and thus give up in many areas of life.
I myself have experienced it and have seen many teenage parents fall into that trap. All teenagers are just starting off in life and teenage parents are doing so for two; therefore, they need twice the amount of help and guidance.
I cannot speak, nor do I think I am qualified to speak on Ms. Colvin’s behalf however, I cannot imagine the type of isolation she possibly felt from the NAACP and black community at large by having her incredible story hidden–an activist and mother testifying in front of the Supreme Court at the tender age of 15–simply because she was an unwed teenage mother.
Communities of color need to uplift all teenage parents and their families. In failing to do, we might fail a child (or young parent) who can be a Claudette Colvin or President Barack Obama.
Gloria Malone is a mom, student and activist in New York City. Read more about her at her Teen Mom NYC.
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