Real Moms of East Nashville: A Network of Single Moms to Share Resources and Find Support
“Are you Develle’s mother?” a young brunette’s voice pierces a clamor of roiling teenagers as she catches up to a pair of moms in a Stratford High School hallway. “I’m his Spanish teacher,” she says. “It is so great to see you guys here!”
Kim Tucker and a petite mom named Tiamecca are here to find out how Tiamecca’s sons are doing in school. The news isn’t good. Develle, a tall, articulate junior who’s failing Spanish and English, tends to disrupt class and argue with his teachers. His brother Tyshawn is a freshman with spidery dreadlocks who holds his mom’s hand with unabashed affection. He’s failing algebra.
“Not doing well at all,” says Tyshawn’s math teacher, frowning. The boy looks downcast, mutters something about losing his book.
Tiamecca’s worried about her boys. She wants them to achieve more scholastically than she did, but she’s not sure how to attack the problem. So her friend Kim Tucker, sporting a t-shirt that reads "Promoting the Excellency of Motherhood", steers the conversations, asking each teacher how the boys might finish the year with passing grades.
By the end of lunchtime, Tucker’s marched the boys upstairs to enroll them in after-school tutoring and made them promise to attend. At one point, Tucker corners Develle in a stairwell. “I need you to step up,” she says, holding his eye.
“Yes, ma’am,” he nods, looking chagrined.
Kim Tucker isn’t the mother of these boys, or of any of the kids in the building, for that matter. But there’s something innately motherly about her — kids high-five her as she passes, and Tiamecca’s sons submit quietly to her authority.
A single mom herself, with one son at a local private high school and another at Berea College on a full scholarship, Tucker is guiding Tiamecca through the morning’s teacher conferences because the school system, motherhood, and the world at large feel a little less intimidating with a knowing, assertive girlfriend at your side. Especially a girlfriend who’s raised smart, motivated sons of her own.
“She’s so helpful,” says Tiamecca, smiling at Tucker. “Like a second mother that I need if I’m not confident enough. I know she’s gonna pull it through.”
Kim Tucker never thought she’d be a single mom. She dropped out of Lipscomb after two years to marry and start a family. But after a divorce, she found herself without income or a college degree, raising two young boys on her own.
Tucker quickly learned to scrape out a living, by selling calendars and t-shirts and catering meals out of a mobile kitchen. It was painful, terrifying, and often humiliating. “Being single and seeing how people pretty much loathe you,” she explains. “They think you’re the dregs of society and you must be on welfare. They’re like, ‘OK, what do you want?’ Everybody’s suffering because of that stereotype.”
Tucker quickly grasped that she needed backup. She started talking to other single moms, learning how they survived, discovering resources they knew and used. She found herself wondering, What if the moms joined forces? “[Single moms] need a network,” says Tucker. “They need somebody to count on and to feel like they’re not alone.”
At her cheery pale-lavender brick house on Douglas Avenue in East Nashville, Tucker offers a place to meet. It’s the headquarters of her nonprofit, the I.C. White Stone Foundation, informally known as “Real Moms of East Nashville,” a small community of like-minded mothers struggling to raise kids on their own. They gather for pizza-cooking parties and movie nights and whenever a mother has a problem to discuss. “We help each other,” says Tucker. “We provide a community, so that we’re not in a cocoon, locked in our houses. We share resources.”
Chief among those resources, for Tucker, is education. In 2003, she went back to Lipscomb, at age 37, to finish her degree. Now she’s encouraging other moms to do the same — like Sally Woodard, a 46-year-old single mother who’s just enrolled at Tennessee State.
Woodard says that the support of women who know firsthand what single motherhood is like helped bolster her through the most despairing moments of raising her children. And the Real Moms’ mentoring and encouragement emboldened her to go back to school and to start her own business, creating poetic greeting cards for African-American clients.
“My dream is to walk across the stage at TSU with my bachelor’s degree,” says Woodard, “and to have my cards sold all over the world!”
Tucker smiles at the idea of someone, as she puts it, “Walking into their dreams.” She’s undeterred by long odds, because she has backup. “Single mothers are an untapped resource,” Tucker says. “People are so used to us being in need that they never thought about us being able to help someone else. “
To learn more about the Real Moms of East Nashville (aka the I.C. White Stone Foundation), visit icwstone.org
“I was putting up my Christmas tree when I got the phone call,” says Teri Johnson-Hiett, referring to the moment she found out she had breast cancer. It was right around Thanksgiving in 2005, eight short months after losing her mother at age 51 to the same disease. Teri was only 29.
To read this and other Her Well-Being stories, click here.