“Howard University” Mom Sells Candy for College
To say it gets pretty cold in Chicago is an absolute understatement.
In recent weeks, the chill has hovered in the teens and worse … the type of temperature that sends even the hardiest of residents fleeing to warm buses, cars and the creature comforts of home.
But the bone-chilling weather isn’t a factor for Chausii Roberson, a 42-year-old single mom of four. At least a few days a week, she is out in the elements in front of Andrew Carnegie Public School in the city’s Woodlawn neighborhood. Around 3 p.m., she parks her car about a block from the front door and waits patiently for middle schoolers to come streaming out of the doors, their shrieks piercing the winter air.
Then, her “store” opens for business.
Just outside her car door in a plot of dried, dying grass, she hawks packaged honey buns, potato chips, Skittles, and Snickers. Typically, she is sold out in 15 minutes or less with nothing but cardboard and wisps of plastic wrapper as a reminder of her efforts.
“I make $20 here, $30 there,” explains Roberson, who met with JET a few feet from her makeshift candy shop. “It’s not a lot of money I know, but every little bit helps.”
Roberson barely has a moment to even count the cash she collects. It’s almost immediately bound for Washington D.C. where her second oldest, daughter Jiara Love, is attending Howard University as a freshman. The meager candy sales, plus Roberson’s wages as a daycare worker and donations from well-meaning supporters are all that are sustaining the 18-year-old’s enrollment in the HBCU’s business program.
“I promised my baby that if she worked hard, got good grades that I would take care of the rest,” Roberson– clad in a quilted white jacket with her smooth bob framing her face– explains. “I was in the streets and I didn’t know any better and there was nobody to really show me better. I never got the opportunity to go to college and I want to make sure that she does.”
Roberson’s pride in her daughter practically radiates from her when she speaks about her or shows off a series of colorful collages of the two posing together. This beaming mom knows, by memory, every school that accepted Jiara, a Kenwood Academy high school alum who not only excelled in her studies, but participated in activities including the golf and tennis teams, as well as student council.
“It’s not easy for a single parent with four kids,” Roberson offers. “I want her life to be different.”
She also wants it to be different than her oldest son’s. The young man, 21, was sentenced to four years in prison, only days before our interview, Roberson explains.
Roberson bows her head and her voice all but evaporates when she talks about the subject. “I’m going through it right now.”
Still, it will not stop her hustle on behalf of her daughter who had her pick of over a half dozen schools in all, including Dillard, Grambling State and Florida A&M university. Roberson says that when they learned Jiara’s heart was at Howard, some friends and family urged her to keep her daughter close to Chicago in an effort to stretch the money further.
But Roberson made a promise, and though there were some expenses she didn’t anticipate, there was no going back from that. The tuition, an estimated $34,000 is steep for her family, and complicating matters, business attire is required at Howard. Each semester is a challenge.
This is why Roberson volunteers at any and every Howard University alumni event taking place in Chicago. Jiara does the same whenever she is in town. Roberson is allowed to set up booths, asking for assistance at these gatherings and thus far, her efforts aren’t in vain. This past Christmas, one alum even helped Jiara with funds to travel home for the holiday, Roberson recounts. The goodwill is everywhere.
“They call me the ‘Howard University’ mom,” the beaming mother explains. “They look out for us.”
The association’s president, Danielle James, herself a recent graduate, says she and others are inspired by Roberson’s sheer force of will and do all that they can to support her.
“We also have annual scholarships in the amount of $250 to $500,” James, who also hails from Chicago, explains. “We helped Jiara with a scholarship, but beyond that, we do whatever we can and we also let her mom speak at our gala last year. So many were moved by their story.”
Roberson is adamant that she is not looking for endless support. She looks forward to next year when Jiara becomes acclimated to her coursework and can take on a work study assignment. Jiara is also looking into becoming a residential assistant next year to offset housing costs.
A Chicago-based group, the Hustle Mommies, have also stepped in, with the organizer leading a charge on Facebook to find business attire donations for Jiara, who wears a size 12 in clothing and 9 in shoes.
And for those so inclined, earlier this week, the Howard alumni group helped Roberson– who doesn’t have Internet access at home– launch a gofundme campaign. You can read about it and donate to her through GoFundMe HERE.
It’s a long shot, Roberson acknowledges but insists this is her official motherly mission. A mission she says she will not give up.
“Sometimes Jiara calls me so worried asking how we will afford her next semester,” Roberson reveals with a sad smile. “I always tell her that I will handle that. I say ‘baby focus on your studies. I got the rest.'”
Do you want to help Jiara and her “Howard University” mom? Here’s a link to donate to their cause. To send business attire to the Hustle Mommies for Jiara, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for shipping information.