Lebron James and Mother Gloria James

I caught the beginnings of the airing out of The Shriver Report, Maria Shriver’s multi-platform, nonprofit media initiative on the state of women, on the Today show earlier this week, and I have to admit: I was observing the series of TV interviews and the home website with a healthy bit of skepticism. You know me: if there’s no evidence that women of color are being included in the conversation about women, motherhood and how money, education, work and politics affect us all, I can’t hear, see or feel any of the words, thoughts or deeds you’re offering.

But I did give it a second look yesterday after articles on Jezebel and Time painted a bleak picture on the state of women in America. Some of the report highlights, as outlined on Time.com:

  • 1 in 3 American women, 42 million women, plus 28 million children, either live in poverty or are right on the brink of it. (The report defines the “brink of poverty” as making $47,000 a year for a family of four.)
  • Nearly two-thirds of minimum wage workers are women, and these workers often get zero paid sick days.
  • Two-thirds of American women are either the primary or co-breadwinners of their families.
  • The average woman is paid 77 cents for every dollar a man makes, and that figure is much lower for black and Latina women; African American women earn only 64 cents and Hispanic women only 55 cents for every dollar made by a white man.
  • 75% of unmarried mothers are under 30, and only 7% of have finished college. Single motherhood and lack of a college degree are two of the strongest indicators of poverty.
  • 96% of single mothers say paid leave is the workplace reform that would help them the most.
  • Even though women outnumber men in higher education, men still make more money than women who have the same level of educational achievement, from high school diplomas to advanced graduate degrees. And in 2011, men with bachelors’ degrees earned more than women with graduate degrees.
  • 60% of low-income women say they believe even if they made all the right choices, “the economy doesn’t work for someone like me.”

Wrote Shriver in the introduction of her report: “These are not women trying to ‘have it all. These are women who are already doing it all — working hard, providing, parenting, and care-giving. They’re doing it all, yet they and their families can’t prosper, and that’s weighing the U.S. economy down.”

Yup. This is precisely why books like “Lean In” tend to fall so flat with me and a grip of other women who, quite frankly, are too busy trying to feed our kids/juggle several jobs/keep a roof over our families’ heads/stay safe/protect our access to quality health and reproductive care to be worried about how to decorate the corner office without breaking our nails or hurting our heads on the glass ceiling. We’re not focused on glass ceilings and corner offices anyway; we’re much more concerned about the concrete doors blocking our entry to the damn office building.

That said, I was moved when, while perusing The Shriver Report’s site,  I came across LeBron James’ heartfelt letter to his mother and other single moms like her. Gloria James, the NBA superstar says, “is a champion” who struggled when she had him at the tender age of 16, and then was forced to raise him all on her own when her mother died three years later, on Christmas Day.

With my mom being so young and lacking any support and the skills and education necessary to get ahead, it was really hard for us. We lost the house. We moved around from place to place—a dozen times in three years. It was scary. It was catch as catch can, scraping to get by. My mom worked anywhere and everywhere, trying to make ends meet. But through all of that, I knew one thing for sure: I had my mother to blanket me and to give me security. She was my mother, my father, my everything. She put me first. I knew that no matter what happened, nothing and nobody was more important to her than I was. I went without a lot of things, but never for one second did I feel unimportant or unloved.

In his letter, LeBron also writes about his mother sending him to live with his pee-wee football coach to give him stability while she got on her feet and could afford to care for herself and her son—an act that was difficult for the both of them, but that was necessary for their survival. He goes on to say that his devotion to his mother is payback for her devotion to him, and  that it is because of her example that he is a good father to his own two sons.

The truth is that everything I’ve learned about being a parent to my boys—9-year-old LeBron Jr. and 6-year-old Bryce—I learned from my mother. Everything I know about being loving and caring, and sacrificing and showing up and being present in my children’s lives—I learned all of that from her example.

Gloria James was a working single mother who struggled and got the job done.

And for that, I say, “I love you, Mom. Thank you.”

Read LeBron’s letter in its entirety on ShriverReport.org, along with eye-opening stories, photojournalism and reports on the state of American women, plus a piece penned by Beyonce. Also, download a free copy of The Shriver Report here, through January 15, 2014.

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Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.

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