My life has been characterized by struggle and hard work. I was born in southern Maryland. My father, a tobacco-farmer- turned-union- iron-worker, and my mother divorced when I was nine years-old. Being raised by a single mother was my first introduction to the struggles of the less fortunate in America.

In high school, I married my childhood best friend, and life didn't get any easier. Navigating society as a young, biracial family was difficult, but we made it work for as long as we could.

Eventually youth and poverty took their toll and I found myself a single mother, often depending on Medicaid, WIC, and food stamps for survival. These personal challenges have given me a profound appreciation for the uniquely American struggle so many of us face. Through a combination of determination and public assistance, I was able to put myself through college and become an executive level accountant and marry. Finally, I was able to give my family the life I'd always hoped for.

You might think of my life as a classic example of "bootstrapping," but I see it differently.

Two years ago, I learned just how fragile success can be, when I lost my daughter, Shalynne, to our profit-driven healthcare system. I thought I had finally achieved the American Dream, but it was all a facade.

My story illustrates how necessary public assistance is while also demonstrating how inadequate and alienating our current system and policies are. We must stop thinking of vital social programs as a "safety net" to catch us when we fall. Policies that meet everyone's basic needs – a guaranteed livable wage, access to free public education and healthcare, affordable housing – need to be recognized as the concrete foundation upon which our society is built, allowing us all to grow, thrive, and reach our full potential with equity and dignity.

Although my life has been full of struggle – and, more recently, tragedy – my experiences have strengthened my resolve. I wholeheartedly believe together we can transform America into the land of opportunity it has always promised to be. 

I've been married to my husband, David, an immigrant and US Air Force Officer, for nine years. Together we are raising four beautiful children, instilling in them the very values on which I advocate for.

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