keisha johnson

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In some circles, "network" is a dirty word, something we don't like to talk about lest we admit out loud that maybe, just maybe, we didn't get where we are in the world today by grit and determination and hard work alone. But I'm guessing that many of us got where we are today through a combination of hard work and a few helpful connections along the way.

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

Let's face it, a lot of people take graduation for granted. It's just one of the many steps on the path to a career. But for some, it’s not that easy. I've been following one young mom for the last couple years as she tried – and failed – to complete a jobs training program. But as you're about to read, the young mom finally did it.

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

As part of our State of Opportunity project, we’re following parents as they struggle to get off public assistance and make a better future for their children. We'll be bringing you occasional updates on families as we follow them over the course of the project. This is one of those updates.

I first interviewed Keisha Johnson on a steamy summer day last June. Johnson, 25, grew up poor and is still poor to this day. But she has three reasons she wants to climb out of poverty. Their names are Kaleb, Jurnee, and Alan, Jr.

Last time she was on the radio, Johnson talked about where she wants to be in three years. She wants to have her own home, she wants her children enrolled in good schools, and she wants to have a steady job as a secretary.

But first, she knew she would need some help to get there. 

"A lot of women in my neighborhood, they think being on Section 8 and being with Human Services, they think ‘Ok we can do this forever!’ No it’s supposed to be just a start, just a push to help you out for right now, and then you’re supposed to grow and progress on your own that’s the whole point of the program," explains Johnson. "So that’s what it is for me right now."

That was June. I checked in to see how’s she doing now, and well, things aren't so great.

I caught up with Johnson on a Thursday morning when she was getting her children ready for school. As she brushed her daughter's short hair into a ponytail, Johnson starts to tell me how she's essentially living on zero dollars. "They sent me a letter in December saying you're cut off your cash assistance, which was $592 a month," says Johnson.

Photo courtesy of Keisha Johnson

When it comes to the “cycle of poverty,” the brutal truth is more than 40 percent of children raised in poverty stay in poverty as adults. Among those who make it out, most don’t make it very far. But I'm going to introduce you to one woman who is determined to buck the trend and climb the ladder out of poverty.