Black News and Black Views with a Whole Lotta Attitude
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Black News and Black Views with a Whole Lotta Attitude

A Homeless Girl’s Story Highlights Family Planning and Poverty

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This week the New York Times landed in the news in a way the paper probably wishes it had not. A reporter teased a story she was working on, and another outlet promptly published a link to said story before the New York Times did.

But the good news to come from the so-called media scoop is that the story probably got more coverage as a result, and that’s a great thing because the subject matter is incredibly important and should be read by everyone.

The story follows the life of a beautiful and brilliant homeless girl named Dasani. The piece is both inspiring and enraging. The principal at Dasani's school says she has the capacity to become a Supreme Court Justice someday, which is what makes the countless obstacles she faces in her day-to-day life all the more infuriating to those of us reading and cheering her on.


The article profiles Dasani’s life at a Brooklyn, N.Y., homeless shelter, where she lives in a 520-square-foot room with her family, which includes her mother, stepfather and seven siblings. While her parents had some personal and legal problems in the past, including arrests for drugs, they come across in the article as loving and involved parents. They are married, which as I have previously written on The Root, indicates that Dasani will have some lifetime advantages over her peers raised by single parents. Yet Dasani will still face many disadvantages in life and her parents will, too. While Dasani’s parents are working hard to turn their lives around and save some money, they face an uphill climb because of the size of their family.

What makes the challenges that Dasani and her family face so frustrating is that there are no easy answers and no easy culprits to blame. For instance, there are those reading the story who will simply blame Dasani’s parents for some less-than-great choices they have made. But I couldn’t help being reminded of those who have done everything in their power to make it harder for low-income Americans to pursue one of the clearest routes out of poverty, and that is through effective family planning.


As previously covered on The Root, one of the most contentious debates regarding implementation of the Affordable Care Act involves requiring coverage of birth control, with no co-pay. Employers who claim to oppose birth control on religious grounds are challenging the measure all the way to the Supreme Court. But as I have previously noted, data consistently affirms a link between poverty and family planning. After releasing a landmark report on the connection between poverty and high fertility rates, the executive director of the UN Population Fund declared, "There is a vicious circle that links fertility with poverty.”

International studies have found children from smaller families tend to get better grades, are more likely to attend better schools and generally do better in life because their parents can invest more resources in them. According to the Guttmacher Institute, “Births resulting from unintended or closely spaced pregnancies are associated with adverse maternal and child health outcomes, such as delayed prenatal care, premature birth and negative physical and mental health effects for children.”


Here are a few more highlights from other data on the connection between family planning and poverty, as well as race:

  • A Guttmacher study (pdf) found three out of four women making under $75,000 have delayed seeing a doctor for birth control because of cost.
  • The rate of unintended pregnancy among poor women is more than five times the rate among high-income women.
  • Poor women’s high rate of unintended pregnancy results in higher abortion rates (52 per 1,000) and unplanned births (66 per 1,000) than the rest of the population.
  • In 2006, poor women had an unintended birth rate six times as high as that of higher-income women.
  • Black women had the highest unintended pregnancy rate of any racial or ethnic groups. At 91 per 1,000 women aged 15-44, it was more than double that of non-Hispanic white women (36 per 1,000).
  • A Planned Parenthood study found that 54 percent of young African-American women ages 18-34 have struggled with the cost of prescription birth control.

Little Dasani’s mother is 34. Of the eight kids she is raising with her husband, six are her biological children. Now, I don’t know what hopes and dreams Dasani’s mother once had for herself and her children. But I do know they will now be harder to achieve because of the size of their family. That does not mean that every child in that family is not a blessing. But it does mean that I hope that Dasani will not follow her mother’s lead.

Religious parents are still less likely to discuss comprehensive sexual education than other groups, and African Americans are more likely to identify as religious than other groups. This means that despite studies showing an increase in pregnancy among teens during the years abstinence-only education was the norm—usurping comprehensive sex education—black parents are less likely than other groups to have the tough conversations that are necessary to lead to responsible family planning. (An Essence survey [pdf] of 1,500 teens found half of African Americans ages 13 to 15 did not discuss sex with their parents.)


Dasani is 11. My hope is that she won’t be like these other kids when she reaches 13 and will have an open and honest dialogue with her mother or other adults she trusts about family planning. That may end up making the difference between her fulfilling the promise her principal sees in her and becoming another statistic.

Keli Goff is The Root’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter.

Keli Goff is The Root’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter