By Shirley Hawkins
Robbie Butler has a soft spot in her heart for single mothers.
Butler, president of the nonprofit Speak Up Empowerment Foundation, is on a mission to empower single mothers by providing them with needed resources and support to help them succeed in life.
In 2021, according to Statista, there were about 4.27 million Black families in the United States with a single mother. This is an increase from 1990 levels, when there were about 3.4 million Black families with a single mother.
“We consider a single mom to be a woman who has children, is never married, is divorced or widowed,” Butler said. “Unfortunately, society still places a stigma on women who are single mothers,” said Butler, herself a single mother who raised three children after her divorce.
While navigating her own journey through life, Butler became acutely aware of the struggles other single mothers face when raising children alone.
“Unlike today, many of the young women don’t have that familial unit that was provided by our mothers and grandmothers in the past,” she said. “Without that support from my family, I would not have been able to attend the top universities in the country,” Butler said.
“Thankfully, I had a support group — my mother and my siblings — who helped me when I needed extra hands,” said Butler, who currently serves as an equity and human relations commissioner for the city of Long Beach.
Aware of her own struggles and concerned that young single mothers often faced hurdles that prevented them from reaching their goals, Butler wrote a book in 2009 entitled “Miss Single Mom, Yes You Can!” followed by “Miss Single Mom, Elevate Your Game.”
“After my books came out, the readers began to send me feedback,” Butler said. “Mothers wanted to come together and talk about issues pertaining to single mothers.
“My business partner suggested that I start a conference, so I launched the Ms. Single Mom Empowerment Forum in 2015.
“Our foundation offers wraparound support services that include a network of mental and physical health, education, employment and training services as well as housing referrals, parenting skills and nutrition, financial and other resource partnerships to empower single moms. We hold workshops, seminars, and special events as well as provide resources that are critical to improving the quality of life in single parent headed households,” Butler said.
“Our mentor program provides mentoring support, particularly in communities that are underserved and under resourced. We want to connect single mothers to viable resources to keep them empowered the entire year,” Butler said.
“We have some incredible mentors who volunteer their time who help the women to navigate their personal and professional development.
“Our foundation offers a three-part movement of education, encouragement, and empowerment to uplift and remind single parents that ‘Yes, You Can!’ when the odds are saying ‘No, You Can’t!’” Butler said.
Butler welcomed single mothers to the seventh annual Ms. Single Mom Empowerment Forum April 22 at the Long Beach Airport Marriott.
The forum honored 2023 Community Empowerment Leader honorees Evelyn Knight, Tammi Mac and U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters. Panel speakers included Dedra Beckles of Divinely Restored Health & Wellness; Karen Balumbu-Bennett, of Karen the Therapist Services; and Tonya Haynes, Phoenix Business Development.
Butler said that the Speak Up Empowerment Forum. meets year round.
“We service 200 to 250 single mothers per year,” she said. “Aside from the empowerment program that meets annually, we have a mentoring program that meets quarterly. Our goal is to connect our mothers to viable resources to keep them empowered the entire year.”
Butler has been gratified by the comments she hears from single mothers who have been helped by the foundation.
“I hear comments like, ‘Miss Butler, this program changed my life.’ Or ‘Miss Butler, your program saved me. Thank you for doing this.’
“One of my speakers from last year said that the information she received at this year’s conference helped her to straighten her back and lift her head. She said, ‘I had been walking around with the stigma of being a single mother, but your foundation helped me to change my life,’” Butler said.
“There was another young woman who told me, ‘Miss Butler, the first year I came to your conference, I was homeless and unemployed. Now I have a job and a place to live.’ Now, that is what it is all about,” she added.
Butler is aware that there are an increasing number of grandparents who are contacting her and are coming to the yearly conference.
“These grandparents are solely raising their grandchildren alone because the mothers are unable to care for their children,” she said. “A number of grandparents are increasingly showing up to seek advice,”
Butler is now on a mission to empower single mothers across the country.
“The Speak Up Empowerment Foundation is a state-of-the-art, cutting-edge program that didn’t exist before and we are going to try to help fill that gap,” Butler said.
“We have built the model to take this program nationally, which is one of our short-term goals. There are a lot more women out there that we need to reach,” she added.
Butler is gratified to be helping single mothers in Southern California.
“I was put here for a purpose. All I want is for God to say, ‘Job well done, my good and faithful servant’ because my higher power told me to start this foundation. Mine is a purpose-driven life that my higher power has driven me to pursue.”
The Speak Up Empowerment Foundation can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 888-899-9901.
Shirley Hawkins is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers. She can be reached at email@example.com.