Imagine being a single mother of five, 31 years old attending a college miles away from home, with no family or help. It could be quite easy to give up. However, Michelle Cade, a junior at Johnson C. Smith University, isn’t letting that stop her.
In 2010, seeing little future for her family and herself in Detroit, Cade was convinced that Charlotte was destiny for her. With only $1,100 in her pocket, she packed her belongings, put her five kids (then one year to 11 years old) in her van and drove to Charlotte.
When Cade arrived in Charlotte, she had to think fast in order to provide shelter for herself and five children. She checked into Microtel on Sugar Creek with only enough funds to last a week. She wondered how she was going to make it.
She did what she does in most difficult situations. She prayed. “I asked God to give me a sign,” she said. At the end of her first week in Charlotte, her prayers were answered. She found an apartment in Hidden Valley, and the manager waived the security deposit. It has been this kind of faith that has allowed Cade to enroll at JCSU in 2011 and make it to her junior year.
Before attending Johnson C. Smith University, Cade attended college at Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta; however, she did not stay long enough to graduate. After finishing her freshman year at Clark Atlanta she dropped out. At the time, Cade, a young mother of two, was unable to focus completely on her studies and became distracted by the social life and freedom she had acquired while attending college. She moved back to Detroit but in her heart she knew she had a purpose to fulfill. When she finally decided to return back to school, Cade purposely chose an HBCU. “I felt it was important to return back to an HBCU,” Cade said. “Historically Black Colleges have always made me feel at home, something I was missing in my upbringing.”
In August 2012, after attending Central Piedmont College for a couple of semesters, Cade began her matriculation at Johnson C. Smith University. It had been years since she had stepped foot on a college campus but she said, “I wanted to be a positive example for my children. How could I honestly tell them to go to college if I had never graduated from college?” Her children range in ages from 13 to three and are her biggest source of motivation when times get rough.
For most people entering college, the college tenure is filled with parties, socializing, campus activities and having as much fun as possible. For Cade it’s a little different.
Weekday mornings, she gets her children ready for school and daycare. After school, she cooks dinner, helps with homework, and gets them ready for bed. Afterwards she can study and have some alone time. “It’s rough being in college with kids,” Cade said. “It is very stressful and I often miss my family. But this process has shown me how strong I am.”
She also is involved in extracurricular activities. Cade is a member of the Toastmaster’s club at JCSU and is president of the National Association for Black Journalists. Staying involved helps Cade maintain a social life on campus. She is employed in the Before and After School Program with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.
Her outspoken and insistent nature has helped her build strong relationships on campus with administration and faculty. One professor offered her assistance with finding a summer internship, while another faculty member met with her to discuss locating scholarships and grants. “Single mothers, in my opinion are the most dedicated students,” she noted. “We are always thinking about how our children are watching us and how we must be productive to give them a better life.”
When she’s not doing classwork, working or being a fulltime mom, she still finds the time to search for scholarships. Cade feels there is not enough financial assistance for single parents so she has chosen to take initiative and search for scholarship money herself.
During the fall 2012emester Cade struggled with securing money to buy books and paying off her student account balance. To make matters worse, her van was stolen one night outside of her apartment. The following week the forecast was rainy. The single mother of five had no choice but to stand outside with her children and catch the bus.
Still without a car, Cade sometimes walks to school. One day she cried the entire walk to the school library. “Once my car was stolen I was completely ready to give up and return home,” recalled Cade.
But being the tenacious fighter she is, she has learned how to maneuver her way around town. Often she gets rides to work and school. Some of her classmates have provided a helping hand. At night, instead of walking home alone, a classmate drives her home. Classmate Shannon Jackson calls Cade a strong woman and an inspiration because of “the way she turns her trials into triumphs.”
Lack of transportation has proven itself to be a trying test in her life. She has even had to remove her kids from some of the school activities they are involved in because she doesn’t have reliable transportation.
So why does she continue to pursue her education amidst her current struggles? She wants a better life for her and her children. “My children are my biggest blessing, and my blessing to them is giving them a better life.”
A mother of one girl and four boys, Cade always makes time in her busy schedule to spend time with her children. Her children are also a big help to her. Her two oldest sons help out by babysitting the younger children and helping them to get ready for school.
While a very ambitious and hard worker, Cade says she couldn’t have made it this far by herself. She credits Cheryl Brayboy, her former English professor, with helping her along the way. “She helps to expand my mind, pushes me to be a better student and gives me one-on-one attention,” Cade said of Brayboy. “I know she cares not only about my education, but about me as a mother as well.”
Brayboy has been a mentor, friend and huge source of inspiration for Cade. “Michelle Cade is one of the most dedicated students I have had the pleasure of knowing,” Brayboy said. “Michelle is a sharp thinker who does not allow ‘hard times’ to get in the way of success. I truly admire her energy and drive."
In order to help Smith create a more helpful environment on campus, Cade plans to implement a single parent’s support group. The group will allow single parents to come together and be a support system for each other. Currently a communications major, Cade is expected to graduate in 2014. After graduation she plans to work at Edelman’s, a notable public relations company in Chicago.