ST. PETERSBURG – Five kids, three dads–one young African-American woman.
Ashley Wright, 30, fits into multiples stereotypes, but her actions prove that she’s defined by something more powerful: her strength and will to become an excellent example for her children.
Born and raised in St. Pete, it was normal in her circle to become pregnant at a young age. Her first daughter, Kei’mariya, was born when she was in the 12th grade.
“I went to school, but I didn’t graduate,” said Wright. “I made it to the 12th grade. I ended up getting pregnant again with my twins, so I got my GED instead of going back to school.”
She eventually enrolled at St. Petersburg College (SPC) and completed a few prerequisite courses. She got into the surgical tech program in 2011 and finished that course in 2012.
“My kids [are the ones] that always motivate me. I always tell people that if I didn’t have kids, I don’t know if I would have even gone to school for anything,” she said.
After taking more classes at Keiser University and SPC and finding employment in an institution for the mentally disabled, she decided to enroll in a phlebotomy program.
Wright recalled the day she didn’t have her school tuition and the woman in the bursar’s office informed her about the Pinellas Opportunity Council (POC), who offered to pay for her class. The only requisite needed was to have children, and that she had.
POC’s mission is to help alleviate conditions of poverty, revitalize local communities and promote self-sufficiency by mobilizing resources to develop and implement programs that deliver an array of services to address various individual, family and community needs.
“They finished paying for my class and my nationals, which I passed. So I’m a certified phlebotomist, and I can work in any state,” she said.
Wright currently works at Northside Hospital as a phlebotomist and Palms of Pasadena Hospital as a patient scheduling coordinator in the surgery department.
She endeavors to teach her children to be as independent as possible and stresses the importance of education. Her oldest daughter, Kei’mariya, 13, wants to be a nurse, while one of her 12-year-old twins, Kei’niya, is adamant about being a hairstylist and the other twin, Kei’shonna, has dreams of becoming a fashion stylist.
As for the men of the house, 11-year-old Jeraun has dreams of becoming a football player and her youngest, Lyfe, nine, wants to be a policeman.
Wright tries to feed her children’s dream with a sense of reality. She tells them they’ll have to face challenges and that there are rules to follow. As long as they try hard, they can accomplish anything, she said.
“I’m making sure that they get to school and get the education,” said Wright, who admits it’s tough because their fathers aren’t around. “I have a boyfriend who you can’t tell if those aren’t his kids, but it’s different when your biological dad isn’t there.”
Besides laughter and sibling fights, questions fill her days. Questions as to why their dads aren’t there, and explanations as to why it’s necessary to love their fathers even if he’s not in their life.
“I don’t know what it’s like to not have your dad,” stated Wright. “Even when my mom and dad were not together, I was always over there [her father’s house] on the weekends. It’s hard for me to feel how they’re feeling.”
But she’s grateful for the father figure they now have. Her boyfriend takes her son to football practice and is teaching her oldest daughter how to drive.
To Wright, defining a woman because of the number of children she has or her marital status is like judging a book by its cover.
“You can’t say all African-American single mothers are the same,” she stated, admitting that she has moments of frustration. “I may meltdown, but then I look at them. We grew together, I’ve learned so much from them, and they’ve learned so much from me.”
Wright understands that setting a good example for her children will help them grow to be responsible adults. She wants them to see her as a strong, reliable and trustworthy person who didn’t bow down to challenges in her life.
Her days are crazy, filled with laughter and the occasional sibling argument thrown in for good measure. Being the mom of three girls and two boys makes her life chaotic, but she wouldn’t change it for the world.
This story is part of a 50-article series honoring black women in the Tampa Bay area.