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Training for Detroit's future (part 2)

Mar 19, 2015

While central business districts in Detroit are seeing the beginnings of resurgence, the neighborhoods are lagging behind. People who live in the city need jobs. To get them, many need new skills. In the second of a series of reports for the Detroit Journalism Cooperative, we're following a student who is trying to get the training she needs to help her family.

In the first report, I introduced you to Fatima Mixon. She’s been studying at Focus: HOPE to become a machinist. A few weeks after I first met her at the school, I visited Mixon and her family at home.

It was just after a big snowstorm in Detroit. Fatima’s youngest, Makell, was shoveling snow outside and let me know I’d found the right place. I climbed the off-kilter concrete stoop to the house they rent.

Fatima Mixon's family. (l to r) Kevin, Myra, Kyra, Fatima, Makell.
Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Inside, Fatima’s daughter, Kyra, was curled up near a space heater. She’s in high school. That’s old enough to have opinions, right? I asked what she thought about her mom’s decision to take classes to help her get back into the workforce.

“I think it’s a good idea that she should do it and she will – I think she will get a job,” Kyra said enthusiastically.

Fatima hasn’t held a job for several years. She’s been a stay-at-home mom.

Her oldest child, Kevin, has a bit of a dry wit. When I asked the 19-year-old about his mom getting back into the workforce, he looked at her and smiled a little mischievously and said, “Finally.”   

LG: Finally?  We all laughed.

“Finally. Yeah. It’d been a while for her. I’m proud of her. She actually stuck to something and now she’s about to complete it," he then smiled again and looked at Fatima. "I might ask her to borrow something to eat,” and he laughed again.

Kevin is working and attending Henry Ford Community College. He had been going to Notre Dame College on a football scholarship.

“But, we had some financial problems so I ended up having to come back home and go to Henry Ford,” he explained quietly.

It turns out playing football for the Falcons didn’t cover everything.

Fatima says they didn’t realize that.

“Well, you know, the scholarship, you know, kind of messed up. It wasn’t a full scholarship and so when it came to our end to be able to pay, we couldn’t afford it. It was like $400 a month, you know. We couldn’t afford it," she said.

I'm putting a lot of applications everywhere. I've heard a few things back, but nothing really solid, so hopefully real soon I'll be working.

Fatima would like to see Kevin eventually go to Wayne State University. She worries that if her son keeps working to support the family, it will make it difficult for him to get there. So, she wants to make enough to let him hit the books without the distraction.

When we visited that day, Fatima was getting close to finishing her classes at Focus: HOPE. She was hoping the training would mean a decent job soon.

“I’m putting a lot of applications everywhere. I’ve heard a few things back, but nothing really solid, so … hopefully real soon I’ll be working,” she said. She's upbeat. She seems optimistic.

In the meantime, she and her three kids are living with her mother.

Myra Mixon is 56. She’d been the primary wage earner for the family, but a couple of years ago she got COPD, a respiratory illness. She now relies on an oxygen tank.

“Right. And I’m now currently getting disability, but I use all my disability to pay for the rent. And my grandson, he helps out. But, when she gets a job, she’s going to take care of business. But, that’s what I do right now, just, I use all of it to take care of the house,” Myra said.

Myra worked for a long time. She knows it takes some drive to keep going. She’s been gently nudging, encouraging Fatima to finish the training she needs to get back into the workforce.

“And I told her ‘Just keep your head up. It’s hard work, but you got to keep going. You got to keep going.’ I’m so proud of my daughter; I can’t put it into words,” Myra said.

Fatima, knows the expectations of her kids, the expectations of her mother, the expectations she’s put on herself and meeting all of them will determine the future of the family. That's a lot.

“Yeah, I’m a little nervous, but I’ll be okay, " she laughed and continued, "I’m excited and nervous at the same time. It’s kind of mixed emotions I guess.”

In our next report, we’ll visit with Fatima again, to see how that job search is going.

Correction: An earlier version indicated Kevin attended the University of Notre Dame. He attended Notre Dame college. Update 3/24

Support for the Detroit Journalism Cooperative on Michigan Radio comes from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Renaissance Journalism's Michigan Reporting Initiative, and the Ford Foundation.