Kids Having Kids | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Kids Having Kids

Photo by Aaron Philips

Ollie Jackson's baby, Lauryn, sleepily rubs her eyes as she sits on her 19-year-old father's lap during a football game at Newell Field in Jackson. As Callaway and Lanier High School football teams battle each other, several bubbly teenage girls gather around and lavish his daughter with attention. The 9-month-old smiles as the teens take turns holding her. Ollie searches the field for his girlfriend, Lanier High School senior Ariel Jones. Each Friday night, Ollie brings the baby to football games while Lauryn's mother volunteers as the band manager. The couple lives separately, but each takes shifts raising their daughter.

Ollie met Ariel, 18, two years ago while they were both Lanier students. Ollie said he was drawn to Ariel's pure heart. He had prayed for God to send him someone like her. The couple shared the same faith: Ollie is a leader of a local Young Life chapter, and Ariel is a spirit dancer at her church.

Three months after they started dating, Ariel started feeling nauseous and tired. At the suggestion of a cousin, she took a pregnancy test, and it came back positive.

As the former leader of Lanier High School's snare-drum section, Ollie says his band director, Roderick Little, taught him what it means to have discipline. In the band, he learned to think through situations and not give in to peer pressure. "I wasn't thinking with Ariel, though. I was in the moment," he says of their decision to sleep together.

A State Epidemic
Ollie and Ariel represent the high number of teens, ages 15 to 19, who are having babies in Mississippi. In 2008, the Centers for Disease Control reported that Mississippi has the highest teen birth rate with 60 percent more teens giving birth than the national average. In 2008, the national teen-birth rate average was 42 per 1,000 teenagers. On Oct. 22, 2010, the CDC released a report showing that Mississippi's teen-birth rate is 65.7 per 1,000 teenagers. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy reported in 2006 that teen childbearing costs Mississippi taxpayers approximately $135 million a year when the teen birth rate was 62 per 1,000 births.

Teenagers today are inundated with mixed messages about sex from the media, music and their peers. The media tend to glorify teen moms like Jamie Lynn Spears and Bristol Palin, while movies like "Juno" and "Knocked Up" show unplanned pregnancies with happy endings.

The majority of sex-education programs in Mississippi provided by schools, state agencies, community organizations and churches rely heavily on abstinence-only-until-marriage education. Until recently, the state poured millions of dollars into promoting this message through television commercials, billboards and radio ads. The question is: Does it work?

In spring 2009, a group of Rankin High School students gathered for a mock wedding ceremony at their school. This abstinence-education activity required students to role-play a preacher, bride and groom, while the remaining students played the role of the wedding guests. During the "wedding," the bride and groom lit a unity candle and exchanged rings.

The bride presented the groom with a dirty sneaker as a wedding present to represent impurity. The groom gave the bride a clean sneaker representing sexual purity. At the end of the ceremony, the students pledged to remain pure until marriage and bring clean tennis shoes to the marriage.

The report "Sex Education in Mississippi: Why Just Wait Doesn't Work," by Planned Parenthood and the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States cites this activity as one example of ineffective solutions to the state's high pregnancy rate.

"The symbolism of shoe exchange perpetuates the outdated notion that if a girl does not abstain from sexual activity until marriage, she will be undesirable to a future partner," the report states.

Not Now, the program that hosted the activity, is one of several state abstinence-only programs that receive federal funds. In 1981, the Reagan administration started to fund abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, which continued through President George W. Bush's tenure. Since 1996, federal funds for abstinence-only education totaled more than $1.5 billion.

Up to the Plate
Ollie remembers what it felt like to wait for his father to pick him up for the weekend when he was 12 years old. His parents never married, and Ollie would call and ask his Dad to pick him up for the weekend so they could spend time together. Hours would pass, but he remained patient, looking up and down the street at each car passing by. He didn't move until his mother forced him to come inside at 11 p.m. His father, a truck driver, seldom carried through on his son's requests.

After he and Ariel decided to keep their baby, Ollie knew he couldn't let his daughter grow up that way "I just want my child to have a relationship with her father. I don't want her to feel the same way I did," he says.

Ariel said she named her daughter after a character in the movie "Daddy's Little Girls." The film is about a father who fights for custody rights for his three daughters.

"We tried to pick a name that would help her get a good job," Ariel says.

Ollie stayed by his girlfriend's side while she was in labor and helped her. He was awestruck the first time he saw his daughter.

"Did he tell you he cried?" Ariel asks after the band's halftime performance.

"I did not cry," Ollie interjects. "It was late, I was tired, and my eyes were red and just happened to water."

As the two teams enter the fourth quarter, Lanier is losing the game by several points. A few players get into a scuffle, and moments later a full brawl takes over the field with referees and coaches trying to break up the fight. The referees call for a 20-minute recess, and the two bands use the break to have a battle of the bands. The loud thud of the snare drums vibrates the stadium.

Lauryn is undaunted by the pounding beat. She buckles and straightens her knees following the rhythm. Ariel was Lanier's band manager throughout her pregnancy and believes that her daughter is showing an early interest in music.

‘‘My No-No Square'
In 2008, Mississippi received $5,742,594 in federal funds for abstinence programs through two sources: Community-Based Abstinence Education funds and the Adolescent Family Life Act. In 2009, the state received $4,678,644 in federal funds for abstinence programs. In the federal budget for fiscal year 2010, President Barack Obama zeroed out the remaining $150 million for abstinence-only programs, and Congress allocated $114.5 million toward teen-pregnancy prevention programs that teach safe sex-practices in addition to promoting abstinence.

The state Department of Human Services has traditionally administered grants from federal funds to organizations that promote abstinence-only education. DHS manages the Abstinence Education Unit and its Just Wait abstinence program, which is currently inactive because federal funds for the program expired Sept. 30. The Just Wait program worked with local school districts and implemented its own curriculum and media campaign.

The 10-page curriculum instructed teachers to tell students that premarital sex causes depression in addition to unwanted pregnancies and STDs. It also includes a "Cookie Exercise" to demonstrate how easily STDs are transmitted.

The exercise requires four students to spit a chewed-up Oreo cookie into a cup of water and then swap cups with other students, while a fifth student receives a clean cup of water. The instructor then asks the students which cup of water they'd rather drink. According to the lesson, the four students represent sexual activity, while the fifth represents "purity."

In May 2009, the MDHS held "Abstinence Works: Let's Talk About It," a summit at the Jackson Convention Complex for area teenagers. The event started with Soulja Boy's "Crank That (Soulja Boy)," blaring the lyrics: "Watch me crank that soulja boy, then superman that ho." High-school cheerleaders followed with a performance, chanting: "Stop. Don't touch me there! You know this is my no-no square." The summit proceeded with prayers, worship dancers and a speech by Adams County Judge John Hudson who said that having pre-marital sex went against Ten Commandments because it is the equivalent of committing adultery.

In September 2009, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in federal court against DHS Executive Director Don Thompson and DHS Director of Economic Assistance Cheryl Sparkman for promoting religion at a taxpayer-funded event. The ACLU used the event to speak out against abstinence-only-until-marriage programs for promoting unscientific data and conflicting messages.

"We are concerned with the program because of the alienation to the LBGT community, and the content often has a lot of gender bias," Brigitte Amiri, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Reproduction Freedom Project, told the Jackson Free Press last year. In addition to the summit being unconstitutional, Amiri said the message excludes the lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender community because waiting until marriage is not an option for many gay and lesbian couples.

Last September, Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, who supports abstinence-only education, spoke out against the lawsuit.

"I was so disappointed that the ACLU has decided that we don't need to tell young women in the state of Mississippi about our faith; we don't need to explain to them that abstinence, we believe, is related to our faithful Christianity beliefs," Bryant told WAPT.

In September 2010, U.S. District Judge William Barbour Jr. threw out the lawsuit on the grounds that the complaint did not allege any violation of federal rights by Thompson or Sparkman. Barbour wrote that MDHS officials submitted affidavits claiming that the department would not hosts any more summits because "MDHS has no intention of sponsoring another statewide abstinence summit due to changes in the way federal funds for such activities are allocated." Since the summit was not going to continue, Barbour wrote that MDHS officials were not engaging in ongoing constitutional violations.

Mississippi ACLU Interim Legal Director Bear Atwood said in October that even though the judge threw out the lawsuit, she considered it successful because it put pressure on the department to stop the summit.

Ollie and Ariel were among the 5,000 teenagers attending the summit. Ariel was already five weeks pregnant. She hadn't taken a test, yet, but she had already missed a period and says she had a feeling she was pregnant. Ollie says the summit "changed his life" even though the message came a few weeks too late. "It just made me think more about everything, and made me want to be more careful," he says.

While the state's teenagers continue to hear mixed messages, the national debate about sex education rages on. Sex-education advocates point to a 2007 federally commissioned Mathmatica Policy Research Center report that studied four federally funded abstinence-only programs and 2,000 teens over the course of nine years. The center found that the teens who participated in the program were no more likely to abstain from sexual intercourse than those who did not participate.

The National Abstinence Education Association, however, claims that the study is too narrow.

Repeating Cycles
Ollie's mother, Tiffany Johnson, couldn't look at her son when he told her he was going to be father. It was his senior year in high school, and colleges had been scouting him to play baseball. "I saw his aspirations; everything he wanted was just gone," Tiffany recalls.

Tiffany, 40, was 19 when she gave birth to her first child. Eleven months later, she gave birth to Ollie. As a single mother, she remembers how difficult that time was, and she wants better for her son. Tiffany, who is the community outreach coordinator at Sykes Community Center, said she had taught her son about STDs and how to prevent an unwanted pregnancy. She wishes the school district had encouraged comprehensive sex education to reinforce her message. Her own mother had never talked to her about safe sex, she says.

"I don't remember my mom discussing sex with us," Johnson said. "She brought a book in my bedroom and said, ‘This is where babies come from,' and left. There was no discussion. ... I was frank with (my kids). It wasn't anything I could do differently. They are going to get into the moment and think about it, or they are just going to do it and pray (pregnancy) doesn't happen."

Tiffany is adamant that she doesn't want Ollie's story glorified, but she acknowledges that her son has become a role model for his peers. "I don't want people to think that because you got into this situation that your life is over," she says. "I stressed to him that he has goals and a child to try and support. I also stressed that I never wanted him to leave that responsibility on Ariel. He has to share the responsibility."

Ariel, who is softspoken and polite, acknowledges that she is one of the lucky ones. Ariel's own mother had her at age 14, and her great grandparents raised her. Ariel's mom lives currently lives in Florida.

Worried about Ariel's grandparents' reaction to her pregnancy, Ollie's entire family gathered in their home to share the news. The families cried and prayed together. Ariel says she received some negativity from a few members at church, but she didn't let it hurt her faith.

"I never stopped going to church," she says. I wasn't ashamed or anything. Being a Christian and loving God, I believe he is the only one who can give life and who can take it. I try to have a positive look on it."

For the past nine months, the couple has taken turns keeping Lauryn. Ollie picks her up on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and Ariel keeps her at her grandparents' home for the rest of the week. The couple splits their responsibility on weekends based on their schedules. Ollie, who is a freshman at Hinds Community College, has put his dream of playing college baseball on hold. Ariel is looking forward to graduating in the spring and plans to attend Hinds and get a degree in nursing.

‘It's a Blessing'
Last month, Ollie and Ariel attended a teen pregnancy forum at Henley-Young Detention Center, where advocates discussed the need for statewide comprehensive sex-education efforts. Ariel and Ollie spoke about what life was like as teen parents and whether comprehensive sex education should be taught in schools. The TeacHer Organization, a nonprofit that addresses teen health issues, hosted the forum.

"We made the choice, and this is what we got out of it," Ollie said, pointing to Lauryn. "It's not an accident, it's a blessing. Condoms help a little bit, but I know plenty of people who have used two or three condoms at a time and still gotten an STD."

Ollie's misinformation on the use of condoms caught the attention of panelist Caryn Womack, who is a health educator with the Department of Health. "With comprehensive sex education, your friends would have been taught that two or three condoms are worse than none at all," she said. Two or three condoms are more likely to rub together and break, increasing the chance of pregnancy or STD transmission.

In addition to teen births, Mississippi also ranks as one of the highest in sexually transmitted disease transmission. In 2008, the state had the nation's highest rate of chlamydia and gonorrhea, and nearly 60 percent of all Mississippi students reported having sexual intercourse, compared to 47.8 percent nationwide, a 2010 Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States Sex Education in Mississippi: Why ‘Just Wait' Just Doesn't Work (PDF) found.

Another panelist at the forum, United Way Dropout Prevention Coordinator Shawna Davie, said comprehensive sex education goes beyond STDs and contraceptives, giving students the tools to make good decisions.

"Comprehensive sex education gets young people to talk about how they see themselves five years from now," Davie said. "If there is a conversation about what a young person's future holds, it doesn't mean you can't do it if you get an STD. It's just the difference between having a remote and getting up to change the channel. You can change the channel, but its not going to be easy."

Davie cited several reasons for the state's epidemic: different standards for young men and women; lack of education; and mixed messages from the media.

"We place a higher value on virginity on women, and at the same time, it sets up an adversarial relationship between boys and girls," Davie said. "To a guy, if you hold on to your virginity, somehow there is something wrong with you. ... We should care as much about young men getting STDs or (getting a girl) pregnant."

Afraid to Say S-E-X
Many legislators steer clear of bringing up or voting on a bill containing the word "sex." In conservative Mississippi, general consensus is that it's not a school district's role to teach sex education, but that of the parents.

Most school districts, however, strictly teach by the Mississippi Department of Education's Framework guidelines, which teach abstinence until marriage and offer basic information about sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS. School districts can teach comprehensive sex education if a local school board votes and adopts such a policy. But without public support—or legislation requiring school districts to adopt a specific policy—most school districts have not taken up the issue.

The state Legislature has failed to pass a comprehensive sex-education bill. In 2009, Rep. Alyce Clarke, D-Jackson, introduced a bill that would have required the state Board of Education and state Board of Health to establish a comprehensive sex-education program for high-risk school districts—or districts with the highest teen-pregnancy rates—from the start of the 2009 school year to 2012. If passed, the boards would have had to submit a report on the pilot program before Jan. 1, 2012, containing comparative data showing the number of pregnancies among students in the participating school districts before and during each year of the pilot program.

The boards would also have to make recommendations on whether all school districts should implement the program on a permanent basis. The bill passed the House 79 to 40, but died in the Senate Education Committee.

Last year Reps. John Mayo, D-Clarksdale, and Clarke took a compromise approach and introduced House Bill 837 requiring that school districts implement "abstinence only" or an "abstinence plus" sex-education policy.

Mayo said that the bill came at the recommendation of a legislative teen-pregnancy task force that found in 2010 that out of 210 Mississippi schools surveyed, 50 did not have a policy to address sex education, and 41 did not know if they had a policy. He says the bill was a step to get more school districts to implement comprehensive sex education, and because he believed that studies comparing comprehensive sex education to abstinence-only education were inconclusive, the bill would require school districts to adopt the policy that suited them best.

Once again, the House passed the bill, but this time, it died in the Senate Public Health Committee under Chairman Hob Bryan, D-Amory.

Mayo said he plans to introduce a similar bill in the 2011 legislative session and defended the legislation against accusations that the bill is a watered-down solution to lowering the state's teen-pregnancy rate. "The choice was, quite frankly, a compromise to get something passed," he said.

"Most of the districts don't teach anything. What we want them to do is teach something, and we would follow them for a five-year period and see what the school district is teaching and see what works and what doesn't. I wouldn't call it watered down because right now, they don't have to teach anything, and most of them don't."

Mayo said he doubts the bill will make it through the Senate in 2011. "Republicans don't want to dirty the water during an election year," he says.

Evidence-Based Prevention
Rachel Hicks, executive director of the education-policy group Mississippi First, also has little faith in getting a comprehensive-sex education policy passed during the 2011 legislative session.

"I personally don't have a lot of confidence that a whole lot is going to get done legislatively this year," she says. "Legislators are going to be not only beleaguered by the budget, but they are also going to be obsessed with redistricting, and this is also an election year."

Instead, Hicks' organization is taking another approach to get school districts to adopt comprehensive sex education. Earlier this year, the Obama administration eliminated abstinence-only funding in the 2011 fiscal-year budget. Instead, the federal government allocated funds through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Personal Responsibility Education Program.

The Affordable Care Act has allocated $155 million for teen-pregnancy-prevention grants called the Personal Responsibility Education Program. Mississippi is eligible for $2,051,711 for evidence-based teen-pregnancy-prevention strategies in addition to curriculum for school districts and nonprofits.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services approved curriculum for the program, which teaches financial literacy, communication skills, career success, and healthy relationships in addition to information about contraceptives and safe-sex practices. The funding is expected to make its way to the state in June 2011.

Hicks said she is working with the state Department of Health and local school districts to instruct them how to apply for the funds. She said her organization plans to follow the school districts that receive funding and report to the Legislature in 2012 on the districts results in lowering teen-pregnancy.

The state is still getting funds for abstinence-only education.

Vera Butler, bureau director for the Mississippi Department of Human Services' Division of Economic Assistance, confirmed that the department is no longer hosting a summit and that the Just Wait program is not currently active.

She said the state received $824,000 for abstinence-only education for the current fiscal year. Butler said MDHS is going to partner with the Mississippi Department of Education and use the funds to implement an abstinence-only program for community organizations and school districts. The program could start as soon as February 2011.

Sexuality Information and Education Council Director of Public Policy Jennifer Heitel Yakush said that even though the state is still receiving abstinence-only funds it, doesn't necessarily mean the two programs will compete.

"The Title 5 abstinence-only program does have increased flexibility in what the state can do with the money," she said.

"We are very hopeful that the state of Mississippi will do less harmful and erroneous programs than they have done in the past. ... Even with the more flexible guidance; it's still problematic because you cannot have a complete and comprehensive conversation."

Yakush said the comprehensive sex-education funds signal a new era for Mississippi because the state has never had this opportunity until now.

Double Standards
Falandria Hinton's friend came to school last month with black eyes and scratches on her arms. Her 15-year-old friend is dating a man who is 40. She says that her friend is too scared to do anything about the abuse.

Falandria, 16, is one of several area high-school students who are part of the Young People's Project at the Jackson Medical Mall. The afterschool-mentoring program provides students with academic and support services. During a Friday afternoon in October, the students spoke candidly about sex and the reasons for the state's high teen-pregnancy rates.

Hinton was one of the most outspoken students. She said she sees a lot of girls her age who date older men, and warned her peers not to make judgments.

"A lot of different things could be going on in the world—like rape," she says. "If you go with a man older than you, he has a lot more power. If he hits you, and you get pregnant, what do you do? Sometimes you gotta look past the simple fact that (teenage girls) are pregnant. Often it's not like what it seems. It's not like she just laid down and got pregnant."

Falandria said she sees a double standard when it comes to sex.

"If you see that a boy has sex with a girl, it's OK. If that girl makes him mad, she's a ho," Falandria said. "He'll say: You a ho, you this or you're that. That's what happens. When you open your legs, you'll get called all sorts of names."

Young People's Project co-founder April Dortch, 28, became a mother herself at age 17 and said lack of self respect and educational opportunities can often make young girls feel like they have no other options.

"I think young girls who come from neighborhoods without money and resources find that these men can offer them things they have never had," she said. "The age difference has something to do with it. If a 40-year-old man is with a 16-year-old girl friend, he is in a position of power."

The state defines statutory rape as anyone 18 and older who has sexual intercourse with a teenager 14 or younger, or when the defendant is 36 or more months older than the minor. The crime is a felony, and if found guilty, a perpetrator could face from five to 30 years in prison. If the minor is under 14, the perpetrator could face life.

But enforcing the law is complicated. Jackson Police Department spokeswoman Colendula Green said that the department enforces the law when parents report the incident or when an underage female delivers her child in the hospital, or comes to school pregnant, and staff reports the incident to the Mississippi Department of Human Services.

Former Hinds County District Attorney Faye Peterson, who currently manages her own private law practice, says statutory rape is a complex issue.

"On one hand, you are finding these young girls who are getting pregnant, and it's not the type of rape people think it is; it's underage sexual activity that is becoming the norm," she says.

"Then you have young men being charged, and they have a felony before they even have a driver's license."

Peterson added that perpetrators under 18 don't have to be listed as registered sex offenders, but the charges stay on their record, making it difficult to find a job.

She acknowledges that actual pedophiles, who are several years older than the females they have sexual intercourse with, often are a reason for young women getting pregnant.

"Sex offenders are old enough to know better," she says. "There is a bright line between an 18-to-19 year-old having a relationship with someone who is between 14 and 19, and someone who is over 21. You know better. You are not in school with them; you are a pedophile. That 14-year-old that he is dating won't be the first, and she wont' be the last."

Brandie Finley, founder of the TeacHer Organization and a teacher at the Henley-Young Detention Center, said it's common to see young girls dating men several years older who pressure them into unprotected sex. "I think they are searching for acceptance," she said. "They are more susceptive to peer pressure. A guy may say, ‘we don't have to use a condom this time,' but it takes just one time to get pregnant. We can teach these young women to care more about themselves. ... I don't think they understand what they are giving up."

Finley said she gets frustrated about the lack of education for young people in Mississippi about safe sex and personal health.

"Most of the girls I come into contact with are either pregnant, have a child or see themselves with a baby before the age of 18," Finley said.

"The Legislature has a ‘them' mentality. We know this is prevalent in the urban community, but they don't think it's a statewide problem. It kind of pisses me off that we say, ‘don't do it.' Of course we don't want them to do it. But what's wrong with teaching the facts, and saying, ‘here's a condom. Waiting is best, but if you don't wait, here's what you should do.' This empowers them; it doesn't encourage them to have sex."

Creating Support Systems
Christ Missionary & Industrial College High School student Van Jessica Johnson got pregnant last year and her boyfriend, Chris, joined the U.S. Marine Corps a few months before she gave birth.

School officials at the Christian private school she attended expelled her when she was three months pregnant. She claims her principal told her it would look bad for visitors to see a pregnant student at the school. School officials did not return calls.

"It's a Christian school, so I feel like they should have talked to me," Van Jessica said. "I don't feel like I should have been kicked out. It was my last year; it was my senior year."

After Johnson left CMIS, her grandmother—who is her legal guardian—homeschooled her. Van Jessica is currently attending Hinds Community College and earning her associate's degree in criminal justice. She said she hopes to work as a police officer or a detective someday.

Her 9-month-old daughter, Christyanna Harper, has only met her father twice, because he has served overseas for the past year.

Van Jessica said she didn't plan on getting pregnant. "I knew right from wrong, but I didn't take it seriously," she says. "I didn't think I could get pregnant at such a young age."

When she looks back at her situation, Van Jessica isn't sure if sex education would have made a difference in her decision-making. Instead, she wishes she would have had access to mentors.

"Younger people learn better from people who aren't their own age, but someone 25 or older—but not so old," she said. "That would have helped me to have someone close to my age, but more mature to lead me down the right path, and give me more advice."

Van Jessica says she struggles with trying to get her schoolwork done and watching her baby. Her grandmother helps out when she can, but with six younger brothers and sisters, it can be hard to focus on school.

Many teenage moms who raise children alone are forced to juggle child-are costs while trying to go to school or work. Davie says teen mothers can quickly become discouraged and drop out of school.

Jackson Public Schools had planned to build a day-care center at Wingfield High School through a State Incentive Grant the district received earlier this year, but canceled those plans after discovering that the grant funds could not be used for such a purpose.

"The U.S. Department of Education stated that SIG funds could not be used for student incentives, and a day-care center could be viewed in the same light," said Dr. Abby Webley, executive director of school improvement for JPS, in a statement.

"Wingfield's plan must address needs that directly align with increasing academic achievement and building the instructional capacity of teachers and administrators."

Webley said the district would continue to seek alternative funds for day care. The McComb School District has a daycare and early childhood education center inside its Kennedy Elementary School.

The daycare, previously located in the district's high school, allows teen moms to drop off their babies, free of charge, if they are going to school. The day care and early childhood center are designed as an inclusive support system in which babies starting at 6 weeks old can stay in the same school until they are in fifth grade. The school district made funds available through its budget 10 years ago to fund the program.

"Our primary goal is to help children compete," McComb School District spokeswoman Monique Gilmore said.

"If there are obstacles, and we don't help them, then we can't give them the tools they need to compete. You think about the kid you would lose if (we) weren't here for them. We want to provide them with successful tools to raise their kids. ... We are looking at what we can do. This is our community and our future."

‘She is a Handful'
During a Nov. 6 rummage sale at Sykes Community Center, Tiffany Johnson greets potential buyers and instructs volunteers where to place items.

The sale is an effort to raise money for more senior-citizen activities. She walks over to a table piled high with baby clothes and points to two boxes nearby, also filled with baby clothes.

"See all these clothes? They were all donated to Ariel," she says. "We have been totally blessed. The first year of her life, (Lauryn) didn't need anything."

In addition to the clothes from family and friends, Ollie's Young Life leader, Vincent Gordon, donated a year's supply of diapers to the young couple.

Ollie and Ariel have a strong support system. Ollie's grandmother watches Lauryn during the day to save on child-care costs, and Ollie's mom supports the couple financially. Ollie is focused on transferring to Belhaven University for its sports medicine program. Johnson says she doesn't mind supporting her son if it means helping him get ahead.

During the rummage sale, Ollie and Ariel bring Lauryn to the community center to visit Johnson and say hello to the senior citizens. Johnson and two of the seniors inspect the little girl.

"You got nothing on that baby's head; she is going to get a cold," one says. "Look at her hair, she needs a comb," Johnson chimes in.

The couple finds a comb, and Tiffany Johnson combs the few spots of hair sprouting up on Lauryn's head.

"She is a handful. Yesterday she would not stop moving," Ollie says.

As she sits in her dad's lap, Lauryn squirms and tries to break free. She is on the verge of walking—grabbing tables and chairs to support herself so she can reach any shiny object that catches her attention.

Ollie says he is ready for Lauryn to start walking, even if it means she'll be harder to contain. He's noted each milestone of her growth. A few months ago, she uttered her first word: "Dada."

"I want her to know everything I don't know, and have everything I don't have," Ollie says about the future he envisions for his daughter.

"I want her to know responsibility and the value of working hard, but I don't want her to have to worry about the things she needs."

"It's not easy. Adults even have problems raising kids," Ariel adds. "We have had to suck it up. I know most teen moms don't have the support that I have."

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