Moms Discuss Passing Wealth to Children, Child Immunization

In this week's Mocha Moms, Jolene Ivey, Cheli English Figaro and Asra Nomani discuss the challenge of downward mobility in the African-American community, Maryland's strict enforcement of child immunization guidelines and the passing along of holiday traditions.

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CHERYL CORLEY, host:

I'm Cheryl Corley, in for Michel Martin, and you are listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

It's time for our weekly check in with the Mocha Moms. We turn to them every week for their common sense and savvy parenting advice. We've been talking about the struggles of the black middle class, and we'll continue that discussion here.

Also, a Maryland county is getting tough on parents who don't have their kids' immunizations up-to-date.

And it's turkey time. What thanksgiving traditions are the moms passing down to their families?

So let's talk to our moms: Jolene Ivey, Cheli English-Figaro and Asra Nomani. Welcome all.

Ms. JOLENE IVEY (Co-Founder; President, Mocha Moms): Hi.

Ms. CHELI ENGLISH-FIGARO (President Emerita, Mocha Moms): Hey, Cheryl.

Ms. ASRA NOMANI (Member, Mocha Moms): Hi.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CORLEY: I'm so happy I get to do this and get a chance to talk with you all. Well, you know, we've been talking about the Pew Charitable Trust report that shows that African-American young adults aren't doing as well economically as their parents. So I really want your personal take on this, have - has this been happening in your own family, or have you seen it happening with your friends' families? Cheli, why don't we begin with you?

Ms. ENGLISH-FIGARO: Sure. It hasn't quite happened in my family, at least not for my generation. I was born in the '60s, so I should be one of the people who are doing worse than my mom and my dad. But we're doing better. They were college educated, and so we were able to make some strides.

I am concerned, however, about my son who's 14, and I'm wondering whether or not I'm going to see the downward mobility in the next generation of my family. Because, right now, I can't imagine him being able to move into my neighborhood and afford it.

CORLEY: Mm-hmm. So, it's not - it seems like it's not really a surprise to you that we see this happening.

Ms. ENGLISH-FIGARO: For the future, no. For my generation, I guess Jolene can talk about our generation - born in the '60s.

CORLEY: So, yeah, so these were people who were born in the late '60s. So - and it's not everybody…

Ms. ENGLISH-FIGARO: Right.

CORLEY: …who has spiraled downward, but a good sizeable chunk of people, according to the study. Jolene, what do you think?

Ms. IVEY: Well, I think Cheli hit on something really important, which is education. And I'd like to see what the numbers are for families where the parents or the grandparents - what education level did they have?

My dad, my step mom both had their master's degrees, and that expectation was passed on to me and my brother, and we both got our master's degrees, and we're both doing fine. So I do look, though, for the same reasons at housing costs. I couldn't afford my house now if I had to buy it, and forget my kids. So it is rather discouraging when you think what the costs are of life.

CORLEY: Well, this study from the Pew Charitable Trust was really, at this point, just nuts and bolts. Here's the facts. Here's what's happening. They weren't really into the causes yet, so it's kind of interesting what you're saying about what may be happening to cause all of this.

But as parents, I was wondering what you all were teaching your own kids about financial literacy, because that was one of the indications from the study, that maybe people aren't savvy enough financially or passing information along to their children. What do you think is important for you all to be teaching your children?

Ms. NOMANI: Well, you know, I'm the child of immigrants. I'm an immigrant myself, but my parents came in the 1960s. Within a decade, they were property owners. I still remember when I was 10, and we walked into the spanking new, you know, split-level, aluminum sighting house. And it wasn't, you know, the mansions of today's suburbs, but it was our house.

And now, I'm the same age that my parents were when they bought that house, and I am not a homeowner yet. And I know that a dynamic that I'm experiencing that I need to educate my son about is, you know, how to take on this consumer culture in which we live.

And, you know, my son is the generation of the happy meal toys. He thinks you're going to get a toy with everything you do. And I know I don't save like my parent saved, and so that's what I'm trying so hard to figure out how to teach my 5-year-old son. How to save money, how to not throw our money around, and I have to admit, I haven't figured it out yet.

CORLEY: Well, you know, it's kind of interesting, when we talked to Alfred Edmond yesterday - he's the editor of Black Enterprise. He said that black parents have to make a lot of cultural changes in order to pass along wealth to their children. And we have a little clip I want you to hear from him. This is what he had to say.

Mr. ALFRED EDMOND (Editor-in-chief, Black Enterprise Magazine): Well-meaning black parents who are focusing on their kids' education find themselves under funded for retirement, and they're relying on those same children who are also trying to take care of their children. And so, we're really talking about having to change certain habits.

CORLEY: So, Jolene, that's very interesting when you were talking about, you know, education and how your parents were educated, made sure you got educated and that sort of thing. He's saying education's a good thing, but you have to take care of yourself first in order to make sure that you have those assets to pass along, I guess, to your children.

Ms. IVEY: Right. And hearing him say those words made me laugh, because our oldest just started college, and it's really expensive. And right after he gets out, we'll have four more right behind him with that we need to put in college.

CORLEY: Uh-huh. Yeah.

Ms. IVEY: So it is definitely going to be tough, and I guess I'll have to look at them as my retirement right now.

CORLEY: And that's exactly what he was saying.

Ms. IVEY: Yeah. Yeah.

CORLEY: Well, I'm Cheryl Corley. You are listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

We're talking with the Mocha Moms - Jolene Ivey, Cheli English-Figaro and Asra Nomani - about downward mobility, immunizations and Thanksgiving.

So let's turn, now, to immunizations. Prince George's County, Maryland, a majority African-American middle class area just outside of Washington, D.C., is playing hardball with parents who don't make sure their kids get required vaccinations. They sent letters to parents warning them that they could be arrested or their kids expelled from school if the children's immunizations are not up to date.

Jolene, you're - have intimate knowledge about this. What's…

Ms. IVEY: I certainly do, because one morning last week, I woke up next to my husband - who is Glenn Ivey, the state's attorney of Prince George's County -and he mentioned to me that this was happening.

CORLEY: Yeah.

Ms. IVEY: And I said, boy, that sounds kind of harsh, Glenn. And he says, well it's just so important that these kids get immunized, and parents just aren't doing it. There were 2,300 kids early last week who still hadn't been immunized. And after this letter went out to kind of do tough love on parents, say, look you really have to do this or you have to come to court, eleven hundred kids had been immunized. And on Saturday, the parents who brought their kids to the court house got free immunizations.

And by the way, I'd like to point out that the free immunizations that the county was providing are thimerosal-free, which is the big concern that mercury that's in…

CORLEY: So people had some safety concerns?

Ms. IVEY: Exactly.

CORLEY: Yeah.

Ms. IVEY: For the people who do.

CORLEY: Let me ask you, is this too much tough love on the part of government? Cheli, what do you think?

Ms. ENGLISH FIGARO: They need to do what they need to do to keep our population safe. That's my opinion.

CORLEY: So, you…

Ms. ENGLISH-FIGARO: My children - my older children, they go to a private school. And our private school, they do the same thing to us.

CORLEY: They tell you you're going to go to jail.

Ms. ENGLISH FIGARO: Not go to jail, but they certainly are very clear that if you don't get it together, you're going to have your child expelled.

CORLEY: Hmm. Asra?

Ms. NOMANI: I was one of those moms. I - my son is going to a private pre-school in D.C., and they show you tough love. I went in day after day. I thought my papers were all in order. I went into the doctors to get everything in order. We'd made a move, and the D.C. regulations are different from West Virginia where we'd come. And it was the tough love of a nurse. Every day, she'd send me back, okay, this isn't in order. That isn't an order. And I'm telling you, I was just running around from one doctor's office to the next for days.

CORLEY: Yeah. Yeah. Well, Cheli, we heard Jolene talk about some parents being concerned about the safety of vaccinations. Do you think that there might be other reasons why people are just holding off getting vaccinations for their children? I mean, some people say, you know, I really just don't have time…

Ms. ENGLISH FIGARO: Right.

CORLEY: …to do this.

Ms. ENGLISH FIGARO: Absolutely. I think the safety reason is absolutely important, because the link of autism and mercury - I think people are really thinking hard before they vaccinate their children. But also, it's just hard to do it because you have to schedule an appointment. You have to leave work. You have to sit in a crowded office, and people are just overwhelmed and stressed to the ninth degree because they don't feel like they have time.

Ms. NOMANI: Well, I'll be honest that when I was trying to get my son vaccinated, I couldn't get an appointment with the doctor, and so I was trying to do it with the clinics, you know, in the Montgomery County area. And it was a window of, like, 20 minutes on a Tuesday that you could go to get this one vaccine, and then you go in on a Thursday to get the other one. And I think that, you know, the truth is we have to see and appreciate that there is going to be income gap, too. There's going to be a societal gap that we have to address.

CORLEY: One last thing, ladies. I'm going to talk to you about turkey time. We're all prepared to visit your house this Thanksgiving to, you know, pile on, on the plates. But I was wondering, what are some of your traditions this holiday?

And, Asra, why don't I start with you? Because, as I understand, you didn't begin celebrating this until you were a teenager.

Ms. NOMANI: Yeah. After we got that split level, aluminum siding house, about half a dozen years later when I was 16, we had our first Thanksgiving dinner. And, you know, every Thanksgiving is a new tradition for us. And the tradition I like to pass on and that I'm passing on is one that I picked up from my niece and nephews' elementary school, where they play the compliment game. So you basically have a basket with a name of somebody at the table, and you'd pick up the little piece of paper with the person's name, and then you write a complement, so that the person could keep it with them all year long and remember…

Ms. ENGLISH-FIGARO: Oh, how very sweet.

Ms. NOMANI: …how much they're appreciated and loved.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. IVEY: That is nice. TEXT: CORLEY: That's very sweet.

Ms. ENGLISH-FIGARO: (unintelligible)

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. IVEY: That's very nice.

CORLEY: All right. Cheli, how about you - the Thanksgiving tradition you're passing down?

Ms. ENGLISH FIGARO: Well, this Thanksgiving we're home. We made the decision. I told my mom ahead of time, we're not coming.

CORLEY: All right.

Ms. ENGLISH FIGARO: Give my love to my aunts and uncles and my cousins, but we're staying with daddy this Thanksgiving. And we have this wonderful recipe called Ooey Gooey Pumpkin Chewey Butter Cake, and it is really fattening. You need two sticks of butter…

CORLEY: Oh, my God.

Ms. ENGLISH FIGARO: …a whole box of powdered sugar, a whole package of cream cheese. It's a recipe courtesy of Paula Deen. And…

CORLEY: Heart attack city, thank you.

Ms. ENGLISH FIGARO: Oh, yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ENGLISH FIGARO: And pumpkin and a box of yellow cake mix. And we make that, and it is so good.

CORLEY: All right.

Ms. ENGLISH FIGARO: That's our tradition.

CORLEY: Well, we know where to come for dessert.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CORLEY: And, Jolene, how about you?

Ms. IVEY: Well, for me we have new traditions all the time, because our lives change so much, like everybody else's, and I think it's important to not put the tradition before the people. And this year, it's going to be different for us because our oldest child, as I said, is off at college. So he'll be home for the first time for Thanksgiving. We also are going to be with my brother-in-law and his wife, who's Korean. And she'll have some foods from her tradition, so that's always fun. We love to have the bulgogi - or however you pronounce it -and the turkey in the same table, so it's a good way to celebrate.

CORLEY: All right. Well, ladies, thank you for joining us - Jolene Ivey, Cheli English Figaro and Asra Nomani, and they joined us here in our studios in Washington. Thank you.

Ms. IVEY: Thank you.

Ms. NOMANI: Thank you.

Ms. ENGLISH FIGARO: Thank you.

CORLEY: And happy Thanksgiving.

We'd like to hear about your Thanksgiving traditions. Visit our Web site at npr.org/tellmemore to tell us about what your traditions are.

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