Unmasking a New Start
Helping Mothers Overcome Barriers to Healthy Parenting
With the name Karibu Mama Mtoto, which means “Welcome mother, baby,” in Swahili, the mission of the Karibu Mama Mtoto program at NorthPoint is clear: providing young African American women with the culturally relevant support they need to overcome the barriers they face in succeeding as mothers.
Because of the generational trauma and systemic inequities some young mothers face as African American women, they are:
12 times more likely as children to have witnessed domestic abuse;
9 times more likely to have grown up with an incarcerated caregiver; and
480 times more likely to have experienced discrimination.
The Mama Mtoto program uses a talk therapy support group (Circle) structure to help young African American mothers learn positive coping behaviors, how to manage emotions and behaviors, parenting skills, and other ways to cultivate secure family attachments to strengthen the family unit while bonding with and supporting others in the group.
“This group has been a blessing to me,” says Patrice (not her real name). “I call it Mommy Tutu.” Patrice is raising two young children. She was a victim of domestic violence with her long-time partner but she’s learning how to make a better life for herself and her kids. “I’ve been coming here one or two days every week and it has helped me so much. It gives me mommy time and I can be around others who have been in the same situation. Trust is hard outside the group but when I come here it’s like family. I have learned how to be a survivor and thriver.
Clinical social workers Carmita McGlory and Jacqueline Coleman co-facilitate the program. “Our hope is that the tools and skills these young women are learning will help them be better at coping with their circumstances,” says Carmita. “We help them with breaking down some of the generational learning and teach them a filter they can use for determining what works and doesn’t work in their life. Loyalty to chaos is a pattern that’s hard to break out of. We teach them better coping mechanisms. We teach them they are valuable and lovable and important and what that entails for each of them.”
The group meets Wednesdays and Thursdays. Women can bring their children with them. They all gather for a meal and then the children go to another room to play while the moms participate in group therapy and activities, including an “Unmasking Trauma” project. The masks are an art project that allows the women to express with their hands what they can’t say with their words.
“The mask helps you face what’s going on and put it out in the open,” says Patrice. “It’s a way to tell your story, the good and the bad.”
Nearly 80 women have participated in Karibu Mama Mtoto since its inception as a pilot program in April 2018.
“Overall my experience has been amazing from the first day I walked into group,” says Patrice. “The people and coordinators are amazing. I’ve known Ms. Carmita since I was a freshman in high school. This is my sanity coming here twice a week, talking with others who are going through the same thing; it’s absolutely amazing.”