Natchez High alumna fights to provide better life for children

Published 12:01 am Friday, May 31, 2013

Jay Sowers / The Natchez Democrat — Ladonna Washington, a 1994 graduate of Natchez High School, holds up photographs of her daughters Anyah, left, a 2013 NHS graduate, and Doriecia, who graduated in 2009.

Jay Sowers / The Natchez Democrat — Ladonna Washington, a 1994 graduate of Natchez High School, holds up photographs of her daughters Anyah, left, a 2013 NHS graduate, and Doriecia, who graduated in 2009.

NATCHEZ — When Ladonna Washington walked across the stage to get her high school diploma, she was just another statistic.

The 1994 Natchez High School graduate was a teenage mother with two children and another one on the way. Washington said people looked down on her, doubted her ambition and just assumed she would never amount to anything. Her own mother doubted her future.

But tonight when Washington watches her youngest daughter, Anyah, walk across the same stage at NHS, Washington will hold her head high, proud not only of her children but herself, too.

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The 38-year-old has worked to receive her cosmetology license, associate’s degree in nursing from Copiah-Lincoln Community College, her teaching license from Alcorn State University and is in the process of getting her master’s in education from Alcorn.

Washington stepped out into the world on her own when she was 17 after outright refusing to move back to her hometown of New Orleans with her mother.

“She said, ‘I love you, and I support you, but you’re going to fall flat on your face,’” Washington said. “I’m the type of person where if you tell me what I can’t do, I’m going to show you what I can do.”

That defiant attitude is what helped Washington beat the odds and set her on a path to success, but other acts of defiance often got her in trouble.

Washington admits she had her share of disciplinary problems at Natchez High and was always looking for a fight. But when one teacher told Washington she would not put up with her antics anymore, Washington said she realized it was because her teacher Georgia Oliver cared about her future.

“She called me up one day, and she said, ‘Look little girl, you’ve got kids to look out for, and all these other people might be afraid of you, but I’m not afraid of you, and you’re going to sit in my classroom and do your work and not bother anyone,’” Washington said. “She was the first teacher I ever encountered that let me know she cared about me and that I was running around reckless.

“And I have patterned my life behind hers.”

But Washington’s success did not come without help. She had help from members of her family, chiefly Adams County Circuit Court Judge Lillie Blackmon Sanders and local attorney Patricia Dunmore, as well as the paternal grandmother of Anyah and Washington’s son, Donald.

“You have to have a support system,” she said. “I was fortunate to have one. I didn’t lean on them, but I accepted their help and appreciated their help.

“But I knew I had to do for my own. Nobody is going to love a person’s children the way their mother does.”

So Washington got her education and made sure her children did the same.

Washington’s oldest daughter, Doriecia, 22, recently graduated with honors from Tougaloo College, where she was a cheerleader and a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha and the NAACP Youth Council.

But Doriecia has also beaten the odds.

“After graduating high school, I had a child as well … and people looked down on me and thought I wouldn’t go to college,” she said.

But Doriecia, like her mother, proved the nay-sayers wrong and is completing an internship at United Auto Workers in Jackson this summer and soon will attend Jackson State University, working to complete a master’s degree in criminal justice. She hopes to become a homicide detective.

Doriecia said she has found inspiration in her mother.

“She always said, ‘Your situation has nothing to do with your destiny,’” Doriecia said. “I love her, and no matter what people said we couldn’t do, I thank her for sticking by me and believing in me.”

Anyah will be attending Alcorn this summer and then Mississippi State University to study veterinary medicine. She beams with pride when talking about her mother’s accomplishments.

“Most people would not have the patience for it,” she said. “She always said that you can do anything you want to if you set your mind to it and stay focused long enough.”

Washington said she is also very proud of Donald, whom she jokes got most of her troublemaking ways. Donald studied criminal justice at Copiah-Lincoln Community College and is now working at Adams County Correctional Center.

Washington said her journey has been tough but has shaped her into the person she is today.

“It’s been hard, but it’s been real,” she said. “And it’s real life … I believe that life is not going to stand still just because you don’t have what you need to be prepared for it.”

Washington said she knows many teenage mothers may feel judged or hopeless, but she encourages them to keep their head up.

“Just because you’re in that situation, don’t look at it as a badge of shame,” she said. “Go on with your life.”

Education is the most important tool a person can have in life, Washington said. Even though young mothers may have to make more sacrifices than their peers, school should not be one of those sacrifices, Washington said.

“If you wait a year, that year is just going to be wasted,” she said.

And that year could turn into two years, three or four — or never.

“Nobody wants to get to a point when your child is raised, and you don’t have anything or you haven’t done anything,” she said.

Washington said her children have always been her motivation for making a better life for her family.

“I am just so proud of them,” she said. “You just don’t know how it good it feels.

“Yesterday I was a statistic, today my children and I have overcome the things we needed to, and tomorrow all of our futures will be brighter.”