She’s a praying woman who faithfully attends Sunday school and morning service every week, along with Tuesday night prayer and Bible study. She wakes up every morning and prays for the family and prepares breakfast for her household full of grandbabies. She struggles to make ends meet on her measly Social Security check and government funds. Not to mention her health isn’t the best.

She’s that grandmother who has paid her dues, raised her own children and is now raising her children’s children.

Tony Brown, a 26-year-old husband and father of two was raised by his single grandmother, along with his two brothers and two younger cousins.

At the age of 7, his mother gave up her boys because she knew she couldn’t provide for them.
“She was a drug addict, an alcoholic and a sex fiend,” he said. “I wouldn’t say she loved her problem more than she loved me. It’s hard for a parent to let go. My mother loved me enough to put me in a better situation, because she knew she couldn’t give me what I needed.”

Brown’s grandmother is a pastor at a small church in Los Angeles County. Growing up with her caused Brown to hide his emotions and deal with life quietly. He explained that while going to school functions, she was always there. But it wasn’t always a sense of pride having grandma there. At times it was shame.

“To introduce my her as my grandmother, when everyone else’s mother and father were there brought up some feelings of shame. It’s not your fault, but you feel shame. It’s got to be hard for both sides,” he reminisced.

Despite the challenges he and his family have faced dealing with matters of respect and limited space, as well as with issues of mental and emotional support, Brown appreciates his grandmother’s sacrifice, especially for the spiritual foundation she laid.

The reality of Brown’s situation is not uncommon. Staggering statistics reveal that the number of grandparents as primary caregivers is steadily on the rise.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 51.7 percent of the Black Americans over the age of 30 are the primary caregivers for their grandchildren compared to their White counterparts at 41.6 percent.

“Big Mama” and “Pop Pop” have been the glue in the family since before most of us can even remember. Many Black people can go back into their ancestral genetic memory banks and reflect on the wisdom elders used to bestow upon the youth of African tribes or the healing and love they administered to the community.

Not that any of those traditions have gone away, but an earth-shattering shift occurred when colonizers and slave traders attempted to break families apart and instituted a system of brutality and division.

Grandparents were forced back into the trenches of primary care, obligated to rear not only their own grandchildren, but also the offspring of plantation owners.

Some would argue that loving Black grandmas and grandpas essentially raised this nation, and their role has hardly changed.

With the introduction of drugs into Black communities, particularly crack-cocaine, desperate poverty, joblessness and built-up emotions of oppression, somehow the Black family became undone even more.

Dorothy S. Ruiz, Ph.D., associate professor at the University of North Carolina, wrote in a 1999 study entitled, “Guardians and Caretakers: African American Grandmothers as Primary Caregivers in Intergenerational Families,” that the increasing number of children being raised by grandparents is due to several factors, including drugs.

“Over the past decade, researchers and policy makers have shown considerable concern over the increases in grandparent-maintained households. This concern has stimulated a proliferation of research on grandparent care-giving on a wide range of issues. Among these are the impact of multiple roles on health, reasons for the rapid increase, problems and needs, social structure and extended family relationships, social support, role satisfaction, the impact of the AIDS and crack-cocaine epidemics, and emotional/physical well being.”

Joseph Devall, organizing director at the Community Coalition (CoCo) in Los Angeles, agrees.

“We’ve noticed the rise probably over the past 20 some odd years or so in a lot of urban areas around the country in part due to the crack epidemic that took place in the ’80s and ’90s,” he explained. “It affected women in greater numbers than any other drug. They ended up on the trafficking and abuse side of things and were unable to take care of their kids due to incarceration or other tragic situations.”

Carole B. Cox reports in “To Grandmother’s House We Go and Stay,” that due to crack cocaine, one-third of surrogate families experienced deterioration in their emotional health since beginning care-giving.

She also reports that 40.7 percent of the reason why children aren’t with their mothers is due to drug abuse.

Devall says more than 60 percent of the members of CoCo are grandparents 50 years old and older. With age comes challenges and raising children for the second or third time after retirement isn’t typically in the plans of most elderly people.

He added that many of the challenges grandparents face include financial strain and poor health.

“You deal with a lot of people who may have a retirement or pension that is only enough to care for themselves,” he said. “And they usually take in sibling groups and they are pretty large at times. We have members who have brought in six or seven kids. Even if you just brought in two children to a household where they are just making ends meet, (it is a challenge).”

With the added financial burden and physical ailments, not to mention the social experiences such as class and race, the marriages and health of many grandparents suffer.

The Community Coalition runs a campaign called Kinship in Action in which the organization and other supporters fight for resources for family members who have become primary caregivers for children to help relieve stress and strain.

Although grandparents have legal custody, the resources and financial support are minimal.

Devall explained that family caregivers are given a significantly fewer number of resources and money for children who are under their care.

But help is out there. Visit http://www.cocosouthla.org for more information, or call 323-750-9087.