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About

Our Stories Our Power highlights the stories of individuals and families struggling to make ends meet because the rules around work and wealth in America put too many barriers in the way. Those speaking for higher wages, regular and workable hours and benefits that help raise a family often have their voices drowned out in the national conversation. This tool invites people to share their personal stories with others across the nation and empowers them by building a community to advocate for real changes that ensure every American has enough – not just to survive, but to thrive. Our Stories Our Power is a project of the Center for Community Change. For additional questions or media inquiries, contact us.


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rosazliagrillier
Parents need to be at the table

Parents need to be at the table

Rosazlia Grillier, of Community Organizing and Family Issues (COFI), on why she advocates for equity to ensure that every child has access to a quality education.

jessicawood
I am blessed to be able to pursue my dreams

I am blessed to be able to pursue my dreams

Jessica Wood, of Parent Voices, shares why she is fighting for quality childcare.

debrathomas
Who Owns The Village?: A Childcare Story

Who Owns The Village?: A Childcare Story

Debra Thomas, program coordinator of Federation of Childcare Centers of Alabama (FOCAL), shares a story about “who owns the village.”

traceypolenance
Every child needs a quality education

Every child needs a quality education

Tracey Polenance, of the AMOS Project, stresses the importance of a quality education for every child.

Jamieleemorris
Expand access to quality preschool (Amos Project)

Expand access to quality preschool (Amos Project)

Jamie-Lee Morris, of the AMOS Project, talks about the preschool promise initiative.

meredithloomisquinlan
Childcare is a nexus of many things (Michigan United)

Childcare is a nexus of many things (Michigan United)

Meredith Loomis Quinlan, of Michigan United, talks about their gender equity program and their work on creating access to affordable childcare.

JoanBaker
Early Learning Centers are Vital (Ole)

Early Learning Centers are Vital (Ole)

Joan Baker of Ole talks about the importance of early childhood education and early learning centers.

EllenMurphy
Childcare starts with doctors (Michigan United)

Childcare starts with doctors (Michigan United)

For me, families need more than just healthcare. I come from a public health background. I used to work on food security issues. I ran a farm to cafeteria program. In 2012, I finished my English degree. Then went on to work on public health issues.
With my public health background, I worked in the ER and enrolled people in clinical trials and did health surveys. I followed patients through treatment. I interacted with lots of sick Detroiters. It was emotionally draining. Folks needed access to long-term care, childcare, and mental health services. I left the hospital because I didn’t want to just work on individual issues. i wanted to have a bigger impact.
That’s when I decided to go to med school.
In organizing, we face pressure to work on our own issues. but in life, we have to work on lots of issues at the same time. Doctors have to do the same thing.
Bold vision—child is born, parents get maternity leave, then get childcare assistance. It should be free for everyone.
A friend just had a baby. She only has 3 months off and then doesn’t have access to childcare. Her husband is the only one working. How amazing would it be if she got info about affordable childcare in the packet she gets sent home with when her baby was born?
Childcare should be mandatory. Just like school. Frame it as early education.
Pay for childcare workers needs to increase. If they’re not paid a living wage, they won’t be able to deliver care at their full potential. Workforce needs coaching and training.
How do you see yourself as a leader? Well, I’ve stopped working at just the individual level. I’m facilitating work between people and connections between issues.
Race always matters, especially in Detroit. We need representation that looks like our communities. Our legislature doesn’t look like our communities.
Childcare starts with doctors. If they don’t have the same experience, they can’t be strong advocates.

EllenMurphy
seydi starr
Childcare hard to access for mothers (Michigan United)

Childcare hard to access for mothers (Michigan United)

I came to Detroit in 2003 after studying in Paris and getting my bachelors degree. I’m originally from Senegal. I met my husband in France and got married.

I moved to Detroit and had no family support. In December 2004, my daughter was born. She was born with a heart disease. She had surgery at 6 months of age. Then she started doing much better. But I needed to work. But my degree didn’t help, so I had to go back to school. At the same time, my husband and I were divorcing. So what to do? I needed childcare. My daughter was only 9 months old at that time. I couldn’t find anything affordable that was also high quality. All of the places I felt comfortable with were $600 per month. I went to DHS to get help, but because I was on a temporary visa, I could not access childcare subsidies. I found a family friend who was willing to be a caregiver and could get state support to care for my child. But there was so much paperwork for her to quality and reimbursement rates were so low—less than $10/hour—she eventually said she couldn’t do it.
So all I could afford were the places that were not quality childcare spaces. Eventually, I got my daughter into a top flight center through social connections. It was still very expensive. But my ex-husband said he would pay for it.

I couldn’t believe how expensive the system is. For me, it’s the biggest slap in the face. We are the richest country in the world. It shouldn’t be this way. Childcare should be free. Even before childcare, during pregnancy, we need paid time off. And it shouldn’t be tied to poverty. Free for all women. After pregnancy, you don’t have time to bond and rest with your baby. Mothers need at least a year.

We’re (Michigan United) asking for $44 million. It’s nothing compared to what we spend on mass incarceration.
You have to be a good mom and work and be a professional, but we get no support to do anything. I see so many women in the peak of their careers who don’t want to be pregnant because of work and their career. We’re adding stress on top of stress of having a child.

I didn’t choose to be a leader. I started through the immigration work. That’s how I got connected to MI United. I organized my 1st action on the immigration issue. I felt like if all the knowledge I acquired was only helping me, I was not a good person.

In the African community, people are fearful. So they look to me to speak for them. I need to be an advocate. On the other hand, if you don’t have a voice for yourself, no on else can speak for you.

seydi starr
26563982_20151125_115035-1
I never worked minimum wage = wage theft

I never worked minimum wage = wage theft

My name is Arleta, I worked at beauty supply for 6 and a half years and was terminated while on maternity leave. In the six years I worked at my job I never got paid overtime or took rest breaks. In addition to being victim of Wage Theft, I was told to racially profile Black customers and even got into confrontations with customers as a result of the owners request to follow the Black customers around (only) .The owner of the Beauty Supply often referred to Black workers as “Ghetto”. All of us workers got paid in cash. We were all Black or Latino workers.
I performed work out of my classification. I had to perform managerial work like, evicting tenants and collecting rent. I never worked at even at minimum wage– they always paid me less. I filed a complaint with the Labor commission and experienced retaliation by getting my hours reduced. I used to work a full 6 days a week, and went to 3 days a week.

My former employer is trying to bribe me, by offering money. The owner even closed the business and opened up the business in a different location. The owner/employer attempted to say I never worked for her, and broke confidentiality by showing details of my case to a friend who works at the Beauty Supply. I was offered a settlement of $500 which didn’t cover the OT that I was never was paid.

It was calculated I was owed $7000 was only from the 3 years I was able to collect in back pay. I didn’t have pay check stubs.

“Its kind of depressing course especially around this time of year” I have a 17, 8 and a 1 year old. My daughter is a senior in High School and I don’t have the funds to provide for her. My daughter is about to graduate and I have to provide for.

“I have braided hair on the side to make ends meet but it’s just so inconsistent” I just want to work. I have over 35 references to testify in her favor e.g., dark and lovely reps etc.

26563982_20151123_175243-2
If you don’t fit in, they wont hire you

If you don’t fit in, they wont hire you

My name is Laron Green. I am from Los Angeles and a member of the LA Black Worker Center. I grew up in a family of 6. I graduated from high school and attended some college, while gaining a wide background in the trades. I am now a proud father of 3 children.

I am currently unemployed and often feel discriminated against when looking for work for multiple reasons, my race being one. I recently applied to work on a construction project and was told, “My crew speaks Spanish, and if you don’t fit in, I can’t hire you.” I am unable to support myself and I rely on government assistance.

The lack of finances really puts a struggle on me finding employment. At one of my previous jobs, when it was time for lay-offs the Black workers were targeted first; no matter how much seniority they had. I watched them be picked off one by one until it was my turn to be let go. It shouldn’t be this way.

As a youth I was taught to stay motivated, positive and consistent. Over the years I have kept employed because of my will and determination, and I hope to pass those values down to my children.

I recently accepted an offer for a low paying job because of my lack of stability, and my need to work. This makes it hard to improve my living conditions, for I am living with currently homeless a family member.

I feel positions of power work for the upper class and elite, the changes that are made affect me but not in a positive matter. The decisions made show me that I have more hurdles to jump, sink or swim. These companies hire workers they can exploit, by paying lower wages and no benefits.

26563982_paula
Paula’s Story

Paula’s Story

I am Paula, and I live in Nashua, New Hampshire in senior housing with my husband. I have been legally blind since 1989. I went on Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) in 1990. SSDI has been helpful because I couldn’t work yet I had two daughters to raise. If I didn’t have SSDI, and Supplemental Security income for my two girls, we would have relied on my husband’s income which wasn’t much. With the SSDI check that I receive now, I have to pay for prescription drugs every month and by the time I am done paying these bills, I don’t have a lot left. My husband and I are always running in a hole. We have about $250 left to put gas in the car, pay for food and food is no longer cheap. Some months, I have to decide whether to pay for drugs or eat.

ssi
Anita’s Story

Anita’s Story

I am Anita, and I live in New Hampshire. I have been receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) since 2005. Prior to that, I was working as a waitress, but I developed some health problems. I was diagnosed with severe depression; I had a shoulder injury and herniated disk in my spine. These conditions made me unfit to work. Luckily, there is SSI to help me as I try to get better. Without SSI, I wouldn’t afford my apartment, food and other basic needs. I basically squeak along.

26563982_photogrid_1449964328305
Fired for new workers with lower wages

Fired for new workers with lower wages

I was born in LA. After high school, I attended a local trade school and took up electronic engineering. I was fortunate enough to find a job working at the Port of Los Angeles as an Electronic Engineer. I was first hired as a temporary worker and after 4 years, I was given a permanent position. I recall an incident where the security guard gave me a hard time getting in to go to work; he asked if I worked in maintenance. He apologized and said, “I’m sorry man, I didn’t mean to give you a hard time, I just never saw this company hire a Black person before.” During my time working there I saw people with less seniority get hired on permanently, even when there was a so-called “hiring freeze”. It took non-Black workers less time to make permanent.

I made good money in my position, but my job started to come to an end when my department started discussing unionization and my company didn’t want a union fight. The company was totally against the union, so much so that they totally abolished the department where I worked, and eventually sub-contracted out to another company to so that they could pay less money to the workers. I actually was paid to train replacement workers. I worked 8 years at the ports as engineer. Out of 70 workers, 5 were Black. I am currently receiving unemployment, and have aspirations of becoming a union electrician. I want to pass on to my children the values to work hard and respect for women.

If I were sitting across the table from a local or national politician, I would say education in the Black community is not being addressed. My grandparents had to pick cotton. We were disadvantaged because we had a lack of books, and a lack of resources, and that was a generational trend. Our tax dollars pay for things we don’t receive in our community. I remember I got suspended for taking a book home to study in high school – I felt punished for trying to pass a test. Also, I noticed that poor Black parents can’t really donate to their children’s schools like wealthy white parents to schools because we don’t have the money.

I feel taking a test to get into certain training programs, or jobs is unfair, because certain groups are unprepared to do well because we have lack of a good education from the start, especially when English is not your first language. I am thankful for the LA Black Workers Center (LA BWC) for connecting me to tutoring resources, and mentorship opportunities so I can have an advantage in pursuing my career goal of becoming a union electrician.

26563982_carpenter_pic_4
Do You See Me Now? Cheyvonne’s Story

Do You See Me Now? Cheyvonne’s Story

My name is Cheyvonne Grayson and I am 28 years old and the oldest of 4 siblings. I grew up in South Central Los Angeles. Growing up, my dad kept me and my siblings busy. We were always fixing things, and active with extreme sports like snowboarding. I was even a boy scout. I actually started by first job at the age of 11 just for tips helping out at a family member’s store. My dad thought it was important that I got involved in activism and I did that around the Devon Brown shooting. He was a 13 year-old boy who was shot excessively by the police just 10 blocks from where I lived. Violence was very visible in my community. I lost 10 friends before the age of 18. There was a lot going on and I wanted to have a voice, so I got involved.

I am now a proud union carpenter. I started off construction by working in an oil refinery, and then I went on to labor and fire watch. I’m proud of the work that I do. It helps that my dad taught us a good work ethic; which is important in the construction industry. As a Black worker I felt I have to represent well for my whole race, because of the stereotypes we face. It’s like my boss expects me to be late, or expects me to be lazy, but I work hard to prove them wrong. Once when I showed up early for work, I got the comment “Oh, you’re early?” I used to work non-union and I see the difference having a union makes. I get better pay, more protections and I see more diversity on the worksite.

My first experience with discrimination was with the police as a child getting harassed at the age of 12, I was a victim of police brutality. My parents would worry about me when I left the house, they would tell me “be careful, and watch out for the police,” instead of “watch out for gangs”. Politicians need to be reminded that discrimination is still going on and it’s blatant; and it happens before you even get to the job. I’m judged by the color of my skin, when I’m just here to work. On the worksite, I’ve heard monkey noises as I walked by, and I’ve seen graffiti in the bathroom saying “go back to Africa”. Experiencing wage theft at my last non-union job was tough on my family. I couldn’t help out as much as I wanted to. There were a lot of immigrant and people with barriers to employment in the workforce which left of us vulnerable to being exploited; I worked overtime that I was not paid for.

I have had to humble myself for this type of work (construction). I hear a lot of racist and other inappropriate comments that I just have to brush off. I have had to be persistent; I got turned away in too many places before I actually got a job. I’m a member of the Los Angeles Black Workers Center (LA BWC) because alone we are just a whisper, but together we are a voice. I just want to help future generations set a good example.

darrylw-1
America & Equal Opportunity

America & Equal Opportunity

America is not a country that’s big on fulfilling dreams, or providing equal opportunity in achievement and education. It often seems to be a country set up on a principle of pointlessly wasting potential.

Racism, sexism and homophobia have killed the spirit and ambition of countless students, particularly in generations past. Is today’s world much better? Public education is supposed to “level the playing field” but relatively high percentages of minorities attend “bad schools” while more whites and the well-to-do benefit from “good schools.” The achievement gap begins in kindergarten; while on the other end of the educational spectrum low-income students suffer the worst harm from the student loan debt trap. Black students already stymied by socio-economic drawbacks usually take longer to finish school, hence accruing more debt; and higher percentages buckle under, leaving school with no diploma, only debt.

I fell into the pitfalls that hold back too many minority students — the classic inferiority complexes accompanied by anger against racism, and aggravated by an educational system that reinforced stereotypes. In 1985, I graduated from a severely dysfunctional high school to a supposedly sophisticated college that lacked a black studies program. I left after two years “culture-shocked.” I was the archetypal non-diploma-ed victim described by the statistics.

My real education came from working at a variety of low-wage jobs, which taught me comradery, community, as well as the survival skills this country requires of low-wage workers. I knew many Black people (and they included people with Master’s degrees) living from check to check, unable to use untapped abilities that could contribute to the arts and sciences. It might have been a different story if they lived in a society that reduced the income and education gap. Or a society which sponsored free higher education.

But I was lucky. In my late 30’s, an editor at the Washington Post spotted my material on an online magazine. Beginning professionally by publishing book reviews in The Post, I transitioned from parking cars to paying the bills by publishing freelance magazine articles. I write about race, class and poverty.

darrylw-1
JoseFlores
Discrimination: What Happened at the Conference (Voces de la Frontera)

Discrimination: What Happened at the Conference (Voces de la Frontera)

Jose Flores of Voces de la Frontera shares a personal story about discrimination against him and a friend.

Maria Guadalupe Romero
My Struggle Without Borders (Voces de la Frontera)

My Struggle Without Borders (Voces de la Frontera)

Maria Guadalupe Romero of Voces de la Frontera, Milwaukee WI shares her story.

huda
Huda’s Story

Huda’s Story

I’m Huda Albaaj from Manchester, New Hampshire. I live with my five-year-old son and husband. My son has autism, and he’s on Supplemental Security Income (SSI). SSI helps me to cover expenses for him such as diapers and other necessities. Due to post-traumatic stress and diabetes, I am unable to work. My legs get numb and sometimes I feel like fainting when I stand for more than five minutes. I rely on SSI to care for my family, pay bills and my rent. Not having the support of SSI would likely make me more depressed.

AdolMashut
Low-wage work as a teen

Low-wage work as a teen

Adol Mashut shares her story of working as a teen to help her family make ends meet.

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