During high school, Mo’Nique’s parents were divorced and she moved several times — she even had to switch schools. Through it all, as “the one who takes care of everybody,” her first instinct was to help her younger brother.
But there were bigger worries ahead. When Mo’Nique was 18, her mother was convicted of a crime and sent to prison. Mo’Nique now had to support herself, help care for her brother and finish school.
She got a job as a full-time nanny and managed to graduate from high school a year later. After graduation, Mo’Nique wanted to go to college, but she had no way to pay for it.
Mo’Nique took a more demanding job as a live-in caregiver for a college student with spina bifida (a paralyzing birth defect). It paid more and it gave her experience related to her career goal. But the job, coupled with family concerns, left no room for college. Her client’s mother noticed and pulled Mo'Nique aside.
“She told me that she sees there's a lot on me, [and that] I have to let go [of family responsibilities],” Mo’Nique says. “I took her advice ... I realized that I have to live my life and do what I need to do for my future.”
Mo’Nique enrolled in community college. To qualify for financial aid, she filled out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). At first, her father refused to help with the form, but Mo’Nique remained firm. “I had to let my dad know that this is my education, this is my future, and I feel strongly about it.”
Mo'Nique still works as a caregiver. She divides her time between caring for her client, cleaning house, accompanying her client to her classes, attending her own classes and studying. She gets weekends off.
Her schedule is hectic, but it has taught her time management skills and, she says, given her confidence that she can “get through any situation.”
Mo'Nique wants to continue her education at a state university. She hopes to someday be a physician assistant or, if she can earn the grades for medical school, a doctor.
She admits that she still struggles to balance work and school with her family’s needs. She’s learning, though. “I love my family, but ... I’m coming into my own now.”