Dear Self: A Year in the Life of a Welfare Mother


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  • Author: Richelene Mitchell
  • ISBN: 9780979228100

Foreword by Imam Zaid Shakir

Dear Self is the penetrating journal of Richelene Mitchell, a young African American mother of seven struggling to raise her children while wrestling with the burden of poverty, callous public policy, and both overt and subtle manifestations of entrenched, institutionalized racism in America.

Ms. Mitchell was born in the rural south, the daughter of an African American sharecropper. She would venture to the northern ghetto of Philadelphia to enhance her educational opportunities. Hence, her early life was shaped by the twin forces defining African American life in the Twentieth Century, the rural south and the urban north.

An honor student in high school, Ms. Mitchell's promising academic career was curtailed by an eventually failed marriage that led to a set of circumstances which rendered her a single mother of seven children living in a sprawling public housing project in New Britain, Connecticut. Forced to deal with the humiliation of public assistance, she chronicled a year of her life, 1973, in this penetrating journal.

This book is a valuable resource for all of those seeking to understand the reality faced by millions of Americans whose plight rarely finds an informed and articulate voice such as that possessed by Ms. Mitchell. Though written over thirty years ago, her intimate experience with and intricate insights into the reality faced by an expanding American underclass are as relevant today as they were then. She sheds an informing and penetrating light on race relations, poverty, mothering, gender relations and many other pertinent issues.

Editorial Reviews:

"Richelene Whitaker Mitchell was born in rural Georgia and spent her teen years in South Philly before settling in New Britain, Connecticut. She was more than the sum of her statuses. She faced uncertainty with grace, dignity and a daily page of insight. Through adversity, she sent up flares so her Self could find the way back. A mother of seven and a critical thinker, capsized slowly, left a record. Dear Self is a worthy read." -- Foreword Clairon Reviews

"In December 1972, prolific letter writer Mitchell, a divorced African American mother of seven living in poverty in Connecticut, made a New Year's resolution to keep a journal. Here is that diary, her perspective from over 30 years ago. She discusses workaday concerns, including the price of groceries, her children's education, and her anxiety about her daughter's early motherhood. But she doesn't avoid more complex, intellectual matters, e.g., her frustrations with everyday racism, the question of "liberated" womanhood, and her analysis of books she is reading. A good addition to libraries with a focus on African American social history..." -- Library Journal Book Reviews

Betty Wright, a High School Teacher, 09/27/2007
Dear Self is a posthumous work of non-fiction in which the writer, Richalene Mitchell communicates to herself in a daily dialogue over a one year period. She is an intelligent, attractive, multi-talented, strong welfare mother, and single parent struggling with an all consuming web of economic deprivation, societal bias, crippling racism and pulverized dreams. She writes of the self-abnegating care that she struggles with to raise seven children in the projects of New Britain, Connecticut. Daily, she laments the loneliness, hopeliness and failures that have brought her to the point of despair. Antonymously, Richalene also celebrates life. The reader is allowed to participate in the happy and loving moments with her children and the joyous events that did not come often, but did exist. She documents her hopes and dreams for each of her children. Despite the modicum of achievements they witness in the projects, Richalene instills in them the zeal to succeed. The author is a prolific writer who is able to captivate her readers into a massive cocoon of emotions. This true story superlatively imparts depth, conviction and passion. The reader is so paralyzed by the events of each day and desires to read on without interruption. Dear Self magnetizes us all into Richalene Mitchell's world of meager, yet determined existence.

Noreen Kassem, a physician from Vancouver, BC, 09/11/2007
New Insight on Poverty and the Human Spirit. Most of us have never ventured to the housing projects or spoken to the disheveled mother at the supermarket removing items from her shopping cart to make sure she can afford it all. Dear Self, provides rare and surprising insight on poverty in America. Sharp witted, faithfully honest and self-critical Richelene Mitchell shares her acute observations on the welfare system, healthcare, politics and the people around her. She presents life in all its loneliness, joy, humor, determination and intense sadness - in other words, its humanity. This book is all the more poignant and absorbing because it was written as a personal diary and found after the author passed away.

Suzanne Derani, Chicago, Illinois. 9/10/07
Keeping It Real!
The book Dear Self is an excellent book that everyone should read. It really draws the reader into never wanting to put it down. It appeals to people of every upbringing, age, and culture. The reader will feel as
though they have experienced what the very writer has gone through. The emotions of sadness, happiness, and times of struggle have an immense affect on any person who reads this book. Superbly put together, Dear Self proves that with struggle there is ease. Richelene Mitchell, who documents these stories in a diary, proves that, although everyone has struggles or difficulties in life, with determination, patience, and acceptance of those struggles, one will succeed. What I found amazing about the writer was the fact that she never expressed pain throughout her illness of epilepsy. She continued to provide for her seven children, with endless love and support. This is most definitely a book that everyone can learn at least one lesson from, especially through the writer's strength, patience, and courage.

Strong Mother; Stronger Son, July 31, 2007
An excellent true story of an African-American mother who endures her American life to rear a most unusually strong, and righteous son. It was hard to put this down even though I knew how it ends. It's a moral tale and a good read