This is why we fight: Latara
Latara is warm and matter-of-fact and gives without end.
On a drizzly January afternoon, she walked the halls of Fannie Battle Day Home, popping her head in classrooms to check on staff, asking if they needed anything or how she could help.
She’s a caretaker through to her core: a mother to two daughters, daughter to a breast cancer survivor and a leader at Fannie Battle.
At the helm of a family of strong, determined women, Latara is passionate about education and career advancement, but her path hasn’t always been smooth.
Latara grew up in East Nashville and raised her daughters, Latiya, 20, and Lakiyra, 18, off Shelby Avenue.
“Where I lived, we didn’t go outside,” Latara says. “I didn’t allow them to go outside because the neighborhood was bad.”
She needed safe, affordable child care for her oldest daughter, so she set up an appointment at Fannie Battle, a 128-year-old child development center where families pay on a sliding scale based on income. She knew immediately it was the right fit for her girls.
“I felt my kids were really safe,” she says. “The teachers and the staff were awesome. They treated them like family. If I needed anything, they were there. They’ve had such a big impact on the kids and gave them a sense of security.”
As the sole provider for her girls, this kind of care and support was a relief—especially with the rising costs of child care.
“There were times when I would come in and would say, ‘Look, this is all I have,’” she says. “And they would say, ‘Don’t worry about it; we’ll set up something.’”
Her children excelled in United Way's Read to Succeed program where they learned to read and propel their literacy skills, but with finances too tight, Latara eventually had to pull her daughters out of school because she couldn’t afford to pay.
“That’s when I got a phone call from Fannie Battle saying, ‘We’ve found somebody to pay your tuition. The kids don’t need to be at home. Bring them in.’ It’s just amazing.”
Lakiyra and Latiya started at Fannie Battle when they were 2 ½ years old and remained in the program until they were 12. Their mother took a front row seat in their education, volunteering at their school and eventually joining the Fannie Battle team part-time in 2007.
Latara loved child care and wanted to make it her career, so she enrolled at Nashville State in 2013, taking one class at a time while she was raising her children and working two jobs. She graduated with an associate’s degree in Applied Science, but craved more education. Fannie Battle promoted her to a full-time preschool teacher, and she returned to school for another degree—again taking one class at a time—but wasn’t able to complete her degree when her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. She scaled back on work and quit school to care for her mother.
Growing up, higher education wasn’t strongly encouraged in Latara’s home. She wanted her daughters’ paths to be different. She wanted them to go to college, so she worked multiple jobs to make that happen.
But she knew she couldn’t do it alone.
Latara reached out to the Family Empowerment Program at Catholic Charities of Tennessee for support. Catholic Charities works with families to achieve a variety of goals such as obtaining housing, going back to school, learning to save and more. At the time, Latiya was enrolled at Austin Peay State University, Lakiyra was a senior in high school and Latara was ready to start working on her associate’s degree again.
“When Latara and I first met, her primary goal was just getting some assistance in providing support to her daughters,” says Katherine Johnson, a case manager at Catholic Charities. “Latara was realizing how overwhelming it was going to be to cover the ‘hidden’ costs of college that aren’t covered by loans, such as textbooks for both her and her daughters. She was hoping to get some financial assistance as well as financial guidance. Right away, the program was able to help pay for books for her eldest daughter and get Latara set up with the FEP financial counselor.”
Latara and Katherine discussed the steps she needed to take to finish her associate’s degree. They filled out the FAFSA and the TN Reconnect application, and Latara found out what classes she needed and when she could take them. She learned that if she could take one class over the summer, she would be able to take classes part time in the fall and finish her degree by the end of that semester.
“The reconnect grant didn’t cover her summer class, so FEP stepped in and paid for that,” Katherine says.
On Dec. 17, 2018, she graduated with a 4.0 GPA and honors and received her second associate’s degree—this time in early childhood education. Soon after, Latara was promoted to infant/toddler director at Fannie Battle. Her oldest is now at junior at Austin Peay, and her youngest is now a freshman there. Both girls come back to Fannie Battle on school breaks to volunteer and work in the classrooms.
“Latara is such an awesome mom and person who always pushes the people around her to do their very best,” Katherine says. “I’m glad that she made the decision to invest some of the energy she puts in the people around her in herself and that we’ve been able to help facilitate her ongoing personal growth.”
To learn more about the Family Empowerment program, click here.