Kaleea Alston-Griffin ’04 was like a lot of students. Resident advisor, sociology major, political science minor. Safe Space member and president of the program board. She wrote papers, went to classes, hung out with friends, participated in several clubs.
The difference? During her senior year, she did many of these things with her daughter in tow.
“I hid the pregnancy as long as I could during my junior year. It was difficult to walk around campus with a belly,” Alston-Griffin recalled. “I felt awkward and embarrassed; as if everyone was looking at me all the time.”
“Many students were concerned, some asked questions about my choice to keep my child and others shared their own experiences when in a similar situation,” she added. “It amazed me how much honesty a belly produced. How vulnerable it made me and also how uncomfortable or comfortable it made others.”
As her pregnancy progressed, she met with Dean Fred Alford. He was always supportive, she remembered, and helped her plan for what lay ahead. Alston-Griffin did not miss any classes her last year at Union.
“My daughter, Maleea, was born in July before my senior year. Starting classes with a newborn baby that you’re nursing (and who wouldn’t take a bottle) was not easy,” she said. “There was a stigma of being a young mother. I felt judged walking around campus, though I am not sure if it was my own feelings of what I thought others were thinking when they saw me.”
“I knew I was going to graduate. I knew I was motivated enough to push through the sleepless nights and stress over childcare,” Alston-Griffin continued. “I was also fortunate to have the support of friends, my daughter’s father (now my ex-husband) and staff members at Union.”
One of her professors told her about a daycare her own children attended. Alston-Griffin was able to enroll Maleea for a couple of hours three days a week. Much of the rest of the time, mother and daughter were together.
“I worked as a babysitter and nanny while I was at Union. The families allowed me to continue to work for them once I had Maleea,” Alston-Griffin said. “I took her to work with me. This was great for me because they loved her and she loved them back.”
After graduation in June 2004, Alston-Griffin enrolled in the University of Connecticut School of Social Work and earned her MSW. She’s now a social work clinician who serves children in the foster care system in the Hartford area.
“From a young age I wanted to be like Mother Teresa. She devoted her life to caring for the sick and poor,” Alston-Griffin said. “I knew family and friends who had experience in the foster care system and that sparked my interest, which grew into a full passion in high school to improve the system for those currently in foster care.”
This passion was further nurtured at Union.
“Professor Deidre Hill-Butler was very influential. She’s an African-American professor who is not only amazing at what she does, but she was the first black female teacher I ever had,” Alston-Griffin said. “I learned so much in her courses – they were impactful and every chance I got, I took her classes.”
For all the challenges of being a young mother, Alston-Griffin wouldn’t change the way her life has played out.
“When I was a student, it was tough for both me and my daughter. A mother at 20 years old, I was just doing my best. What I realize now is that my best was absolutely good enough. I am so proud of that,” Alston-Griffin said. “I have a 16-year-old daughter who hopes to come to Union herself and when I look at how far we’ve come; it makes me smile.”
“I am so proud of my daughter – and my son, Michael. They are my greatest accomplishments. I hope every child feels this from their mother and father,” she continued. “Show your children that you are proud of who they are; this is one of the most valuable shields you will arm them with as they go out into the world.”