By Trenisha Wiggins
The Birmingham Times
Loretta Bitten made sure her children knew everything, even that she was the victim of domestic violence that led to her suffering a broken nose and a broken arm.
“You know, a lot of times, we as parents, when we are going through things, we sometimes don’t share our experiences with our children,” said Bitten, recently named the Metro Birmingham NAACP Mother of the Year. “I think that sharing our own experiences is a positive thing to keep our children from making the same mistakes we made.”
Bitten’s daughters—Shera Craig Grant and Shanta Craig Owens —are the first set of identical twins to serve simultaneously as district court judges in Jefferson County. Grant was elected to Jefferson County District Court Place 5 in November 2016, and Owens was re-elected to Jefferson County Drug Court in 2014.
Bitten, manager of the Birmingham Public Library’s Powderly Branch, said she was humbled by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) award.
“It was really surprising … and rewarding,” she said. “It was an experience I was very appreciative of. I had no idea anyone would look at me as a Mother of the Year, and I really appreciate the NAACP for that award.”
Bitten discussed what she kept in mind as she raised her children.
“Number one, a good mother is a prayerful mother. She is praying and seeking God’s will for her children’s lives,” Bitten said. “A good mother is an attentive mother. She is … interested in their education, she’s interested in their entertainment activities, she’s interested in their friends, she wants to make certain that her children have a relationship with God and know who God truly is.”
The awards are welcomed, but nothing compares to watching children grow.
“I had my daughters when I was relatively young, so it was sort of difficult at first, going from not having one baby at all to suddenly coming up with two,” Bitten said. “Having to do two of everything was quite a challenge, but still it was a rewarding challenge because, as my children grew, I always knew they each had a friend, and that friend would be her sister. They always had a best friend, someone to play with. They have always been so supportive of each other, too, so they really helped their mom a lot. When they were younger, especially in school, if one child didn’t understand something the other one did. They were always there to help each other.”
The twins attribute their work ethic and scholastic discipline to their upbringing. They were raised by a single mother due to their father’s sudden death, and the family had limited child-care resources, so Shera and Shanta spent much of their time studying and reading in what they called “their mother’s library.” That’s where they developed study habits that would carry them through law school.
Bitten always stressed the importance of education.
“Education is so very, very important to me,” she said. “That is one of the things I try to impress not just on my children but children in general. Without an education, where are you going to be? Without an education, how can you dream really big? I believe in getting the best education you really can, and I believe in starting that educational process when the child is young.”
Education went beyond the library, as well.
“Even when driving in the car with my children, we played games, such as finding letters on billboards, which helped them learn the alphabet. They learned colors from stop signs, traffic signals, all those things. They would look at flowers and trees and learn different colors. … Then you go on from there as the child grows. … You want to lay the foundation when a child is young. Once a child has a good foundation of English, math, and sciences, it makes it easier for them as they elevate in other school levels.”
Bitten is originally from Selma, where she completed two years of college at what is now Concordia College Alabama. She would go on to earn her bachelor’s degree at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). And she is currently attending the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, where she is completing her master’s degree in library science; she will graduate in December 2017.
“A lot of my family was not educated as I grew up, but I always knew the importance of education,” Bitten said. “I always knew that if you wanted to exceed in life you had to be educated.”
What advice did she give her daughters and others?
“Aim high for anything that you want. Always strive for the very best. In striving for your very best, though, make certain that you are treating others right. You don’t want anything that’s ill-gotten,” she said. “You want to make certain that you are honest in what you are doing. You want to be thoughtful of others. And you always want to keep God at the forefront of your life because you can’t go anywhere without Him. Your relationship with God is very important.”