By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times
Tamika Holmes—at the time a 16-year-old, married mom of a toddler and high school dropout—was on her way to the store when a total stranger handed her a folded piece of paper.
“I put [the paper] in my pocket and didn’t look at it until I got to my destination,” she remembered. “It was about a program that was starting in [Birmingham’s] West End by the Eureka Family Center, which was offering GED programs.”
“I said it was a God thing because I didn’t have to worry about how I was going to get there. … I didn’t have to worry about food because they fed you. … I didn’t have to worry about what I was going to do with my baby because they had day care.”
Holmes never forgot how that one center had everything and could change lives.
“They would pick us up on the bus. We’d go and eat breakfast with our babies. We’d take them to their classes, and then we would go to class,” she said.
Holmes, now 39, is founder and executive director of the Community Care Development Network (CCDN), which serves families in the East Lake and Avondale areas. The CCDN, established in 2014, is comprised of leaders who help develop and maintain local programs that also connect health care facilities, clinics, doctors, nutritionists, counselors, and insurance providers to help the community.
“The purpose of this organization is to empower people and let them know they really can do all things through Christ who strengthens them,” Holmes said.
Holmes remembers what the Eureka Family Center meant to her, and that’s why she began her organization four years ago as a program for young girls.
“I grew up in poverty, in an environment that was dysfunctional. There was drug and alcohol addiction in my household. I was a high school dropout, as well,” she said. “I saw the things in my own life and foundation getting worse as time went about, so I started to review everything in my own life. That gave me a passion to find a way to help our youth.”
Holmes established her first mentoring program, Precious Pearls of Promise (PPP), in June 2014.
“It started the first Saturday of that month as a … heart-to-heart kind of program for young ladies,” she said. “We did that as a pilot program through the summer. When we got to the end, our 15 young ladies wanted to keep going, … so we found some resources, got some volunteers together, and blossomed to do some of the things we do now.”
The CCDN’s initiatives include male and female mentoring for youth, tutoring, workforce development, and family reconciliation efforts, as well as a parenting program and executive coaching classes.
CCDN, which operates out of its Community Connection Resource Center in East Lake, offers programs like Precious Pearls of Promise (PPP) for young ladies and Diamonds in the Rough for young men to provide encouragement and mentoring, in addition to college-prep and goal-setting activities, for boys and girls.
Holmes describes her upbringing as “rough.”
“I grew up in an environment where my dad sold drugs and was also an addict. My mom worked at [the now-closed] Carraway Hospital. Growing up in that environment, … I saw some things that alarmed me that most kids are kind of getting into today,” she said.
Holmes was born in the Smithfield area, but she has lived in Norwood, Ensley, West End, and Titusville; she now lives on the east side of Birmingham. She grew up with her parents, Tommy and Sarah Peoples, and her older sister and younger brother.
When Holmes was in sixth grade, her father was in a car accident that left him in a wheelchair and unable to work. That stressed the household financially, which meant that by the time she was 12 she had to pitch in because her father was in the hospital for about a year.
“My mom had to go to work, and I had to go with [my dad] to his Lakeshore [Foundation] rehabilitation and doctor’s appointments because she couldn’t take off work to go with him. [My dad] would come get me out of school to pay the utilities and go grocery shopping and things like that.”
Holmes began to skip school in the eighth grade and recalled ninth grade as a “year of failure.”
“I think I was in school my ninth-grade year a total of five days,” she said.
Holmes’s mother had developed a drinking problem from dealing with all the stress. Still, Holmes seemed to turn things around in 10th grade.
“I joined the [Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (JROTC)] rifle team and drill team to help with my discipline. I took the [Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery Test (ASVAB)] and scored high. Then I wanted to make the honor roll, and I did that,” she said. “I accomplished everything I said I would that first half of 10th grade.”
But everything changed in the second half.
“My mom was dealing with her alcoholism, and one day when she was driving me to school she just broke down and started sobbing,” Holmes remembered. “I tried to not say anything, but my heart wouldn’t let me [stay quiet]. I asked her what was wrong, and she said, ‘I just can’t do it anymore. It’s too hard. I need you to [quit school and help out at home].’ That was a pretty tough decision for me. I gave it some thought and made the decision to drop out of school for the betterment of my household.”
Holmes said her husband, Duane, who was her boyfriend at the time, tried talking her out of it, but her mind was made up. She left Ensley High School.
Soon after dropping out, Holmes, at age 15, got her first job working at a fast food restaurant to help support the household. She also found out that her father was much sicker than originally thought.
“With him being in that wheelchair, he wasn’t exercising his limbs like he needed to, so the blood started to settle in his legs and stop circulating. He was breaking out with little sores on his legs, so we went to the doctor, and they discovered it was deeper than a skin issue. He developed atrophy, and his legs started to swell up really big. They found out his limbs were dying, and he had to have both of his legs amputated.”
Holmes and her mother decided to put him in Northway Rehabilitation Center, where he stayed from 1995 to 2005, when he passed.
Holmes eventually turned her life around at Eureka Family Center, which supported girls ranging in age from 14 to 19. She was one of the older students in the GED program and graduated at the top of the class; she was encouraged to attend Lawson State Community College. While in school, she found out she was pregnant with her second child, but she didn’t let that stop her. Holmes graduated with an associate degree in office administration, then she went to Virginia College, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in business and a master’s degree in business administration.
Her faith in God is what led her to branch out and start her own nonprofit organization.
Looking back, Holmes said, “It was either divine intervention or God that wanted me to go in that direction, or it was something broken in our education system at that time. I always say it was God stepping in. It’s been a 20-year journey, but it was all a God thing.”