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Determination, Education, and Empowerment: A Single Mother Blazes a Trail Toward Change

Denise Wheat

Why She Rocks: Denise not only raised her three young children after a painful divorce, but committed herself   to furthering her education and becoming a true leader of change in her community. Her dedication to the empowerment of women and young people is truly awe-inspiring.

Raised by a single mother, and eventually becoming one herself, Denise has spent a lifetime learning what it takes to face life’s difficulties with energy and tenacity. The mother of three now-grown children has come a long way, from having to pick up the pieces after an emotional divorce, to becoming a successful breadwinner and role model to her children, to emerging as a community advocate and leader for women and youth in need. This is Denise’s story: an absolutely inspiring one.

One of the middle children of four, Denise grew up watching her mother try to handle everything on her own. “That’s what shaped me, watching my mom struggle.” Denise’s mother had to spend much of her time working, and Denise says that she didn’t grow up “in a house of I love yous.” This is just one of the things she vowed to do differently with her own children.

After settling into marriage and having three children, Denise was shocked when, after ten years with her husband, she learned that he had not only been unfaithful, but had done so with her close friend. The dissolution of her marriage was emotionally devastating, but Denise had no choice but to deal with immediate financial challenges of having all of their accounts and assets in her husband’s name. In retrospect, it was a turning point for her. She vowed then and there to “never give anyone that kind of power again.”

Denise was shocked when, after ten years with her husband, she learned that not only had he been unfaithful, but had done so with her close friend.

Denise took over financially, and worked hard to provide for her children, who were only 7, 2, and 18 months at the time of her divorce. But she wasn’t immune to the significant amount of stress brought upon her; at the age of only 28, Denise suffered a sudden stroke. Luckily, she recovered fully. But her doctor gave her a somber warning: “you have to learn to manage the stress or life itself is going to kill you.”

“You have to learn to manage the stress or life itself is going to kill you”

How did she learn? Denise says that this moment changed almost every aspect of her life, from how she ate to how she interacted with others to how she motivated herself. She remained determined to advance her life and that of her children, while taking care of her own needs as well. She took pride in each of her accomplishments, and privately began to address the emotions that she had buried after her divorce. She began to heal.

And with this healing came a formidable amount of energy. Denise is, quite simply, a dynamo. After years of working as a legal assistant, and then as a private investigator, Denise is finishing her degree in forensic criminology and will begin law school next year. She plans to focus on juvenile and family law, as she knows the unique challenges that face women who are navigating the legal system through a divorce. She also hopes to have the opportunity to directly work with young people in trouble with the law, to tell them that “your circumstances do not determine who you are. Greatness can be within you.”

Denise’s children, from right to left, Jonathan, Olivia and PFC Stozier.

Denise is already deeply enmeshed in her community, offering help and service in a number of ways, including the local NAACP chapter, and Youth Crime Watch, a program through which mentors help kids learn how to police themselves within their peer groups. Avoiding violence and drug use is easier when kids feel part of something positive. What is most rewarding about her work with the program? “Seeing children who have been counted out continue their education.”

Her special devotion to empowering women has led Denise to be a face in the public school system as well. Since her own children were in high school, kids have come to her for help in hard times. A young girl who found herself pregnant as a sophomore begged Denise to accompany her when she told her parents the news. The girl wanted to keep the baby, but was afraid her parents would be unsupportive. With Denise as a mediator, she had her baby, and went onto finish high school and attend college. Denise says this is all part of helping a woman find her way, and raising her up. “If she has to be a single mother, let’s show her how to be a good one,” she says.

If she has to be a single mother, let’s show her how to be a good one.

Beyond personal advocacy, Denise has also brought her legal knowledge to bear on issues in the school system. When her son suffered a concussion while playing high school football, Denise felt that the methods of assessing his injury and preventing it from happening were sorely lacking. She hired a lawyer and began attending school board meetings until her voice was heard. As a result of her work, every high-schooler in her county now has to get a concussion test before they are allowed to play sports.

“I have my hand in a little bit of everything, because if I can, I’m going to make a difference,” Denise says.

It’s indisputable that this single mother has already made a tangible difference for many people in need, and she only has bigger plans.  She dreams big, in the vein of Albert Einstein’s idea that “imagination is everything- it is the preview of life’s coming attractions.” Denise is someone who absolutely refuses to stay a victim, and she encourages all women to tell themselves that “can’t is not an option.” What ultimately drives her and gives her strength? Her children. “They are everything to me,” she says, “they are what causes my heart to beat.” And thank goodness it does, as this is a heart that changes lives.

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  1. Wow BEAUTIFUL story.I’m a singel mom also n I haven’t been abel to get on my feet..n I’m so deeply depress n lonly. All the time .I just got a job but I’m not getting enough to pay everything even with the help of walfare..my car has no tags n I can’t even afford to pay them..is tiff put here but I have to keep going what alse can i do.

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