Welcome Our Newest Mama Legislator: Rep. Tenisha Yancey

Mothering Justice would like to welcome to Lansing our newest Mama Legislator, Representative Tenisha Yancey (D-Harper Woods). We sat down with the Representative to hear her thoughts about her first State of the State, where she was honored that the leaders chose her to escort the Governor to the House Floor.

Yancey’s top policy priorities are shaped by being the mother of a young black man: improving education and juvenile criminal justice reform. While the former was mentioned in the Governor’s remarks, the latter, or criminal justice reform of any kind, received no airtime in Governor Snyder’s final address to the legislature and the people of Michigan.

“When those things aren’t affecting you, your family or your community directly, it seems to be an out of sight, out of mind issue,” Yancey said about the omission. But it is not that way for her family or the families in her district. Her young son has been pulled over 10 times since getting his driver’s license last year, and let go almost every time by the officer because he had not done anything wrong. Her son was also met with hostility from some voters, even when knocking on doors in broad daylight in his mother’s campaign t-shirt. This kind of bias and profiling has her anxious and, frankly, disheartened, knowing that if he were to ever be charged with a crime, her high school student son would be tried as an adult.

Yancey would like to see the legislature gradually enact policy that reflects scientific research: the developing brains of teenagers cannot comprehend the gravity of their actions to the same extent adults can, and therefore a teenager should not be punished as severely as an adult. “If we can increase the drinking age to 21, we should make that the age that you’re tried as an adult. I know we won’t get there right away, but eventually, we should,” she said.

In the meantime, Yancey sees strengthening education as a way to counteract the school-to-prison pipeline. She’d like to work with the Governor on this shared priority, and she’d start by pointing out that the robotics programs he touted in his address aren’t serving struggling urban schools. Yancey wants to stress to him that keeping all kids focused, motivated, and inspired with these kinds of extracurricular activities will keep them out of trouble and engaged in school.

Yancey also knows that improving our schools will result in the population growth that was such a focus of the Governor’s agenda. She sees the loss of the Amazon bid as a result of our inability to attract top talent and industry, as we’re not producing an educated workforce at the level that we should. “I don’t want to have to get on an airplane to see my grandkids,” she explains, knowing that many Michigan parents face that dilemma when their children move out-of-state for career opportunities.

Asked about the problems facing parents of younger children, Yancey supports the issues that Mothering Justice champions in the Mama’s Agenda, particularly affordable child care. As a single mom in college, Yancey was fortunate to have her son’s care covered by Eastern Michigan. She wants to see more programs like that available to parents, parents educated about those programs, and the funding for those programs protected.

“When I started working for Wayne County, my son was in a wonderful, affordable summer program at the Aquatic Center, until that program was defunded,” she explained. Yancey was fortunate to be able to leave her son with his paternal grandmother when school was out, but she knows that education-focused programs are more enriching for children in the community.

At Mothering Justice, we’re so grateful that mothers like Yancey were able to navigate balancing careers and families, making their way to Lansing to advocate for policies to support all of us, knowing firsthand how important this work is for the families and the future of Michigan.

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