Infamous Mothers, the incredible movement that has given an important platform for marginalized African-American women to tell their amazing life stories, has been revolutionary in so many ways. The Infamous Mothers coffee table book, book tour, play, workshops, speaking engagements, and more have brought attention to stories of black motherhood with unapologetic realism while empowering women who had been living on the margins of society.
But, at the end of the day, there was still something lacking.
“It’s just not enough to tell stories and it’s just not enough to create programming around stories. We have to do something that is unheard of,” says Infamous Mothers founder Dr. Sagashus Levingston.
“After Infamous Mothers, I had to step back from the women in the book because we didn’t have the space. We didn’t have the resources. We didn’t have the dollars. We didn’t have anything,” she continues. “I was like, ‘Wait. There’s something terribly wrong about inspiring these women without knowing what it would cost them.’ What we did in 1.0 was irresponsible if we didn’t follow up with 2.0.
“It’s not enough to tell the story of how Cinderella made it from the evil stepmother’s house to the castle,” Levingston adds. “We have to help Cinderella succeed in the castle or help her build another castle. That’s what 2.0 is all about.”
As bold as the original Infamous Mothers movement was; it’s about to get even bolder. Earlier this summer, Levingston announced that she will be launching Infamous Mothers 2.0, the next step in her movement that will be focused on media, technology and programming because, as her Infamous Mothers tagline says, “the real world is virtual.”
Right after the Infamous Mothers conference and book tour last year, Levingston remembers, was when the seeds for Infamous Mothers 2.0 began to be planted.
“Generally it came from the work of 1.0 and listening to what the women have said and, generally, what we’ve discovered is that women wanted three things – they wanted media programming, technology,” Levingston tells Madison365. “They felt that developing opportunities often focused on professional or personal but they wanted professional AND personal. The reason why is that a lot of these women are first-generation. ‘I’m coming out of four generations of sex work; I”m coming out of four generations of foster care – whatever my situation has been and now I want to build a family and be a professional? And I have to figure out how to do both.’
“How do we create something that acknowledges me as a whole woman?” Levingston asks. “There’s clearly a whole population of people who are doing trailblazing things for the first time personally and professionally in their families. They wanted programming around that.”
Some of the women, who had truly amazing stories that were detailed in Infamous Mothers, unfortunately, relapsed.
“They thought that once they made the choices they made that their friends and family would be happy for them. They didn’t realize that they would have to get new friends and change relationships with their family,” Levingston says. “And then they relapsed because they had no community around those different life decisions. That’s why 2.0 is really about creating space and place for those women.
“We were setting up women for failure and I didn’t know that by telling them, ‘you can do anything and everything that you want to do!’ And they were like, ‘Where are the tools and networks to do it?’
Throughout her travels and experiences these past few years with Infamous Mothers, Levingston connected with thousands of women online and in-person who told her exactly what they lacked in their lives. There was a general lack of quality spaces that honor a woman’s role as both mother and professional. There were feelings of isolation and a shortage of personal and professional development opportunities for these women that were designed with them in mind.
“The world is set up for me to be either a struggling, busted single mom of six or for me to be a professor. It’s not set up for me to be a single mother of six who became a professor so we have to create that space, that programming and that technology … and then we have to create the narrative around it for the world to hear,” Levingston says. “That’s when 2.0 came about.”
Infamous Mothers 2.0 is the next chapter: a 24/7 online community, programming, a consistent infusion of advice and inspiration; accountability and options for self-care. It’s the next step in overcoming barriers that women on the margins face by offering a virtual campus that includes innovative concepts like the Infamous Mothers website, Infamous Mothers University (IMU), Third Space Virtual co-working space and IM Life, the Infamous Mothers app.
“How do we honor the women of Ohio, Minnesota, Chicago, and northern Wisconsin while also doing good work here?” Levingston asks. “Sabrina [Madison] and Lisa [Peyton-Caire] already had opened up these physical spaces; so how can we use technology to potentially open up lines of collaboration, lines that allow us to have our own identity.
“When we started thinking about the physical space, white women were flat-out like, ‘We’ll put our dollars behind you, but we’re not going to rub elbows with this category of folks,'” she adds.
So she decided to create a digital space – using technology that allows Levingston to bring women together in a virtual building rich in networks and resources. At Infamous Mothers virtual co-working space, you can knock on people’s doors, share documents with each other, hang out in the cafe, by the pool, in the boardroom, or the writing center.
“I’ve got a corner office,” Levingston smiles. “There are floors, so different things happen on different floors. You can watch people move from office to office. It creates a space and place for people who are often lonely and don’t have community.
“I can be a professional and still manage my life as a mom and no one knows that I’m literally at two places at one time,” she adds. “We boldly set out on our $250,000 goal to raise awareness on how we can make ours
Infamous Mothers was officially launched on July 30. The imAllorNothing is currently raising money to kick start Infamous Mothers 2.0 It took a little while to gather some steam. The goal, $250,000, is large.
“It’s a huge goal. We’re licensing two pieces of technology and one of them we are creating on our own. Just to create the technology in itself is $130,000 and then to hire the folks to be the folks behind that, that’s another price tag,” Levingston says. “We did the planning for everything and it’s really a $500,000 price tag. We’re doing $250,000 crowdfunding just to get things created. The other $250,000 is to employ people.”
That all seems like a lot of money to raise. But in the world of technology, it’s really not.
“Black women in technology raise $42,000 for every $1 million that white men raise,” Levingston says. “Do you imagine a single mother of 6 creating technology? You imagine Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs. So people give money to folks who look like them.
“If I raise money for charity, I can get a lot of charity money. “Oh, you’re a single mom. We’re going to give you all the charity.’
“But I’m not asking for charity,” she adds.
“It’s really a challenge to Madison. You say you want these things, but you don’t want to sit in a room with us. You say you want these things but you only want to help us when we’re asking for charity. This is putting people on blast: If you really believe in these things that you say you believe in, then get on board. Hopefully, we can raise awareness about women, especially black women in tech, who historically cannot raise money for great causes.”
This particular fundraiser is not all or nothing like some Gofundmes and kickstarters are.
“You keep what you raise … but we need it all! We can’t create the app without it,” Levingston says. “But we don’t have anything right now. We have the track record from the work that we’ve done: the free work we’ve done and some from the paid work we’ve done. Everywhere we go, we have the highest numbers for turnout in terms of programming.
“We’re doing all of this work with women, but if the world isn’t ready for the changes and the evolution of the women are taking on, then it sets the women up for failure,” she adds. “We’re not going to keep waiting for people to see value in our work and then give us a grant. We’re just going to do it.”
Levingston has been furiously answering questions online since the campaign has begun to let people know what Infamous Mothers 2.0 is all about. Questions like: What is the benefit of your work? Why should we care? What is a digital/virtual campus? Do you believe you are really going to raise $250,000 in crowdfunding?
“I like to build community. And if people don’t understand what’s going on, they can’t support you and they can’t see themselves in it,” she says. “Week 1 and 2 of the campaign, we were like, ‘This is not moving. Why is this not moving? What’s going on?’ I started Inboxing people and they were telling me that they didn’t understand it. ‘What’s digital space? What’s this and what’s that?’ And I knew if my friends were asking that, 500 other people had these questions. So then we started answering the questions.”
Infamous Mothers documented the incredible stories of 20 black women. Infamous Mothers 2.0 intends to bring together diverse groups of women – black, Latina, Asian, Native American and, yes, even white women.
“Because white women were like, ‘I stripped, too. I got high, too. I’m first-generation.’ And I was like, “Well, c’mon, girl!,'” Levingston laughs. “So, it’s about expanding the narrative and making it a more diverse space. “
Custom programming brings each piece of the virtual campus alive in the form of three distinct membership programs. For the Infamous Mothers site, there is the Lolita program, the Jennifer program and the Sagashus program. For women who can’t pay their own way, there are opportunities to sponsor a woman through the IFundWomen campaign.
“It’s really a challenge to Madison. You say you want these things, but you don’t want to sit in a room with us. You say you want these things but you only want to help us when we’re asking for charity,” Levingston says. “This is putting the people of Madison on blast: If you really believe in these things that you say you believe in, then get on board. Hopefully, we can raise awareness about women, especially black women in tech, who historically cannot raise money for great causes.
“We really want to raise awareness because women are doing extraordinary things but the gatekeepers are like, ‘We’re not going to let anybody know that you’re doing this,'” Levingston adds. “These women have been fighting alone for so long on their own and they are tired and overwhelmed and alone. We want to give them some energy and some power back and to not feel scared every day. Because I still feel scared every day as a black woman with a PhD. in Madison.”