Western Kentucky University
$4,000 Scholarship and Hearst Medallion
STORY: At a young age, the system failed Jacky Evans. With her father in prison and her mother recently deceased, Jacky first entered the foster care system of California at the age of 13. Moving from house to house, she was frequently abused by those she trusted most. Thus began a dark chapter in her life as throughout her teenage years she ran from 12 homes and supported her life on the streets through prostitution. With that lifestyle came the drugs and her on-and-off battle with addiction.
Her daughter Harmony was born on a warm day in Oakland in 2004 when Jacky was just 16 years old. Since then custody of Harmony and her second son, Fred, has been taken away as she was declared unfit to parent. In 2015, she gave birth to Z'allah Evans. It was her second chance at motherhood. Everything is for him, Jacky explains.
Three times each week, Jacky works 18 hours between her job at the Coalition On Homelessness where she is a Housing Advocate and the Hamlin Hotel where she is a desk clerk. She has fallen asleep at the desk at the Hamlin Hotel where each shift ends at midnight. Still, she walks home and prepares to do it all over again.
Every day, Jacky Evans works tirelessly to do right by Z'allah and to save enough money for a future in which she can regain custody of her other two children. "All of this that I have gone through is preparation for me to blossom into the mother I need to become," Jacky says. "All of the struggles I have been through have been beautiful little blessings along the way."
Many say that a perfect family needs a mother and a father. The world that Jacky grew up in is far from perfect, but she works every day to be just that for her three miracles.
CAPTION: Jacky Evans shares a moment with her son Z'allah Evans, 1, at their one-bedroom apartment before he heads to his daycare that is funded by the city of San Francisco. "He adores me," says Jacky. "Once a child creates a bond with you its the purest feeling in the world that this they think that you're their everything."
Jacky holds Z'allah tight as he tries to run away during their morning routine. "He's like this right when he wakes up all the way 'til he falls asleep," Jacky explains.
Jacky, Z'allah, and Dwayne pass the time as they wait for Z'allah to be picked up from home. There is no dull moment until Z'allah leaves.
Jacky's friend Dwayne Davis watches and feeds Z'allah his breakfast as she hunts for Z'allah's clothes in her one-bedroom apartment. Because of her apartment's size, she is not allowed custody of her daughter Harmony, 13. And if she hopes to have Harmony again, she will need a larger, more expensive living space.
Between meetings, Jacky entertains Z'allah at the Coalition On Homelessness. "I love all of my children because they think of me as this superhuman that cannot be broken and that is the greatest feeling ever."
Jacky assists a homeless couple as they apply for housing at the Coalition On Homeless where she works as a housing advocate for people who remind her of past life of homelessness. "The best way to work with those people is to bring in someone who has been through what they have been through. If I had had someone like that, it would've given me more confidence to keep going."
Jacky rocks and calms Z'allah after he interrupts her work meeting at the Coalition On Homelessness. "Sometimes I just miss him so much that I ask the babysitter to drop him off at work so I can have his company," she explains.
Jacky makes paper copies at the Coalition On Homelessness office that is filled with artwork and banners. In her youth, she found herself on the streets when she ran away from abusive foster homes where she was frequently molested. To support herself, she turned to prostitution for several years after the birth of her daughter at age 16. "All my life, people have judged me for the mistakes I have made, not wondering why I got here or what happened to me."
Jacky changes Z'allah's diaper before taking him to stay with her aunt.
Z'allah reaches for the door before he leaves to say with Jacky's aunt. He will not see his mom until she finishes her shift there and an 8-hour shift at the Hamlin Hotel.
Jacky assists an elderly tenant of the Hamlin Hotel after the chair lift had failed. Nearly every hour of her waking day is spent at work. Three days each week, she works 18 hours between her job at the Coalition On Homelessness. "I do it all because I know that I need to," Jacky explains. "Nowadays a lot of black women don't have that. They don't have that sense of pride in themselves of like 'look at what I used to do and what I do now'", Jacky explains.
"I'm so god damn tired," Jacky whispers to no one in particular. Near the end of an eight-hour shift as the desk clerk at the Hamlin Hotel--an apartment building for many previously-unhoused citizens of San Francisco--Jacky fights off sleep. When she is too tired to walk home, she calls a cab or asks friends for a ride. Today is the birthday of her middle son, Fred, who was adopted and she has not seen in three years. She is not even allowed to know where he lives.
On her way home from work, Jacky crosses a street in the Tenderloin district. As tired as she is, she still needs to prepare for the next day and make plans for Z'allah to be watched before falling asleep. "In order to accomplish the goals I want to accomplish, I am going to work my ass off now, so one day I can relax with my family. Even if that means that I have to lose a little bit of sleep in order for me to be able to provide for them."
Z'allah reaches for the skylight at Jacky's workplace. She has high hopes for Z'allah. "For him to prosper past everything that I had ever could have done," she explains. "I want him to do better than I did at anything. Not to pressure him, I just want him to have a great life."
Hand in hand, Jacky and Z'allah make their way from Jacky's office building. When they are together, the two are inseparable. "All of this that I have gone through is preparation for me to blossom into the mother I need to become," Jacky says. "All of the struggles I have been through have been beautiful little blessings along the way."
There is no place like home except when no home can be found. Home for Brittany Hester, Jamal Wiley and Jamal Jr. is wherever they can be together, usually in a family shelter downtown. Jamal Jr. struggles with autism, which can at times exacerbate their already-precarious situation as a homeless family on the streets of San Francisco, but Jamal explains that the only solution is patience. In one of the wealthiest cities in the United States, income inequality is grossly apparent. "Remember what it was like to be low, so when you're high you can be kind," says Brittany. "When you're homeless, people tend to treat you bad and rudely. Remember when you're back on top to have compassion."