Hardship and instability have served as motivation for Dretona Maddox. Losing her mom to suicide at the age of four, becoming pregnant at 15, and experiencing homelessness are just some of the barriers the now career health professional and nonprofit founder faced. While some may have renounced her struggles, she chose to transform her pain into her purpose.
Her favorite scripture, Proverbs 18:10, says, “The name of the Lord is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and they are safe.” She says this is her favorite scripture because it is her security. In that same regard, it speaks to how she was purposely chosen to provide a safe place and positively impact those that need protection and the understanding of their purpose.
The word “purpose” shapes Maddox’s life in ways she is growing to understand. That’s why she created, Purposely Chosen, Inc., a nonprofit organization that provides support and advocacy services to pregnant/parenting teens in foster care, that includes two maternity homes in Southern California.
We had a chance to have a candid conversation with the chain breaker. Keep reading to learn more about her perspective on parenting, how she overcame life-altering obstacles, and her enthusiasm for creating better opportunities for parents.
HelloBeautiful: How would you define motherhood in your own words?
Dretona Maddox: Motherhood is a responsibility that I believe women are chosen for but not necessarily prepared for or trained to do. For some people, it comes naturally. Being able to nurture, care for, and to guide your children as they grow into adulthood is a beautiful thing. Although we may not all be equipped, I think that if we are willing, then we are all capable of being effective in our roles as mothers. Motherhood is something that we learn how to do. It’s on-the-job training.
HelloBeautiful: Let’s talk about “Purposely Chosen, Inc” and the motivation behind it.
Dretona Maddox: The motivation behind Purposely Chosen, Inc is my life story. It’s about me. It was created out of the pain that I endured as a young pregnant 15-year-old teenager. Initially, I wasn’t clear on what Purposely Chosen meant. People often ask me how did I come up with that name…I didn’t. I literally was asleep one day and woke up with the name in my mind. It was like a sounding alarm, over and over again… “Purposely Chosen, Purposely Chosen, Purposely Chosen.” I wrote it down because I kept hearing it to the point where it was getting on my nerves. I went back to sleep, and I left it alone.
The following day when I got up, I looked at what I had written, and I couldn’t figure it out. I kept saying to myself, “Purposely Chosen, Purposely Chosen?” My life has been a discovery of just that. The things that I’ve endured, the pain that I went through, I didn’t know what it was for, but as time went on, I realized it was for a purpose. I was chosen for this. I have a tagline for my organization that we are chosen for trials, and then it’s realized by purpose. So the trials that we go through, we are chosen to go through them, and at the end of it, you realize that those hardships are ultimately what leads you to your purpose.
HelloBeautiful: What has being a clinical social worker and therapist taught you about being a parent?
Dretona Maddox: It’s taught me that I have to listen more. As my kids got older and they changed, I had to be willing to take a step back and step into a different position. When I was parenting and leading and giving instruction when they were smaller, as they got older in my social work practice, I learned that (especially dealing with kids that had so many problems with their parents) the number one complaint was just that the parents didn’t listen. We as parents have experiences that we share from a place of experience to try and prevent our children from having natural consequences to things, but overall, consequences will happen. When they do, as parents, we have to allow them to happen, and with that, it requires a lot of active listening and supporting them as they choose to make decisions in life. It really just taught me to listen a whole lot more than talk and to support them the way they need to be supported.
HelloBeautiful: What programs do your nonprofit have that help teen parents?
Dretona Maddox: We have residential care facilities that house pregnant and parenting teens and their babies, a mental health program, parenting classes, individual counseling groups, therapy, tutoring, and on-site child care for girls that go to work or school. Our ultimate goal is to make sure that they graduate and get their high school diploma because the risk for these teen moms is very high of them not graduating, so that’s a huge part of our program.
HelloBeautiful: What advice can you give teen parents being an advocate?
Dretona Maddox: They don’t have to know everything, but they have the courage to ask questions. They have to find a safe person, a person that they are comfortable with, to ask the questions. It’s important for them to understand that they are not asking for themselves; they are asking for their child. If they keep their child at the forefront of their mind and understand that they are ultimately caring for this baby that is dependent upon them, they will realize that the questions they are asking will ultimately save or help that child. It’s not about you anymore, it’s about the child you are caring for. So that child’s life depends on you having the courage to ask questions.
HelloBeautiful: Who were some folks you looked up to growing up? And Why?
Dretona Maddox: I never really had a person to look up to when I was younger. There was nobody in my life that I knew that provided me any level of guidance. I always looked up to people I didn’t know, like Eleanor Roosevelt. She was a favorite of mine. Betty Shabazz was a favorite, and Maya Angelou, whom I always looked up to for wisdom. As an orphan with no parents, I craved wisdom and knowledge. I wanted to know practical stuff in life, and I didn’t have a person to give that to me, so I looked for guidance in books and documentaries. I learned how to be a woman and how to care for my kids and advice in general and how to be a leader. Those three women I learned a lot from.
HelloBeautiful: Have you made any major changes in your outlook or approach to life being a parent?
Dretona Maddox: Yes. The major change I made in my life was that although I did my best to keep balance in my life, I ultimately put my kids at the forefront of everything I did. I’ve always had goals. I knew that I would graduate from nursing school and the steps I needed to take to get my degrees (Bachelors, Masters, Doctorate). I am 48 and just now earning my doctorate, so literally my whole life, everything changed, and I became okay with the pivots I had to make in life because it was for my children. It wasn’t just for me; it was for them. If I had to stay home and care for them because they were sick, that’s what I did. If I had to put my goals off and couldn’t go to school for a while, that’s what I did. I never got a chance to enjoy college life. I never partied and got to enjoy the tailgates because I had kids. I literally took the train to campus from San Bernardino to Los Angeles (2 hours on the train), got on the bus, got to campus as soon as class was over, got back on the bus, and rode the train to get back to my kids. I never stopped my goals. I just had to pivot. I had to keep moving forward but with a pivot.
HelloBeautiful: What is the biggest challenge you had to face being a mother?
Dretona Maddox: The biggest challenge was learning that my middle child, my daughter, had a condition called Neurofibromatosis. She was diagnosed at six months of age. She had these brown spots (like a cheetah) at six months old. I was only 20 years old when she was diagnosed. I was a young mom, and I didn’t know what it was. Come to find out, under every ‘spot’ is a tumor. That was the biggest challenge that I had to face, that things happened that were out of my control, and I had to learn how to care for a sick child and keep her where she was confident. Her largest tumor was on her face, right on her lip. She’s had 15 surgeries to remove the tumor, but it was a challenge because I didn’t know what it was, and there aren’t many kids with that condition, so it was hard to find the resources.
That was also when I first found my voice to advocate for my kid, to get her needs met. When she was diagnosed, we had gone to so many doctors that when she was seven, they told me that she had developed these brain tumors and wouldn’t live. My daughter then decided at seven years old that she didn’t want to go back to the doctor. She told me she was done, and I was torn. I was torn because I didn’t know if I should let her make that choice as a child. Do I respect her decision to no longer want to go through the process of being poked? It was very hard for me. We eventually took a break, and after the break, she was willing to go again, but that break lasted from age seven to eleven. At age eleven, we went back and then around 14. Again she said no more, so we stopped again, and she didn’t go back again until she was 22, and now she is 28.
HelloBeautiful: If you had to choose one parenting mantra for yourself, what would it be?
Dretona Maddox: It would be that I’m okay. It’s something I used to tell myself every day. My kids are what you would call stair steppers. I had my first child at 19. When he was six months old, I got pregnant with my second child, two years later, I had my third child, and the others were adopted. I didn’t have parents. By definition, I am an orphan. My mother died when I was young, I didn’t have a father, my grandma died, and because I didn’t have parents, I didn’t know how to parent. When I was overwhelmed, crying, mad that my mother wasn’t there to teach me and didn’t know what to do, or if I wasn’t sure that I was doing the right things as a parent, I had to tell myself every day that I was okay. Still, to this day, I do mirror work and tell myself, along with other affirmations written on post-it notes, that I am okay.
HelloBeautiful: As someone who takes care of others in every aspect of your life, how do you take care of yourself?
Dretona Maddox: I take care of myself with a lot of reflection and self-care. Massages, manicures, pedicures, and therapy. Sometimes it still feels like work when I am working on myself, so I don’t know if I really get a moment to have off, but self-reflection and looking inward is something that I often do, and to me, it’s a way to nurture who I am as a person if I understand who I am. Since I didn’t really have an identity growing up because of not having parents, I spent a long time trying to figure out who I am. So self-care, to me, looks like a reflection.
HelloBeautiful: Are you working on any projects for 2022?
Dretona Maddox: Yes! I have two more films that I want to do! I am exploring this newfound skill of filmmaking. I am really enjoying it. I am enjoying the concept of storytelling; it is really intriguing to me, and after doing the documentary, I recently did, I feel like I have a couple more stories to tell through film. I am also currently looking at an opportunity to teach, be a professor at a college, and really build a membership platform for teen parent advocates.
To keep up with Maddox’s story, follow her on Instagram @DretonaMaddox.