//Shaker African American Mothers Support: Connection and Community

Shaker African American Mothers Support: Connection and Community

Parenting is a challenge, no matter your circumstance. Shaker resident Kim Harris founded SAMS to help.

By Sharon Holbrook
SAMS founder Kim Harris

SAMS founder and Shaker resident Kim Harris. Photography by Jason Miller

Each period in life has its challenges. During ordinary times, the main challenge for many of us is busyness – that feeling that we’re being pulled in too many directions and just can’t do it all.

When Shaker Heights resident Kim Harris was a young single mom, life was full just keeping up with the day-to-day. “I didn’t participate in many school events other than conferences. I worked two jobs, struggling to keep it together,” says Harris, who has lived in Shaker for 30 years and has three kids, ages 29, 13, and 11.

After later becoming a stay-at-home mom – and now working full-time again, as well as being a PTO leader and involved community member – Harris can relate to mothers in many different circumstances. Recognizing this, she and a small group of other African American mothers decided to reach out to those moms who are sometimes left out of the loop or who seemed to be missing from PTO and other school-oriented events. And so, four years ago, Shaker African American Mothers Support (SAMS) was born.

SAMS’ mission is to offer community and connection to all moms. “We often are misunderstood to be a group that is only interested in helping and working with black mothers, and that is incorrect,” says Harris.

In typical times, SAMS is out and about in the community. Last summer, a signature event was the SAMS Walk and Talk in the Van Aken District on Thursday evenings, which festively combined exercise, getting to know Shaker neighbors, and learning about the businesses in the VAD. (Walk and Talk will return as soon as community guidelines allow.)

During the school year, SAMS has hosted events such as the Mothers Walk, in which mothers tour the Middle School, do yoga, and learn about people and community groups in Shaker.

Outreach to students is also key. “We are very proud of our tutoring program at Lomond Elementary,” says Harris.

During the pandemic, when students were out of school, the SAMS-founded Little Free Libraries (LFL) at Boulevard and Lomond schools, and the newest one at Hildana Park, were thriving, often filling in for regular access to school and public libraries. The Hildana Park library in the Moreland neighborhood was the result of a partnership with the Friends of the Shaker Library. And last summer, SAMS hosted an event at Hildana Park. (Watch the video below.)

Kim Harris and her sons

Kim Harris, and her sons (L-R) Christopher Cunningham, Jonathan Martin and Damion Cunningham.

“We welcomed families from all Shaker neighborhoods to check out the park’s renovations, while encouraging neighbors from various neighborhoods to mix,” says Harris.

When SAMS can’t bring people together in person, the support still continues. Sometimes a mother might need someone to talk to about navigating a difficult situation with their child – or, in times of social distancing, just talking about anything at all can be a needed lift.

Shaker institutions and community leaders have given SAMS a warm reception in the years since its founding – Harris mentions the mayor, the schools, MyCom, the libraries, the police department, and others. “I often refer to them as my Shaker family, because that’s the feeling I get while working with them. I think it really shows the commitment Shaker has to inclusion and how it is dedicated to equity efforts.”

As community life opens up again, Harris encourages all Shaker residents to get involved. “Again, I would like people to know that SAMS is a group open to all,” says Harris.

“When you hear about a SAMS event, we want you to mark your calendars and join in with the intent to meet someone new and enjoy the company of a neighbor. People can check our website at samsmoms.com for upcoming events or email sams.moms1@gmail.com for more information.”

Originally published in Shaker Life, Summer 2020.