Speak with Ivory Morris today, and you might see a soft-spoken woman whose gentle demeanor belies the resolve just below the surface. Her benign outward appearance has served her well. It allows her to quietly observe the lay of the land, assess challenges and opportunities and work toward achieving her goals.
Her goals are often centered on helping others, such as when she volunteers time as the president of the University of Phoenix (UOPX) Hampton Roads alumni chapter or helps the homeless in her community. Other times, her goals are professional, like earning her associate degree and bachelor’s degree as she strove to enhance her career prospects.
But before any of that, her goal was just to survive.
“My father was abusive,” Morris explains, “so we grew up in an abusive household where he was beating on our mom. And [the woman] who was supposed to be our babysitter was his girlfriend. So, we got to be in the midst of all that.”
Her mom left when she was about 5 years old, which meant her father’s violence fell exclusively on Morris and her siblings. She recalls going to school with bruises and begging her teachers to not send Child Protective Services (CPS) to her house unless they’d actually do something about the situation.
CPS came anyway, and the beatings continued until Morris was about 12 and finally removed from her father’s care. “We went to live with my mom, and my mom did not know how to deal with us, because by that time we were so broken.”
Her mom was also broken. She’d developed a drug addiction and wasn’t fit to parent.
Meanwhile, Morris, still a child herself, found out she was pregnant. She delivered her son when she was 13.
“People look at a 13-year-old having a baby as a negative thing, but my son was the only thing that saved my life,” she says. “There was nothing else that was worth living for.”
Perhaps this transformative love is when Morris’ steadfast commitment to children was born. She is devoted to children — her own, her community’s — and their well-being. But that commitment was challenged when she and her son were living in foster care after being taken away from Morris’ mother. By the time she was 19, Ivory successfully petitioned for custody of her son who’d been separated from her for six or seven months, and they moved to Arizona.
Soon, Ivory had her own apartment and focused on raising her son while making a living. Her parenting method was as direct as her communication style: “I tried to do everything that my parents did not do and tried to avoid the things that they did do.”
Her method worked. “He didn’t get the best mom while he was growing up,” Morris says of her oldest child. “But he did have a good mom. He had a mom who understood that she didn’t want him to be subjected to abuse. That change was necessary. That learning more about behaviors and mental health was necessary. That being better was necessary. That constantly improving and absorbing information was necessary. So, he got a good mom.”
Morris’ drive toward constant improvement led her to UOPX, where she earned her associate degree in business and her bachelor’s degree in human services management. (The latter program has since been retired.) The journey wasn’t easy. At first, she was told no grants were available to her, but she refused to take no for an answer and found one especially for foster kids and parents.
“My idea was to have this be the trailer that kids can come and color and play on,” she recalls. “When we first brought that, everybody was like, ‘That’s a terrible idea. It’s ghetto. Why would you want to drive around with a white trailer?’ And I’m like, ‘Because I know what I want. I want the kids to be able to color while their parents wait for their food.”