Determination Defeats Dysfunction
By Cynthia Robinson
Photography by Mike Force Photography
After more than a decade of helping troubled families, Angel Tatum continues to love her work, despite the long hours and sometimes heart-breaking circumstances.
“I know what I do is impactful,” said Angel, who is currently a family specialist at Thornwell in Camden County, a nonprofit organization providing residential, family and educational support programs, as well as a foster care. Before transitioning to that position less than a year ago, she was the director of foster care at Morningstar Family and Children Services in Brunswick. “I may be tired, but when I interact with families and children, it gives me energy. Advocacy is very important for the families we work with for them to be restored.”
She knows what the families she works with are facing – it was the driving force behind her decision to pursue a career in social work. Angel, the oldest of four, grew up in inner city Chicago with a drug addicted father. “It was a challenge. My father was heavily addicted to crack cocaine. Although my mother didn’t use drugs, people came to our house to use,” she said, adding that before his death, her father was able to get clean.
Although her childhood was chaotic, there were moments of brightness and normalcy, thanks to other family members. “As weird and dysfunctional as my childhood was, I did have some great experiences and lots of grace in my life. I did know I wanted to help others get out.”
But before she could help others, she had to find her own way out. “I was pretty messed up, but never got involved in drugs. I saw what they did and was determined to not let that happen to me. I always knew there was more out there. I wanted something more for me and for my children.” That something was following her strong faith in God and pursing an education in social work so she could not only carve out a career, but help families like her own. After graduating college, she began working as a social worker and eventually became a foster care program supervisor at ChildServ in Chicago.
While her career was moving forward and working in area ministries, Angel felt she needed a change of scenery. “I had lived in the inner city my entire life, and I didn’t want to raise my kids in that environment.” So, in 2007, the divorced mother of four packed up her children in a minivan and made the long drive to Brunswick.
“It was a move of faith. There was a ministry here (Greater Works) that I wanted to be part of. One of my cousins attended church there and something stirred in me.” That leap of faith paid off. Not only did she become involved with Greater Works’ ministry, she also started working at Morningstar, a non-profit that provides foster care, residential and mental health services to children and their families. Wells Kilgore (COO of Morningstar) didn’t know me, but gave me a chance,” she said. Not only did she get a job there, she was also instrumental in forming the organization’s foster care program.
“When we first moved here it was a real culture shock,” she said, laughing, but she and her children soon fell in love with the Golden Isles warm weather and slower pace.
She also discovered she could help more people by founding her own non-profit, Liberated Y.O.U. (Your Own Uniqueness), where she puts on conferences and programs in the community. During these events, such as “Women Unleashed” and “Pillow Talk and Pajamas”, Angel and other speakers offer advice and share their own stories of survival. “I have a passion for empowering people. I primarily work with women and girls,” said Angel, who now attends and volunteers at Rhema Community Church. “I had low self-esteem from growing up in poverty and being around my dad’s drug use. I was also raped at 13. All of it snowballed into making poor decisions. I want to help other women and girls make good decisions and to heal.”
Angel also hosts a Facebook Live talk 8 a.m. show each Sunday with Angel Hines called “Joy in the Morning.” “We talk about everything—parenting, dating, current events—all from a Christian perspective. It’s a lot of fun.”
If all that along with her full-time job wasn’t enough, Angel still provides therapy services at Morningstar on the weekends, as well as part-time crisis work at Gateway. “Having two kids in college is quite motivating,” she added, laughing.
Although her work and volunteer schedule don’t leave much room for anything else, Angel knows she is doing exactly what she was meant to do. “It is challenging. Seeing some families going down the wrong path breaks your heart, but the work is so important. I get a chance to help people change their lives. These families don’t need pity. They need to be respected and empowered. They are so resilient and so strong. I know I shouldn’t be sitting here, but I am. And they can come through it, too.
Education: Bachelors in psychology from the University of Illinois; Masters in Human Service Administration from the Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership; Masters in social work from Savannah State.
Children: Sons Shaun, 21; Malik, 20; and Eric, 18; daughter, Zion, 15. Shaun and Malik graduated from Frederica Academy and now attend college. Eric is a senior at Frederica; Zion is a sophomore at Brunswick High School.
Time Off: Watching her favorite TV shows—“This Is Us” and “Blackish.”