PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A North Philadelphia woman is defying the odds. Despite childhood homelessness and incarceration, she recently spoke at Harvard and is sharing her story in an online documentary produced by KYW Newsradio.
“From Barriers to Building Blocks” tells the story of Mary Baxter also known as “Isis tha Savior” – a thirty something college student and hip hop artist who rose from a life that included youth homelessness and incarceration to one comprised of speaking engagements at Harvard and on Capitol Hill.
“It’s just been amazing just non-stop,” she says, “my life is really coming full circle.”
Born to a schizophrenic mother, Baxter’s childhood was rough. She spent time in and out of shelters and had run ins with the law. But her mother, despite her mental health issues stressed education. So after graduating from Ben Franklin High School, Baxter says a DHS social worker dropped her off in Happy Valley with a trash bag filled with her belongings to begin her freshman year at Penn State University. She was 17 years old.
“And needless to say I wasn’t too successful,” says Baxter, “I had no mentorship, I had no family. It was just me trying to feel my way through the dark.”
Baxter eventually dropped out of Penn State and ended up on the wrong side of the law. Eventually, she did time behind bars where she gave birth to her son while shackled to a bed. Fast forward, Baxter now uses music as both therapy and empowerment. She joined forces with national names like Senator Cory Booker and CNN’s Van Jones to push for federal legislation that would add protections for incarcerated pregnant women. She also recently received a $20,000 Right of Return grant to share her story.
“I’m so excited to be a part of this fellowship,” she says, “because we served our time and we have a right to return to society and be embraced by society and contribute to society.”
Baxter spoke at Harvard University last month and on Capitol Hill pushing for human rights for women in prisons, gaining national attention. She also speaks out about homelessness in higher ed.