Mary J. Blige had it right went she sung about the "Strength of a Woman" and Quadira Whitehead, a mother of five, who raised her offspring in Newark, NJ, is the epitome of her words. She has committed her life to ensuring that her children—Quaheem, Tahir, Janavia, Dariq and Asher—are afforded the best opportunities that life has to offer in spite of their difficult surroundings. As a young mother, she overcame her challenging circumstances sought the fortitude and discipline that sports gave her children.
Whitehead's son Dariq, 17, was recently highlighted by EBONY as one of the top high school basketball players in the country and as a McDonald’s All-American MVP. The high school senior is committed to Duke University, where he will continue to hone his athletic, mental and academic dexterity. Her son Tahir, 32, played professionally for the NFL as a linebacker for the Carolina Panthers, the Oakland Raiders and the Detroit Lions.
EBONY spoke with the proud mother (and grandmama of 7) on the obstacles she overcame to ensure that her son Dariq and his siblings had the necessary opportunities to thrive in life and as budding athletes.
EBONY: Explain to us your path to motherhood and what it's entailed.
Quadira Whitehead: I was a teenage mother and had my three children at a very young age. I first became a mother at 14, then at 16, and again at 18. My mother and grandmother did their absolute best to provide for me; however, it was always important to me that I made a way for my children to succeed. One of the ways I was able to do that was by putting my kids into sports. Living in the neighborhoods that we were in, there are a lot of instances of fighting, stabbings, gunshots—moments where you have to stop drop and roll to safety. I was always worried about my children sitting on the front porch and being hit by a stray bullet. So I though that if I keep them involved in something productive, they won't have much time to get into anything negative. This ultimately paid off as my second oldest child is in the NFL and my other son is on track to play professionally. My daughter also was a cheerleader when she was younger. So sports were very important to keeping my kids positively involved.
I always say that with my oldest three children, we grew up together and raised one another. They taught me how to be a parent—as we all know that children don't come with instructions. You just do your best. However, I raised my younger two kids. By then, I had developed the tools to help them thrive by the experiences I had with my older children.
Being a mother of athletes, is there a constant pressure you feel to protect and shield them from the competitive, and at times, cutthroat sports industry?
For sure. I am a protector by nature. I always allow them to make decisions and value their opinions on what they believe is right. But, I strongly guide and direct them so that they don't veer the wrong way. Additionally, we come from a very competitive family. When you hear the Whitehead name, you associate it with competitiveness (laughs).
What has been the most rewarding feeling for you as a mother after seeing what you've overcome?
My greatest reward and favorite thing about being a mom is just being able to make things happen for my kids and see the happiness that it brings them. I'm that mother who just loves to please their children. My greatest accomplishments come from pushing them to accomplish things that they love and to face their adversity. It brings me so much joy.
What are some tips you have for mothers who are raising young athletes?
We have to protect our children and monitor them, especially as they seek to become athletes. Athletes who first enter the sports world are subject to so many opinions and differences in lifestyles; they will always need guidance. In the same vein, we have to also listen to them and learn how to read them, There is a balance in learning to do these things and being a source of support. Lastly, as the world becomes more unstable every day, as moms, we must pay attention to who we allow our kids to keep around as company. We have to do everything we can to save our babies from the negativity of the streets and raise them to be the bright, young people we know that they can be.