Survivor, Mother, Principal & Activist

Text by Maddie Hughes/
Photos courtesy Maddie Hughes

When tasked with finding a female leader in our community, I searched around to find one, and  realized that my own mother is a prime example. She has been a teacher for 25 years and an elementary school principal for seven. During our conversation we discussed the importance of being a leader in the community, being an activist and shaping young minds.

Jennifer Laughridge was born in 1971 in Jonesboro, Georgia. She grew up in this community and met her first husband at Jonesboro High School. They married when they were both 19 years old. Laughridge always wanted to be a mother and she gave birth to her first child, a son, at the age of 20. Her son’s name is D.W. Throughout her marriage she also gave birth to two daughters. The oldest daughter is named Ansley and the youngest daughter is me, Maddie. My parents’ marriage didn’t last long after I was born. They divorced a few months later in 1998.

Blonde woman holding a Dr. Sues book sits in chair reading to group of four elementary students sitting on floor of classroom
Jennifer Laughridge showing a Dr. Seuss book to a group children in a classroom. Photo courtesy of Maddie Hughes

My mother struggled to pay bills and raise her three children alone, but managed to graduate from Mercer University with a degree in Education. That same year she started working as a math teacher for her hometown school district. She continued teaching for the next 15 years and cherished the opportunity to leave a lasting impact on so many children.

“Being an influence in these children’s lives is a huge honor that I have been able to enjoy. For some of these kids, they could have a terrible home life and coming to school is somewhere where they don’t have to worry about those issues,” she said.

Laughridge went on to earn her master’s degree in Education Administration and accepted an assistant principal job in 2012. That was also the same year that she was diagnosed with skin cancer.

“Melanoma cancer are never fun words to hear. When the doctor told me that I had the worst form of skin cancer, the first thing I thought of was my kids.”

Laughridge’s kids were the center of her world. She would have done anything for them. While she was battling cancer, her son started struggling with substance abuse. She paid out of pocket to get him into rehab and therapy. Laughridge lost her first born when he was only 20 years old. She said then was one of the hardest times of her life.

“Losing a child is a pain I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Addiction is also a struggle that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemies. Watching D.W. struggle and knowing that I am doing everything that I possibly could ate away at my soul,” she said.

My Mother is a Survivor

After my brother’s death my mom began volunteering at Hugs Recovery, Inc., which helps people struggling with addiction or their loved ones find resources that they need to get them on their path to recovery. She volunteers as a phone assistant to this organization.

“Turning grief into something that could help others is one of my main missions. If by providing help to this organization, I was to reach just one person whose life could be changed for the better, then all of my work is worth it,” Laughridge said.

I am proud to call Jennifer Laughridge my mother. She is resilient and a survivor. She survived multiple cancer diagnoses and overcame domestic violence. She is a leader. She has been a principal in our community for over seven years. She is also an activist. The death of my brother inspired her to volunteer with local community groups that help families who are dealing with addiction.

But overall, her favorite role is mother.

“Mom is the best title I have every earned. Watching each of my kids, my own and the ones that I have taught, grow and become upstanding people is one of my favorite accomplishments,” she said.

Moroccan -Kennesaw GA women's project: Maddie Hughes portrait shot young woman with long dark brown hair wearing a a gold necklace Student Biography: Maddie Hughes is a senior at Kennesaw State University. She is studying public relations and crisis preparedness.

Women’s Leadership through Virtual Exchange: Youth Sharing Digital Stories (WLVE) is a project engaging 100 undergraduate and graduate students from Hassan II University Casablanca with 100 undergraduate students from Kennesaw State University in a unique cross-cultural virtual exchange experience focused on better understanding women’s leadership through research, analysis, and digital storytelling. This virtual classroom-based project will collect biographical stories of successful women leaders in both countries written by the students and publish them online on Bokeh Focus. 

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