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Jasmine Bryant

Jasmine Bryant is an unstoppable champion for her community and family. As a young child, Jasmine’s family made the move to Knoxville in search of a better life. The transition came with its set of hardships as her family was temporarily homeless, but during this time Jasmine learned about the importance of volunteer work. Jasmine fondly remembers Ms. Becky, a caseworker from a non-profit organization, that taught her key life skills during her stay at the shelter. In her adulthood, Jasmine pays back the generosity she received as the co-founder of the non-profit Women with Vision. Through her organization, Jasmine conducts research on historically disadvantaged communities and is currently collaborating with the United Way of Greater Knoxville to conduct surveys on early educational development. 

In addition to her volunteer responsibilities, Jasmine is a single parent to three kids and a caretaker of her disabled mother. Being a mother means everything to Jasmine. “You don’t really know true love or true responsibility, until you have children”.  Her love and dedication have cultivated intelligent, active children. Her 12-year-old son plays football and wants to become a pediatrician; her 13-year-old daughter plays basketball and loves to sing; and her 8-year-old daughter plays basketball and wants to be an architect. Despite whatever challenges that the family is confronted by, Jasmine states that “We try to embrace each other and love one another. I feel like that’s going to make them good humans in the world.” 

Jasmine has a strong desire to advance her community and make the dreams of her children come true, but the lack of jobs in the Knoxville area that pay a livable wage has been a major barrier in reaching her goals. Juggling her responsibilities as a full-time caretaker has also made it difficult to find flexible work. That is why federal public benefit programs are so important in addressing income and resource disparities. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as Food Stamps, has been instrumental in helping low-income families reach financial stability. Without SNAP, families must choose between buying food or paying important expenses like rent, utilities, insurance, medication, etc. “Having food stamps gives me the ability to buy fresh fruit, rather than eating canned foods,” Jasmine explained.  

In September 2023, Jasmine was scheduled for an interview to recertify her SNAP benefits. She waited all day for the phone call to arrive, but to no avail. In the coming days, she spent hours on the phone trying to connect with a caseworker to reschedule her interview only to be told that she just needed to wait. Unfortunately, Jasmine was one of the hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans who were dropped due to a new computer system that the Department of Human Services (DHS) had implemented over the summer. After not receiving any communication from DHS, she went to the office to reapply in early October to prevent a lapse in benefit. But despite her best efforts, she lost her benefits and would have to spend months figuring out where her family’s next meal would come from.  

During one of her trips to the Knoxville County DHS office, a security guard provided Jasmine with the contact information of the Tennessee Justice Center as a potential avenue for help. She immediately reached out near the end of October. After hearing her story, TJC contacted DHS to make the request that they process her application quickly and provide her with an interview. Federal regulations require that DHS process applications within 30 days of submission. After going three months without benefits, Jasmine was finally approved, and her benefits were backdated. When asked about what TJC’s work means to her, Jasmine states, “It really does mean the world. You feel like you must give a sob story to state agencies, or they hang up, or are rude to you. But with TJC, the people believe you. I can't thank y’all enough. It means a lot that you advocate for the little people.”  

Following the closure of her case, TJC connected Jasmine with a reporter from the TN Lookout to share her experience with the SNAP backlog. Jasmine had the courage to be vulnerable and talk about the obstacles she had to overcome to feed her family, especially in a state that has stigmatized the use of public benefits.  But her advocacy did not stop there. She became aware that many of her friends and family were going through the same issues she was experiencing. Jasmine immediately referred at least 10 people who needed SNAP assistance to TJC, contributing to the unprecedented uptick of cases in early January 2024. For Jasmine, it’s simple to understand why equitable access to healthy food should be a priority for everyone, “When you have good balanced meals, it makes you feel secure.” 

Jasmine is more than just a caregiver and community champion. She is a determined, intelligent, and resilient woman with an array of interests. When she is not advocating for the people around her, she is trying out new and challenging recipes. She has a penchant for understanding the historical factors that lead to inequities in her community. To that end, Jasmine is working towards becoming a certified Community Health Worker through a program offered by the Vanderbilt School of Nursing. Tennessee Justice Center is proud to honor Ms. Jasmine Bryant as a 2024 Mother of the Year for her championship of equitable food access and for advocating on behalf of her community. 

Photography by Fran Cliff

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