Rosemary Oglesby-Henry: 'Teen parents can learn to be leaders.'

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We sat down with Rosemary Oglesby-Henry on a chilly day in January. After some confusion on our meeting location, I rushed across town from Withrow High School to Mount St. Joseph, but I was quickly brought to calm with her presence. She has a peaceful demeanor about her and can make you laugh in a moment with a simple story about her Bible and her son, Qua'Ron.

Rosemary is the founder of Rosemary’s Babies Co., a nonprofit providing support for teen parents and families. Here’s her story.

Interview by Katie Gravely. Photography by Angie Lipscomb.

Tell me a few tidbits about yourself.

Tidbits! I love the same snacks that I loved when I was a kid: Sour Patch Kids and Mountain Dew. You will always find those somewhere around me, even in board meetings. Another tidbit: I hate to be called Rosie. You can call me Rose, but don’t call me Rosie. What else? My favorite thing in the world is sleep. I love sleep, because I don’t get enough of it.

Who is Rosemary and where did you grow up?

I grew up in Avondale – I’m a Cincinnati native. Just last year, I went on my first flight out of Cincinnati. When you’re a teen mom, you can’t travel, so my entire life I focused on my kids and family and always put them first. This is the first time in my life I’m able to do things for myself… I graduated from Withrow High School when I was 17 and a mom. I’ve worked since I was 15 years old.

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I’ve always been an old spirit, so I never played much. I’ll be 40 this year and I don’t know what it means to just let myself go and be free, because I took care of my family and that’s what I know. By the time I was able to get a tad bit of freedom, I made this decision and it turned out I became a mother, so, what childhood? I don’t know a life of being irresponsible because I always had to be responsible. I don’t know a life where I wasn’t shopping on clearance or budgeting because I had to be a mom at 16 and was living on my own at 17. I tried to go to college and that didn’t work out because bills hit.

I’m blessed to say I’ve never really worked a job that was below minimum wage or at minimum wage, which helps a lot when you become a young mom. I got a job at the post office when I was 19 and hated it. I was the youngest person working there, and I had never known sexual harassment the way I had to learn it going through the post office. I never knew discrimination the way I saw it there. I learned so much being a kid there, but at the same time, working at the post office gave me the opportunity to give my kids a life that was different from my own. My daughter didn’t have to walk past the neighborhood drug dealer. My daughter doesn’t know a life where her father is on drugs. My daughter doesn’t know a life where her father is an alcoholic. She never had to see what I had to see. If I was able to shield my daughter from that by working a job for 15 years that I hated, I would do it all over again.

We’re at Mount St. Joseph today. Why is this location significant to you?

I never had a place that made me feel like it brought me peace. You asked me to choose a place and I was thinking, “Well, I don’t really want to go back to Withrow, because that’s where I became a teen mom.” I thought about Mount St. Joseph because this is where Rosemary’s Babies was born.

I wanted to be able to help them in a way that nobody helped me.

I transferred here in 2006 with my associate's degree from Cincinnati State. I was here for a year – life happened like it always did. I remember coming back in 2012, and my daughter was going to graduate in 2014 and I thought, “Before she graduates, I gotta get my degree.” I had 26 credits left, and my daughter encouraged me to get back in school and finish. I came back and was on the Dean’s List every semester and knew that there was something greater for me.

There was a teacher here that said I shined in my business classes, so she told me to go into the masters [program]. I didn’t have the belief in myself that I was that smart. She literally took my hand and dragged me through it. It was there that I got into the master of science and organizational leadership. We had to create this integrated project and I was like, “I’m going to spend two years investigating and researching a project; why not let it be my own?” So it was in the master’s program that I created Rosemary’s Babies.

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What is Rosemary’s Babies and what’s your mission?

It’s funny, because Rosemary’s Babies wasn’t always a nonprofit. My vision was so broad because all I knew was, “I want to help teen moms.” I wanted to be able to help them in a way that nobody helped me. I also wanted teen moms to understand that they don’t have to go on welfare; they don’t have to stay in income-based housing; they don’t have to allow the things that other people say to them change them or change the trajectory of their life. They don’t have to be embarrassed because they made a choice – not to just have sex, but they made a choice to be a parent and lose their childhood in the process. I wrote all that in my outline, and my teacher came back and told me, “Hey, you’ll be at 200 pages writing this out.”

She helped me refine what the mission was, and as I walked through the program, I turned from an introvert to an extrovert. People don’t believe that, but if you talk to people I was in the program with, they’ll tell you I’d go into class and not talk to anybody. It was through this program that I actually learned how to be a leader and how to communicate effectively.

You need people who tell you the truth, root you on, and inspire you to be great.

I went through all of this stuff having to take care of my family; I didn’t know that was called resilience. I didn’t know that when I told my nieces and nephews, “You can do it,” that it was empowering them.

Teen parents can learn to be leaders. Leaders are not just born; they’re also made. That was the first question they asked us in our masters class: Are leaders born or are they made? I think they can be made at any age, but we have to make the choice.

I graduated with this business! It was my first sense of accomplishment. It wasn’t an accomplishment for my kids. It wasn’t an accomplishment to show my nieces and nephews that they could do it. It was something for me. My bachelors was for my daughter, but my master’s degree was for me.

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So it started off as a business; how did it turn into a nonprofit?

I actually met this guy in 2016 when I was on a walk. I was going on a walk with my sister-in-law, and we stopped in Hyde Park at McDonald’s. There was this older man named Gale Smith, and he was talking to my sister-in-law about health. He asked me, “What do you want to do?”

I’m so used to answering by saying, “Oh, well, I just got this degree last year.”

And my sister said, “Rosemary’s Babies!” Gale told me to give him a call and that he wanted to help. He called me to his office, which was at W.L.W.T., and he gave me a number to a guy at SCORE. They sat me down and said that Rosemary’s Babies is not a for-profit business; it’s a nonprofit. He outlined it for me, and I told him I’ll see him next month.

What I’ve found is that there are so many people that come into your life who are angels.

In a matter of 30 days I had my 501(c)3 and my articles [of incorporation]. I had everything, and I had this great person, Gale, rooting me on. What I’ve found is that there are so many people that come into your life who are angels. They walk into your life to help you find your path and get you there; that was Gale. Before I had my first fundraiser, he passed away. We actually have an award called “A Good Man Too,” and we named that in honor of Gale because I’ll never forget what he gave me. I often quote him because he used to say, “The secret of living is giving,” and he lived by it.

What’s the day to day like for Rosemary’s Babies?

I’m the owner of a nonprofit that just turned two – what don’t I do? We provide three services of support now. The first is 24/7 confidant care – you need people who tell you the truth, root you on, and inspire you to be great, and that’s what a confidant is. We provide that 24/7 through social media. We did that because a lot of people talk about meeting teens where they are, and they don’t. We wanted to be able to meet them where they are, and they’re on social media. Teens have contacted us for car seats; if you call our organization and need a car seat, we’ll bring it to you. Confidant care can also be just listening – parents, kids, teen dads or moms, whomever.

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Then we have our Leadership and Legacy program that was funded last year by United Way. I don’t believe that any teen wants to be a parent at 13 or 14. I do believe that when you’re out here and you have sex because someone else was doing it, or you’re watching social media and it’s cool to do, it’s a decision you make, and I want to know why. There’s trauma there when you become a parent overnight. We wanted to be able to provide trauma-informed care. [Many] teen parents end up being second-time teen parents, so we implemented behavioral modification – we don’t want you to continue to have babies because it makes it harder to get out of your personal situation if you continue. We’re not against you having kids, but just wait. Our program is set up to where we text back and forth. You have an accountability partner.

Finally, we just launched something this year. He’s called Levi the Leadership Lion. We wanted to focus on the child of the teen parent. When I started to do some research, there’s Barney, “Sesame Street,” and now, there’s Levi. Why can’t Levi teach these kids? He can have fun, teach, and bring in income. We want to be able to remain financially stable. … Levi teaches STEM, leadership, and communications. We’re working to create a book, too. My brain never stops, so when you asked me what I do, what don’t I do?

Do you have an inspiring woman in your life?

When I was on my way here, I was trying to think, “Who inspires me?” The thing is, I’m inspired by so many women, and I take a little piece of each one and put it all together and that’s what helps me grow. I just met Stephanie Byrd, regional CEO of the Red Cross [of Greater Cincinnati and Dayton]. She says I inspire her, but she inspires me! I talk to people like Angie Lipscomb, who is a phenomenal photographer and has this gift and insight, and she can see beauty through a lens and create something out of nothing, and that’s inspirational in itself. Then you have people like my daughter, Jaliah, who is taking on the next generation in our family and helps others unconditionally. She’s the best part of me. It’s a compilation of all these women; it’s the plight of womanhood that inspires me.

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