Dyanna Sibert: Doing Good in Detroit

September 29, 2022

Dyanna was once bullied because of the color of her skin. As a biracial child, she wasn’t Black enough or white enough to fit in. “I spent the first 10 years of my life in a mainly white part of Flat Rock, MI, where the white girls used to call out my name and pick on me after school while I walked from the bus stop to my home,” she recalls. And things didn’t get any better after her family moved to a part of the city that was mainly Black. “The Black girls also made cracks about the color of my skin and the texture of my hair. They tried to pick fights with me, and I still don’t know why,” she says. But she does know that “it made me stronger.” And she needed to be strong as a single Black mom, like many of the folks she now serves as a family child care provider in Detroit.

The trials she went through made her empathize with the ordeals of the community members she now serves.” “I was a teenage mom who had little education and an abusive partner,” she recalls. “I was finding it hard to put enough food on the table for my children, and I had to hold multiple jobs to pay my bills. So, it was a good thing that my mother watched my six children. She dropped everything she was doing to help me out so I could go to work. Then, when my children began to go on to grade school, she took in other neighborhood children and made a living as a family child care provider,” Dyanna says.

And Dyanna made her own living by serving in the nonprofit sector where she could help those in need. Her jobs have included working as executive assistant to the CEO at Vehicles for Change, an organization that taught former prison inmates how to fix cars and then gave the cars to community members in need, Dyanna explains. “I received one of those cars and that’s how I met the CEO of the group and found that job” which was a double blessing. It wasn’t just a way for Dyanna to earn a living wage. It also allowed her to give back.

“I have a passion to help people,” Dyanna says. And she also fulfilled it by working in the education field at United Way. “I managed a project in the public schools to ensure high school students were ready to enter college or the workforce,” Dyanna explains. And she was committed to this work because United Way also helped her when she was a teen mom with poor prospects for the future. “I came full circle when I went to work for them,” she explains, “and helped to build paths for the high schoolers to succeed.”

While programs like this can make an impact, the foundation for success starts when children are in their tender years, so Dyanna began working with our youngest learners about five years ago. By then her six children had grown up and needed child care for their own little ones. So Dyanna followed her mom’s example and became a family child care provider. Her home is a warm, caring place where everyone calls her Nana, whether they’re part of her family or not. “I wanted to help my grandchildren and the children of others,” she says, “because it’s hard to find quality, cost-effective child care you can count on.”

Dyanna remembers how she struggled to find this kind of child care until her mom stepped in. And her experience working two or three jobs at the same time has shaped her approach as a provider. “I would get up at 4 AM to work an early shift, and sometimes my schedule would change. So, I make it a point to accommodate moms who don’t work 9 to 5. For example, I have a mom who has to work one day on the weekend, which means I work that day, too. Another brings her children to me at 12:30 in the afternoon and they’re still here at 9:30 at night. So, I basically have children with me nearly all the time. It isn’t easy and I’m exhausted when I go to sleep. But I do it because my mission is to be there for the moms,” she explains.

“I know what it feels like to need help,” Dyanna says. And her sense of empathy even led her to take in a young woman with two kids. “I bumped into her while I was downtown at an event with my husband, a retired grade school principal and teacher. After chatting a bit, we learned that the mom was homeless, and her children weren’t in school,” Dyanna says. “She needed a safe place to stay, so we opened our home to her for two months. The haven we provided to that mom allowed her to get back on her feet and put her children in school so they, too, could get back on track.”

It’s not always easy to be the child of a single parent, as Dyanna has seen. Besides the financial strains that affect them, the children may be subject to unkind remarks, like one of the little girls Dyanna has cared for in her home. “She didn’t have a father,” Dyanna says. “And one of the other girls kept asking her, ‘Where’s your dad? Where’s your dad?’—words that struck a delicate chord in Dyanna’s heart since they reminded her of the bullying she had gone through. So, she put a stop to all those questions about the absent dad. “I made it clear to the girl who was making the remarks that we have to pay attention to people’s feelings. We need to treat everyone fairly.”

And Dyanna knows how to get a message across, as she did with a four-year-old boy named Roman who began acting in an aggressive way and hurting the other children. She needed to make him understand that this wasn’t right, and she used a teddy bear to teach the lesson. “I told him the teddy bear wasn’t being nice, so we’re going to spank him,” Dyanna recalls. “I put the teddy over my shoulder and tapped him a few times on the bottom. Then I handed the teddy to Roman, who told the teddy it’s not nice to hit our friends because hitting hurts. He went on to hug the teddy and then hug the little girl he had hurt. As he rubbed her arm gently, he told her how sorry he was.”

It was a teaching moment on how to treat people right, Dyanna explains. And that’s her goal, especially when it comes to children. But she knows her sense of compassion isn’t enough to make her a professional in the early childhood field. So, she’s done a lot of research on conflict resolution and how to keep children safe, taken a lot of training courses, and is now working toward her AA in early childhood education. She’s also taken the courses to become a certified labor and postpartum doula, so she can be qualified to guide expecting and new moms.

All this ongoing learning is part of a long-term plan to build a business that would provide children with services from birth to third grade. It’s a goal she shares with her husband, and it would combine their expertise. “I feel like we cover all the phases of teaching and caring for children, him as a former grade school teacher and me as a certified doula and child care provider. “My husband and I want to expand in the education space, and we talk about it a lot,” Dyanna says. “It’s our dream to do even more for young children and parents in Detroit.”

It will take time to build the business, and in the meanwhile, Dyanna is committed to doing a good job with the children she now serves. “I feel blessed to be able to help the moms, and I absolutely love the time with the children. It’s a joy to watch them grow and learn,” she says. “Still, there are so many things that are going on in the world with children that it just breaks my heart,” Dyanna says.

Bullying is still a problem, and Dyanna hasn’t forgotten what she went through as a child. Though she has forgiven the girls who taunted her long ago, what they did has shaped her as a provider today. So, she’s committed to giving the children a place where they can feel good about who they are and help others feel good about themselves, too. “I want them to know they can come to Nana’s house,” she says, “to have fun and get some love while learning the rules for being nice.”


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