They say you can know a person by the books they keep and their actions toward strangers. Upon walking through Makaba “Keba” Pierson’s front door, you know in an instant: a bible sits on the couch, hot tea steams in a kettle, food cooks in the oven. For Keba, faith, warmth, and hospitality are all things she keeps close to heart, and shares happily with those around her – even during the difficult times.
Born in inner-city Chicago, Makaba was one of eight kids raised by a single mother. As a child, she and her family moved often from house to house – a difficult “rollercoaster” for anyone, let alone someone who desired permanence and stability. “Stability for me has always been a must,” she shares. “I wanted something permanent – somewhere I could call home.”
At age 16, Makaba left home, and by age 24, moved to Bloomington with her older sister, LaTanya, hoping to find a renewed sense of permanence. After briefly leaving town to aid family, Makaba returned and was soon hired by the Monroe County Community School Corporation as a bus driver – the first African American woman to ever work in that capacity with MCCSC. To this day, she continues to work in that position, redefining what it means to be both a bus driver and a community member: “I am not just a bus driver. I really want to look out for these children.” On countless occasions, Keba has quietly used her own money to buy necessities for the kids on her route: coats, hats, gloves, school supplies, and even groceries. Listening to Keba, it is clear she does this not for the recognition, or for a ‘thank you,’ but because she intimately understands that “kids need attention – they need love.”
Having no kids of her own, Keba speaks about her desire and determination to create a safe and stable refuge for her family, especially her nieces and nephews: “Kids see you, so I want them to see me at my best. I work hard everyday, and I always have food ready for them to eat.” However, despite her resolve, a near-constant turnover of apartment management groups – three in nearly six years – as well as empty promises of long-needed interior improvements and remediation has made this dream of “home” difficult.
Enter Habitat for Humanity of Monroe County. After seeing her sister, LaTanya, go through the homeownership program and build her own house as part of Women Build 2019, Keba was then inspired to apply herself. While she had heard of Habitat long before – taking home a program application form from ReStore nearly 15 years ago – she had never attended a Homeowner Information Meeting until last year. With the support of her mother and sister – and the encouragement of God and her faith – Keba quickly filled out an application, and soon received a call she’ll never forget: “[My acceptance call] was one of the most exciting moments of my life,” she recalls. “I feel that joining the Habitat program has been the best decision I have made in my adult life. This has been an answer to my prayers.”
Keba has already been hard at work accruing sweat equity hours, and she is overjoyed to point out that taking homeownership classes has been a godsend. “There are things [I learned in Money Management] that I never heard of before in my life, so it didn’t come easy for me. But I have learned so much: to not only save my money, but to manage it.”
Now closer than ever to building her own home, Keba can only smile at the prospect of having a new place to engage with her family. “For me, I’m ready for stability: a place to call home,” she says. “I want my nieces and nephews to see that if Auntie LaTanya and Auntie Makeba can work hard and own homes, so can they.” She also expresses her awe when she remembers the experience of helping build her sister’s home during last year’s Women Build: “I was only there for one day, but that one day really did something for me. It’s touching to see how people give so freely of themselves, their time, and their energy, just to benefit someone else.”
Enthusiastic about beginning construction on new home – built as part of Women Build 2020 – she is perhaps most excited about being able to meet and thank the 400+ builders who will help her build her home: “I’m trying to learn ‘thank you’ in new languages so I can thank them in different ways every day.”
The Pierson family home is sponsored by Habitat for Humanity of Monroe County Women Build.