KUAE KELCH MATTOX
Issue No. 50
Montclair, New Jersey
Words: AdeOla Fadumiye
Visuals: Jennifer Currell
Kuae Kelch Mattox has a solid sense of direction and a strong grounding that’s refreshing to encounter. It has served her well as a journalist; a mother of three: Teddi (17), Cole (15), and Evan (11); and as the national president of Mocha Moms, Inc., a national, nonprofit support organization for mothers of color. Mattox has been full of purpose since she was a child growing up in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Back then she was certain of two things: She wanted to be a journalist and she wanted to be a mother.
“I had the benefit of two wonderful parents [and] I grew up in a household as one of three kids,” Mattox says. “Singing, writing, drama, and poetry were celebrated in our home, [as well as] being a parent and having children.”
Mattox’s love for writing took her to the classrooms of Howard University where she earned a degree in print journalism in 1987. After graduation she worked as a reporter, first as an education reporter with the Miami Herald and then as a producer-in-training for The Oprah Winfrey Show. “For a young journalist who was just starting out,” Mattox says, “it blew me away.”
As someone who had “the grand notion of being a Pulitzer Prize winner,” working in television was an unexpected path. “I had no plans to work in television until I received the opportunity with The Oprah Winfrey Show,” she explains, “but it jump started my broadcast journalism career. I learned quite a lot. I worked long hours, worked with different producers, and also brought Oprah her coffee and her water with lemon. Some of it was humbling, but I saw it as an opportunity to take another path.”
In 1990, she moved from Chicago to New York City with her fiancé Ted Mattox, founder of Black Forest Multimedia, a multimedia production company. (The couple met in 1986 and married in 1991.) Mattox moved forward in her broadcast career, working for several networks and shows including ABC News before landing a position as an associate producer at Dateline NBC, where she stayed for five years.
Though Mattox’s professional and personal life were hitting new highs—it was while she was at NBC that she and her husband found out they were pregnant with their daughter, Teddi Noel—she would soon face a major tragedy that would affect the course of her life.
“My mom passed away on December 13, 1997 when my firstborn was 9 months old,” Mattox says. “It was a devastating blow for me and for my family. It was completely unexpected; my mother was 60 years old [and] had a number of medical complications. [She] eventually passed away from pneumonia.
“I made a decision that was contrary to what people [expected],“ she continues. “I knew I wanted to spend more time with my children. We can be here one moment and we can be gone the next.”
Two years later, during her maternity leave with her son Cole, Mattox and her husband discovered they could survive on just one salary. “The fire I used to have as a journalist was also fading,” she says. “It was becoming more and more important to me to be a mother and to focus on my children, and not as important to be a journalist chasing the next story. I began to think maybe this is my window to take some time out from my career to focus on my children and to strengthen them.”
However Mattox’s decision was met with eyebrow raises from friends and family. ”This was an uncommon choice in the African-American culture,” she says now. “Our mothers and grandmothers worked. It was not a choice in our community. The path to economic empowerment and success has always been through work. But my thinking was, ‘My career will always be there, but my children will not always be young.’”
Mattox left her job at NBC, and her family moved from New York City to Montclair, New Jersey, a 12-mile journey out of the city. And while the family settled in to their new home, it wasn’t easy for Mattox to go from working mom in the city to suburban stay-at-home mom. “I don't think I realized what I was getting into,” she says now. “I was excited to stay home, but I had no idea I was essentially stripping myself of [an] identity that had been a huge part of me.
“For many years, I was Kuae the journalist, I was Kuae who worked at NBC, and I was Kuae who worked at The Oprah Winfrey Show,” she continues. “This was very important to me, but I did not understand how important it was until I took it away. There was a part of me that missed being [the] high-profile journalist and [having] intelligent conversations with people at NBC News, but there was also a deeper sense that this was where I needed to be. This was where my children needed me to be. It was an honor to know that my husband could pay the bills [so I could] have the opportunity to focus on my children.”
As Mattox went about town on her daily routine, she saw other mothers of color at the supermarket, at Barnes and Noble, and at the Little Gym. “I would wonder if they were going through the same things I was going through,” she recalls. “I realized being a stay-at-home mom can be lonely. I wanted to talk to other moms and ask them questions like, ‘[Am] I the only one whose child was not sleeping through the night?’”
Her quest for community led Mattox to Mocha Moms, Inc., a national nonprofit organization that supports mothers of color who have modified their employment in order to spend more time with their families. The national nonprofit didn’t have a chapter in her area, so Mattox founded the Essex County chapter in New Jersey in 2002.
“We had 10 members when we started—all the women I had met as I ran errands around town,” she recalls. “We met once a month, and it was profound to hear their stories. This was a new frontier for so many of us, but we understood the importance of sticking together.” Mattox held a number of positions within Mocha Moms before becoming its national president in 2010.
Now that her youngest child is middle-school aged, staying home for her children doesn’t have the same urgency. All of Mattox’s children are accomplished athletes and students with a schedule that have them running in and out the house for school, lacrosse tournaments, and plans with friends.
Mattox has taken the opportunity to get back into the workforce, “to get back to the work I know and love,” she explains. “My experience has made me a better journalist. I bring to the table life experience that will net more stories, more contacts, and also a depth to writing that I never had before.”
Along with her duties as the president of Mocha Moms, she’s now a full-time news editor for 72point, the PR division of SWNS, the United Kingdom’s largest independent news agency, which has an office in New York. “I have never worked in PR before 72point, but I am learning quite a bit,” she says. “There is something very exciting about uncharted territory and learning new things.”
The same could be said about motherhood and raising children. Interrupting her career for more than 10 years was worth the opportunity to stay home with them, she says. “I have three wonderful kids with kind hearts, and I do think I see the fruits of our efforts in the young adults they are becoming.
“It’s been a fabulous journey,” she continues. “In giving birth to my children, I gave birth to me. I gave birth to a person I did not know existed.”
Read on for our one-on-one conversation with Mocha Moms’ president Kuae Kelch Mattox.
Kuae Kelch Mattox
Issue No. 50
MONTCLAIR, NEW JERSEY
Kuae Kelch Mattox left her high-profile media position at NBC in New York City for the suburbs of New Jersey to raise her three children, Teddi (17), Cole (15), and Evan (11), along with her husband. But, she tells mater mea, after more than 10 years of being out of the rat race, she's ready to bring the lessons she’s learned back into the workforce.