Each year we ask our readers to nominate the special mothers in their lives for our Awesome Moms Contest. We are always overwhelmed to read about the incredible women living in Oklahoma City. We have recognized three great ones with prizes from our generous sponsors and highlights in our May issue. Read about the winners here:
Winner: Charifa Smith
The day I met Charifa Smith at Starbucks for this interview was the day her first daughter, Sage, would have been 10 years old. Sage was diagnosed with a heart condition before she was born and died at just two days old. The graceful way Charifa handled the situation was one of the countless reasons her Mom, Carla Clark, nominated her in our Awesome Moms contest.
“My Mom has seen me go through a lot,” Charifa said. “She’s seen me being there for my children and she sees that strength as something that should be celebrated.”
After the loss of Sage, Charifa went on to open (and later close) a restaurant named after her first daughter, have three more daughters and become a volunteer and advocate for a handful of local organizations. Charifa is an attorney, a philanthropist and the executive director of the Federal Judicial Learning Center and Museum in Oklahoma City’s Federal Courthouse.
But Charifa’s most important role is her role as a mom. She and husband Kevin are the parents of Addis (8), Ellis (6) and Harper (5). Charifa jokes that having three daughters under the same roof feels like “a slumber party every night” and I can tell by listening to her parenting style that she’s as much about having fun as she is about discipline and education. Among the things that make a mom “awesome,” Charifa said, are being nurturing and available, but also spontaneous.
“I want my children to enjoy their life and enjoy being a kid,” she said. “Someday they will be grown up and life might not seem as much fun. I want them to have fun now.”
She knows how to have fun with her kids, but losing Sage was a defining moment as a wife and mother.
“We grieved and we grieved hard,” she said of herself and her husband after Sage died. “We really came together during that time for each other. And once the other children started coming, we really just wanted them to be healthy. It gives you perspective. It’s not about gender or what they look like. You have a healthy, beautiful child.”
She admits that after Sage died, she was excited to have more kids as a way to cope with the extreme level of grief.
“I thought it would heal my heart,” she said. “You just think, let me have another one and I’ll feel better.’ No. I completely love and adore my children now but they would never replace what I’ve lost. It just doesn’t go away.”
When Charifa talks, it’s obvious that “mom” is her favorite title, but her resume includes plenty of others. Before moving back to Oklahoma City 10 years ago, the Millwood High School graduate attended Spelman College in Atlanta, worked for American Express in New York, graduated from law school, completed a foreign exchange in South Africa, worked for the United Nations and the Council on Foreign Relations and attended the University of Oxford for a time.
Although she never thought she’d end up back in Oklahoma City after all her travels, she adores her community and is an active volunteer. She’s on the board at John Rex Elementary School, the Foundation for Oklahoma City Public Schools and Freedom School and the president of the Oklahoma City chapter of Jack and Jill for America, a national membership organization for African American moms.
She admits she didn’t always have a passion for non-profits but having kids helped her realize how she could use her own talents and abilities for others.
“Once you become a mom, you look around and see there are other ways to contribute,” she said. “You have that voice and that purpose.”
Next page: Our finalists.
Finalist: Keri Snyder
Every day at school drop-off, Keri Snyder repeats her mantra: “Kind words. Kind thoughts. Kind actions” to her 12-year-old son Benicio. She reminds 4-year-old son Christopher to check on classmates who seem upset. A fifth grade math and science teacher at Northmoor Elementary School in Moore, Snyder interjects “kindness matters” lessons to her students, too, modeling it herself in regular visits to the special needs classroom, volunteering with Special Olympics, calling students after school to praise responsibility and responding to parental concerns anytime day or night. She encourages her sons and students to be leaders whom other people want to be around.
Snyder was nominated in our Awesome Moms contest by Terrisha Harris, who said Snyder sets the bar for providing stellar education, guiding parents and teachers toward a united goal of success. In the classroom and as a PTA liaison, Snyder encourages parents to communicate consistently with teachers and engage with their children in class projects, daily reading and math fact practice. She displays that unity and engagement with her own parenting team: her husband James and ex-husband and Benicio’s father Eduardo Ortega. Though managing that relationship post-divorce was challenging at first, they put Benicio first by listening to each other and communicating every day.
“Benicio needs to see us working together and being supportive of him together,” said Snyder.
Snyder encourages her sons’ independence and values honesty in their relationship, with no topics off-limits to discuss. She believes that in life, success can’t be attained without effort.
Leading by example, Snyder was actively involved in the historic teacher walkout in April. Teaching with 12-year-old textbooks in a classroom perpetually smelling of mold, Snyder said dwindling accountability in students’ homes translates into a lack of respect in the classroom. Despite daily challenges, she is grateful for the support of her school and community, believing fervently in her life’s calling to impact students’ lives.
“Every morning I think, ‘this is a new start and these kids are going to get the best I have to offer,’” said Snyder.
As a parent, when Benicio first reads a book or Christopher identifies the letters in his name, she feels a deep appreciation for the teachers who’ve helped foster their learning success. When she sees a former student going to college or hears the multiplication table song she taught still helps a student during high school math, her resolve is strengthened. While advocating at the Capitol, Snyder repeatedly thought of one student with special needs. In second grade, difficulty communicating resulted in anger and frustration. Now in fifth grade, he can express when he’s upset, trusting she will work with him to fix the problem.
“The mountains we have climbed!” Snyder exclaimed. “He’s why we need funding. There are services he and other students like him need that they aren’t getting.”
Snyder has lived on the same salary for 10 years, and for her, it’s not about a raise but rather ensuring public education has adequate funding every year.
“I want my students to look back and remember that their teachers fought for them,” Snyder said. “We are teaching them to stand up for what they believe in.”
While passionate about school and community involvement, Snyder prioritizes family time. She finds joy in playing with her boys, strengthening their faith in God and teaching them they can accomplish anything. Her determination to love her boys for who they are, through successes and failures, comes from her adoptive mother.
“The only woman I have ever called mom was my biggest cheerleader,” said Snyder. “She made me feel wanted. She was my champion.”
Finalist: Tasha La Shel Miles
Tasha La Shel Miles’ high-powered career as a weapons systems logistics officer at Tinker Air Force Base involves managing a worldwide supply chain for F15 and F16 fighter jets. The self-proclaimed “serious one” between she and husband, Hezekiah, her extroverted nature and zest for life shine when helping others. In a home filled with dancing and music, Miles loves being a silly, goofy mom to Elijah, 14, and Jeremiah, 12. A master at creating family fun on a budget, she orchestrates cooking lessons, card games and backyard campouts. She believes those are the experiences her boys will remember.
“I want to teach my boys to find contentment in every circumstance,” said Miles, who strives to emulate the life she wants them to lead.
Miles was nominated by friend Mae Burge, who said accolades in Miles’ career, involvement with community events like Opening Night and Festival of the Arts, ongoing care of aging parents and in-laws and active monitoring of her sons’ social media accounts launch Miles to Super Mom status. Miles’ greatest challenge transitioning into her boys’ teenage years has been the prevalence of technology.
“I think it makes children adults too fast,” said Miles, noting when access is revoked, her boys get creative, reading more, drawing and taking up origami.
As her sons mature and gain more independence, she often reminds them of a favorite Bible verse from Proverbs 4:23: Guard your heart above all else for it determines the course of your life.
“What you put in your heart comes out of your mouth,” said Miles. “Not that they can’t ever hear adult dialogue, but they have to protect their heart, mind and spirit. More God. Less of the junk.”
Miles limits her own social media usage to minimize the “mom comparison game.” Real-life relationships with the like-minded moms in her cooking club are crucial to her well-being. They rely on each others’ strengths to shore up areas where they feel weak, helping each other through the various phrases of their kids’ childhoods.
“We have deep conversations about feeling inadequate or disappointed,” said Miles. “The truth is, we don’t really know until [our kids] get out of the house if we did a good job or not. That’s daunting.”
Also vital to Miles are her “sanity checks.” Though she used to feel guilty about taking time for herself at a poetry night or in a boot camp, she began to realize when she’s not, she gets impatient and rigid with those around her. At work, as the director of her church’s Vacation Bible School or at home, she delegates to keep herself from getting stretched too thin.
Miles gets a charge from letting her silly side show at VBS each summer, where she loves dressing in character and leading dances and chants. In addition to helping strengthen her students’ faith, she encourages public speaking through scripture memorization and leading pledges. Grateful to her mom for her own speaking proficiency, she hopes to impart lifelong confidence to the kids she leads.
Miles’ husband said in leading by example, she pushes those around her to be better versions of themselves, like going back to school to earn her master’s degree, following a calling to teach children about God and not taking herself too seriously.
“My boys see me pray and praise God and sing,” said Miles. “I want them to look back and know that I was supportive and that we had a lot of fun.”