Meet Cameo Faust.

At 36, she’s a general manager at an Atlanta-area McDonald’s. It’s a job description that means Faust is responsible for the operation of the restaurant and in charge of helping to build a team of employees to help the business flourish.

Her career at the restaurant chain started 12 years ago because, like so many grade-school dropouts, there weren’t many other choices.

But Faust’s story is a little more complicated than that of an individual who failed at or simply quit school because she didn’t care or wasn’t motivated enough to earn a diploma.

Ten years before getting the job, Faust had her first of seven children at age 14 — barely older than her own mother, Shirley Randolph, was when she had Faust’s older brother at 12.

Like Randolph, Faust didn’t stop at just one child.

“By the time I was 15, I had twins, plus the baby. At 17, I had four kids, and then I had five by the time I was 18 and, finally, by 26, I had seven,” she said, unapologetically, naming them in range from the oldest to the youngest — Jasmine, Markiesha, Marcus, DeMarcus, Sparticus, Sparkle and Joshua.

Anyone not knowing Faust’s story certainly could question why someone who was essentially a baby herself would haphazardly gave birth to one child after the other. For Faust, however, she was simply and desperately trying to fill a void that continued to widen with each and every perceived putdown from her mother and each and every moment she longed to feel the love that she said had been missing all of her life.

“My mother would always be fussing at me, telling me not to wear a head rag or not to do this or to do that, always so mean and I didn’t want to listen to her,” Faust said. “I’m having these kids to have someone to love because nobody ever loved me.”

Although she continued in a relationship with the father of her children, Faust knew that a life of struggle — not knowing as much as where the next meal would come from — wasn’t ideal. After all, she didn’t want her children to suffer as she had.

The proverbial lightbulb in her head beamed on as the town’s water company came along and turned off her water, Faust said.

“I was dating my children’s father and one day the water got cut off and I asked him what were we going to do,” she said. “He looked at me, told me that he didn’t know what I was going to do but that he was leaving.”

Stunned, the unemployed Faust showed him the door.

“I just got tired,” she said. “I told him that he could go.”

With five children, no money, no job, no high school diploma, and a paltry $367 monthly welfare check, Faust began pounding the pavement.

“I kept walking up and down the street for about three days,” she said. There were a lot of fast-food restaurants and I would walk up and down every day asking for a job. I stopped in at McDonald’s near Riverdale Road and the one guy I asked if I could apply for a job and he told me to come back the next day.

“I explained that it took me an hour to walk here but he said I should come back. I kept coming back and he’d tell me to come back again and again. I was tired, but finally I was hired as a crew person,” she said.

At first, the job only added to Faust’s problems. She had five children alone at home, with the oldest just 10 years of age.

“I had my oldest watch the other children even though I also had an infant and a toddler in the house,” Faust said. “I know it was dangerous, but I couldn’t allow my kids’ father to come back. I’d walk back and check on them when I could and I made sure that they had three meals every day.”

A neighbor would also occasionally peek in on the children to ensure that all was well, she said.

“It was all about perseverance and I didn’t want to be on welfare anymore, so I did what I had to do,” Faust said.

Realizing her lack of an education and the heavy responsibility at home, Faust worked diligently at McDonald’s, beginning to earn promotions within the company.

Ironically, she said, she was inspired by Randolph, who had given her such a difficult time.

“My mother had dropped out of school and then she went back at 24 and she didn’t want me to follow that same pattern, but I didn’t listen,” Faust said.

After speaking with her siblings, Faust also found out something else.

“My mother pushed me to be better than her, that’s why she was so hard on me. She loved me,” Faust said, now voicing and embracing a newfound sense of excitement and self-worth. “And my mother finished school and, although she has died, she’s really my role model.”

Faust is now enrolled into school and taking courses at McDonald’s famed Hamburger University, recognized by the American Council on Education as the only academically accredited restaurant in the country. Through a company program, employees can transfer as many as 46 hours toward a bachelor’s degree, certificate program or associate’s degree.

“I have tried to leave McDonald’s but I love McDonald’s and all that they’ve done for me, but I still want to let God to take me higher,” said Faust, who aspires to become an entrepreneur and a motivational speaker.

Her children have followed her lead and have done well, too, she said. Three have graduated high school and have found post-grade school success — including a daughter who’s attended historically black Clark University in Atlanta.

Her 17-year-old, DeMarcus, is on pace to graduate high school at the same time that she is next year.

“I didn’t want me and my kids to always have to settle and I was determined that, no matter how many kids that I have, I can do it,” Faust said. “I’m not on food stamps although it’s still hard, but it’s better and I’ve still got my children. Now, me and [DeMarcus] are in a competition to graduate before the other does. I worked and do my homework all night so that I may have a chance to graduate in December instead of waiting until next year when he graduates.”

The National Newspaper Publishers Association — made up of more than 208 African-American owned publications across the country — salutes McDonald’s for offering career advancement opportunities for their employees, said NNPA President and CEO Benjamin Chavis.

“The success story of Cameo Faust in Georgia serves as an inspiring national example that millions of young single mothers should view as proof that social challenges can be overcome,” Chavis said. “Cameo’s career journey personifies self-empowerment with grace and elegance.”

Faust said she has been able to successfully break the cycle that’s plagued her family for generations.

“I’m a grandmother at 36, but my daughter didn’t do like my mother and have a child at 12 and she didn’t do like I did and have the first child at 14,” she said. “She was 19, and although that’s still young, it’s a big difference. It broke that cycle.”

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Stacy M. Brown is a senior writer for The Washington Informer and the senior national correspondent for the Black Press of America. Stacy has more than 25 years of journalism experience and has authored...

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