I believe that advocacy and mentorship are a heightened form of passion for something that moves you, but that thing has also moved you in your life.
Read that again.
During our Human Experience, it is an inadvertent responsibility to step in and provide support for those that are where you once were. Earlier this year, I attended a New Jersey Youth Council (NJYC) meeting, who operates under the Division of Family Voice. The NJYC is a sub council under the Division of Children and Families (DCF), formally DYFS.
I connect with abuse survivors by sharing my own experience in the foster care system to inspire them that life after foster care can be beautiful. I was that child that needed advocacy and protection and was grateful to have gone through the system before I was too old to be protected by DCF. I go into more detail about my journey in the foster care system in my second book, Taking Flight. Both books, Borrowed Wings, and Taking Flight, will be published in early 2024. For a synopsis of both books, please visit the Projects tab on my website.
I appreciate any chance to impact future generations in foster care and those involved in the system. Many survivors that end up in the foster care system are ashamed of their path and never speak their truth. At Spiritual Atlas, there is no shaming here. Vulnerability is one component of healing and connecting with others.
Here is a summary of my journey in foster care: At age fifteen, the NJ foster care system placed me because of neglectful and abusive living conditions at home. Because of moving home to home, I lost my credits for both sophomore and junior years. I yearned to finish high school on time and establish stability. After losing my “junior” year credits, I asked my DCF worker if I could stay in the shelter until graduation. She agreed with me. I turned on the tunnel vision, because I needed to figure out how to graduate high school on time.
I spoke to the other kids in housing with me and students I met in school to learn about my options. No one seemed to know of a way for me to finish school on time, which was in nine months. One morning, I noticed a stream of buses one day waiting to transport kids off the school’s campus each morning. I asked my new friend about it, and she told me the buses were for a nearby alternative school. The alternative school served students with behavior issues or special circumstances and had a flexible learning environment.
A light bulb went off. I thought to myself, I could use my orphan status to my advantage. My situation was a special circumstance!
I got lists of college prerequisites with the help of friends and my brother, since the shelter did not allot me access to laptops and cell phones. I used that to build my proposal on graduation timing. In September of my “senior” year, I proposed my idea to the judge covering my foster care case and the DCF team.
I walked through my requirements for graduation to apply for a biochemistry degree with my stakeholders. I emphasized the benefit of doubling up my workload at the alternative school so I could go to college. They accepted my path forward in DCF court. The judge & DCF made clear to me, however, that no one’s ever tried what I proposed.
The next day, my DCF worker and I marched to the alternative school to ask if I could enroll there. Because I could work at my pace and I had a jam-packed curriculum, technically three years or work, I knew that completion by June would be feasible. The school staff was ecstatic about my desire to complete my requirements and not enroll for being on bad behavior. Less headache for them, less headache for me.
For a few weeks, I still went to the regular high school for part of my day and went to the alternative school to catch up. It got to where they’d have me stay at the alternative school to finish all my work. Not only did I finish my requirements and graduate on time, but they accepted me into several colleges. I ultimately made the choice to study molecular biology and chemistry at Montclair State University.
As I wrote in my book Taking Flight, “This moment was the genesis of breaking the chains free from my childhood and walking through adulthood’s door.” To get a pre-ordered signed copy of Borrowed Wings or Taking Flight, visit the Shop tab on my page.
In one of the darkest times of my life, I exercised resilience and used my resources to pull through the finish line. When I moved into a dorm that summer for the Educational Opportunity Fund program, I walked across campus and found a view of the New York City skyline. There, I shed joyous tears in solitude because I knew the rest of life’s journey was in my hands. I knew that my Human Experience would be beautiful from that point forward.
I would dedicate myself to personal growth and happiness from college to my thirties. I still hold grace in my heart for all I have endured and live with no regrets.
If you can ever give back and can do so, be the mentor or advocate for others. I have received so much feedback from sharing my story, either through Yoni Circle, survivor circles, or on my platform. Many have told me that my story was life altering for many listeners, even in the smallest of ways. You may not think you are making a difference, but you are in everything you do, say, and portray.
I am appreciative of the DCF Youth Council for inviting me to talk about my experience in foster care and how I achieved resilience and success. After meeting with the DCF youth council, I attended the Adolescent Networking Conference to connect with peers who have shared experiences in the system. More to come on with my opening speech there.
Until then… thank you and namaste. Grateful is an understatement.