In my last post, we heard Foster Youth Alliance (FYA) friend Ashley McCullough’s thoughts on effective advocacy.
In this post, FYA Communications Manager Melinda Clemmons chats with Sade Daniels another inspiring young advocate. Daniels describes how she instills hope in the young people she works with, and her thoughts about AB 12, a California law that expanded foster care to age 21.
You would think anyone could see it. The crowd that had gathered in support of foster youth at the FYA Walk Around Lake Merritt in 2006 certainly couldn’t miss the light shining from Sade Daniels, who performed a spellbinding poem she’d written about life growing up in care.
She was 17 at the time, participating in the Real Alternatives for Adolescents Program (RAFA) at the Bay Area Youth Center (BAYC), preparing to apply to colleges. She believed then in possibility, and felt herself to be on the cusp of great things. It hadn’t always been that way.
“The assumption is that I’ve always had this mindset that I was going to make it but that’s not the case at all,” Daniels said. “When I was younger, I had no expectation that I would go to college.”
At age 5, living with a grandmother she loved despite the fact that she kept a padlock on the refrigerator door, Sade taught herself to read by watching Hooked On Phonics.
“All I wanted was an escape, and books gave me that,” she says. “Barnes and Noble was Utopia for me. I got a piece of what life could be through books. I just didn’t think it was possible for me.”
Sade left her grandmother’s house when her mother got sober for a brief period during Sade’s 8th grade year. When her mom relapsed, she entered foster care, and was placed in a group home.
“By the time I was in 9th grade, I was going through struggles in the group home, and I couldn’t put up with struggles at school, too, so I would skip and go straight to Barnes and Noble, and read all day.”
What did she read? Everything. “Science and religion and self-help books. A lot of poetry. I’d read a haiku, and then sit down and write one.”
Immersing herself in literature in the aisles of a bookstore, Sade says she still didn’t see education as a possibility for herself.
“You would think that the way I loved learning, I would have loved school but I never did. School was never a nurturing place for me,” Sade said. “From kindergarten up, it literally took me being kicked out of school, then dropping out, to finally meet an educator invested in my education. My teacher at Independent Studies was the first person to show some actual compassion about my life. Before him, no one saw a light in me so I didn’t believe I had a light.”
At 16, Sade entered the RAFA Transitional Housing Placement Program. “I got a lot of support there, and that made it a lot easier.”
Now 25 and with a Bachelor of Social Work degree from Philander Smith College under her belt, Sade is a professional who is sharing that same compassion and support with the young people she works with in her jobs as an on-site residential advisor at BAYC/Sunny Hills Services and as a youth advocate at MISSSEY.
“When you have nobody believing in you, it is so easy to believe you’re not meant to be anybody,” Sade said. “The hardest thing for me to relay to young people is ‘it’s a choice.’”
It’s a choice, she says, and it takes time. Although her Independent Studies teacher told her when she was 15 that she could go to college and set about helping her get there, it wasn’t until she was 17 that she began to believe it herself. “We’re doing a dual education with young people. My teacher showcased that with me. We have to teach how to survive, sustain, and maintain; math and reading plus compassion.”
Writing nearly every day since she was 11, Sade says her writing helps her “feel regular. Not necessarily happy but just regular.” Her readers devour her stories on Facebook, asking for the next chapter before it’s finished.
“I love that!” she says. Plans to turn it into a book are in the works.
She also has a large and growing group of fans keeping up with her performance schedule. Last fall, she won first place in Spoken Word at FYA member Beyond Emancipation’s Beyond Idol contest. She recently performed at the 25th anniversary celebration of California Youth Connection’s Alameda County chapter, and has been the keynote speaker at multiple conferences around the state.
Asked how she feels about AB 12, Sade says: “I am so appreciative that it passed but we need to make sure that extended foster care doesn’t just avert homelessness for foster youth at 18 but that those extended services between 18 and 21 help youth develop the skills so they can avert homelessness after age 21.
“I teach youth: ‘if you’re not doing any type of future planning, you are doing your future planning even then. If you’re not planning something that will help you sustain in the future, homelessness is still very possible.’ We need to instill skills as well as hope.”
What’s next for Sade? More writing, more performing, and a return to school for a graduate degree, possibly dual degrees in social work and law. She’s applying to universities around the country for the fall of 2014.