2020 Writing Contest 2nd Place: Unapologetically Connected 

I found poetry when I was in a dark space, words saved my life and gave me the ability to heal from trauma and be expressive without having to apologize to others. This poetic piece is influenced by the hundreds of thousands of foster youth and children in California and my own personal grasp on the word “family.”

Family is complex and our interpretation of the word is based on our growth, experience and acknowledgment. About two years ago I don’t think I could write to this prompt, but over the last few years I’ve grown to understand that family isn’t inherited, it can be chosen. We are not obligated to be family with everybody. In my African American family it’s often overstated that “we all we got” and “family is thicker than water.” I quickly learned that “we” is not all we have and the thickness of blood is nothing without the hydration of water. Over time my perspective on the meaning of family will change, but at this moment family means “creative definitions of family coiled in distance and triumph that is unapologetically connected.”

Family isn’t carved into normalcy,

Its disobedience defies odds,

Family isn’t a job,

You’ll do it without payment,

It a true, honest, never-ending connection,

Not always connected by DNA or court systems,

A system can never emulate something so organic!

But in that same statement family can look like dysfunction,

Not accepting of you, only payment,

Ugly and devious,

Continued cycles,

That is broken by those who refuse to remain in that unhealthy loop.

Family is like warm soup on a cold gloomy day,

Sun rays that pass your face,

It’s barbecues and cookouts,

It’s fights that end with laughter,

It’s a stable person that will never sway no matter the day,

time, gender expression, or mistake,

It’s something that can’t be broken because love has been cultivated from a strong place,

Family is love,

Unconditional and consensual,

You decide if you want to consent to accept and give love,

You are not obligated to be family with everybody,

Family is one of the highest forms of a relationship that exist,

It cascades friendships,

And steps into something that is written by two,

A family can’t be split by a system that refuses to value the importance of the two,

Siblings put in different homes,

Separate schools,

Children and youth waiting for a system to fix something for a group when they never walked a mile in their shoes,

I know siblings who walked miles just to give each other a hug because they refuse to be disconnected,

Their connection cant be broken because the system is,

I know a youth who went A-wall just to be at their brother’s graduation,

A milestone that cost him his placements

Some foster youth only know replacement,

Abandonment,

14-day notices and instability,

Because in foster care “family” come from a broken history,

According to stories written in our case notes,

Noted by those who cultures could never grasp the complexities of love from black and brown folks,

Family isn’t the social workers that check-in every 3-months to only go ghost,

It’s not the lawyer who writes your names on napkins as if we are disposable,

It’s not the judge who has seen thousands of faces and only know us by our case,

It’s not the foster parents that give notice of removal because they are going on vacation,

It’s the connection foster youth and children make regardless of the rules, court dates and being miles away,

“Family” always finds away,

I am Family,

I’m a daughter,

Sister,

Zaunty,

Cousin,

Best Friend,

Mentee and mentor,

I set paths that have not been carved by those who walked the path before me, I fight to make sure my siblings have it a little easier,

Role modeling,

Taking on the responsibility of beating down doors,

So when it’s their turn the door is open,

I’m a little more open to hugs because love can look strange to those plagued by the system,

My mother loved me without ever birthing air into my lungs,

My father provided for me as if I was carved from his loins,

My siblings and I love isn’t cemented in DNA,

The roles that my friends play in my life is an extension of my siblings,

My mentors are considered my big cousins, aunties, and uncles

Family chose me in the most unapologetic way,

Our connection is firm,

Our relationship is healthy, strong and beautiful,

Family to me looks like a daisy that has been watered in the month of May,

Family is someone who sends you clothes when yours was stolen, Answers the phone at 2:00 am despite protocol,

Our calls aren’t made by rules and regulations,

Family is patient, kind, and forgiving,

Family is a work in progress,

They lean on you or allow for you to lean on them,

Its contribution doesn’t feel like a task,

How much they give isn’t based on if the check was late,

The rules aren’t unfair because you’ve been coined as “foster”

To my mother and father, I’m just a daughter

They can’t comprehend the difference,

I’m human so what makes me so different?

The correct answer is nothing,

Family isn’t bathed in normalcy,

Attacked by the current presidency,

Breaking up same-sex families,

Because family is defined by lies.

Youth and children need safe homes and healthy relationships,

Not a system that motors gender identities and the sexual orientation of that healthy relationship,

Breaking up homes because of the sexual orientation of a relationship,

Limiting access to support despite not abusing it,

What is family?

It depends on who is answering it!

If you’re confused by the above line then I urge you to pay attention to politics,

The definition of family to youth who ask for it, Is different from those providing it,

We need separation of family and politics,

Because if you could legislate love that would solve broken and complicated relationships,

It’s not that easy of a fix,

But at least advocates are trying to fix it!

People fighting for a better system for those who think their existence is only written into statistics,

Your story echoes in workshops but it seems like nobody has fixed it,

Begging for answers but nobody will answer it,

Through all of your complications, you still love through connections,

Despite the hurdles,

You leap over roadblocks and break down buildings just to stay connected,

Family is resilient,

You have family out there you will never know,

And although our paths may never cross, you are not alone.

What is Family?

In the words of Kobe Bryant,

Family is everything!

-Poetry Knows

_______________________________________________________________________________

Christina Parker is an alum of California State University San Bernardino where ze received zir degree in Arabic Language, Literature, and Culture with a minor in Political Science. Ze will be attending the University of Michigan in the Fall of 2020 to pursue a master’s of Social Work with a focus on Public Policy. Christina spends zir free time inspiring others through art on zir Darkened Artistry Youtube Channel. Christina is dedicated to educating and supporting foster youth and child welfare professionals on foster youth needs, rights, and best practices.

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