This essay was submitted as part of our 2019 Youth Voice Writing Contest, which asked current and former foster youth the question “What does home mean to you?”
As a foster youth, I have been in multiple group and foster homes. I used to dread going home because I knew my foster parents didn’t have my best interest at heart. I felt like a disposable object in foster care, and I was lonely because I had no one I could depend on. I knew the only reason I had a roof over my head was because of the paycheck my caregiver received on a monthly basis from the county. I had zero sense of self-worth.
After living in my first group home, I realized that being soft wasn’t going to lead to anything but emotional and physical pain. I buried my emotional and mental instability deep inside me and attempted to pick up the pieces of my life. I immersed myself in my school community to avoid the pessimistic environment I lived in. Eventually, I realized that putting my problems in a backpack would weigh me down.
Therapy was my breakthrough. I learned a lot about myself and strategies I can utilize in my daily life that can help change the negatives into positives. My whole life I’ve been told that I am verbally aggressive, but therapy helped me discover that aggressive was just a label. Today, I use the words strong and assertive to describe my communication methods.
Therapy has helped me become a more conscious person — I am now able to motivate myself to continue marching and become the best version of me, even though I came close to withdrawing from life itself. I realized that crying about the problems I was facing wasn’t going to make them go away, it was just going to make me incapable of focusing on my goals. For me, the overall outcome has been the creation of a more guided, stable and culturally aware young black woman.
No matter what I have gone through, I know the only thing that can stop me from accomplishing my goals is myself. Today, I embrace the fact that the only way I can achieve greatness and grow as an individual is through persistence and affirmative action.
As I developed into this new person, I became aware of the difference between a house and home. A house is just four walls and a roof or any place of shelter, but a home is something more significant. A home is necessary because it fosters the environment needed for healthy relationships. If one cannot participate in healthy relationships, they are bound for failure internally and externally.
As human beings, we yearn for collectivism on many different levels. The “looking glass” theory of self by Charles Cooley supports the idea that humans develop their self-image based on others’ perception of them. Not having a community of support damages youth like me mentally. Not being in a healthy mental state leads to irrational decision-making and vulnerability.
It can be difficult to understand the true significance of a home until you have been without one. Many say “home is where the heart is,” or a place where you can truly be yourself. However, I don’t long for a stereotypical version of a happy home, because I discovered that a home doesn’t have to be a physical place. To me, home is a state of peace, progress, happiness and acceptance.
A state of peace is a mentality that removes negative energy like stress and anger. A peaceful mindset is thinking in an optimistic manner. I obtained my positivity from my negative personal experiences. In other words, there is nothing more beautiful than the rainbow after the storm, and these traumatic experiences I’ve been through were my thunderstorm. Now I let all of the negativity roll off my mind like water; I’ve decided to control the energy that affected me to maintain my personal peace.
A state of progress is the understanding of personal responsibility for one’s life. I decided I was not going to go down the pessimistic road I inevitably faced in the foster care system. I claimed full control of my life.
A state of acceptance is allowing yourself to be unapologetically you. I realize my self-worth and have created my own definition of beauty intellectually, emotionally and physically. I developed the confidence needed to take risks and pursue my dreams. My struggles were the pivotal points that transformed me into the woman I am today.
No matter how vigorous the external environment is, as long as I’m in a state of peace, progress, happiness and acceptance, I am at home.
Mckayla Shelton is a former foster youth attending San Diego State University as an integrated marketing communications major and an Africana studies minor and plans to pursue a graduate degree next.