There’s immense power in those who wind up with the worst case files in the foster system — power that sits heavy, filled with a desire to do something better than what is being done today. Stigma revolves around those with the heavy cases, winding us backwards to old habits rather than providing resources for our blooming. This was a problem for me when I was 16 and child protective services wanted permission to place me outside California, far away and entrapped in a level 14 facility. Those who were placed in a level 14 were stereotyped as “incapable,” an “endangerment,” and that stigma hung over my head whether I decided to make better decisions or not. Though I detangled my way out of being sent out of state, I was still left with a burnt pile of a case.
It was at the Children’s Receiving Home of Sacramento that I knew further action needed to take place and the system was a broken shelter. There was much drug usage. I witnessed miscarriages and fights — and was in a lot of those fights myself. But what I saw most was neglect, abandonment and hurt handed to us not from our birth parents but from the system that was supposed to be responsible for our wellbeing. As I looked around, it’s not that I felt alone, for I knew we had each other, but it’s that we were being fooled to believe that this would be our only point of potential. Eventually, social workers stopped answering our calls, and I knew then that I was going to have to learn to pave a new path.
I was the first in my family to graduate with a high school diploma. Amid the street running and nights in CPS offices, we did it. Prior to this accomplishment, I had taken up part-time jobs: paying ones, from Taco Bell to Subway, and non-paying ones, for design companies in the Sacramento area. It was 14-hour days of doing what I could to show that a “level 14” youth was extremely capable. I took off my hoodies and Adidas and fell into suits and dress shoes.
Soon enough, I had acquired a Sacramento public art commission in a location I had cherished for years. Sacramento Second Saturday events consist of art showings in the city’s midtown neighborhood where residents can absorb artistry. When I was 16, I would escape to these showings and occasionally visit a public art piece on 15th and K streets: a picture of Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat, two artists who have inspired me for years. The piece moved me, and I always felt a connection to that area. Fast forward three years, and 15th and K is the location I was commissioned to put my art piece. Understanding I was replacing a piece of art that changed me, I decided to try and replicate that feeling for future audiences. I wanted to represent the person I was at 16, so other youth who roam the “city of trees” can find the same connection. This piece is meant to show foster youth that finally we are getting noticed. Confidentiality hides a lot of who the system is behind closed doors, but this piece lets the world know that we are coming out.
Recently, after acquiring my first public commission, I ended up meeting the mayor of Sacramento, Darrell Steinberg, while volunteering at a warming center. I told myself that I might never again have the mayor in my presence, so I decided to say what I thought mattered. I stated I was in full support of the AB12 extended foster care program for youth who age out of the system. I told him how it’s helping me stay in college, take up internships and volunteer for my community. He said he was proud that I had accomplished these things as a former foster youth and, after a brief moment, offered me an internship in his office.
I just reached my tenth month working in the mayor’s office, participating as a former foster youth and forging a new era of our presence within political walls. Never did I imagine myself in this position just three years ago, crying to my attorney that I couldn’t continue going. It’s quite difficult to envision a better situation when you’re going through the worst experiences, but patience and passion can take us to places we’d never believe to be true.