Youth Voice Writing Contest 2021 — Finalist, Essay
Inspiration can be elicited through insecurity. If we are considering Merriam-Webster’s definitions of inspiration and insecurity, inspiration is defined as influencing an exalting experience or motivating the ability to do or feel something. Insecurity is defined as not being adequately sustained or a lack of protection. In this context, insecurity is used to describe the lack of access or lack thereof in regard to basic necessities such as food, housing, familial support, financial support, health care, education and more. While there are several examples of how insecurity can elicit inspiration, I can only speak to my own experiences. As an individual who has encountered the foster care system, juvenile justice system and homelessness, my insecurities brought about inspiration for myself and my surrounding community.
I was 11 years old when I entered the foster care system. My mother, who was my primary caregiver, lost her ability to parent effectively. She was dealing with being a single mother, taking care of six children, financial struggles and immigration hardships, which essentially resulted in substance use, poor mental health and an inability to parent. We lost our first real home in 2010, and that’s when my entire family became challenged. We found ourselves residing with my older sister and her husband.
First, I was placed in the Denver Health Medical Center’s psychiatric ward, and was soon transferred to an all-girls residential treatment facility. I was removed on the basis of a suicidal attempt after I had called the police on my family for their violence against me. The second time I was removed was about a month after I was placed back home with my family. My sister’s husband had been sexually assaulting me for almost a year, and when I finally spoke out against it, I was separated from my family and placed in the Family Crisis Center. I stayed in the Family Crisis Center for about a year because the majority of my family resides in another country and the family I do have in the United States were either ill-equipped to raise a teenager or simply did not want to get involved. After being released from the Family Crisis Center at 14, I went back and forth between family members, kinship care, foster homes and even homelessness.
My experience in the foster care system and being separated from my family brought about familial, financial, educational, social and housing insecurities. The child welfare system was more interested in keeping me away from my family as opposed to reunifying us and providing us with resources to overcome our challenges. As a child in foster care, I never had money to pay for my needs or wants. This prohibited me from engaging in several school or social activities. Each time I was removed from somewhere and placed somewhere different, I lost community, friends and support systems, and more importantly, had several gaps in my education. Due to moving many times and dealing with poor case management, I found myself in vulnerable situations such as couch surfing, residing in temporary placements or homelessness.
While some synonymize insecurity with terms such as weakness, deficit, hardship and detriment, I synonymize insecurity with inspiration. My foster care experience was one of the most challenging times I encountered in life, but it inspired me to be the resilient person I am today. For instance, the child welfare system’s inability to reunify my family pushed me to find ways to maintain those relationships. This inspired other foster children around me to look for their own families or rekindle bonds with their family members. I inspired hope, courage and motivation to keep families together for foster youth, and for practitioners in the child welfare system. Stories like mine have inspired policy change, being that there is a heavy focus on family reunification and rehabilitation now. The lack of financial support inspired me to begin working at age 11. My financial insecurities from the past still inspire my work ethic today, to where I may have multiple jobs at once or a sturdy savings account since graduating from high school.
The lack of having a social network and overwhelming gaps in my knowledge is probably what inspires me and my surrounding community the most. Being separated from supportive individuals each time I was removed and replaced inspired my value for community building and social networking. It allowed me to create the family I always wanted and yearned for. I can recall countless embarrassing moments when my high school counselor said things like, “You’re missing this course, you never took this elective, how did you get this far without taking geology?” I can count many times when I was beyond lost in a course because I had not taken the prerequisites due to high school mobility in the foster care system. It was not the embarrassing moments or feelings of not being good enough that inspired me, it was the lack thereof that inspired me to further my education, prove all the people who doubted me wrong and fill in all those gaps in my knowledge. Because of my educational inspiration, I was able to graduate from high school at 16 years old and inspire not only foster youth but my surrounding community to invest in their academia, further their education and push their limits.
I had just turned 15 years old when another one of my sisters had failed to protect me as a child. We had gotten into an argument that turned into a physical altercation, due to her feeling very strained from taking care of me and my siblings. I tried to remove myself from her home because I was extremely tired of the constant insults and feeling like I was burdening her and her new family. My sister became very upset because she felt as though we didn’t appreciate all the sacrifices she made. She began taking back all the items she had ever bought for me. She proceeded to bag the rest of my belongings and throw it in the wet lawn. She was screaming all of our business outside, and publicly embarrassing me. When I asked her not to treat me or my belongings that way, she asked me, “Or what?” while pushing me. From there, my sister, her husband and I were in the midst of a physical altercation. I ended up busting out her front yard window because I had felt so defenseless and helpless to where that was the only way I felt like we could be even.
With my experience in the foster care system, I knew that was exactly where I was going, so I ran. About two hours later, the police had arrested me with charges of assault and battery, and destruction of property. When I tried to explain my side of the story and receive justice for the violence I had endured, the police looked me in the face and told me it was the adult’s word over the child, the parent’s word over the child. As a result of this, I was once again homeless, facing criminal charges that were detrimental to my character and future, and had to face consequences from the court. My charges were never dropped, I completed community service hours and I had to pay back the damage costs for the window. This was the second life-altering event that inspired me to change my life for the better.
I never thought I would end up in the juvenile justice system as a criminal or perpetrator, therefore this experience was quite destructive for me. I remember being 16 years old and thinking, “Will I let this moment define me or will I define this moment?” Ultimately, I chose to define the moment by allowing this experience to inspire me to keep going. People viewed me as young, a criminal, poor, unintelligent, naïve and always predicted my life outcomes to be devastating. People used foster care, immigration, poverty and people of color statistics to define my future. When the whole world was telling me no, you can’t, you won’t, it’s impossible, the chances are slim to none, I used this as inspiration to prove everyone wrong. These negative insights and experiences inspired me to invest in my future, and inspired me to inspire others to do the same.
My inspiration has been facilitated through insecurity. All the tragedies I endured and lack of stability inspired me to work hard for every last thing I have. Being homeless inspired me to work hard, save all my money and move out of my foster home as soon as I turned 18. Not having financial support to enjoy simple things in life inspired me to save all my money to purchase a car and be financially independent. Being in foster care inspired me to beat all of the deficit statistics. Encountering the juvenile justice system inspired me to enroll in higher education and obtain my bachelor’s and master’s degrees. All of my insecurities have inspired me to break generational curses, be independent and inspire others to not let their insecurities define them, but to define their insecurities. Inspiration is not always the person who gives grand gestures or our typical societal hero. Inspiration is the person who’s had to be resilient, face their hardships, surpass their struggles and establish their own milestones. Inspiration is the person who built everything from nothing. Inspiration is me, and I am inspirational!