In my experience, I have come to realize things that are lost aren’t really lost. They have a place. While in foster care and after I got out, I felt like I had very little idea of who I was without the “titles.” Other people have tried to put “titles” on me such as “a failure,” “a statistic,” and “an incompetent Black youth.” I was looking for a place to fit in and an identity to form.
I felt my identity was shaped in 2016 when I got connected to YMCA programs. I thought it was just a gym, but, behind the scenes, it was a whole community of advocates who showed me it didn’t matter where you came from or who left your life. What mattered was the people who chose to be there for you, believed in you, and believed with you in the life you deserved. This finally gave me the strength to fight Anoka County because I had people behind me. Being involved in YMCA programs also made me trust to connect with Foster Advocates years later. I carried a lot of trauma from how the county treated me. I finally realized through my county experience that there are workers on the side of justice for all, not just justice for some or justice for who they think deserve it. Working with the YMCA was my first experience of being heard and not just listened to.
Foster Advocates showed and taught me how to back the inner voice I always had with vocals. This gave me courage to go after answers I needed for healing. It gave me courage to start speaking up for me and others. With courage and confidence, I could finally begin to use my newfound voice to do things like testify in front of the Minnesota House of Representatives! I had the opportunity to speak in front of a committee of House Representatives, alongside current and former Fosters, and anyone who came to participate in the movement to change the child welfare system. It felt similar to when I went in front of a courtroom that didn’t hear me in my case. In my past experience while in care, whenever I would come before the court and judge, I was met with ridicule and shame. Voices of judgment and wrongful opinions drowned out protests to speak on the choices that would affect my life.
But, during this moment, it wasn’t me I wanted the House to see. I wanted them to see and feel every experience from former and current Fosters whose stories sounded just like mine. Without that community and positive identity experience, I couldn’t have done that. I was not “a failure” or “statistic,” but an atmosphere changer, and a resilient and strong Foster. I had a whole community behind me. I was no longer walking alone, but walking with countless other voices who became one sea of powerful voices. I once heard the founder of Foster Advocates say something that has stuck with me: “They might say no to me but they can’t say no to us.”
I now have been able to have a sense of relief and freedom from expectations that the county and others put on me to not feel worthy and good enough for care or basic rights, or looked after long after getting out of foster care. I’ve seen Fosters that are still dealing with their broken inner child start to heal in community. We may be adults, but still dealing with what happened to us as children has impacted what we feel like we deserve around school, housing, help and care from others. We make the community we want. We’re able to come together and support each other. We could not do that if we don’t really know each other. I believe it is our responsibility to share resources and community opportunities with Fosters in our network. This is a high demand of those holding positive convening spaces, like Foster Advocates, where Fosters are centered and aren’t shamed for their identity. If these spaces had been available earlier in my life, it would have had a big impact on me. Since I didn’t have people behind me, it was easy for the county to dismiss me and my wishes in my case. But with community, we are able to carry each other, especially emotionally. I used to be ashamed of being in foster care due to the negative impact and people in my case, but I am so proud to be a Foster. I am proud to be part of a community filled with grit, resilience, strength, power, heart and so much more. While I felt lost for so long, I now feel strong. I want every current and former Foster to feel like this.