“Your mother doesn’t love you. That’s why you’re in foster care!” she repeated for the tenth time; once a friend turned frenemy. Then a number #2 pencil flew toward me, nearly striking me in the eye.
I tried to remain calm, but I just couldn’t think. Her words and actions stung, and I immediately went to defend myself. Just a few seconds later, an older white male teacher ran out to tear us apart. He wrapped his arms around me. He was holding me back, even though I wasn’t the initial aggressor. My frustration rose. Before I knew it, I began struggling against his hold, injuring the restraining teacher in the process.
The following day I was called into the Headmaster’s office, where a team meeting ensued. The team suggested I receive expulsion for fighting. Then my heart dropped; the teacher who was hurt would press criminal charges. I just knew my life as I knew it would end right at that moment.
At 16, I was lost, back in foster care after living with my mother and facing a system that cared little about my siblings and me. I was being starved by my previous foster mother, and now, I would be sent to jail for protecting myself. I couldn’t go to jail, so I wrote a letter apologizing to the teacher, received an in-house suspension, and was sent to an alternative school on the weekends instead. The Barron Center is where the “bad kids” were sent.
There is a righteous rage that lives inside Black girls because we are expected to endure trauma, disrespect and hate while simultaneously being well-mannered and lady-like. When we do express ourselves, we are labeled as aggressive and rude. Black girls deserve the space to make mistakes and remain alive and cared for.
I feel so numb that Ma’Khia Bryant is dead. She’s dead because some police officer saw a perpetrator and not a victim. Ma’Khia was just like me: a foster youth, being bullied, who just wanted to protect herself. I refuse to watch the video. I know that Ma’Khia was bullied, that a group of people came to her house and attacked her. Ma’Khia’s sister believed she would be protected by the police, but instead Ma’Khia received four bullets into her body with no questions asked.
When Black children act out in response to trauma, they require a response other than being killed by the state. Foster care was supposed to be protective custody for Ma’Khia; instead, her body was slumped over in front of the house. She didn’t have a chance to defend herself nor her truth.
Today, I am a college graduate with both a bachelor’s and master’s degree. Ma’Khia won’t get that opportunity, or any other. I interned for former President Barack Obama, and I’ve spoken on national platforms and have advocated for better child welfare policies on Capitol Hill and the White House. Ma’Khia’s voice is forever silenced.
Ma’Khia did not get the chance to be the brave, intelligent and resilient Black girl she was destined to be. Instead, she is misidentified as an angry and violent black girl who deserved to die.
May is Foster Youth Awareness Month. Other contributors and I will shed light on the experiences of Black girls and mothers who are impacted by the foster care system. We hope the public will understand how the systems society has created perpetually fail Black women and girls just as they were intended to do. We must re-evaluate the systems that cause harm to black girls and their families. We must also re-envision and re-imagine a community-based approach that is equitable and sustainable. I want every Black girl to live out their full and best potential.