Authors of Our Resilience

By Sarah Perry Johnson

Resilience is in

My resplendent smile

Imploring you to listen-

Come, stay for a while.

Resilience is in

My upright spine

Bent but not broken,

Fortified by the divine.

There is something sacred about resilience. Resilience is transformative in its power to create a compelling story and manufacture a new legacy. Resilience is characterized by an ability to “bounce back” in the face of challenging emotional and environmental conditions and serves as a universal resource that can be evoked in times of great adversity. Resilience is a quality that is intimately understood and richly experienced by the millions of foster youth who have endured the foster care system and survived. There are many young adults that exit state care and remain institutionalized in their minds, demoralized by their life circumstances, languishing within the confines of limiting and unfair stereotypes. Conversely, there are also many among this population that thrive, maintaining a sense of hope and transcending their adverse circumstances. My story falls within the latter category. I am a first-generation college graduate and the recipient of both a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology and a Master of Social Work degree from California State University, Bakersfield. I am also an alumnus of the foster care system.

At first glance, my story might appear to be filled with insurmountable obstacles. After my father’s untimely death, my mother began to anesthetize her grief with drugs, alcohol, and unhealthy relationships. Her chemical dependence caused her to forsake what should have been her first priority: the physical and emotional well-being of her children. Shortly thereafter, my sister and I were removed from her custody and placed in foster care. I was seven years old; I remained in state care until age 18.

Unfortunately, the foster care system does not always “foster” an encouraging and supportive environment for the children it has been entrusted with caring for. I had four different placements in the first five years. In some, I was targeted for relentless beatings and vicious verbal assaults. Following one particularly savage beating, my abuser told me that I was “nothing” and that I was “unwanted”. The conflation of placement instability, abuse, and stigma resulted in self-doubt, eroded trust, and depression.

Thankfully, we are much more than our circumstances, the “book covers” that seek to summarize our life and value. My resilience, in tandem with determination, scholastic aptitude, and a loving support system, helped me to overcome life’s challenges and thrive brilliantly. My first placement was with Mama Judy, a white woman from Texas who integrated my sister and I into her family and taught us that love transcends racial distinctions. My uncle and my grandmother maintained contact throughout our time in care and were our guardians in our final four-year placement. They saw past my adverse life circumstances to discover the articulate, intelligent individual that existed beneath the “foster kid” label.

Due to my experiences in state care, I possess the power of testimony and relevant scholarly data to bring foster youth issues to the forefront. Research has shown that children in state care have endured devastating traumas, such as neglect and maltreatment. These traumas are sometimes replicated in state care or exacerbated by placement instability and a lack of consistent guardianship. The insidious aftermath of these traumas is evident in the psychological, developmental, and adjustment problems that render foster youth objects of stigma, pity, and derision. Despite such challenges, many young adults in foster care display amazing resilience. Allies can enhance the lives of foster youth by eliciting resilience and facilitating empowerment both through traditional therapeutic interventions and by positive interaction that conveys love, respect, and unconditional positive regard.

The secret to personal resilience is the recognition of one’s power to become the sole author of his or her life’s trajectory. My difficult childhood taught me lessons that a schoolbook could never have conveyed; yet, my scholastic aspirations saved me from a desolate life. With relentless optimism, I battle stereotypes without anger and an upraised fist, but with compassion and an enlightened word. I represent the fulfillment of my fervent belief that if young people in foster care are given the necessary resources and are treated with unconditional positive regard, we can become the standard-bearers of resilience. We can become the citizens, the tastemakers, the industry leaders, the scholars, the AUTHORS we’ve always dreamed of becoming.

Resilience is in

My fighting stance,

My pen and paper complicit

In my transcendence.

Resilience is in

My “Standing Strong”

Knowing that resilience

Was indwelling all along.

Published on May 26, 2016 as part of Children’s Rights’ “Fostering the Future” campaign. The opinions expressed herein are those of the blog author and do not necessarily represent the views of Children’s Rights or its employees. Children’s Rights has not verified the author’s account.