My story is not typical of children who enter the foster care system. My mother was 15 when she had me. We grew up together, her mother raising both of us, in the Los Angeles projects once known as Aliso Village.
I did not suffer horrific family tragedy; on the contrary, we were a very close family showered with love and affection by my grandmother. I lived with them and my two other cousins in a one-bedroom apartment, all of us sleeping in the same king size bed.
While my grandmother was caring for me, one of her kids was secretly selling drugs from that same apartment that we shared. I came home from school one afternoon to find that she was being evicted. The apartment had been raided in a drug bust, and my grandmother was arrested.
And so I was placed into foster care at age 11. The first home I was in seemed nice from the outside, but the other foster children and I were treated like outsiders. Our dinners consisted of hotdogs and rice almost every night and we subsisted mainly on scraps from the refrigerator. It wouldn’t have been so terrible if it weren’t for our foster mother and her biological child eating gourmet dinners right in front of us. Hunger gnawed at me constantly and I often snuck into the kitchen late at night to hunt for food.
It wasn’t long before I started to rebel and lash out both at school and at home. Eventually my foster mother had me removed, and I went to another home. This placement was better than the first – more comforting, with my foster mother caring for us in the best way she could. As with my own family, however, her son was gang-affiliated. I believe she had a sincere heart and desire to do right by us, but I don’t think she considered the dangers of having him in her home, and the risk she was taking by having us there.
I remember quite clearly standing outside with him and his friends, just playing around, when shots rang out. For a moment I stood there in a daze, watching the events. My foster mother’s son was rolling on the ground and screaming. I knew then that he was hit. An ambulance wailed and he was taken to the hospital, while I was frozen in place from the shock.
That day has always stayed in my mind. It was then that I realized how badly I wanted to go home, that I was still in an at-risk situation. The foster home turned out to be just as dangerous, if not deadlier, than my own projects. I didn’t know if there would be retaliation on my foster brother’s end, or if he would just recover and make a turn in his life for the better. All I knew was at any moment I could lose my life, and I needed to learn how to survive and take care of myself.
These two foster homes were only a temporary layover in my life’s journey, and I wouldn’t allow being a foster child to be an excuse for doubt or defeat. I was not going to allow my circumstances to determine my future. I chose not to succumb to the project lifestyle. I knew deep down I had a grandmother who was fighting for me and a mother who was hurting for me. At times I was extremely lonely, and wanted to give in and give up. But I wouldn’t.
It didn’t take long before I was reunited with my grandmother. When I think back on it, time went by really fast. Once I was with my grandmother again, she didn’t take any time getting us packed up and ready to relocate. I think she had an epiphany. The only way I would survive and have a real chance at life was to move me to her home state of Kentucky.
It took me a while to adjust. I was still finding out who I was as an individual. I would find myself kicked out of schools, fighting and often times running with the wrong crowd. However, not once did my grandmother make me feel like she regretted the fight she had endured back in LA. Even now as I write this, remembering the calm and loving nature of my grandmother brings me tears.
She allowed me to grow through my stages from a youth to a young adult. Not once did she make me feel less than, guilt or shame of any kind. At 17, I moved out into my own apartment. I graduated on time from school. I made a conscious effort to change my life around, and respect the second chance I was given. This new life came at the expense of my grandmother leaving behind her children and everything she had come to know. I owe this woman my life.
If I could say anything to a child in the same situation, it would be to never lose hope. Believe that no matter what, you have a purpose in life. Allow that hope to be an anchor for your faith and hold onto it when you’re tossed on life’s stormy seas. These tests become the light that you will use to lead someone else out of their dark circumstances. Don’t let that light go out.
Published on May 6, 2014 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.