Monroe Martin is a stand-up comedian who performs across the country. He has appeared on the Netflix series Master of None, NBC’s Last Comic Standing and Adam Devine’s House Party on Comedy Central. Martin also wrote for the MTV2 series Charlamagne and Friends.
I don’t remember the exact emotions I was feeling when I went into foster care, but it was just like being thrown into a pool and having someone say, “Alright, now you have to learn how to swim.”
I went into foster care at the age of 7. Before that, my mother was barely around, and when she was around it was quick. My dad was in and out of prison. I lived with my grandmother for a short time but she was too old to keep me. When I was placed in care, I was immediately separated from my sister – we rarely saw each other until years later. It was hard to be taken away from someone that I was so close with.
I lived in 14 different homes in 15 years. My first foster parent was 78 years old. It always shocked me that I was taken out of my grandmother’s home because she was too old to care for me, and then was placed in that exact same situation in foster care.
After that, I was placed in group homes. That transition was rough. I went from having freedom to having a strict bedtime, eating with a bunch of strangers and showering in communal showers. It felt like prison, except I did nothing to deserve to be there in the first place. I didn’t like talking to people because I felt like anything I said was going to be used against me. Whenever I expressed how I felt, my medications were upped. I thought, if I can just keep my mouth shut, then it won’t happen anymore.
Sometimes I would have to fight just so that people didn’t steal my things. At one point I was placed in a foster home that didn’t have room for me. The foster parents made me sleep on a cot and kept my stuff in the basement. This is what I call the “bucket phase” of my life, when all of my clothes were in buckets. At night they would lock the door so I couldn’t come up to use the bathroom. The moment I tried to tell my social worker what was happening somehow it ended up being my fault. I got in a fight with that foster dad and was immediately placed in an emergency foster home.
Not all places had a negative influence on me. At around 13 years old I was placed in a group home in West Philadelphia, which I liked a lot. There were only six kids and I enjoyed being around them. It was at this age that I started to change my mindset. I started being more conscious of who I was. I stopped hanging around people who lashed out and started hanging with kids who read books and who expressed themselves in other ways. I decided that I didn’t want to be somebody who was always holding on to the past. I’m a huge fan of surrounding yourself with people who are better than you. If you want to get good at something, you need to hang around people who you look up to. I learned that in foster care and still have that mentality today.
In many ways foster care saved me. But I want to see a lot of change happen in the system. I want to see less medicine in these kids. I want to see more efforts being made to reunite families. And if they’re unable to reunite, the kids should be placed with someone who really cares about them. I want to see kids be able to explore and be creative and have access to programs that they have a real interest in. That’s why, when I get to a point in my comedy career where I’ve done enough to have an influence, I want to start a supervised independent living facility in Philadelphia and New York. I want it to be a place where kids who have a hard time expressing themselves can go, to get extended time to really figure things out and get guidance. I would love to be able to introduce kids to their idols and give them the opportunity to meet people they want to be like.
If I could give advice to others in foster care, I would tell them to not be afraid to fail. I was for a long time. I was told I had to do things I didn’t want to do because it was supposed to guarantee that I had a good life. Now I’m doing things that no one ever told me I could do. I remember certain staff and social workers asking why I was doing comedy, and telling me I should do something else. My advice is, do exactly what you want! Do something positive and have as much fun as possible. Figure out your purpose. Someday I want my kids to look at me, know my past and go, you did all of this? And you were given nothing? That’s what I want.
Published on May 3, 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.