Learning to Build a House with No Tools

Raven-LargeCompleting high school while in foster care is not easy. I was placed into care after my mom was diagnosed with a mental illness and wasn’t able to adequately care for me anymore. I had to encourage myself to do my schoolwork while transitioning through the foster care system and dealing with problems that could easily keep any student from earning a diploma.

I entered foster care during my freshman year. I had to take night classes and work hard on my grade point average while traveling three hours to and from school by bus until I was placed at my second foster home. Unlike students with the luxury of waking up an hour or two before classes started, I had to leave my foster home at 4:30 a.m. to get to school on time, but this motivated me and made me realize that I could do anything I put my mind to. I used the long ride to finish assignments, do homework, read, listen to music and free my mind from everything that was going on around me.

I lived in a foster home with bolt locks on the refrigerator, where mice ran across my chest while I slept. Both my home and my foster home were in underprivileged areas in Queens, where riots between rivaling schools were common and gang violence ran rampant. Several of my friends were murdered.

Although I grew up with many young people who were involved in violence and exploitation, I exerted my energy into more positive things. I was able to balance my academics, be co-captain of my high school’s gymnastics team, and intern at a day care center and at a local paralegal’s office where I learned basic office skills all while attending school full time.

None of this would have been possible without the support of people who saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. My gymnastics coach motivated me to maintain my grades because we had to have a certain GPA to compete on an individual and state level and the director of the internship program was always there for me to talk to when things seemed overwhelming.

In high school I dreamed of attending an Ivy League school one day, but I was not encouraged to pursue my dream; instead I was steered away to a local community college by people who were supposed to encourage me to strive for my highest ideals.

In my opinion, everyone has the right to be successful. In order for youth in foster care to be successful we must remove the stigma of being labeled incapable of performing academically, socially and economically because we are in the child welfare system. If anything, young people who survive the foster care system have demonstrated that they have the ability to overcome extraordinary circumstances. If provided the resources and support to attend the colleges they dream of attending — even a top college if accepted — they will succeed.

I am now working towards a bachelor’s degree with a double major and minor, am a member of one of the largest historically black Greek sororities in the nation- Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Incorporated, am the Vice President of all the historically black Greek organizations at my university, am on the Executive Committee for the SUNY Albany chapter of the NAACP, am an ambassador to promote higher education for youth, and also work for the Office of Children and Family Services.

It is vital that former youth in care who have had a successful transition as well as child welfare staff work diligently with young people to encourage every young person to strive for their highest ideals. With self-determination and motivation, we all have the ability to succeed and flourish to our full potential.

Published on May 16, 2013 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.