Living a Legacy

Tori Black FtF featured, blogWhen I was a child, my parents struggled with mental health issues and substance abuse, which led to me being placed in foster care at the age of 3. At that point I had a mom, dad and four siblings. My family was fractured by foster care and I was separated from my older siblings and my mom for 15 years.

We were shuffled through many homes. We started in a facility for abused and neglected children, lived with our grandma for a short period, and were reunified with our dad. Our dad really struggled to keep it together. He is mentally ill and addicted to drugs, and he believes in corporal punishment. Our needs were secondary to his need for drugs. At 16, my dad’s issues resulted in police intervention, and we were sent back into state care.

Foster care was a blessing in my life but I can’t sugarcoat it, it was scary and isolating to be removed from my home, abandoned by my mother and have no way to connect with my siblings. The most traumatizing episode of my life was not the abuse I endured as a child, but being separated from them. We were so close in proximity, and yet so far away with all of the barriers and roadblocks imposed upon our relationship. Siblings are the people you should be able to share your entire life with, but in foster care you have to fight just to see them. You have to fight for phone calls, and spending holidays together. It isn’t right. If it wasn’t for our CASA volunteer Anja, I would have spent far less time with my sisters.

I have a lot of emotional scars from foster care but it gave me something I had always wanted—a stable family. Rob and Kamy, my foster parents, are wonderful. They love me unconditionally and treat me like I’ve always been in their family. They’ve always respected my original family, and encouraged me to keep my bonds to my family strong. Even when I decided to cut certain people from my life, they suggested I reconsider. More than anything they gave me love when I really needed love. They pushed me to make goals and achieve them and they carved out a permanent place in their family for me, all things they didn’t have to do. I hope one day I can be half the mom my foster mom is.

After leaving foster care I started joining programs to access resources for college. It was then that I found my passion – to be an advocate. I went to college at the University of Colorado in Denver and I graduated! I have a bachelor’s degree and I am dedicating my life to helping kids like me find success and most importantly, find their voice. I have worked on over 20 pieces of state legislation and I represent foster youth on two boards. The first piece of legislation I worked on gave foster kids the right to see their siblings, which is the issue I am most passionate about.

My advice, to both current and former youth in foster care, is to be your own advocate. Speak up for yourself, find your voice and find your strength. If you do this, you have an incredible opportunity to speak up for kids who cannot speak for themselves. Nothing in this messed up system is going to change unless WE CHANGE IT! A broken system cannot help broken families. Everyone who experienced foster care has a common thread woven into the fabric of our lives, we are all connected. I see the kids in foster care, and alumni, as my brothers and sisters. I would do anything for my brothers and sisters and I will never stop fighting for them.

Today, at 26, I am still working towards finding success and being the best big sister I can be! I work for Advocates for Children-CASA coordinating the Legacy Project, a positive youth development program for teens and young adults. The teens in the Legacy Project are the next generation of Colorado’s foster care leaders, and I am making sure they are prepared to be the best advocates they can be. One day I want to be a senator or a representative so I can have a bigger impact on foster care legislation in my state. I’m also working on writing a memoir and becoming a motivational speaker. I hope my story can inspire others and dispel the myth that your past predicts your future.

Published on May 11, 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.