How Growing Up In Foster Care Gave Me The Tools To Dismantle A Punitive System That Profits From Black Children
“The child who is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel its warmth.”
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On October 5, 2007, I stood in front of Judge Lederman as she emancipated me from foster care. After graduating high school, I moved to Tallahassee, Florida, to attend Florida A&M University (FAMU). Three years later, I earned my Bachelor's degree and enrolled at FAMU College of Law. Three years after that, I earned my Juris Doctor and sat for the Florida Bar. One year after that, I passed the Florida Bar and was again standing in Front of Judge Lederman. This time, nine years later, Judge Lederman was swearing me in as a member of the Florida Bar.
I deliberately chose my former dependency judge to swear me in, in front of nearly 100 graduating young adults from foster care and officials from Florida's Department of Children and Families, because I needed all parties to understand, the buck stops here!
I've often been called a unicorn. We're the most celebrated. We're the most decorated. We're the most accomplished. But no degree or accomplishment can undo the trauma of being torn apart from our families and community, being separated from our siblings, the constant changing of homes and schools, the over-medicating, the neglect, etc. Yet, we're celebrated because "we made it" in spite of. And, yes, we deserve every "congratulations" and "good job." But, we also deserve to talk about the incredible amount of luck it took to "make it."
For years, starting with my time spent in foster care, I remained silent. I never had an opinion on anything because I didn't have a say in anything. My social workers, foster parents and judge made all of the decisions. But on June 14, 2016, the day I was sworn-in, I started looking for my voice; low and behold, I've found it!
Ironically, I only had one thing to say: "Time's up!" It's time for the business that has become child welfare to shut it's doors permanently. While giving us our flowers for overcoming the obstacles we faced, please, let's acknowledge who caused the real trauma. Spoiler alert: it was our government. More than 50% of the states have been sued for the failure of their child welfare system, and this is having detrimental effects on Black families.
In my hometown, Miami-Dade County, Black people make up 18% of the county's residents, yet, 54% of the children in foster care are Black. The numbers are relatively the same all across the country. If these numbers look familiar, it's because it is uncannily similar to the population of Black people that make up our criminal justice system. In short, child welfare has transformed into a punitive culture that profits off of Black children.
For years, people have read books, earned degrees and been deemed "experts" in child welfare. Wrong! We have degrees, and even if we don't, we lived it. We're the experts! United States Congresswoman Karen Bass stood on the House Floor and eloquently stated, "When the government removes children from their parents, the government becomes that child's parent. Too often the government forgets this commitment and life goes on for those not in the child welfare system. But, for those in it, they come to feel trapped and forgotten." No truer words have been said.
The honorable Karen Bass, the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth and the National Foster Youth Institute, hosted 100 foster care experts from all over the country so that we could expert testimony to our respective members of congress about how our child welfare system is actually operating.
There is an inaccurate, pervasive narrative about child welfare that centers around deviant children, terrible parents and lazy social workers. The descriptions are true, but they are being attributed to the wrong parties. I'm here to change that narrative and I'm bringing an army with me.