A Story of Resilience
Fostering the Youth
16 MAY 2014 / POSTED BY CR on the CR website
By James Williams
I lived in foster care for the majority of my life. A police report in my file indicates that when I was about a year old, my father was driving under the influence with me in the back seat. No family members wanted to take me, so I went into state care.
I was adopted when I was 5, and at first I had a rather good relationship with my adoptive parents. But a couple years later, everything seemed to spiral downward when they started to hit me. I wish there had been follow-up by social workers to see if things were going okay. When I was 12, my adoptive parents “re-homed” me by sending me to live with my biological grandmother. My biological father also lived there, and since his parental rights had been terminated, he wasn’t supposed to have any contact with me until I was 18. He didn’t say a word to me, he just came in drunk. I ran away, and my adoptive aunt helped me get back into foster care at 13.
This experience made me realize that life was not all green pastures and smiling faces, and that sometimes the people that are supposed to love you will hurt you as well. Over the next few years, I moved through foster homes and group homes and experienced even more abuse and neglect. By the time I aged out at 19, many foster parents had told me I was stupid and that I would never amount to anything.
I remember staying at one home where the foster dad made derogatory remarks about other races. After he saw me hanging out with an African American friend, I got the worst demoralizing, dehumanizing punishment that I’ve ever experienced.
I remember it vividly. He hit me, my head tilted forward and I saw my blood splotch my crisp white socks. It congealed for a second then spread like a blot of ink on paper. He pushed me out of the room and towards the front door. I gasped when the late December air hit me in the face. He threw open the screen door and I grasped on the doorframe. My hands burned when he ripped them off; I screamed into the night. I heard my scream fade and all that was left was a ringing silence. I knew no one would come to help, so there was no use in calling for it.
He dragged me over the icy grass. He squatted on top of me while he clasped the collar around my neck and cuffed one of my hands to the metal confederate flag rail in front of the doghouse. I stayed there until the following morning, with no clothes. When he came back, he told me, “If I see you hanging with that ‘N word’ again, you will be out here for a week.”
The family lost its foster care license, because they failed to attend a court hearing concerning another abuse allegation, and I moved to a group home, but this traumatic memory never left me. My innocence was gone. I closed myself off, and distrusted others. It was easier than making the mistake of trusting and getting hurt again.
Eventually I learned to trust my caseworker, Kenya Papillion. She took me seriously when I brought up issues in my placements, and talked to me about what I wanted to do with my life. If it weren’t for Kenya, and a few others, I may have gone down a different road. They helped me understand that I could either fall within the cracks of the system, or flourish. I grew to realize that my circumstances equipped me with the tools, and burning passion, to make certain other foster youth do not experience what I did.
I graduated from the University of South Carolina, Magna Cum Laude, with a Bachelor’s Degree at the age of 19. I am now 21, and today I am graduating from the University of Southern California (USC) with my Masters in Social Work. It took a lot of hard work and support to get here, and I still struggle. Without my support system at USC, I would probably be homeless right now. As I face the gap between graduation and finding a job, staff like Vice Dean Paul Maiden, Dean Wendy Smith and Alexi Waul are helping me transition from living on campus to an apartment. I have to give them credit. They have done so much for me.
I want foster youth to know that they can prevail, despite the odds. I hope to inspire many with my story of resilience. I always felt that I was a target to foster parents and group home providers because I questioned the system, instead of being silently obedient. Now, I realize that there were many other kids in similar situations, and young people are still struggling within foster care. Knowing this heightens my resolve to advocate for foster youth today.
Published on May 16, 2014 as part of Children’s Rights’ Fostering the Futurecampaign.