Close your eyes; what do you see? That is the path foster youth see, know and expect: an endless expanse of black. Keep your eyes closed. Now, remember how you got from high school to where you sit today. Think of all those memories as stepping stones and visualize all the people who helped you on your journey.
It's this last part that foster youth don't see, thanks to the benign indifference of the "best and brightest." As someone who was a foster youth, I've been educated and re-educated by social workers, therapists, the streets, a gang, an angry grocery store cashier embarrassing us with her loud mention of my family's food stamps. I was "educated" by non-believing police, taught by the indifference of a government ready to give up on me and mine. I knew my successes and failures were my own because no one else would or cared to recognize what I did or did not accomplish. I was "educated" by my mother's fists, the power of love mixing with the power of misplaced anger guided by a system hijacked by mental illness.
My mother, my mentor.
Our mother constantly asked my siblings and me a question, the answer to which would change my life. She demanded to know, "Is this what you want?" She was referring to the streets where we lived, filled with the sorry and forgotten, the unfortunate, the disconnected, the drunk, drugged. Our brethren. From this life, we ultimately made our way to foster care just as I turned eleven.
Foster care welcomed me into a life not wholly different from the violent life on the streets. It's a system awash in bodies and riddled with numbers. Housed with 10 other kids in the basement of a too-small home, I was starved and indentured to a set of angry foster parents. To move beyond this new reality to what I wanted, I needed something to take me away, and in that I heard my mother. Her message was always that education was the only way out. At times, she lied and cheated in order to keep us in the schools uptown, where the police didn't carry guns. We were punished (in her kinder moments) by copying from an encyclopedia. We learned to learn. I didn't get it then, but I do now. If I was to secure my future, I needed to arm myself with the tools of my own success.
I wanted to show people the plight of my fellow suffering foster youth. I wanted to take care of my mother, I wanted a brother and sister who themselves did not want for anything. I wanted clothes with no holes; I wanted a home, a family.
My final home closed as I neared 17, and I took the occasion to emancipated myself early from care, and secured some grants to study abroad to Spain. Later, I went on to Vassar College, then to Oxford University, and finally to Law School at UCLA.
In my professional life, with the fantastic degree awarded, I realized that helping other disadvantaged youth and communities was not an extracurricular activity. Leaving real estate law, I found my way to a Foundation that does the work day-to-day to empower young people, and all people from disadvantaged communities succeed by the same means that translated my own past into this future - an education.
For more than forty years, the Los Angeles City College Foundation's mission has been to complement and enhance LACC's efforts to provide education and career services higher in quality than afforded through state and federal support. We strive to optimize student access to educational programs and services, to provide professional development and technical support to faculty and staff; and to cultivate, enhance, and grow strategic partnerships with community, business and government stakeholders.
We promote and provide supplemental funding for scientific, literary, educational and recreational facilities at Los Angeles City College; and provide scholarships, book grants, fellowships, loans and other financial assistance to worthy students and members of the faculty. We strive to provide any inquisitive individual with the means to access the richness afforded in our classrooms and laboratories regardless of economic obstacles. One hundred percent of donations go directly to supporting our students.
Each person's path is different. The path I took to get where is am, isn't for everyone and nor should it be. My fellow foster siblings who survived and excelled all had one thing in common: they all had something they were working towards. They stood up and declared their desires to be a mechanic, a stylist, a teacher, an actor. They didn't simply want for the high of immediate satisfaction. They didn't get stuck in the present, or the obstacles that here and now seem to overwhelm and drown hope. That's how they did it. That's how we did it.