This is the twelfth post of "30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days," a series designed to give a voice to people with widely varying experiences, including birthparents, adoptees, adoptive parents, foster parents, waiting adoptive parents and others touched by adoption.
Why A Loving Parent Raises A Child's Expectations In Life
Written by Exavier Pope for Portrait of an Adoption
“I’m actually going to sell crack,” I said to myself disappointedly.
The cold, dank, gray December morning rotated like an excruciatingly deafening silent three-ringed circus around me.
Every project building in the crime-ridden Southeast Chicago neighborhood leaned toward me as if they were expecting me to call a play in a football huddle.
Every barren tree threw its branches back in disbelief and watched intently to see what I would do next.
The ground appeared to move under my feet like an airport moving walkway.
On this trip however, I was on a road to nowhere.
How Did I Get Here?
My foster mother Emma Lily Mitchell did quite the fine job loving me, teaching me, and pushing me to be an upstanding young man. She taught me to love all people regardless of background, stressed education, and constantly reminded me of how special I was and my destiny as a great leader one day.
I believed her.
Alas, she died when I was 14 and I was left to the wiles of the world around me on my own. Her last great gift to me was getting me tested to enroll in Whitney M. Young Magnet High School’s Academic Center in 7th grade.
Whitney Young was a gift to me because it allowed me to escape my gang infested neighborhood every day. I had the fantastic opportunity to go to the most diverse high school in Chicago where kids were just as smart as me and high ambitions were not only encouraged but channeled to institutions of higher education.
My entire years of high school were spent without a parental figure. I was responsible for getting myself up and going to school. I was also responsible for where I ate and slept. I forged my foster mother’s signature on grade reports so my high school would not know I did not have a parent. I was afraid of being sent to a group home or worse.
I spent most of high school bouncing from one friend’s house to another. Some nights when my friends’ parents would not allow me to stay over I would sleep in a car. I had extra incentive to find a girlfriend so I could sneak into a window and sleep over some nights with whoever I was dating at the time. Sometimes I slept in the park.
My condition did not stop me from ultimately getting into college and spending my freshman year at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa and Parkland College in Champaign, Illinois respectively.
Unfortunately, I was not ready for college. I partied like the world was coming to an end and wound up back in Chicago out of school with no job and no prospects.
I was lost. I pretty much wandered around for several months with zero thought to my future. I mostly thought about how depressed I felt and how much of a loser I had become. Oddly enough the same derelicts in the neighborhood I avoided in high school I started spending more time around. They were more than happy to have me join them.
I soon wandered to a family member’s house in one of the worst neighborhoods in the City of Chicago. It seemed as if every night the night air crackled like the 4th of July with gun shots. There was never a time I left the project building where I temporarily resided without a knife in my pocket and my fists clinched. I had to be on a constant state of alert.
Meanwhile, the cold unfurnished apartment where I slept nights on a hard floor was littered with gang activity. My family member was a gangbanger. Gang meetings took place in the living room, marijuana sale transactions occurred around the clock at the front door, and the kitchen became a laboratory for cooking and cutting crack cocaine.
One evening a shooting occurred and a gang member ran into the house and stashed a hot revolver in the linen closet. The situation was completely out of control.
My mind was completely off school. I often cried myself to sleep, clueless as to where my life was headed; until, I was asked to do the unthinkable.
From Rock Bottom to Rock Climbing
One unpredictable, giant, Michelin Man of a young man approached me in the apartment one December morning. He could care less about my past, present, or future promise. He proceeded to inform me my life was headed nowhere and I needed to start “hustling”. He briefly gave me a lesson on drug math and proceeded to put a bag made of a sheet of plastic wrap containing multiple even smaller sheets of plastic wrap containing urine colored stained white crystalline rocks.
It was crack.
Next: Seeing what my foster mother saw
I walked out to the cold air. I looked around and proceeded to walk toward the nearest corner, my head on a swivel. My legs felt like they were tied to a ball and chain. I labored with every single step.
Normally the project courtyards teemed with people and activity. On this particular morning, I was the only person in the world.
“This can’t be my life,” I announced to myself. I closed my eyes and started praying. My whole world soon became dark and I had a moment of clarity I have yet to forget.
I saw my entire life unfold in an instant. My first vision consisted of the path I was on. The second vision consisted of taking another path. I saw my wife, my children, my struggles, my triumphs, everything. I saw my future, even writing this post. Most importantly, I saw the expectation my foster mother placed in me to become someone special.
At that very moment I believed her again and my prayers were answered.
I immediately walked to find the gentleman who gave me the crack to sell and told him I could not and would not sell his crack for him. Normally that would be a problem, a huge problem. Nonetheless, I looked at him with a knowing and determination that made him cower from me like tumbleweed being chased by the wind.
My life was never the same. Within a month I found a mentor who helped me to enroll in Roosevelt University in the Spring semester even after classes had already started. He even helped me to get financial aid and even a dorm in downtown Chicago.
That semester I earned all As and one B and stayed on for another two semesters before transferring to University of Illinois at Chicago. I graduated three years later from the College of Business Administration with two degrees -– one in Economics, and the other Finance.
I interned at The Chicago Stock Exchange and Merrill Lynch before taking my first job out of college auditing investment portfolios for Northern Trust. Soon thereafter I went to law school, passed the bar, became an attorney, started a family, and the rest is history.
The Point of It All
As a child growing up under the wings of my guardian angel and foster mom, my expectation was always set as being someone special. Even after she died, the circumstances around me never dimmed my expectations –- until I faced a bout of failure in my life.
My expectations went from promise to despair. My outside circumstances mirrored my expectations. Those circumstances did not happen overnight. Day by day, little by little, I sank deeper and deeper into a hole.
Finally, when I made the decision to change my expectations, my life changed. It has never been the same since.
It is the love, attention and support of a parent which can make or break the people we turn out to be. Although my foster mother died when I was at a precarious age, the substance she raised me with has been a foundation upon which my life has been built.
The love she gave to me saved my life long after her life was gone.
Everyone else is not as fortunate.
I pray more Emmas would step up and become permanent guardians or adopt children.
The need is certainly there.
The world could use more success stories to celebrate and more mountains climbed to champion.
Portrait of an Adoption is hosted by Carrie Goldman, author of Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear. If you have a story you would like to submit as a candidate for next year's series, please email it to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.