I spent most of my childhood on the fast track to a life destined for failure. My father was extremely abusive and my mother signed off her rights because she did not believe that her love was enough. The vicious cycle continued when my adopted father got involved with an abusive woman who constantly called me degrading names and made me feel like a stranger in the place I began to call ‘home.’ I felt worthless, vulnerable and unworthy of love. I started to give up on myself and pushed everyone away who tried to help me before they realized how messed up I was. I was in a dark place and I was sick of concealing my undying agony, but in the midst of it all, I found my inner strength and decided to fight. Although my childhood created an environment of heartbreak and limited expectations, I am thankful that I never gave up because those painful experiences could have become my future. Instead I made the decision to overcome those tragedies and to be a voice for foster youth still in the system.
Last week I had the opportunity to speak at the 29th annual FFTA conference in Denver, Colorado. As a young leader I was unbelievably ecstatic to begin my official journey as an All-Star, but I was also extremely nervous for my first presentation, especially because we had to present workshops to an audience that included: CEOs, executive level staff, clinicians, supervisors and administrators, researchers and evaluators, case managers and line staff, social work professionals, students, Foster Family-based Treatment Association (FFTA) board members and foster parents. There was a time during my presentation that I wanted to break down because I was digging into a part of my past that I hid for years, but the reaction I received from the audience shocked me. After we were done speaking a few audience members told me that I motivated them and that they were going to take my inspiration and energy back to their work. I couldn’t believe that my words had such a positive impact and I felt incredibly empowered. It is truly a dream come true to have the opportunity to use the obstacles I have overcome to help inspire others. My childhood was emotionally draining, but I have been given a gift and by embracing my dissimilarities, I can now be a voice for nearly 400,000 youth still in the system.