Define: Underdog (noun)
1) A person, team, or entity believed to have a poor chance of success, winning, or achieving some other goal.
2) A victim of injustice or persecution
I’m not a professional.. in anything really. But I know I have a lot of valuable insight to many situations. Perhaps the most important thing I’ve come to learn - and take full advantage of - from my experience in foster care is that people love the underdog. Coming from a broken home, growing up scrambling for resources, budgeting 75 cents a day on food, competing academically with kids who had all the right resources for surviving, has made me realize (now more than ever) that I was the the pre-determined loser. Everyone bets against foster youth going anywhere. And even as a 14-year-old going into high school, I was told by my mentors, my social workers, and my peers that one statistic stating “only 3% of former foster youth will graduate from a 4-year university.”
Well shoot. After hearing that, who WOULD expect to get anywhere in these situations? And when someone DOES “overcome the odds,” of course people see it as an anomaly. But because of this, dozens of adults, professors, mentors all are ecstatic to see youth like me achieve greatness. Why is that? And how exactly can you use that to your advantage as a current or previous foster youth?
Well. People generally believe that the underdog has to “work harder” to get to the top; and it’s so true in our cases. We often don’t have the same medical or emotional resources, we definitely don’t always have the same financial resources, and we especially don’t have the same educational resources that so many of our peers have.
However, there are now more programs than ever aiming to counter these imbalances. Grants and scholarship are literally EVERYWHERE just waiting for foster youth to snatch them up and go to college (Truth be told, I made money off college). Mentors and ‘big siblings’ are lining up to trudge alongside you through the thicket of life to find your path to success. Why? Because fairness and justice are important to people; and since us underdogs have the disadvantage, our winning demonstrates to everyone else that sense of fairness in the world that we all crave as humans.
When the underdog succeeds, it gives people hope that effort and hard work triumph in the face of adversity. Straight up, it’s inspiring! I mean, who didn’t cry when they watched The Blind Side? Who wasn’t sympathetic with the kids in Freedom Writers? Spoken word poet, Shane Koyczan says we have grown up “learning to cheer on the underdog because we see ourselves in them.”
My point is…. be that inspiration. Prove the numbers wrong, don’t be afraid to compare yourself to the “normal” kids. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten “Hey you’ve done pretty well for a foster kid!” Oh, bug off. Seriously? Does being a foster youth really have to be such an insult? I challenge you to compare yourself to someone higher. You don’t necessarily have to beat them, but be inspired by them and strive to achieve just as they have achieved. Don’t be disappointed in yourself, and don’t be discouraged. We WILL fail. But that’s not because we’re foster youth. That’s because we’re human. Use your resources and use your experiences to view the world in a unique way that no one else could have ever even imagined.
We have a very special background. My life in foster care has taught me to speak up, to advocate for myself, to ask for help, and to realize that PEOPLE WANT ME TO SUCCEED. After realizing this, I began to reach out. I talked to professors, I got to know friends' parents, I reached out to medical and educational resources. All these adults wanted to see and help me achieve something. And with all their support, how could I not do something powerful?
Guys… Don’t compare yourself to failure - compare yourself to YOUR view of success. The resources are out there. People want to help. The odds may not be in your favor, but the favor is on your side. I believe in the underdog. Our past is done, now start fighting for a better tomorrow.
For more inspirations, I have a few resources I like in particular relating to this topic:
Diverse Magazine’s article on Issues in higher Education: http://www.jcsu.edu/uploads/4f/2c/4f2c11e175a9198d32c598b4bcf06912/Diver...
The Stuart Foundation’s article on college and California foster youth: http://www.stuartfoundation.org/docs/default-document-library/turning-dr...
This scholarly article on “The Underdog Effect”: http://scholarcommons.usf.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3898&context=etd
And check out my blog at amybergam.wordpress.com