Regina Louise is a children's rights advocate, dedicated to foster care. Her acclaimed memoir, Somebody's Someone, chronicles her traumatic journey of surviving 30 foster homes and navigating the child welfare system. A successful San Francisco-based businesswoman, she created the Esther Collins Memorial Children's Foundation for Literacy to provide safe, secure and stable assistance. Louise's story has been optioned for film and a play, scheduled to open next year.
Read the following interview from the Tavis Smiley Show recorded May 10th, 2006. (article)
Tavis: Regina Louise is a foster care advocate and frequent speaker at foster care seminars across the country. May is National Foster Care Month, for which Regina serves as an official spokesperson. Her own experiences in the foster care system were the basis for her 2003 memoir, "Somebody's Someone.' Regina, nice to have you on the program.
Regina Louise: Thank you.
Tavis: This, Jonathan, put the cover of this book back up for me, if you will, right quick. The cover of this book features a Black child with an umbrella covering her face. And there is a reason why we see this particular photo, rather than what could have, and perhaps should have been a photo of you during your foster care years. So, why this photo?
Louise: Well, a rolling stone gathers no moss, Tavis. And I didn't stay in any particular home long enough to have photos taken. And I didn't have relationships with people where they would feel that they wanted to hold on to my photographs. So when it came to the point of making the cover of that book, my editor asked me for a photo, and I didn't have any. So, they had to go to Corbis.com.
Tavis: And you went through, I should say, how many foster?
Louise: Thirty foster homes.
Tavis: Thirty foster homes, and with all that said, no photos to be found from all those experiences.
Tavis: Which, I wanna start the conversation there, I think, for obvious reasons now, because it tells a story about your experience when you can't even find a cover to use on the, a photo, rather, to use on the cover of your book. Tell me about your experiences. And I'm curious about your experiences, because for someone who's had to go through 30 different homes, the system wasn't kind to you, and yet you're the spokesperson now for National Foster Care Month. Go figure.
Louise: You're gonna make me cry. (laughs)
Tavis: (laughs) I don't wanna make you cry.
Louise: That's amazing.
Tavis: But isn't that an amazing story?
Louise: It's amazing. It's amazing.
Tavis: Why 30 different homes?
Louise: One of the reasons, I believed, and it is a reason that still is an issue today, is the ability to match the child with the right family. And for whatever the reasons. I, as the child, had no idea that each family I would go into just wouldn't work, for whatever the reasons. And I had already met someone who I loved, and someone who I wanted to adopt me.
And each time they took me to a new home, I thought well, if they can see that when I'm with her, it's really wonderful, I'm better, then maybe they will try and allow her to be my foster parent, instead of sending me to people who obviously, there's just no match. It just didn't work.
Tavis: What was the rationale, the reason, or maybe rationale is the wrong word. The irrationality, from your perspective, I assume, for them not leaving you in the family with the woman, the mother who you wanted to be with?
Louise: At the time, I believe, I know for a fact it had to do with the race. I'm Black, the woman who loved me and who wanted to adopt me was White. And at that time, it was just very, very important for African-American children to remain in African-American communities. And I get that, and I respect that. It's just that I had not made that connection.
And to me, it wasn't about whether or not my foster parent was the same race. That wasn't it. It was, do you get me? Do you see me? Are you willing to do whatever it takes to help me be the best I can be? This woman would take me to plays, and she would do everything and anything she could to make sure that she made choices that supported my identity, culturally. And that's amazing. And I liked that.
Tavis: This woman actually has a name.
Louise: Yes. (laughs)
Tavis: And the way this studio is set up, you can't see this woman. This White woman who Regina referred to a moment ago is actually sitting off camera over here, and I wish that we could turn around. But the way the studio's set up, we can't do that. That said, I'm waving at her. Nice to have you on the set. (laughs) She's here, but there's a great story that I did not know that I was connected to at all.
Louise: (laughs) Yes.
Tavis: Until you arrived on our set today.
Tavis: Some time ago, we met first on my radio program, my public radio program. And as a result of that, you're back on the TV show now. Tell me what happened, though, the day that you appeared on my radio program.
Louise: Okay. The day I appeared on your radio program, you were actually my first interview. And you asked very provocative questions, and...
Tavis: I did?
Louise: Yes, you did. (laughs)
Tavis: I can't imagine that. But go ahead, yeah.
Louise: Yes, you did. And they got me thinking, like, oh my gosh, I've actually written my own story, and it is actually in the world. And wow, this is pretty intense. So needless to say, I was a little emotional when I left you. And I arrived back at my hotel room, went into the room, and prior to that, I had tried to find the woman who I loved and who I wrote the book about, but I couldn't.
And my last attempt to write her a letter was returned addressee unknown. So I said okay, God, that's it, I'm done. I'm not going to look for adults who are not looking for me. I said, all I wanted was for someone to say they were proud of me. So after I left your studios, went to my hotel, turned on my computer, and there it was.
I am so proud of you, sweetheart. It was unbelievable. I couldn't imagine, I couldn't imagine that I could say, okay, God, I'm tired. I'm done with you, I'm done with the whole thing. And when I let go, when I let go, all the searching I did, from ringing doorbells and making phone calls and Peoplesearch, Advance Search, Nexis-Lexis, to get to that place where I let go, and there she came.
Tavis: So, when you were a youngster coming up through this foster care system and wanted to be adopted by this particular woman, the system, for whatever reason or reasons, as we established earlier, did not allow, would not allow that to happen.
Tavis: But you are now officially adopted?
Tavis: Like, I don't wanna tell your age, but. (laughs) But you were longer a child.
Louise: No. (laughs)
Tavis: But tell, go ahead and finish the story about how the two of you hooked up, and you, go ahead and tell the story.
Louise: Right. Right, right, right, right. Okay. So, I get to LaGuardia. And we spoke all along my book tour, 'cause I was on book tour. And at one point, I remember her calling me and saying, I want to give you what you should have had as a child. And I thought, oh my God, a trust fund. (laughs) She has held money for me this whole time.
Can you imagine the interest rate? Personal Chanel shopper. But I said, okay, great. Please, tell us exactly, tell me what it is. And she said, I wanna give you what you should have had 25 years ago. I want to adopt you as my daughter. And I was breathless. What she didn't know is throughout my life, I had always written her name down as the contact on the in case of an emergency, who to call.
Foster children don't usually have that. We don't have people who we can usually call. And so I put her name down, and I made a fictitious number, just so that they could see there was someone in that space. And all this time, when on my credit card applications they would say mother's maiden name, I would use her name. So all along, I acted as if she was my mother.
So when she said I want to adopt you, it was. And we were just making it official, 'cause I already claimed her as my mother all along the way. When I got to New York, she arrived at LaGuardia. And I had already called her Mommy. I'd never called anybody Mama, Mommy, or Mom. And I'll tell my age. I was 41 years old when I first uttered the word Mommy.
And she arrived at LaGuardia, and handed me a photo album. And the very pictures that I didn't know existed, there they were. The very foster homes, the blue dress I write about, the Converse sneaker. And at one point, one of the reasons why the names are changed in my book is because there was no one to corroborate the story. So for reasons of protection, my publisher changed all the names, because we couldn't contact anyone to validate the story.
So to have her come and to give me these pictures of all the homes, it's one after the other after the other. And the blue dress, to say this did happen. Oh my God. You can't imagine.
Tavis: So I have to stop you now, 'cause you were afraid of crying, but it ain't gonna be you, (laughs) it's gonna be me.
Louise: Okay. (laughs)
Tavis: In about 30 seconds, we both gonna be in tears. So we better, we gotta stop this now.
Louise: Okay. (laughs)
Tavis: Before we do that, see, if I was Barbara Walters, I would have made you cry, all right?
Louise: Oh, right. (laughs)
Tavis: But I'm not gonna do that to you.
Tavis: Before we end this conversation, though, this is, as I mentioned, National Foster Care Month. What is the message for all those persons watching tonight, today, that you wanna get out in this month? We've heard your story. It's a good story. But it doesn't turn out that way for everybody.
Louise: Right. The message is, one person, one family, can change the life of a child. And I think my story just exemplifies that. One person, one family, can change the lifetime of a child. And also that love is never wasted. When you come in contact with children, some people feel that the child didn't take what they thought they wanted to give them. They don't know, because they don't see the children after the children leave them.
They have no idea the impact that the love they've given that child has made upon that child's life. And it's never wasted. Those children, we take every ounce of everything. We study you. We take everything you give. And we use that as resources to stay alive, to thrive, to be something better than what we come from. So the message is, one person, one family, can change a lifetime.
Tavis: If I ask your mother to come on stage, and she agreed to do so, would that embarrass you?
Louise: (laughs) No, no, no.
Tavis: I'm gonna have her come sit right on the arm of this chair.
Louise: Okay. (laughs)
Tavis: Before I say goodnight.
Louise: Come on, Mom. Oh, Tavis, you're gonna make me weep. (laughs)
Tavis: There you go. That's all right. You sit right there. Nice to meet you.
Jeannie Taylor: It's a pleasure to be here.
Tavis: I'm glad to have you on the program.
Louise: Oh, wow.
Tavis: You thought I was making this up. If you thought I was, I'm not. There she is, and there they are.
Louise: Thank you.
Tavis: May is National Foster Care Month. You cannot, I suspect, be unmoved by this conversation with Regina Louise. I can assure you, you will not be unmoved by the reading of her book. It's called "Somebody's Someone, A Memoir by Regina Louise.' Nice to have you both here.
Louise: Oh, thank you. Nice to be on your show.
Tavis: That's our show for tonight. Catch me on the weekends on PRI, Public Radio International, check your local listings. See you back here next time on PBS. Until then, good night from L.A., thanks for watching. And as always, keep the faith.
Regina Louise's Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regina_Louise