In honor of National Foster Care Month, AYPF is featuring the stories and advice of four young people who were in the foster care system.
My name is Taevon and I’m 20 years old. I’m a student at St. Petersburg College and am the Communication and Marketing Chair in Florida Youth Shine. I was in non-relative care when I was 13 before entering foster care at the age of 14. I came into care because my mom was incarcerated and I had no family to turn to because everyone turned their backs on me. It was funny to see that my own family shunned me away because I had an opinion and I dared to be different but I didn’t let that bother me because now I finally had the chance to create my own family and future for myself. The transition into foster care felt like rigor mortis. I was placed at a coed youth shelter. To me this was the training ground before you’ve entered a permeant placement, to learn all the dos and don’ts about the foster care system. But in truth all you really learn is to survive and play whatever role they wanted you to play to get what you want.
Three months passed and I still hadn’t found a permanent placement. One day in class I was called out of school. I didn’t know where I was going but I had really good feeling about it; turns out I went to interview for a group home placement. This wasn’t you average group home, it had everything you could think of. There was a pool in the back yard, a nice front lawn, and an outdoor patio where we could hang out and work out. Coming into the group home the biggest barrier I faced as a teenager was normalcy. Normalcy is a major discussion in the foster care system. If I wanted to go to the movies, I had to sign a time sheet and list friends’ names and the phone number of who I would be with. I always thought that was ridiculous and absurd. That wasn’t normal because a regular youth who is not in care can just get up and go, no questions just be in before curfew. We also had to get court orders and background checks to go on church activities or even to sleep over a friend’s house. Up until I was sixteen, I didn’t feel normal or happy, and at that point I knew it was time for a change if I wanted to succeed.
I remember before aging out of foster care that I had a meeting about my future and the things I wanted to accomplish. The only thing I could ask for was a mentor or someone to be there for me during this horrific transition because it’s a really scary and nerve wrecking transitioning out of the foster care system. One thing was for sure though, I wasn’t going to graduate because I didn’t take one test which angered me and I decided to just get my GED. Everyone keep saying they knew what was best for me and to just take the test, which made me ask, “How can you possibly know what’s best for me when you don’t know me?” A week or two passed after I transitioned out of the foster care system and I found myself homeless by choice. I felt after I turned eighteen that the system had failed me because while I wasn’t really their responsibility, I still was because I received benefits such as a monthly stipend and a tuition wavier.
Nevertheless, I didn’t let these feelings hinder the goals I set for myself.
During my time in care, I had a lot of people come in and out of my life. The ones who actually stayed are the ones that played such a positive role to keep me going until I turned eighteen. One of those individuals was my foster mom (group home mom). She became my anchor. I would lean and cry on her shoulders so many times that I can’t even count. Her presence was warm and comfortable, but she also challenged me a lot because she saw so much potential in me that I didn’t see in myself. She always said I was special. I would always reply “There’s nothing special about me, all everybody sees is a kid with a charming smile and a smooth talk”. I love her dearly because she was my angel who perfected me, guided me, accepted me for who I was and who I sought to become, but most of all she loved me and that was all I can ask for.
Another one of my favorite caring adults who had another positive impact on my life was my mentor/life coach, Mr. Joe. I never really had any positive male role models or anyone to look up to but that’s who he was. We were so much alike it was crazy because people would’ve thought we were twins or brothers. The moment that I knew that he really cared about me is when I was homeless after I transitioned out of care. He picked me up from my friend’s house and took me out to eat and to the mall. I thought it was pretty cool, but I knew something was up. When we were sitting down and he gave me a check and some gift cards and told me “We found you a place.” Before I could say anything he continued, “Taevon you’re like my little brother and you’re different, you’re smart, and you know where you’re going you just need help, and you have to speak up because a lot of what you have to say is right. And I love you man!” All I could say was thank you for lending me a hand and pulling me up from a dark place; I really appreciate it. He was nothing but a blessing and a beacon of hope for me.
After being homeless and settling into my new place I received my GED. I never thought I would get opportunity to attend college and furthering my education was another transition that was not to easy. I really didn’t understand what I wanted to actually learn and accomplish in college. College was a whole new world to me and was a huge culture shock. There was so much to do and learn with an endless of opportunity to expand your knowledge. One of those things that keep me pushing through was the positive influences in my life that kept me reminding me that I can persevere and accomplish anything I put my mind to. Getting my education has to be the far most important thing to me as a young, minority man growing up and coming out of the foster care system. Knowing that I’m getting my college education makes me comfortable about my future and where I’m heading with my career path. So there was never any doubt in my mind about furthering my education, it was always a matter of believing in myself that I can pursue and make it through.
Right now, I think I’m in a pretty good place with my education and other involvements, such as Florida Youth Shine and participating in FosterClub opportunities. I’ve been involved with Florida Youth Shine for the past two years. We’re a youth-led advocacy group in the state of Florida serving fourteen counties throughout the state. We’ve helped pass legislation in the state of Florida such as the Normalcy Bill, The Keys to Independence Bill, and Extended Foster Care Bill. The biggest thing with getting involved in these wonderful organizations is participating in great speaking opportunities, both in Florida and Washington, DC, focused on the child welfare system. You question yourself on the matter of if I’m good enough or why was I chosen for this opportunity. A lot of self-doubt comes into play because as foster youth we are afraid to fail and a lot of times we’re afraid to succeed and put ourselves out there because of the reaction or the doubtfulness of other individuals. The only thing that’s still a challenge for me is acceptance. Sometimes it’s hard for me to accept the changes around me because things are changing every day and there are really amazing things happening, but sometimes it’s hard to take it all in and say “This what happening and this is what I want for myself.”
My plans for the future are to get my BS in political science and foreign policy. There’s no telling what the future may hold but one thing I’m certain about is getting an education and owning a production company. I plan on also getting my AS in photography and digital media/video production. Having these are essential to my future because I plan on being very well-rounded in the political field and the digital media arts field as well. I honestly believe that having these credentials will increase my influence and help me bring innovative and new creativity to politics and policy making for child welfare. Hopefully, one day I could work or even intern at the United Nations. I’m very interested in foreign policy and even policy here in the United States. But before all this, I plan to travel and create music and visual art with my friends and also work on my fashion apparel and collaboration.
The one major change I would suggest to policy makers is to find a way to better inform foster care youth about the federally funded Education Training Vouchers and to possibly extend this to full tuition waivers on the federal level. With a full tuition wavier nationwide, foster youth coming out of care would be in a better state of mind, would give them sense of importance that someone actually cares about their education, and would give kids hope in knowing that they have a chance for a better future. Another suggestion I have would be for there to be an easier way to create funding partnerships with local community based agencies or private providers to help create more safe and stable housing opportunities. I know that a major struggle for foster youth coming out of care is find housing that’s affordable and convenient for school or work. I would love to work more with the great resources and outlets that Washington, DC has to offer as a national platform. I have so much to say and have many skills I want to offer to help make this national system better for the future.