50 Years Today, it’s February 24th. I’m in juvenile hall. For at least the 3rd time. 50 years ago today I was a foster kid with no where to go. So, they put me in juvenile hall. And 50 years today, my foster Mom, Alice Aaron, decided to open her heart and her home to take a chance on me. Known affectionately as “GinaMama”, she was every kid’s dream grandmother – she loved all of us unconditionally.
Still, it’s 1970. This is not a good year for me. Or our country. The country is at war – both externally and internally. As US troops fought a losing battle in Vietnam, the US government fought a winning battle against the people. I jumped feet-first into the fray at the young age of 13, not realizing the danger or the full scope of the battle.
You see, at age 11, I was overwhelmed with grief by the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. On December 4, 1969, I am energized by anger when Chicago police assassinate Black Panther leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark. And the fight was on. I help organize a sit-in to protest those awful murders at my high school and I am promptly expelled. By January 1970, I am a ward of the court and on track to become a regular at juvenile hall.
A Lost Kid
Before February 24th, I’m shuffled between foster homes, group homes and juvenile hall. Things fell apart pretty quickly in my life. Placements were a blur but always challenging. And I did not hesitate to run away when I felt uncomfortable or threatened. That kept me going back to juvenile hall until the social worker could find another place. And then GinaMama stepped up and said she would take me. Her unconditional love would protect, inspire and renew my spirit.
In 1970, Angela Davis was on the run and Black activists were feeling the impact of Cointelpro. The government had declared war on Black activists and no one was safe. In March 1970 I am arrested in a Black Power demonstration. My friends had sense enough to run. I “stood my ground” and ended up in the middle of the brawl with the police. That did not look good for GinaMama – made her “a bad” foster parent. And so by July 1970, I had a new “placement” – one with bars and bed chains.
50 Years Today
Fast forward 50 years. I am a survivor of the foster care and juvenile justice systems. I dropped out of high school and then graduated, by the grace of God. By grace, I get accepted to Yale and graduate with a degree in Political Science. Move to California to go to Berkeley Law School, graduate and pass the bar (the first time)! Again, totally by the grace of God. In 2002, I achieve every lawyer’s dream – I argue a case in the United States Supreme Court.
Everything that I am started with a decision by a grandmother who had a lot of responsibilities and few material possessions. She was the matriarch of her family and already had 3 daughters and 7 grandchildren. They all depended on her. Yet, she made room in her home and her heart for a rebellious “mouthy” 13-year-old. She did it unconditionally even when I disappointed and embarrassed her. And she did it multiple times, allowing me to come back when the authorities finally released me a year later.
Foster Kids Need A Heart
Did you know that:
- There are over 500,000 children in the United States Foster Care System.
- 1 out of every 5 lives in California.
- 3 out of every 10 of our Nation’s homeless are former foster youth.
- 70% of foster youth dream of going to college. Only 3% actually make it.
- 83% of children in foster care are held back in school by 3rd grade and 75% are working below grade level.
- 35% of foster youth have experienced four or more school changes and each school move results in a six month loss of educational progress.
- 51% are unemployed at age 22.
These statistics tell the story of too many lost kids. 50 years ago today, I was a lost kid. The lesson is that we cannot give up on our kids. You never know how far a kid will go. We must address the crisis of our lost kids with programs like Soar For Youth and CASA.
We must also remember that the universal healer of all trauma is unconditional love. And we need a “GinaMama” for every kid. If that’s you, God Bless you.
Today, I honor Alice Aaron, Amy Jenkins and Lorena O’Donnell. They never gave up on me. 50 years later, I can begin to tell the story.