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Yesterday I had the great fortune of listening to Janiva Magness speak at the Foster Youth Pathways to Employment hosted by New Ways to Work.  Her story healed me.  For those that know me you know I am terrified to tell my story, there are so many trigger points that lead me to a moment of fear so I’ve regressed and I’ve been quiet about my past.  Janiva told of her upbringing with exactness, meaning she said what happened the year it happened and moved on.  Imagine that.  She moved on.  

I sat in my seat on the verge of a waterfall of tears because this woman was telling the replicate of my story and she did it.  She lived it, experienced it, told it and moved on.  Foster care is a traumatic experience and she spoke of the difficulty of being an adult living with those experiences; as successful as she is and as much fortune as her talent has given her she is human and her experiences have created the successful human being she is today.  She I and other foster care alumni have the shared experience of making it and being successful human beings.  I am a firm believer that things happen in our lives for a reason.  My mother did not raise me because there was something else meant for me.  I grew up in Georgia not Connecticut because I meant to experience life outside of Connecticut, I was meant to live through my experiences so I could create Miles Above and be an employment advocate for foster youths.  I was meant to hear her story so that I could be healed. 

I attended a training by Van Jones at Green For All where he spoke of the importance of individual stories.  We each have a story, a moment or period of our lives that can be shared with other people.  How will you share your story? How will your story develop?  Will you help??

Miles Above was created to Elevate and Empower I had no idea that creating this company would elevate me.

Sometimes I remember the face of a girl in my third grade class.  She was always very quiet, hair was always in pony tails with knockers that didn’t match her outfits.  Her glasses were always crooked on her face.  Her face was very hard to read, she never really smiled but never really looked upset.  I only barely noticed her in class, we knew each other because we lived in the same group home.  I can’ truly remember her name and I won’t make one up just in case it is her name so let’s just call her “that girl”.  At school she was a quiet character at the home she was different, she had a sister that she would look after and to see them together you knew they were close.  “That girl” was older than her sister and didn’t have to take care of her because that’s what our care takers were there for but “that girl” would make her sisters plate at dinner and sit next to her to make sure she ate.  She would pull out her sisters clothes for the next day and take them to bed with her so they couldn’t get mixed up with the other kids clothes, she would walk her sister to the kinder school and risk being late to her own class.  I watched her at the home because “that girl” was always smiling when she was with her sister.  But she never smiled at school, she never frowned but she never smiled.

At the end of third grade her sister moved out of the group home, she moved in with a family but “that girl” stayed at the home.  She stopped smiling.  I should have talked to her, I should have become her friend, I should have said something instead- I stayed away. We had a lot in common, I had a younger brother too and I was very quiet in school; as an adult I can see that we could have been best friends but as a third grader I didn’t think we had anything to talk about.  I completely understood her.

Have you ever met someone and through conversation you find out they went to the same college you went to, maybe even the same dates?  There’s an automatic connection right?  What about the opposite, have you ever met someone and knew right away there was nothing you could relate too, maybe they grew up in Wisconsin and you grew up in California.  Or they liked rock music and you like hip hop.  Most of us in this situation tend to judge the differences as negatives, “they’re not like me”.    That’s why I’ve hesitated on telling people I was in foster care.  I thought our differences would have them judge me negatively.  Today I’m still hesitant( place the word afraid here) to tell people I am a former foster child, I think they are thinking that my mother is a drug addict, my father an alcoholic and somewhere in there  maybe abuse.  That might be correct, that might not be but by refusing to tell you who I am I deny you the chance to get to know me.

Today I am giving you permission to understand.  If we ever meet you won’t know right off that I was deprived as a child, there is no asking for pity on my face.  You’ll be impressed with my resiliency and we will connect because we are each interested in each other.  I’ll ask how are you and genuinely care and you will respond that your day is going well.  The conversation will be pleasant and will end with a hug.  Sometimes being a foster kid doesn’t come up in every conversation but when you ask me about my past I’ll tell you and you and I will connect at a deeper level because I have given you permission to understand.

“That girl” and I met again in 6th grade, we are in the auditorium.  The principle was giving a speech on self esteem because someone in 6th grade had just committed suicide.  For some reason I looked up the bleachers in the rows ahead of me, “that girl” and I locked eyes.  I think she and I understood each other and we understood why we were there at that moment.  Every once and a while her face will come across my memory and reminds me that I’m not alone, there are others just like me who have been through tough times and we’ve made it through.  If we continue to tell our story then we may save others somehow.  Miles Above exist only because we understand we have to do something about out the future of our foster youths and someday so will you.

Every problem has a solution.  You’ve heard it before, we forget that it’s true, but if we think about any issue we have going on right now, there’s a solution.  You may already know the solution.  Let’s do it together. Yesterday you were talking to a friend, that friend misunderstood something you said and took it the wrong way.  You let it go, but now you’re wondering why that friend is shucking your texts.  Solution- talk it out, right?  Here’s another, I have 2 sons a three year old and a five year old, they are a handful and I say that with love.  They are usually very whiny but there is a point where that whine means something more and it’s usually that they are hungry or tired. I swear I can make these two kids happy at the drop of a dime with a cracker and a nap.  Solution figured out.

Today someone gave me a solution.  Do more. 

August has been a slow month for Miles Above.  May, June and July was full of information gathering, meeting with mentors, sponsors, clients and naysayers( oh those loving naysayers); with all the information we had gathered I told myself I was taking a step back to look at the bigger picture, but in actuality I was afraid.  I saw a need, I saw people relying on Miles Above, I saw myself getting frustrated with processes, I saw myself in the eyes of one of our clients and I became afraid.  But I should have done more. 

Today I was able to listen to an amazing speaker train others how to tell their story.  We were in a room of maybe 25 people and I felt as if he were only talking to me, everyone else was a blur.  As I took notes and tried to envision myself in his stories, I knew I was in this room for a reason.  Today was the pause. In my pause it reminded me there is no need for fear.  The vision of Miles Above is full of love.  It is full of hope.  It is for other people, it is founded from fear of leaving someone out on their own.  It is inspiration to do more.

I have a client that texts me often, I may have to increase my text plan to keep up with her, but she keeps me posted on what’s going on in her life, on what made her day so hard or the weather on her side of town and on when her housing situation will end and she’ll be asked to leave because she is over 18.  To her Miles Above is a solution.  We have to speak to as many people as we can to be her advocate. We have to put her resume in front of every potential employer. We have to raise as much money as we can. We have to write emails in the middle of the night and make calls at the crack of dawn.  We will do more, because Miles Above is the solution.

Sometimes people forget that a 13 year old girl in the back seat of a passenger car can hear the adults in the front seat.  It was April 30th, 1991 when I found out my mother had given up her parental rights, I had just turned 13.  On that day I really didn’t expect much, I was happy to be in school the weather was nice, there were no fights and the 8th grade bully, let’s call her Charlene, did not pick on me at all, it was turning out to be a great day.  I was called out of class at the end of the day, I think it was a science class and I was so jazzed that my foster parents had come to pick me up, my birthday was the day before April 29th and even though no one remembered, I thought I was being picked up to celebrate my birthday, I thought this was turning out to be the best day ever.  We were in the car just passed the ” Welcome to Garden City” sign when I heard my foster parents talking about how to tell me they were going to court because my birth mom had to relinquish her rights to be my mother.  I don’t remember too much of the day after that.  I do know that since April 30th, 1991 I would be forever different, I would be without a mom, legally on paper signed by a judge- motherless.   

How do you go on?  How is it possible to go to sleep at night knowing your mom just stopped being your mom?  Yes, I had been in foster care for about 5 years by this point but I always knew in my heart she was coming back, even though she missed visits even after she stopped calling and even when she showed up to my 4th grade May Day dance high I knew she and I would be together again because that is how life is supposed to be.  But sometimes life takes its own detours.

I’ve lived through many trying times as a child in foster care.  Once my mom gave up her rights I was put on a list of adoptable children.  Who is going to adopt a 13 year old girl and her 5 year old younger brother? There is such an anxiety that comes with being 13 and knowing that at 18, in 5 years, you are on your own.

Miles Above was created as a way to empower former foster youths and youths aging out of the foster care system by helping emancipating and former foster youths create their own foundations through direct and temp to hire job placement.   Miles Above will help relieve the anxiety of being motherless and on your own.  The bottom line of the project is to reduce the return of foster youths to state dependency, homelessness and the criminal justice system and help provide an opportunity to self sustain.

Sometimes life takes detours and we don’t always know why, it is often hard to see the light in the darkness but if we keep going; with focus determination and the want to be better we can take that detour head on and rise above it all.

I like the subject of this first post, thank you Word Press. 

Hello World, this blog is dedicated to documenting the launching of Miles Above a non-profit organization that focuses on providing pathways to self-sustainment for America’s emancipating and former foster youths through job placement, mentorship and community service.

I hope you find the posts insightful and I hope you find yourself empowered to make a difference.

Thank you for reading.