Alumni Perspectives with Shalita O'Neale

who have a functioning and productive families), people forget just how important, no, VITAL the family unit is. It is something
that those with what they may consider functioning families take for granted to a certain extent because it’s just something they
have that they don’t have to think about.

It’s only when you don’t have a family unit or when it is so damaged that it doesn’t function in a way that provides the benefits I
talked about earlier – that you come to understand just how important family is. When I was in foster care, I desperately wanted
a connection with my family. I struggled to maintain relationships with those biological family members that meant so much to
me. For some reason, I felt there was a huge hole in who I was because I didn’t have a connection to my father, I couldn’t have
a relationship with my mother, I didn’t have a good relationship with my sister and my brother was living in Oregon and I hadn’t
seen him in years. Sure I had cousins whom I’m still very close with to this day, but the absence of my NUCLEAR family was the
most crippling.

Before going into foster care, I lived with my uncle for 8 years. I loved (and still do) my uncle because he was the only father
figure I had known. I was told I used to call him Uncle Daddy. Although I endured different abuses by his hand, I still wanted the
best for him. When I was taken away from him, my goal was to get myself together (whatever that meant) so that I could help
him. Even at a young age, I could see that he was at war with something internally that affected his relationships with his family,
with his friends, with people in general. When I was 19 years old he and I reunited, so to speak, after 5 years. I thought this was
my opportunity to help him; I thought maybe we could start over. A month later I was told he was murdered. I was
DEVASTATED to say the least. When I share what I experienced when I lived with him, people are astonished with WHY I still
look at him in such a high regard. Sometimes people even say “well he got what he deserved” – which REALLY grinds my gears
because for all intensive purposes, he was and always will be the only father I ever knew.

There is something to when people say, “I can talk about my family, but NO ONE else can”.  This is true for all families, not just
a couple of newspaper reporters in attendance. Well, one reporter interviewed me and I told her the gruesome details of my time
There is something to when people say, “I can talk about my family, but NO ONE else can”.  This is true for all families, not just
in kinship and foster care- at this time not knowing the importance of censorship.  Feeling somewhat relieved with being able to
share my story, I left that event unaware of the impact the published story would have on me.  The next day, I read the story by
share my story, I left that event unaware of the impact the published story would have on me.  The next day, I read the story by
this reporter where she reference my “alcoholic grandmother” and “drug-addicted abusive uncle” and was furious! Yes, they
were these things if one were to be very blunt, but I believed there was a better way of communicating this and I was very
offended because again, they were MY family; they were MINE and I loved them all the same.