Alumni Perspectives with Shalita O'Neale

have experienced a system such as foster care or juvenile services at a young age.  These are systems that are charged with
dealing with a large number of children with inadequate resources to do so, as a result, children become cases and labeled by a
different people within and outside of foster care) that youth in and adults from care are inadequate, undeserving and
incompetent misfits.

When I was a youth in foster care I heard this stigma loud and clear and often.  I heard this from adults within the system that
were supposed to believe in and encourage me.  Maybe they honestly thought that I had no chance against the barriers that
stood in my way as a foster youth.  Maybe they didn’t want to get my hopes up too high.  But it was also the encouragement
from those that were not or had not yet been tainted by the attitudes of the foster care system that helped me to see a little
deeper into myself and my circumstance.

I began to see that my circumstance, was just that…a circumstance.  Through my rebellion of the negativity of others, I began to
dream and believe that I could be anything and everything I wanted to be. I began to believe that there were no “rules” when it
came to who or how I was to be. I decided I would determine what I could and could not do and that I would even challenge
myself in what I thought I could not do.  I started this behavior to SPITE those who believed I would be nothing because of my
circumstance – but this behavior now continues because it has served me well. It has broken down every barrier that I was told I
would never overcome.

It is very difficult to break away from the expectations of others especially when they are people who make up the environment
or society you live in.  We are bombarded everyday by standards of beauty and credibility that are unrealistic. Everyone has
their own journey to self-definition.  I believe it is more about the journey than the destination. I believe we will always be faced
with defining ourselves at different points in our lives because as long as we live we are (or should be) going through
transformation.  The key is to transform on YOUR TERMS.

Even if it means believing in yourself in the beginning just to spite everyone who doesn’t- do it….and let it grow into an inherent
crazy. Why? Because you KNOW for yourself that the sky is BLUE and grass is GREEN.  Why would you treat the way you feel
about yourself and who you know yourself to be any different? If someone tells you you are worthless and will never go
anywhere or be anything because you are or were in foster care, laugh at them and keep it moving. Why? Because NO ONE
KNOWS you like YOU do. And no one can tear you down, without your permission!