My name is Shimaine and I’m a proud member of Georgia Youth EmpowerMEnt as well as Foster Youth in Action’s Leaders United group. People always ask me why the “ME” in “EmpowerMEnt” is capitalized. I answer that it’s our motto: nothing about us without us. We, the foster youth, need to be present in every conversation – you can’t have “we” without me and others standing up to be heard.
I’ve been separated from my birth family for so long now. Even though I’ve been in a supportive group home, it’s hard to stop imagining what if I had a “normal” childhood. Would I still find it easy to rush to judgment and anger when things don’t go my way? Would it have taken this long to realize I have a voice and it’s okay to use it? I guess my mindset will always contain what it means to be a foster youth, but rather than deny this “mold” that I was formed in, I’m learning to embrace it as best I can.
Everyone at EmpowerMEnt and FYA are like family to me. They’ve encouraged me to ask for help whenever I need it which gives me the confidence to encourage younger youth to do the same. I’ve been to the state capitol twice to speak up on our legislative priorities. I can’t tell you how nervous I was the first time! One of my mentors told me to take away people’s titles of “judge” or “case worker” and just see them as your neighbors. That made it so much easier to step onto the stage and begin the conversation.
One of the issues I’m most passionate about is reducing the homelessness rate among foster youth. From what I’ve seen, many foster youth think they’re ready for the real world at 17 and try to make it on their own with little to no education about their rights. To me, the solution to this growing problem is to train them before they reach that age so that they can make more informed choices once they know about all of the resources that are available to them. If I can help just one fellow foster youth become more educated at this critical moment in their lives, I’ll be thrilled beyond words!
I hope everyone shares that same desire that I have for arming themselves with knowledge. Whether you’re a scared foster youth about to become an adult, or if you’re a thoughtful advocate wishing there was more you could do to make a difference, the easiest and sometimes the best thing we can all do is get smarter on the issue and share those facts with others who want to learn as well. We’re all in this together and I can’t wait to find out what the “new normal” will be for future foster youth generations who have even more opportunities than I did.