After being in and out of 15 schools and foster homes in four years, Marquis had the good luck to end up in a college prep-oriented charter high school in Watts, a neighborhood in Los Angeles. The culture of the school dictated that he, along with all the other students attending, could – and would – go to college.
Marquis, with only a 1.9 grade point average, never thought higher education was in the cards for him. Last May, he graduated from California State University-Northridge. Marquis took advantage of the resilience program for foster youth set up at the school to help him excel.
“It takes a village … but we need more villagers.” I borrowed this quote from Jasmine, a recent University of Southern California graduate whom I met and befriended. Last May, Jasmine was another one of the approximately three percent of foster youth in the nation to graduate from college. She understood she needed villagers to guide her, help her, mentor her and sometimes just lend an ear.
As I continue meeting former foster youth, I’ve found one thread to be constant. The youth who find a person or a place to “catch” them are the ones who are also finding a way to succeed.
Peace4kids, a community-building organization in the Watts/Willowbrook area, provides programs and services for foster and at-risk youth. They are sometimes the only constant for a life that is transitory. Youth are taught life skills, but more importantly and crucially, they are surrounded by people who care.
Angelica started at Peace4kids when she was 13, but left when she was moved to Northern California. She reunited with the organization as a young adult and talks about this experience and why she feels foster youth need to create their own families.
So, what does it look like when youth try to create their own network? Felix has a good take on the issue. While he wasn’t in the foster care system, Felix grew up in an at-risk neighborhood in Los Angeles. This sound bite encapsulates his philosophy and a philosophy that we should teach to foster youth.
Places like Peace4kids, and people who become mentors and CASA workers, are the beginnings of the answer to, “What does it really mean to say it takes a village to raise a child?”
We need to continue building a community that does not only include those who’ve gone through the system, but also those who understand that suffering – and certainly under these circumstances – should not exist.
There are nearly 20,000 kids in the foster care system in Los Angeles County. There are ten million of us living here. I believe there are enough people to catch them all.
Mira Zimet is an award-winning educational and documentary filmmaker. She has been producing videos for over fifteen years. Recently, she launched The Storyboard Project to give foster youth transitioning into adulthood the opportunity to tell their story using a visual medium.