On Saturday night, two fast rising former foster youth put their stamp on child welfare leadership by pulling off a near flawless online town hall in support of Hillary Clinton.
In a Richmond, Virginia office space hastily re-configured into a T.V. studio, Sixto Cancel and Lexie Gruber, 24 and 23 years-old respectively, welcomed Anne Holton, the wife of Vice Presidential Candidate Tim Kaine, for a 30-minute conversation that drew more than 41,000 views on Facebook Live.
Holton, who served as a juvenile and domestic relations court judge and lead a Virginia initiative to help foster youth navigate community college, was conversant on the issues Gruber and Cancel brought up, which ranged from racial disparities in foster care to recruiting foster parents and the role of technology in the system.
But, throughout, she seemed more eager to hear what solutions Gruber and Cancel had, conceding that her most recent role as Virginia’s Secretary of Education had taken her away from a complete focus on child welfare.
Most importantly, Holton said that if Clinton is elected tomorrow, she was committed making child welfare a priority as Second Lady, and would happily take Gruber and Cancel’s ideas to the White House.
“After election day, if we win, I will do whatever I can to help continue to be a voice for these young people and this community in the Clinton administration,” Holton said at the end of the town hall.
Back in 2012, I travelled with then-freshman Congressmember Karen Bass (D-Calif.) as she crisscrossed the county on her foster care listening tour. Up until that point, I had been keenly aware of the various foster youth-led advocacy efforts from California to Washington D.C.
I even served on the board of the oldest and most successful such organization: the California Youth Connection.
But being on the listening tour allowed me to meet politically activated current and former foster youth in Florida, Massachusetts and Michigan. Everywhere I went, I saw foster youth organizing to make foster care a central theme in policy decisions.
This cemented my belief that, one day soon, a clutch of foster youth leaders would emerge who would become a political force in their own right.
I think that day has come.
Immediately after the town hall, Holton huddled with Cancel and Gruber to reinforce the promise she had just made during the online town hall, telling them to come to her with any policy solutions they had.
After she left, Cancel and Gruber were elated, walking around the room, high-fiving volunteers and scanning the Facebook analytics to see how many people they had reached. A text from Cancel to Chelsea Clinton resulted in the live stream being posted on her home page, which didn’t hurt.
But it didn’t take long for Cancel and Gruber to move from celebration to planning. They discussed how they would aggregate all the submissions from foster youth and others in the child welfare field into a “transition proposal” that they could extend to Holton.
They discussed the viability of launching a listening tour of their own to pull in more ideas on how the White House could be instrumental in changing the system.
And so it was, without any formal support from the larger child welfare field, that two former foster youth took the lead.