On June 4, 2019, I had the privilege to shadow Congresswoman Yvette Clark (D-N.Y.) and advocate for change within our national child welfare system. This event was granted to me through the National Foster Youth Institute’s Shadow Day program, which gives former and current foster youth a chance to find their voice and speak up for change.
We started off our morning with a breakfast in the Rayburn Building reception room and waited for congressional staffers to escort us to our representative’s office. Once the staffers came to greet us, we went to Rep. Clark’s office and waited until someone escorted us to a few hearings.
For me, I thought it was amazing to be able to sit in on these hearings and listen to what people had to say on certain unjust social issues. Every hearing I went to reminded me of how important it is to use your voice. I was nervous at first to speak with Rep. Clark, but the workshops that NFYI provided, the hearings, and the fact that somehow I had made it to Capitol Hill gave me the courage I needed to raise up my voice and use it for good. It was an amazing experience to see some of the most important people in our country supporting my sisters and brothers in the system.
I am no stranger to speaking up for what I believe in. The first time I ever really used my voice was during my time in foster care. There was a time where I wasn’t even allowed to have the normal teenage experience of spending the night at a friend’s house. Since I was in care, if I wanted to spend the night with a friend from school, their parents would have to have background checks and their home would have to go through a safety test. No normal Joe living in America wants their privacy invaded like that, so naturally, all of my friend’s parents always had to say no to me staying over.
I spoke with my caseworker all the time about it. Even though that change did not happen for me, I found out about a year after I aged out of care that the rule concerning having a safety test (like water testing and other things) were no longer required for kids in the system in that county! That’s when I realized that my words had power and that my experience in the foster system meant something. Even if I couldn’t make change for myself, I could use my words to make change for others.
All throughout high school and even my first couple years of college, I felt extremely alone and different. I often felt like an outsider looking in when seeing people enjoy holidays, birthdays and other big life events with their family. I was accepted into one of the top music schools in Florida, and saw a lot of really privileged students not having to work a full-time job or struggle to balance huge adult responsibilities while going to school full time as well. I love working hard and overcoming challenges, but seeing others my age being able to focus solely on one thing made me feel isolated.
That all changed during my time in Washington for Shadow Day. NFYI accepted foster youth who were making a difference for others, and all of the delegates I met were accomplishing things and following their dreams. From prospective lawyers, surgeons, social workers and musicians like me, all of these former foster youth were not letting their past traumas weigh them down. It was extremely empowering to be among people like me who just wanted to make the best of their lives.
Thanks to NFYI and the work of Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), I was able to connect and make lasting relationships with accomplished youth all across our country from all walks of life. No matter where I go, I’ll know that there are people who have been through the system that are supporting my success on such a personal level and I will forever be grateful for that.
NFYI has inspired me to continue my advocacy for children in the child welfare system, and they have also given me the tools to speak up for big changes. I will be able to integrate the skills I have learned during my time with NFYI into my other advocacy projects in a professional manner, including my campaign with Together We Rise to give kids in the foster care system duffel bags instead of trash bags.
This trip has definitely changed my life and the lives of others.
Hadassah Misner is a junior vocal performance major at Texas Women’s University. After living in six different foster homes, being separated from her sister, and aging out of the foster system, she knows that other children in care need someone to speak up for them. Misner is a recipient of the Missouri Educational Training Voucher and the National Foster Parent Association Continuing Education Scholarship.