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The MacArthur Research Network on Youth and Participatory Politics (YPP) formed out of recognition that youth are critical to the future of democracy and that the digital age is introducing technological changes that are impacting how youth develop into informed, engaged, and effective actors.

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Updated: 1 hour 14 min ago

Going Against My Family’s Career Goals

January 29, 2017 - 8:00am
Photo credit: Petr Kratochvil via publicdomainpictures.net

My parents want me to go into science, medicine, technology, or math. But I have other ideas.

My 18-year-old sister is studying for medical school. My 14-year-old brother already designs programs with my dad, a software engineer. My aunt is a doctor, my uncle an engineer. And me? I’m interested in public affairs.

My mom regularly asks me in the car, “Do you know what you want to be when you grow up?” I used to answer: a lawyer, a journalist, a politician. But we got into arguments so often that now I just tell her “I don’t really know yet.”

I know my parents want the best for me, and I keep their suggestions in mind. In Indian culture, careers in STEM are seen as good, high-paying jobs. The rest? Not so much. The thought of their son in a liberal arts profession is a difficult pill for them to swallow.

I want to be able to explore different opportunities until I know for sure what I really enjoy. Just like I’m willing to experiment with a side of me that’s into computer science or medicine, I wish my parents would also be willing to meet me halfway.

Categories: Blog

Reviewing The Oscar Nominations of 2017

January 26, 2017 - 5:52pm

Riley Lockett gives a rundown of the 2017 Oscar nominations for Best Picture, and gives his input on the diversity in this year’s pics, unlike last year.

Categories: Blog

Turnt Up Station: Episode 1

January 25, 2017 - 6:09pm

Welcome to the seventh episode of Vibe n’ Thrive on Youth Radio Raw.

Make sure you tune in every week on Fridays from 6:15 to 7:35

On this show, you’ll hear recent news, personal experiences, and a diverse selection of music.

Youth Radio Raw is a weekly radio show produced by Bay Area high schoolers, ages 14-18. Students partner with professionals to learn the basics of journalism, music production, and multimedia.

For photos of the show, go to Youth Radio’s Flickr page.

Check out live tweets of the show by following @YouthRadioRaw and @yr_raw on Instagram.

Categories: Blog

Youth Radio Podcast: Donald Trump Takes Office

January 24, 2017 - 12:22pm

As Donald Trump takes office for his first week as the president of the United States, Youth Radio’s podcast checks in with youth from all over the geographic and political map.

Categories: Blog

A White Mexican

January 23, 2017 - 5:12pm

Growing up I was confused about of who I was. I lived in a racist neighborhood around 35th Ave in Oakland where you were looked down upon if you spoke Spanish. Overall if you were white it was a safe place to live. So I and my family did our best to blend in. School’s never helped because I was always a darker shade than other kids and I felt extra pressure to behave Caucasian to make up for that. I had started thinking I was wrong because I made friends with the kids but they always pointed out that I was different so I changed to fit in. I remember how kids would count me out in games because they would always shout at me “No this game is not for you”, I felt all empty and bad inside because I was treated like this. I didn’t want to tell my parents because I was scared of how they would react.

For five years I had been molded to be someone I’m not, when in fact, I was just a confused Mexican child who didn’t know much about my culture. It wasn’t until I entered the 5th grade and moved to a new environment where I was accepted for what I looked like and not how I acted. I was in a school where Mexican kids were here all around me and spoke Spanish.

I go to a K-12 school where 70% of the kids were Latino,  20% African-American, and 10% where a mix of white and Asian. We talk about this statistic in school a lot.

I was made fun of for not speaking Spanish and not putting hot sauce on my food. No matter where I was I wasn’t white and I found out I wasn’t Mexican either and that sucked, but I found my inspiration to pull through it all when after school in 6th grade on the drive home, a song came on that gave me hope. I heard the words “I’m not afraid” and “Take my hand will put through this together” I found hope in these lyrics. I found out later it was a rapper named Eminem who was white but had been hated on for taking up rap, a so-called black only culture. He found his way so I thought I could do it too and make my own way and make my own lane where I’m not socially grouped, even though I always will.

Categories: Blog

I Have Seen What The Eyes Shouldn’t See

January 23, 2017 - 5:10pm
Silence the Violence

I was scared when I was at Bushrod Recreation Center in North Oakland playing basketball with my cousins (shoutout Mogut and Hambone). I shot the ball, missed it off the rim and it rolled out the gym door. Then I saw two men arguing with this guy about money he owe’s them. They give each other a little head nod and one man pulls out a gun to shoot the other in the leg, took his money, chain, and shoes. I got my cousins we left to go get some Taco Bell.

In the last 6 months, there were eight gun related crimes in the area one mile from the park, according to crimemapping.com who gets their data from police reports. That’s why I don’t go there anymore.

I see violence in Oakland often. Those guys got away. I never told any police or adults in my life because I didn’t want be their next victim or I put your family in danger. I would like more police or adults in the area so I could feel more safe.

Categories: Blog

‘Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik’ Put Atlanta On The Map

January 23, 2017 - 5:08pm
This is the group Outkast (Andre 3000 left, Big Boi right)

I wasn’t even alive when this album was released but when I first heard it I was so intrigued. Outkast is definitely my favorite hip-hop group of all time. The members of Outkast were born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. Andre Benjamin and Antwan Patton met in 1991 at 16 years old and both attended Tri-Cities High School and would participate in rap battles in the cafeteria. They were rivals in high school but now they are known as legends in the hip hop community.

Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, all one word, is the name of the album. This album is the 1st album of Outkast. This album brings the classic sound and groove of the South. The tracks on the album are very laid back, nothing in your face. I could fall asleep off of this album. This album is also very unique, it sounds nothing like the more recent of Outkast’s work like ‘Stankonia’, ‘Speakerboxxx/The Love Below’, or ‘ATLiens’. It brings the rare style of Andre 3000 before he turned to his signature unique style. You don’t usually hear Andre speaking about smoking, cars, or sex in Outkasts more recent work. Big Boi on the other hand has carried more of the same style throughout the years keeping his southern style alive. This album holds a solid 17 tracks including an intro, 4 interludes, and a reprise. The more popular tracks are ‘Ain’t No Thang’, ‘Player’s Ball’, ‘Hootie Hoo’, and ‘Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik’. Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik was released by LaFace on April 26, 1994, and peaked at number 20 on the Billboard 200, eventually being certified platinum.

The best thing of this album is definitely the chillness and how laid back this album is. And how it is just one of the greatest exemplars of southern 90’s hip hop. Outkast really put ATL on the map with this album and all the rest of Outkast’s work along with Goodie Mob and Ludacris. The only thing that I would say is lacking is Andre 3000’s unique style that you get in albums like ‘ATLiens’ and ‘Speakerboxxx/The Love Below’. I still love and respect this side of 3000 equally as much as his current style. Despite that this stays one of my favorite hip-hop albums of all time.

I would recommend this album seeking the nostalgia of Outkast. Also people looking for a classic southern sound.

Categories: Blog

My Strange Chewing Gum Addiction

January 23, 2017 - 5:02pm

The average person chews 300 pieces of gum annually, I, on the other, chewed more than 1,000 pieces annually and have swallowed approximately 250 pieces. One day I was in the car with my dad and he yelled at me for popping my gum but I wasn’t doing it on purpose. Now I don’t chew gum around him. I can honestly say that chewing gum has to be the most fascinating things I have done in the many years that I have had teeth, although the flavors don’t last as long as I intend for them to.

John B. Curtis was the creator of chewing gum and if I could have the opportunity to meet anyone that created or invented something it would have to be him. He has made my days of eating candy reduce by 50%. I would in fact say that chewing gum is a hobby or at least one of my hobbies. Gum was recommended by dentists because it has Xylitol in it, a sugar which is healthier for the teeth that is found in foods and most chewing gum.

I honestly wish that I can explain to you the wonderful sensation that I get from the chewing gum but no words come to mind. I’ve been craving gum since 7:00 this morning and it hasn’t gone away. Can someone please get me some gum.

Categories: Blog

On The Ground At The #WomensMarch in D.C.

January 23, 2017 - 4:18pm
Protesters on the National Mall during the Women’s March. Jan 21, 2017. Photo: Max Avilés/Youth Radio

WASHINGTON D.C. — Once upon a time, you would have had to have been there to really get it, but this past Saturday’s Women’s March on Washington seemed to be everywhere. That was true both on social media and with the scores of sister marches happening around the county. Marches, that some students of history are estimating may be the single largest national protest in the history of the United States.

While Youth Radio reporters and alumni were at several of the marches documenting them on social media in as close to real-time as overloaded cell phone towers would allow, they were also capturing the moment with more than their smartphones. What follows is a collection from the main march in D.C.

The Washington Monument fades into gray skies as protesters gather on the Mall. Photo: Avery White/Youth Radio Protesters came in all sizes. Photo: Avery White/Youth Radio While the genesis and the leadership of the march came from women, the marchers themselves represented a spectrum of the population. Photo: Max Avilés/Youth Radio With the Trans-Pacific Partnership on the chopping block, one protester offered a unique perspective on international trade. Photo: Max Avilés/Youth Radio Photo: Avery White/Youth Radio Photo: Avery White/Youth Radio Photo: Max Avilés/Youth Radio Photo: Avery White/Youth Radio Photo: Max Avilés/Youth Radio
Categories: Blog

Growing Up Differently From My Siblings

January 22, 2017 - 8:00am
Photo Credit: Camille via Flickr

Part of the American Dream is the idea that things get better over time. But this doesn’t take surprises like a recession into account.

When the housing market crashed in 2008, my parents’ business took a nosedive. Our family’s entire lifestyle changed. As a result, I’m living a much more frugal childhood than my old siblings did.

My oldest sister is 16 years older than I am. Back when she was a teen, our family was better off. My parents were able to help her with college tuition. But next year, I’ll pay for college on my own. It may not seem fair, but I understand the recession was out of my parents’ control. Instead of being resentful, I focus on doing what I can do to make ends meet like pitch in on rent and groceries with money from my after-school job.

At home, I still notice little signs of the better times. Like, the dusty fine China on our antique hutch. I try not to dwell on these treasures from the past. I’m too busy working hard to make sure someday, we’ll be able to afford that stuff again.

Categories: Blog

“Watch Dogs 2”

January 20, 2017 - 7:31pm

“Watch Dogs 2” is a video game that was released in 2016. It is an open world action- adventure game that was made by Ubisoft. It is a sequel to the game “Watch Dogs”. It is on “Xbox 1”, “Playstation 4” and “PC”. It is very similar to “Grand Theft Auto”. It takes place in The Bay Area. You play as a man named Marcus Holloway who is a hacker from Oakland. He is recruited by Deadsec, an activist hacker group, kinda like Anonymous. Your goal is to try to take down the advanced surveillance system in the Bay Area. The game takes place all throughout The Bay, which is divided into four parts: San Francisco, Oakland, Marin and Silicon Valley. You can steal cars and shoot guns like in “Grand Theft Auto”. In addition to this, you can use the characters cell phone to hack things in the environment. Some examples of the things you can hack are surveillance cameras, motorized gates, controlling cars remotely and hacking peoples bank accounts. You can also deploy drones that allow you to fly around outside of Marcus’ body and spy on enemies. Some pros about this game is that it is much better gameplay than “GTA”. You can do more stuff and it’s more fun. It’s also cool that it takes place in The Bay Area so you can drive around your own city causing havoc. The story isn’t that good, i think “GTA Five” has a better story. Also, they don’t accurately display the map, in the game Oakland isn’t even that big and they don’t even have Berkeley or Richmond. But overall it’s a good game because it’s a fun way to pass time. If you like grand theft auto you will like this game even more.

Categories: Blog

Inauguration Day: Highlights From The Streets of DC

January 20, 2017 - 4:49pm
People took to the streets of Washington D.C. to protest the inauguration of Donald J. Trump. (Photo: Rhiannon Adam/Youth Radio)

Youth Radio reporters and alumni traveled to Washington D.C. today to cover both the inauguration of Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of the United States, and the protests that accompanied that inauguration.

While in the streets, our reporters have been capturing images–sometimes dramatic–of what has to be one of the strangest inauguration days in modern memory.

Protests in the streets

The most dramatic images of the day revolved around a limousine that was set on fire outside Franklin Square in downtown D.C. after having its windows smashed out. Versions of these pictures wound up all over social media, and photographer Rhiannon Adam was there for us with this snap:

Like something out of a movie about protests, this limo was set ablaze along the protest route. (Photo: Rhiannon Adam/Youth Radio)

As it happens another of our photojournalists had come across the limo before it was set on fire.

Limousine smashed. Helicopters circle above downtown D.C. as police in riot gear shot sound grenades into crowd. (Photo: Avery White/Youth Radio)

Protests grew tense in downtown DC after the emergence of the black bloc–the anonymous anarchist faction that wears all black and has a penchant for smashing the windows of businesses. At the protests, D.C. police and other law enforcement officials turned up in force.

Police in riot gear at today’s protest in D.C. (Photo: Avery White/Youth Radio)

The police deployed chemical dispersants and flashbang grenades on the protesters. While the D.C. police claimed that the flashbangs were thrown by protesters at police, multiple reporters for The Washington Post–the city’s largest newspaper–disputed that claim. Our own photographer Rhiannon Adam was on the front line of one protest, and says gas was used on protestors who were already retreating from the police line. “They just started chucking it when people were moving back of their own accord,” Adam said.

Plumes of smoke rise above buildings in DC where crowds protest the inauguration of President Donald Trump (Photo: Rhiannon Adam/Youth Radio) Trump protestor is treated by a volunteer medic for eye irritation after being pepper sprayed. (Photo: Avery White/Youth Radio) The results of K-street protests in D.C. (Photo: Savannah Robinson/Youth Radio)

Not everything in the streets of D.C. was about clashes with the police and property damage. There were thousands of people who were there to support President Trump.

 

 

Friends Mike Fritz, 27 and Matt Dagnall 26 would like you to know that “they are American!!!!” (Photo: Savannah Robinson/Youth Radio) Damian Tanner from Myrtle Beach lining the parade route here to show his support for Trump. (Photo: Rhiannon Adam/Youth Radio) “I hope Trump proves us wrong. I hope he is a great president. I just want what’s best for our country” -Laura Bell, 19 (Photo: Savannah Robinson/Youth Radio)

For more of our coverage of Inauguration Day, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @youthradio. On Saturday we’ll also have coverage of the Women’s Day Marches around the country.

Categories: Blog

Youth Radio’s LIVE coverage of Inauguration 2017

January 20, 2017 - 1:30pm

It’s the day you’ve been waiting for or dreading… either way, we’ve got your back. Follow our #inauguration coverage on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for on-the-ground DC deets, live reports from protests around the country, and plenty of west coast snark. We’ve got photos, videos, live reporting AND GIFS ALL THE GIFS.

Like us on Facebook here

Follow us in Twitter @youthradio here

Get with us on the ‘gram @youthradio here

 

 

Categories: Blog

Small Towns Can’t Afford to Stay Divided in Politics

January 20, 2017 - 12:43pm
Photo credit: theholler.org

I grew up in Letcher, Kentucky. It’s a small town in Appalachia — you know, coal country. I guess you could call us one of those “working class” places you hear so much about lately. But the more I hear talk about “rural” communities like ours, the less I feel like the rest of the country understands us at all.

People seem to think we’re living in the past. Like we’re all hillbillies on food stamps. Or close-minded conservatives who only value coal. But that’s not the truth. The biggest difference between where I live and most of America is that in a small town like this, we can’t afford to stay divided.

Photo courtesy of Hannah Adams

Like any community, we have our political disagreements. The presidential election results were a surprise to all of us. Local Trump supporters and haters alike never expected him to pull through. But even though there are people in my town who aren’t happy about Trump becoming president, no one is going break out the protest signs or set stuff on fire. In a city, if you tick someone off you can retreat to your bubble of people who can agree with you. But here, you can’t retreat back to your comfort zone.

We run into each other in the aisles of grocery stores. All the kids go to one big high school. And even though a lot of younger people aren’t crazy about coal, they’re guaranteed to have a relative that worked in the mines. So even though all the tensions that are dividing our country exist here, they happen in very close quarters.

For example, there’s a guy in my town who went to a pro-Trump inauguration party with his family, and then an anti-Trump gathering with friends that night. At school, there are kids who are pro-Trump and anti-Trump, but we don’t get into screaming fights in class. The biggest “demonstration” on Inauguration day was at a local radio station, where the DJs decided to play protest songs.
We know yelling back and forth will only result in hurt feelings. So when politics do come up here, here’s how we handle it. We listen. We respect each other. Because at the end of the day, we can’t afford not to.

I’m Hannah Adams in Letcher, Kentucky.

Categories: Blog

Words Of Wisdom For POTUS (From A High School Class President)

January 19, 2017 - 4:22pm

We asked current University of San Francisco student and former high school class president, Reyna Brown, about the trials and tribulations of governing, from planning events, to changing the world, she speaks on how even the smallest forms of government can have a lasting effect on people, and how she can set a path for the future.

Categories: Blog

DISCUSSION: Are People Actually Capable of Change?

January 17, 2017 - 1:22pm

DISCUSSION: What steps should we take if we want to actually change ourselves — or others — for the better? #DoNowChange

Introduction We’re officially two weeks into 2017, which means many of us are gearing up for change — and not just on the political front. With New Year’s resolutions still fresh in our minds, nearly half of us have vowed to try and transform some aspect of our lives. But changing a fundamental part of ourselves isn’t always so easy. Youth Radio’s Stella Lau found that lesson out the hard way, after she tried (and failed) to boost her confidence by cutting off her long hair.

“I thought that getting a haircut was going to magically make me be comfortable with myself,” she said. “But it turns out learning to love yourself goes way deeper than just hair.”

But don’t give up hope yet. Even though statistics suggest most resolutions won’t last, people do seem to be capable of multiple, simultaneous life changes related to both their mental and physical health, according to a 2016 neuroscience study from UC Santa Barbara. And according to a study released last year by Cornell University, we may even be capable of changing our political beliefs, given we hear from people who explain their contrasting points of view using calm language, specific examples, and hedging (meaning our phrasing allows for exceptions) like “it could be the case.”

Featured Resource Youth Radio’s Stella Lau expected her personality to change, accompanying her haircut.

Featured Resource: A Confidence Transformation Takes More Than A Haircut (Youth Radio/KCBS) 

https://s3.amazonaws.com/media.youthradio.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/09130228/YR_Stella_Haircut_KCBS_1.mp3

Youth Radio’s Stella Lau decided she needed a transformation in her life, so she cut off her long hair as a way to try for a fresh start. She expected her new ‘do to reveal a whole new her, but she found out it would take more than a haircut to change her life.

More Resources

ARTICLE: How To Change Someone’s Mind, According To Science (The Washington Post)
This article breaks down the Cornell study into key takeaways about how you might actually be able to sway people’s opinions online. You know, just in case you have that one friend who likes arguing politics online. You know who you are.

AUDIO: What’s Your Political Resolution For 2017 #Resolved2017 (KQED)
Curious about what changes people want to see for 2017? Check out KQED’s social media wall of colorfully curated resolutions given the prompt: “In a time of political change in the U.S., many people are wondering about the way forward for the country and what they can do to be a part of that (like, be the change you want to see).”

Categories: Blog

Not My President

January 15, 2017 - 8:00am
Photo Credit: Karl-Ludwig G. Poggemann

As a young black man, having a president that looks like me gives me a real feeling of empowerment. But now that President Obama’s term is almost over, I’m beginning to get scared.

I was nine years old when Barack Obama became the first black president of the United States. Back then I didn’t realized how big of a deal it was, but my mom was really excited. For her, it was proof that her young, black son, raised by a single mom, could do something better in life.

Now I’m 15, and I get how significant it is that, for the past eight years, the most important person in the world has looked like me. But even with a black president, there have been still so many incidents of racial injustice. As a black teenager, I walk around with fear that I might be targeted by the police.

It took a black president for us to have a conversation about race. What will we do without one?

Now Donald Trump, a documented racist, has been elected president. And I have to ask, how will the treatment of black people be without our black leader?

Categories: Blog

Embracing Gender Nonconformity in the Age of Trump

January 12, 2017 - 7:00am
After Donald Trump was elected president, Desmond Meagley decided to amplify his non-binary gender presentation. (Photo credit: Brett Myers/ Youth Radio)

As I gear up for Donald Trump’s inauguration next week, I’m flashing back to the morning after Election Day. My rage, sadness, and apprehension blurred together into an emotional tidal wave.

I wanted to cry, but instead I reached for a tube of liquid eyeliner.

This was unusual for me. I came out as transgender at 14 and until very recently I’ve been terrified of not passing as male. I used to bind my chest so tightly it hurt my ribs. I wore layers of clothing to disguise my body shape and shoes with huge lifts hidden in them to make me look taller. I avoided makeup and ‘girly’ outfits even if I thought they looked nice. And I laughed when my straight cis friends made sexist or transphobic jokes.

I believed that being totally stealth and assimilating into masculinity would allow me to lead a normal and happy life. But all it did was force me to keep hiding. I was holding myself to a standard I didn’t actually believe in. Coloring within lines that don’t exist.

Makeup usually made me feel uncomfortable. But the morning after Donald Trump won the election, I stared at the black war paint around my eyes and I felt strong, defiant, and free.

Being stealth kept me safe. But now I want my queerness to be seen, or else discrimination will go unseen. I don’t care if my nonbinary identity isn’t “normal” enough for people to easily understand. “Normal” in our society is misogyny and queerphobia; the election just made that more apparent than ever.

This year, the Republican Party’s official platform took some of the most anti-LGBTQ positions in its history. The platform represents the agenda of the party that now controls the House, Senate, and the White House.

I can’t predict exactly what the Trump presidency has in store for me. But on the morning of his inauguration, I’ll be preparing for battle–and eyeliner is just the beginning.

Categories: Blog

Wondering How Foster Care Works? This Illustrated Explainer Walks You Through The System

January 11, 2017 - 10:56am

How exactly does the foster care system even work? This interactive walks you through the different stages through the eyes of a foster youth.

 

Categories: Blog

Emancipation: One Young Man Leaves Foster Care on His Own Terms

January 11, 2017 - 10:38am
Standing next to his lawyer, Noel Anaya, 21, read a prepared statement at his final court hearing before aging out of California’s foster care system.  Photo: Brett Myers/Youth Radio

Walking into court for my very last time as a foster youth, I felt like I was getting a divorce from a system that I’ve been in a relationship with almost my entire life.

It’s bittersweet because I’m losing guaranteed stipends for food and housing, as well as access to my social workers and my lawyer. But on the other hand, I’m relieved to finally get away from a system that ultimately failed me on its biggest promise. That one day it would find me a family who would love me.

“Good afternoon, let’s go on the record,” said Judge Shawna Schwarz. “This is line six, the matter of Nole Anaya.”

“No-El” I said, correcting the judge’s mispronunciation of my name.

“Noel Anaya, thank you.”

I asked her, “Have you guys been saying it wrong for 21 years?”

“You know what, everyone pronounces it differently,” the judge told me. “Thank you though, I’m glad to know it’s Noel.”

Little things, like when my judge mispronounced my name, served as a constant reminder that, “Hey, I’m just a number.” I often came away feeling powerless and anonymous in the foster care system.

Noel pictured at age four in the backyard of one of his many foster homes.  Photo: Courtesy of Noel Anaya

In most states, foster youth age out of the foster care system when they turn 18. But 23 states have opted to allow young people to remain in the system longer and continue to access support. California is one of those places. I recently turned 21 and got exceptional permission to bring a recorder with me for my final court hearing before aging out. 

“Well I’m reviewing my notes,” said Judge Schwarz, “and it looks like the first time I got involved in your case was back in 2003. You’ve been in the system a long time.”

I’ve been in the foster care system since I was just one year old. I don’t have any pictures of my five siblings and me together as babies. Not a single one. It’s made Throwback Thursdays a little challenging.

My biological parents weren’t ready to be parents. My father was abusive. Eventually Child Protective Services got involved, and my siblings and I went into the foster care system.

Noel has difficulty communicating with his birth mother, who speaks only Spanish. She sent him this photograph introducing him to his sister for the very first time. Beneath her writing, Noel’s social worker scrawled the words, “Your mom with Julia.”  Photo: Courtesy of Noel Anaya

We were separated and shuffled between foster homes, group homes, shelters, and for at least one of my siblings, incarceration. That’s why it was really important to me to make a statement in court, going on the record about how the foster care system failed my siblings and me.

“I have to say, you have been pretty much one of our more successful young adults. Is there any advice you’d give us?” the judge asked me.

In fact, I had a speech prepared:

“To whom it may concern: this is the year that I divorce you. Your gray hands can no longer hurt me. Your gray hands can never overpower me. Your gray hands can never tell me that you love me, because it’s too late.   

I used “gray hands” to describe the foster care system, because it never felt warm or human. It’s institutional — the opposite of the sort of unconditional love I imagined that parents show their kids.

I continued:

“Your gray hands just taught me how to survive in a world. We never learned how to love ourselves unconditionally. I’ve been with multiple foster families. I’ve been with multiple shelters. How does a person like me not end up with a family?”  

In an ideal world, being a foster kid is supposed to be temporary. When it’s stable and appropriate, the preference is to reunite kids with their parents or family members. Adoption is the next best option. I used to dream of it. Having a mom and dad, siblings to play with, a dog. But when I hit twelve, I realized that I was getting old and adoption probably would never happen for me.

In one of the few photographs from his time in foster care, Noel (right) and his brother Ulisies pose with an unknown foster couple. Noel has been placed in multiple foster homes over the last two decades, and says he has no memory of this family. Photo: Courtesy of Noel Anaya

In the system, I constantly had new social workers, lawyers, and case managers, which left me vulnerable. It wasn’t until I got older that I realized that their turnover was caused by low wages and overflowing caseloads. Even my lawyer says he’s currently juggling 130 other clients.

I read to the courtroom: 

At 21, you happily kick us off to the curb and say, ‘Good luck. I wish you the best. But don’t come back, because we can’t take you in.’ I’ve seen too many of my people give up on the educational system.”  

I had hoped to finish college by the time I aged out of foster care, but I’m still in my junior year. I’m committed to getting my bachelor’s, despite the odds being terrible. According to the National Working Group on Foster Care and Education, only somewhere between two and nine percent of former foster kids complete their college degree.

I concluded my speech:

“I hope that you hear my words.  And I hope that you listen to my signal of distress. I thank you for giving me closure. Thank you.”

For a moment, the courtroom was silent. Then the judge said, “Alright. Well. Thank you very much for being willing to share your feelings and your beliefs with us. So, I know you have some–it sounds like, some mixed feelings about the foster care system. But, Noel, I have no doubt that you are going to be successful in whatever you choose to do. Well, let me say the magic words. I will adopt the findings and the orders…'”

As the judge read her final orders closing out my case, I promised myself that I would leave all the rage I felt about the foster care system inside the courtroom. That I wouldn’t carry all that hate and frustration with me for the rest of my life.

“There will be no further reviews,” said the judge. “Alright, thanks. Let’s go off the record. Congratulations! Good luck!”

“Thank you so much,” I said, but there’s one more thing I needed before leaving the courtroom –for the judge to bring the gavel down on this chapter of my life.

“Is that it?” I asked. “No hammer?”

“You want me to do the gavel?” she asked.

“One time please.”

“Alright, I’ll do the gavel,” said the judge. “You know we never do that in real life.”

I felt goosebumps when the gavel slapped down on my judge’s desk. Happy because I’m no longer cared for by a system that was never that good at actually caring for me. And I’m anxious, too, about what life might be like next.

Credits:

Reporter: Noel Anaya

Senior Producer: Brett Myers

Editors: Lissa Soep and Ellin O’Leary

Production: Denise Tejada, Noah Nelson, Teresa Chin, Shawn Wen and Jenny Bolario

 

 

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