SHARI WALKER / THE SYSTEM TAUGHT ME HOW TO BE A SURVIVOR
"The system taught me that I was stronger than what I knew, and wiser than what I felt."
Shari Walker shares #HerStory:
"My worst experience in foster care happened one month before I emancipated out of the foster care system. I had been accepted to over seven Universities and was being provided an all expense paid trip to my top school Clark Atlanta University, in Georgia. The excitement was driven by my acceptance to the University, the tour of the school and going to a new place. I grew up my entire life in Los Angeles, the furthest areas of LA I had reached was Inglewood, South Central and Compton. So this tour would solidify my decision to go to school out of state and start a new beginning. My host for the trip was my social worker from DCFS. I had only met with her three times since my first entrance into DCFS, and although we did not have a close relationship I was excited that I would not be alone on the trip. She shared excitedly about how I would be given a campus tour, and she was familiar with Atlanta so she would give me a tour of the city. These words were far from true. Within less than 9 hours of landing in Atlanta, Georgia things took a turn for the worse. Although we flew in the night before, the next day we missed the campus tour. My social worker shared it was because she had “mixed up” the time. I asked could we walk around campus, and she informed me she had an appointment yet could take me to the bookstore to get a quick souvenir. Upon our arrival at the bookstore she hurriedly asked me to pick anything so we could leave. I chose a sweatshirt. She paid and we left the bookstore quickly. As I slipped on the sweatshirt, I noticed the tag was still attached. I inquired as we left the campus, if we could go back yet she shared that we had no time that day, but would come back to campus before we flew out. I informed her I was hungry and was granted a speedy walk to a burger place in which she informed me we only had 10 minutes to sit and eat. She immediately took me back to the hotel lobby and handed me a $20.00 dollar bill. She informed me, she had friends in Atlanta in which she would be visiting and I was to take the $20.00 and go have fun. I was afraid; I had never been outside of South Central, Inglewood or Watts so Atlanta was a culture shock. I cried, the trees outside of the hotel reminded me of the trees I had seen in the movies “Anaconda”. I called my sister in LA and begged her to pick me up, I explained that I was alone in the hotel lobby and was to afraid to leave because the dirt roads, multitude of trees, and signal signs on strings scared me. I called all of my friends in LA, pleading for them to drive to get me back home yet no one could travel or fly the distance. No one picked me up. I cried on the verge of a panic attack until I fell asleep. I woke up to my social worker in the morning rushing to pack as she informed me the college visit was over. I asked as I packed if we could get the sensor removed from my sweatshirt before we leave, she informed me we could not and that she was sure someone in LA could remove it. I kept two things from that college trip, the sweatshirt in which I gave away last year with the sensor I was never able to remove. I held the constant fear of traveling to new places outside of LA since that day. The first days I am always excited yet by the second the anxiety and fears sets in of being alone in a city. I have traveled far distances outside of LA twice. Although still fearful I am determined to conquer my fear. I have signed up for Yahniie’s travel group and look forward to facing my fears by traveling outside of the US in the future.
What I needed most upon emancipating was guidance from a mentor or a healthy adult who could steer me in the right direction. My childhood had convinced me that I knew "EVERYTHING." The system taught me that I could survive on my own so when exiting care, I needed an adult who could gently remind me that I missed some life lessons I needed to thrive. I needed a reminder that not knowing simple things like how to eat proper with a fork and knife made the difference during business meetings and that they could teach me how. I needed to know that although my: pain, anxiety, and shame showed as rage, that someone in this world still saw me. I needed a mentor or an adult to be proud of even the small victories. I needed for the adults around me to see all of my flaws and sill be able to see the good in me. I needed answers to questions I never could think to ask, because I was never taught better. I needed to see a healthy family function, to communicate and participate in family events so that I would not emancipate with this broken vision of what family meant.
The foster care system taught me how to be a survivor. The system equipped me to be able to adapt to any environment or situation. The system reminded me that at 18 years old, although I may not be ready for adulthood, I should already be prepared for everything. They taught me that just like my birth family, that the time for support and guidance is limited, that at 24 years old all of the resources would be ending and I needed to have my life together to be self-sufficient. They taught me that if I wanted to thrive, the lessons would not come from the foster care system, and thus I needed to find another way to learn to get to the next life stage.
I would urge everyone in the system now to connect with a non-profit organization like Alliance For Children's Rights or United Friends of The Children to gain both mentors and educational support. These two non-profits were both vital in helping me to transition out and into adulthood. I would advise them to be mindful of negative self talk, to catch those thoughts that are negative and try to repeat positive words of healing and light each day to themselves. I would advise them to remember, that being in the system is not their fault and that there are good people in this world; they just need to find them."