"For every dark night, there's a brighter day."

Lidia Bernal shares #HerStory:

"The day the government came to take my siblings and me away is difficult to forget. Our apartment floor was either piled with mountains of dirty clothes or stained with human feces. I remember every detail, especially the fact that my mother hardly reacted at all when the social workers took us to their shiny, black car. Years later, my aunt took custody of my siblings and me, but it wasn’t much of an improvement as she was as abusive and addicted as my mother. I couldn’t muster the courage to tell any of this to my social worker. Instead, I focused on school: Mrs. Hamelburger’s field trips to the Natural Science Museum, my classmates who thought I was normal so long as I made up stories about the happy family I did not have. Sadly, this wasn’t enough, and I eventually revealed my aunt’s abuse to our social worker, which led us back to the system. When my aunt promised to take parenting classes and change, my siblings went back to her, but I stayed back. Staying in the system wasn’t a long-term solution, though, and my social worker encouraged me to set up adoption interviews—even if my chances were slim at the age of fourteen. However, I managed to defy the odds and find the happy Diaz family, which seemed like the perfect fit and where I belonged. This feeling did not last long and at fifteen I had to emancipate from my adopted parents because of sexual abuse from my new dad. I went back into the system devastated and determined to age out rather than put up with more abuse. Upon graduating high school and starting college, I became homeless and had to couch-surf to survive and continue my education, my only reliable love and shelter. I believe this is what sets me apart from other candidates: the fact that my education is more than a tool to improve my circumstances. For me, education has been the only constant and the only inspiration to rise above the challenges of my life.

When I was emancipating the system, I think having a mentor would have helped me in so many ways. I struggled to find housing my first couple of years as a young adult. I am very happy to say that work, school and personal relationships have been consistent.

It took me some time to realize the power of my unique perspective and voice as a former foster child. For years, my strategy had been to put all my dark moments and memories in a box and gently put it to the side. Thankfully, I realized that this was not a good solution to the challenges of my past, and I was brave enough to open that same box and find healing—for myself and others. Some of the ways that I have let my voice be an instrument for change are the many speaking engagements in which I have shared my story with other foster youth, their foster parents, and the organizations that hope to help them be more than just statistics. I enjoy reminding others who have been through similar circumstances that the key to living a righteous, fulfilling life is a good education and the knowledge that you are worthy of love and assistance. I will continue to attend conferences, meetings at the Chamber of Commerce, be the role model I want for my younger sister, and play my role as a Young Leader through the Alliance of Children's Rights. Why? Because I believe in the power of former foster youth advocating and speaking for ourselves. I've also had the privilege of joining the LACC Guardian Scholars team as a student worker for the last two years. I have contributed to the great work of the organization by creating a safe environment for my peers, helping with the offices day-to-day operations, and planning large events such as our many barbeques and our first annual baseball game. These contributions may sound small to the average person, but every bit of effort that is dedicated to our foster youth allows them to know they are capable of defying every odd stacked up against them. Every event, pamphlet, panel, and chat I’ve contributed to is helping my colleagues have a better life that they could not have imagined before."

Foster Nation