What started as a survival technique—my dream of getting out of the ghetto—has become a source of hope for countless children and families across America. Every week I receive boxes of letters that tell my story all over again. They come from kids in the foster system who dream of finding a family. They come from families who open their homes in the hopes of helping those kids reach their potential. They come from teachers and mentors and parents and social workers who want to make a real difference in someone's life. They come from adults who were in the foster system themselves as kids—some now have a family and a career . . . and some are now in homeless shelters or prison and wish they could start over again.
It is my goal with this book not only to tell my story in my own words, but to encourage anyone who is a part of the system or who wants to be a part of helping children out of it. Not only will the book give tips and suggestions for reaching out to kids who need help, but will also include a chapter that lists a number of local and national groups determined to provide a better chance for kids like me, who want so badly just to have a shot at a normal life.
And just what are our odds at a normal life, after a childhood shuffled between an awful family life and the foster care system? Not too great. Only about one-third of children eligible for adoption in the foster care system ever end up with parents or permanent legal guardians, and the majority of those are children under the age of eight. After that, the chances of being adopted are lower than remaining in the foster system, and continue to drop with each birthday. About 25,000 kids age out of the system each year. They turn eighteen and suddenly they are on their own, whether they have graduated high school or have a place to live or not.
Think about these statistics:
• 70 percent of kids who age out of the foster care system at eighteen say they want to attend college, but less than 10 percent get a chance to enroll, and less than 1 percent of those who enroll ever graduate.
• Within a year and a half of aging out of the system, close to half of all former foster kids are homeless.
• Children who have been taken to live in the foster system are twice as likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder than are American military members returning from war zones.
I'm not just using an old expression when I say I beat the odds. What happened to me with finding a loving and supportive family was an unusual and unlikely situation. I got the chance to become something because I had a desire to break out of my neighborhood, and because there were people around me who took that dream seriously.
The ending of my story is unique, but the beginning of my story is, sadly, far too common. It is my desire to use the blessings in my life as a way of speaking up for the other children like me—for all the other Michael Ohers out there who want so badly to succeed at life but simply don't have the tools or the advocates to help them better themselves.