October 19, 2013

This post isn’t really about Davion Navar Henry Only, but I’ll start with him anyway. Davion is one of 500,000 children waiting for adoption in the United States, many of them for years on end. Many of them are never adopted, particularly once they hit their teens, eventually “aging out” of the foster care system, 20,000 of them every year. About a week ago, this fifteen-year-old young man made international headlines when he stood up in a church in St. Petersburg, Florida, and asked for someone, anyone, to adopt him. “I’ll take anyone, old or young, dad or mom, black, white, purple, I don’t care,” he said. “And I would be really appreciative. The best I could be.”

That’s not an empty bit of rhetoric, either. This is a kid who was born in prison to a woman who couldn’t take care of him, then shunted from one foster home to another all his life and is now living in a group home with twelve other boys. He has to keep what few possessions he owns under lock and key, ask for someone to unlock the toilet door when he needs it. That’s not a normal life for any kid. He grew up believing nobody would ever want him, passed over for so many years. He got angry, he got violent, he got fat.

Then he got curious, and started searching the internet for the mother he’d never known, possibly still harbouring hopes that if they reconnected, she’d realize she loved him and would reclaim him. Instead, he read her obituary; his mother had a criminal history of drug offenses and theft, and had died less than two weeks before.

“I just want people to know that it's hard to be a foster kid. People sometimes don't know how hard it is and how much we try to do good.”

With her, his last hope also died, and with it a realization that if he had any hope of finding a family who wanted him, he couldn’t just wait – he’d have to make it happen. So he started on himself. He studied harder in school, earning straight A’s in everything except geometry. He worked on controlling his anger, lost 40 lbs, did everything he could think of to become a better person – a hard enough objective for any fifteen-year-old boy. He even saved another child from drowning, becoming a genuine hero. He turned himself into a kid anyone would be proud to call their son.

“When I found out all that stuff about my family, it made me want to be more successful, no matter what,” Davion said. “I don't want to go down that same path. I'm not going to use all my bad stuff that happened to me as an excuse, but I'm going to use it as motivation to push me more and give me more courage.”

Yet even that wasn’t enough. So he decided if no one would come looking for him, he’d go looking for them. He asked his caseworker, Connie Going, to escort him to the St. Mark Missionary Baptist Church in St. Petersburg, Florida where, dressed in his best suit and tie, he nervously stood up in front of three hundred parishioners to ask if there was anyone amongst them who would consider adopting him. It left the church in tears, but no one was able to fulfill his greatest wish. But the story went viral, and Davion’s foster home has received over five hundred calls about him. Somehow, I’m pretty certain this is going to turn out to have a happy, and well deserved, ending for Davion. Whoever adopts him will be the lucky ones.

But as Davion knows all too well, he’s just a tiny drop in an ocean of foster kids desperate for a family. Too many people are reluctant to adopt older children, or those with "special needs," although "special needs" can also mean mixed race children, African-American children over two years old, children with siblings, any child over the age of eight. Just... normal kids, trying their best. “I just want people to know that it's hard to be a foster kid. People sometimes don't know how hard it is and how much we try to do good.”

I know he’s right – I’ve been a foster mother. I wasn’t much more than a kid myself, a 20-year-old college student, when I rescued a gorgeous 12-year-old girl whose “bedroom” was a tool shed in a trailer park. Her mother had no idea who the father might have been, given her line of work so to speak, drank away the child support welfare benefit, and was happy to abandon her if I wanted to take her in. For the first time in her life, this girl had her own bedroom, with a real roof over it – even if it was in a crappy student apartment complex. She was absurdly, embarrassingly grateful, something kids should never have to be, kept her grades up, her room immaculate, helped out however she could. She wasn't a perfect angel, far from it; she was just a normal kid who was astonished there were people who believed her worth fighting for when she needed it the most, when she'd given up hope, on adults and herself, and that there really were social workers and judges who genuinely cared as well. And she grew up to be a lovely, confident woman, the world a better place because she was in it.

So I know it isn't because they're "bad" or "too much trouble" that foster kids aren’t adopted – most are just horrendously unlucky. Like Rosa, and Dwight, and Lawrence, and Zachary, and D’Quarian, and Darius, and Emily ...and half a million other kids, all of whom are just like Davion, too old to be “cute,” trying hard to be good enough to be wanted, who deserve a real family and a normal childhood as much as he does.

What is wrong with us, as a nation, as a people, that we have half a million kids waiting... and waiting... and waiting... for someone to love them?

Can you help us out?

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