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How a former foster youth became a journalist, against all odds

By Nikki GreyFebruary 18, 2016

Woman working on a lapop
Woman working on a lapop Pexels

Around six years ago, I sat in an auditorium full of fellow college students. Many of us sitting in that journalism class dreamed of becoming newspaper reporters or magazine editors like we’d seen in movies and on TV. But before any of us said a word, our professor called our hopes futile. 

He believed out of the 150 students who sat before him, probably only one or two of us had a shot at a journalism careers, given the fierce competition, the closing of many newspapers around the country and the changes in the industry the internet had caused. He expected most of us to get jobs in public relations or other communication-related fields. I remember being discouraged. Though, I still thought I could become a journalist. I had never let a little thing like the odds against me stop me before. After all, I did grow up in foster care.

I had never let a little thing like the odds against me stop me before. After all, I did grow up in foster care.

Studies have found that one in five of us who “age out” from foster care have a rough road ahead. One in five will become homeless sometime after age 18 and 71 percent of women will be pregnant by 21. Only about half of us will be employed by 24 and less than three percent will earn a college degree. One in four will have experienced post-traumatic stress disorder. In short, the world hasn’t been expecting a lot from me for quite some time.

Unwilling to accept that these stats determine my future, I didn’t give up on myself while in foster care or after. Knowing I had many obstacles to overcome just made me want to try harder. I wanted to prove everyone who thought I wouldn’t make it wrong.

I didn’t have any connections and I didn’t come from a well-known school that would help me break into journalism. But I listened to what some of my professors said I should do to get started. I set goals and worked toward them, even when immediate results weren’t anywhere to be seen. I tried my best in classes and worked for the school magazine. I volunteered at events and with organizations that would teach me valuable skills and also look good on my résumé. I applied for internships. I built social capital by networking at events, internships and at school. I tried new things, even though it scared me. I’m sure I was lucky to some extent. But I tried to make the most of out of my luck by taking opportunities when they came my way. 

I became one of the few former foster children who obtain a bachelor’s degree, and the first job I landed out of college was as a staff writer for the features section of a daily newspaper. I later started writing for magazines, and now I write for web publications. I hope to become an author someday. The odds are against me there, too, it seems, but I don’t plan on letting that stop me.

Although my childhood was painful, I think it helped me become successful because it taught me to be resilient.

It devastates me to think about the reasons many current and former foster youth end up homeless, in jail or otherwise suffering. Wounds from the past stay with former foster youth long after their time in the system ends. Tragically, many don’t have the support of family or friends to help them heal. They don’t have the tools or the resources readily available to many of their peers. I won’t pretend there is a one-size-fits-all solution for former foster youth, or for anyone who is trying to beat the odds against them. I can only speak for myself. To me, it seems that perseverance is one of the most valuable traits to have if you are fighting some sort of uphill battle. Although my childhood was painful, I think it helped me become successful because it taught me to be resilient. It has been a difficult journey, but I’m doing what I love. 

Many people are crippled by fear. Someone probably told them their aspirations are too high, or that they aren’t good enough to achieve their dreams. If someone ever says this to you, my advice is don’t listen to them.

Don’t think about why something good can’t or won’t happen for you. Believe in yourself, even if it feels like no one else does. Channel your energy and fear into working toward your goals. Tell yourself every day that you will reach them. And then act on that decision. No one can take away your dreams, if you don’t allow them to do so. If you choose not to lose hope, there’s no limit to what you may be able to do.