Speech from the 2015 Youth Summit – Jacobifcayouth
Hello, my name is Jacob Braxton. I am 20 years old and I’ve experienced 8 years of the Washington state foster care system.
In my life I’ve had to endure many hardships while trying to grasp and cope with the reality that I was faced with, such as, being gay, being a foster kid, being poor, being a diabetic, being emotionally unstable, and the list could go on.
When I lived with my biological family I felt happy even though now I realized it wasn’t the best situation. My family consisted of three other siblings and my parents. We moved more times than I can remember and most of the places we lived in were shelters, a car, hotels, or a room of a family member’s home. It was cramped but it was home and I was happy. Holidays were always stressful because we couldn’t afford anything and barely getting by with meals. Both of my parents were alcoholics and often abused, neglected and abandoned the four of us but that didn’t matter, I was young and thought every family was like this. But there was no order to my family or the lives we lived. All that matter was getting by and doing the same thing the next day.
That was until my sister was taken away from us and I realized something wasn’t right. She wasn’t with us for a week and when I asked my mom where did my sister go she cried and said that I would be going where she is. I didn’t know what to expect, and I really didn’t think that it meant I would be separated from my family, the only normal that I knew and I was only seven.
I remember feeling this huge amount of anxiety and stress when I was moved to my first placement. Not knowing where I was moved to and why was terrifying to me. I thought that I was never going to see my parents ever again and that made me feel terrified, scared, sad, and alone. But, when I moved in to my first foster family’s home, I was able to be with my sister and at the time that was rare to happen for siblings. However, living there was an emotional experience for me because it was drastically different from my real family.
They had a big house with a lot of rooms and I was given my own bed. I was with strange people that didn’t look like me and the foster parents were very strict with schedules and assigning chores, all of which were things I’ve never done. Not to mention going to a new school and trying to make friends was a struggle because I started school nearing the end of the year and everyone was already use to a routine which made me feel really out of place.
I was used to wearing dirty clothes, not taking baths, not eating three meals and snacks a day, and not having any responsibilities. However, this foster family changed that for me and when I look back at it I’ve come to see that it’s helped shaped me and that I really needed it. Having endured through all of this, I learned to cope effectively by acknowledging my time in care, expressing my true self through art as an outlet and by managing my mental well-being with different groups of support.
Art was a great outlet when my emotions felt unstable or confusing. Looking back, I did a lot of self-care without realizing it. Whenever I felt sad or overwhelmed about the situation I was in, I would always go to music to escape. It was a therapy that was one sided, that didn’t need a conversation. Whether it was drawing, or acting, or being forced to play an instrument through middle school, I was learning to express myself in a more artistic fashion.
I’m going to ask you all a question and it would be great if you participated simply by a show of hands. How many of you have or had a secret that you wanted to share but didn’t or couldn’t because you were afraid of not being accepted or being understood? Yeah? *pause and wiat*
Well, I had one that I hid from my family because I was ashamed, it felt abnormal, and I feared that I wouldn’t be accepted and would be shunned from my family. I only felt this because I recalled watching the news one day and the reporter talked about people in Uganda being murdered because some people came out and shared about being gay. When I told my family that I was gay it caused a lot of pain because my mom didn’t accept me at first but the rest of my family supported me, especially my sister Janell.
With the support about my secret I felt that a weight was lifted and I felt truly free. I didn’t have to pretend to be something that I wasn’t and that lead me into expressing myself through acting, fashion, and my obsessiveness of Lady Gaga.
I joined a Native American acting group called Red Eagle Soaring and we worked on plays and created workshops about the Native American history. It also taught youth about acting, the history of our ancestors and how to annunciate your words, just real basic concepts.
I was in the group for about 8 years, until the director emailed me about this other acting group called Q.T.E.T. which stands for Queer Teen Ensemble Theater, a group for the L.G.B.T. which stands for (Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Transgenders) youth who enjoy acting. It was so fun to be a part of this group of people because it was with people who faced issues such as bullying, human rights, to family acceptance struggles. They really helped me come out of my shell and embraced my true self.
The plays we did we wrote out ourselves, instead of picking up a book and rereading someone else’s play, which was really challenging but very empowering at the same time. This group not only gave me great friends I now can call my family, but they really supported my life and artistic visions. Mentally I never felt so free and liberated. I was inspired to do more with my life and to no longer hold back so fashion became my voice.
With fashion I express all of my creativity and emotions through designing outfits, shoes, hats, bags, and anything I could think of. I didn’t care if it looked outrageous because I truly felt happy and I did for myself. *As you can see, I made this.* I’d be highly creative at night, sewing away to make tomorrows outfit. Sometimes what I created caught a lot of people’s attention because it was so different than what society deemed as normal. And personally, I love being unique. It took me 14 years to realize I don’t care about what other people think of me.
I knew that it would become my destiny to be an artist and to learn more about my craft and to eventually go to an art school to become a famous fashion designer. By expressing myself this way it allowed me to relieve stress, to feel valued, and noticed. My aunt noticed my potential and bought me my own sewing machine, and my mom bonded with me by sharing tips about how to sew. Having fashion brought me closer to my family as well as open doors of opportunity for me.
I’ve mentioned briefly about some of the support systems I had but after reflecting recently and writing this speech, the various supports weren’t just the basics but it even came down to the small things in life. Growing up in the foster care system my best friend was and still is my sister Janell. We protected each other from other kids, laughed really hard at the dumbest jokes, and since we were poor each other’s company was our entertainment. So naturally whenever I got upset she was the first person that I wanted to talk to because she knew how to talk to me and calm me down. Her support means the world to me and going through the foster care system was really difficult but we made it out and our bond is strong.
Other relatives such as my aunts and uncles were always supportive too. They made me feel normal and that I had a family, not a dysfunctional one. I’ve been doing therapy since I was 14 yand my counselor meets with me every other week, which helps me feel grounded. My counselor helps me through some difficult situations mentally and to feel that it’s normal for emotions to surface and how to work through it which has helped me with my job.
I am also involved with a non-profit organization called Passion to Action, which is an advisory board that provides the child welfare agency with input and recommendations regarding their policy and practices. As an alumni and youth, I help to provide feedback to improve the child welfare system improve their ability to effectively meet the needs of other youth that are in the foster care system. From all of this, support I have come to realize, it can make and shape a person. I am humble and appreciative of all of their time to care about me because it’s brought me this opportunity to speak in front of you all today.
So, take a moment and reflect about your lives, whether you’ve experienced homelessness, poorness, abandonment, neglect, abuse, depression, fear, holding in secrets, or even being a youth that has lived in group homes, use it as an empowerment to determine your own future. Use it as a positive instead of a negative because ever since I was young people perceived me to be a poor man from a broken family.
Like me, I know you’re stronger than you think and tomorrow can be better than today; it’s up to you to determine how to cope effectively and decide what dreams you want to accomplish. Nothing is impossible.
This post is also available in: Japanese