Most mornings when I walk my 5 year old to school there is a street I avoid walking down. But the other day I forced myself to do it.
From the outside it looks like just another Somerville multi-family house—now being gutted and made into more condos on Jaques Street. But for me, it’s a reminder—a physical representation—of the importance of always fighting to put kids first. But it’s still hard for me to see it.
“We are all broken. That’s how the light gets in.”
When I was 13 years old, one of my teachers discovered me working at 9 p.m. at the local Johnnie’s Foodmaster next to the North Street housing project in Somerville on the Arlington line. From there, dark secrets about our family came tumbling into the light—my mother’s intense struggle with alcoholism; my father’s extreme anger and frustration, and ultimate “departure from the situation;” and a desperate kid who forged her working papers so she could get a job and something to eat in the house.
After that incident and my fifth 51A for showing up at school covered in bruises, a woman from the Department of Children and Families (DCF, then DSS) showed up at our house with three black trash bags which I dragged down the stairs while sobbing hysterically. There was no place for me to go—so I was thrown into a youth shelter on Jacques Street.
The house was filled with a mix of kids all brought into the DCF system for different reasons. Some were like me, taken out of their homes but not “in trouble,” others taken out of their homes because they were literally a danger to their families. The rules were different depending on what you “were in for.” Kids who had no where else to go had a different and more relaxed set of rules, everyone else was under tight watch. You can just imagine how comfortable that made things within the group.
I was a tough kid, but I was a band geek. I threw myself into the concert band, chorus, orchestra, jazz band and honors choir. I was a first seat MMEA Northeast District and All-State concert percussionist and cellist and was forbidden to practice at “home.” My room was ransacked and what little I had of value was stolen—including my beloved CD player and my gold and silver medals from the New England Conservatory of Music. My performance award from the Berklee was smashed into pieces and waiting for me one day after school. (Twenty-five years later, that is still an excruciating paragraph for me to write.)
These were the only things that proved I was worth anything at all in the world—the only things that justified my existence. Gone. I began to withdraw. I was angry. I was depressed. I was lost. And invisible.
Eventually I ran away from this house on Jaques Street. (This was after a friend and classmate of mine was murdered directly across the street from the house.) I sat on a bench in front of the Paulist Center in the Boston Common right in front of the Massachusetts State House for three days because I was too afraid to go any farther into the park at night.
No one looked for me. No one cared where I was.
But while I was sitting there on there on the second night, looking up the hill at the golden dome, I started wondering why no one in that building was doing anything to make this better. What would it take to make people care that this was happening to kids like me?
Since I’ve become a parent, and now a parent advocate, some have called me “fearless” because of the fights I am willing to take on but honestly it’s quite the opposite. As a former foster child and a survivor of sexual abuse, I feel compelled to fight for a better life for my children every single day. I have lived the direct consequences of what happens when adults do not, and I fear every day that there are other kids who need help and aren’t able to get it.
As a parent, it’s my job to step up and fight my for babies and I would die before I’d give up on them the way that some gave up on me. It’s not a joke. It’s life and death.
Now I’m a fancy grown-up lady and I don’t scare easy. Not because things aren’t scary sometimes but because I’ve seen worse than you could ever imagine and I’m still here. There are thousands of parents who are ready, willing and able to stand up and fight for their kids as well. Many of them are trauma survivors like me. And I stand with them, too.
You want to talk about kids facing trauma? We get it. And we should be fighting every single day not only to help them cope and overcome it but for a future that allows them to move on and break free from it. And in this world where we put the wants of adults over the needs of children, someone has to be on their side. Unapologetically.
So before you attack a parent for wanting to stand up and fight, or question what motivates us or brings us to the table, check your own motivations. And just because I can afford a fancy dress and a nice pair of shoes now, don’t think for a second I don’t remember the piece of my heart I left on that bench in the Common.