A couple of years ago I read The Allegory of the Cave by Plato. During my readings, I was reminded of my life growing up in one of the roughest areas of Washington, DC: Lincoln Heights. The prisoners in The Allegory of the Cave were blinded from the truth and comfortable with ignorance because it was all they knew. Eventually, once told the truth and set free, disbelief and fear made the prisoners run back to their past lives. That is the only difference between me and the prisoners in The Allegory of the Cave.
Eleven years ago my situation was so bad, I couldn't see any way out of it. Despite the few good folks I had around me to say "Things will get better" I couldn't see it. I had an unstable home, very little support, and, to make matters worst, I was shot three days before my 11th birthday. Being a prisoner to the situation before me, my lack of faith prevented me from believing that I would see it out of this situation. By God's grace I survived the shooting, but I often wondered how I would recover from this all-time low.
A few weeks later I was placed in foster care. Being taken away from the only parental figure I knew and trusted, my father. Although my father made some mistakes by having me stay with other people, and at times was very inconsistent in his promises, he was still my father and I loved him deeply and he lovely me deeply as well. It was a struggle for me to adjust being away from him. My anger disrupted many foster placements, my depression and PTSD lead to my school work suffering as well as my relationships with other folks. I didn't see myself being anything but a statistic. Undoubtedly, at the age of 12, I had no idea what the statistics were for foster youth, I just knew that I'd be the very thing I had seen in my neighborhood growing up.
As a child I believed in angels and I also believed in demons. I believed that angels and demons weren't spiritual beings, but humans who walked the earth. Sadly in my life span I was in contact with so many demons, I couldn't recognize an angel if I had saw one. It wasn't until foster care that I met more angels than demons. My "support team" was full of angels who believed in me when I was too weak to believe in myself. I had people in my life who actually cared for me and proved it every single day. These angels motivated me to overcome all the battles I fought and make no excuses. One angel even told me to stop saying "can't" because the word was a handicap used by people who weren't willing to try. I didn't believe in myself, that I could be the next President, football star, etc. But my angels constantly reminded me that I could do anything I wanted and they would be my support in whatever ways I needed.
I knew that I wanted to become a psychologist. However I never knew that I'd meet someone who would see a gift in me and help me use it. I was placed in a program under Ms. Susan who now runs the DC Family & Youth Initiative (DCFYI). I was just a 13 year old kid looking for a home and a place to be sheltered in love, Ms. Susan's program was the place I needed to be. Shy and quiet at times, Ms. Susan and the DCFYI support team opened their arms with big smiles and incredible spirits that made me adore every single adult in the program. Ms. Susan, who I always give praise to for her hard work in keeping DCFYI's progress going, I always acknowledge her as the reason why I advocate for youth in care now. I feel Ms. Susan saw a gift in me and helped me develop my speaking abilities.
Inside my cave, I was blinded by the darkness, only able to see the shadows from the fire that was set behind me. Like the prisoners, at one point in my life I was forced to look ahead. We always tell youth to look ahead, but sometimes your situation prevents you from seeing past your current situation. I was once there. A prisoner to my situation and my eyes were covered in darkness. Once I was told the truth, I never wanted to go back to the cave I was once in. I believed I could make it because my angels believed in me. Sometimes that's what it takes. Some one to believe in you.
In 2004, I was laying on the couch fighting for my life after being shot. I had a broken spirit in this dark time. A dozen years later, I've been blessed by God to travel across different states sharing OUR story to empower not only the young but parents as well, telling them that it's not where you come from, it's where you are going. I've graduated college, and I'm now working in the Philadelphia foster care system. I've touched a lot of youths' lives, but I've also had my life touched by a lot of youth.
I pray to God every day that I'll be a better man, not for myself, but for the youth around me.
I'll never forget where I came from.
Peace & Love,
Thomas McRae, Jr.