The Power of Youth
“Enthusiasm is one of the most powerful engines of success. When you do a thing, do it with all your might. Put your whole soul into it. Stamp it with your own personality. Be active, be energetic and faithful, and you will accomplish your object. Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
It is not every day that a youth is able to entrance a room of over twenty professionals meeting to discuss ways to promote foster parenting and adoption. Sixto makes it look easy. His passion and his intelligence emanate from his face; through his body language and the through enthusiasm in his speech. Clearly, this is a young man who is going places. Sitting in that room, no one would guess that this young man has had to climb mountains to get to a place of such confidence and passion and concern for youth in foster care.
Sixto was born in Bridgeport in 1992, one of at least eight siblings. His mother, herself abandoned by family when she was 12 years old to live on the streets of Bridgeport, was an addict. When he was eleven months old he and his siblings entered foster care for the first time where he stayed until he was 6 years old. During that time he lived in a number of different different foster homes. Sixto explains, “I spoke with Susie, the DCF supervisor, and she told me I moved a few times during that period but I don’t remember it.” At age 6, his mother regained custody for a year but when he turned 7 he found himself once again in foster care. He and his siblings were separated, never to live together again. Sixto remembers leaving the first foster home he went to at age 7 after just a few days because he “glued his foster mother’s hair together.” Social workers returned him to the last foster home he was in at age 6. This foster mother eventually adopted him at age 9. But Sixto found life in his adoptive home confusing. His adoptive family is Hispanic and he was immersed in their culture although he is both Hispanic and African American. In fact his first language is Spanish but he self-identifies as both African American and Latino. He often felt that his family did not want him to identify as black. He remembers wanting to perform with a dance troupe in front of a primarily black audience but being told he was not allowed to. And then in eighth grade he attended a school where almost all the students were black and he began to identify with them and African American culture. This created tension in the home which continued to escalate resulting in a disruption when he was 15. He remembers the school social worker meeting with his adoptive mother to explain his feelings and DCF workers meeting with him and the rest of the family. Finally, he simply left and DCF was once again contacted on his behalf. The social worker attempted to reconnect him with his adoptive family, however, by this time, his adoptive family had moved so he did not even know their address, and although he did speak with his adoptive mother by phone he did not wish to return there. A decision was made that he would return to foster care and he was placed back in the custody of DCF under an Order of Temporary Custody. “Kim Soto is my DCF social worker. I love her and can talk to her about anything,” he says.
Sixto picked his new foster mom from among his acquaintances at church. This bright young man deliberately chose someone and requested that she attend PRIDE class to become licensed to foster him. She did and he stayed with her for a year. Once again he moved, this time to a foster home near the projects in Bridgeport where he lived for a month. Sixto remembers, “Imagine a black gay kid who has to walk through the projects to get to school.” He shakes his head. “Uh-uh. Something was bound to happen.” Bags packed, he moved once more to the home he lives in currently. Sixto speaks of Ms. Hall, as he calls her, with respect. Living with her has worked for both of them. “This year,” he says, “I will graduate from Bridge Academy.” He is academically ranked 5th in his class at Bridge, which is a college prep charter school. He has big plans for college. He has applied to a number of colleges, including Harvard where he recently was awarded a personal interview. He has already been accepted at Morehouse, UNH, Southern and Clark in Atlanta.
About college Sixto says, “Foster care is my passion. I want to major in political science and social work.” To that end he is very involved in foster care leadership. He is the chairperson for the southwestern Youth Leadership Board, a group of committed youth in foster care who work towards improving the lives of foster youth. He is a Young Fellow at Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative where he recently attended a leadership program for foster youth in St. Louis, Missouri. Sixto confidently voices his opinion, “There’s an obligation to get involved. If you don’t then you’re accepting the system the way it works now. We are the ones really experiencing it. “Foster parents,” he continues, “have an obligation and job to help the kids. The most successful kids come from the best foster homes.” In many cases he is correct. Good foster care helps kids to thrive and excel, however, perhaps Sixto is the exception that proves the rule as his experiences in the foster care system have been far from exemplary. In fact, he is writing a book about these experiences and the need for system change.
So, what has made the difference for Sixto? It seems that this young man simply has incredible drive and inner strength along with an ability to see the possibilities in every situation. He says he is happiest when advocating for changes in the foster care system. He also has a wonderful mentor. Jeff Vance has been mentoring through the DCF mentoring program at the YMCA for 7 or 8 years. He has mentored 15 to 20 youth in that time and currently mentors Sixto and two other youth. He and Sixto have done everything from working together on school work to more fun outings and events Jeff threw Sixto a birthday party on the occasion of his 18th birthday. “Last year for his birthday I rented a hall and hired a DJ for Sixto. It was the first time Sixto ever had this and it made me just as happy as it made him!” Jeff stated with obvious joy.
Jeff and Sixto share another interest – politics. Sixto worked on Governor Malloy’s election campaign and is very politically active, counting among his friends Mayor Bill Finch of Bridgeport. Jeff also once held political office and takes obvious pleasure in knowing that his interest in politics has permeated down to his mentee. “Sixto is a wonderful young man who will continue to accomplish great things in his life. I would not be surprised to see him in elected office.” Jeff describes Sixto as a good speaker and “a voice of the future.” Asked why he thinks Sixto will be successful, Jeff takes no credit and states, “Sixto is passionate about helping people and social and civil rights. He has read a lot and taken an interest in human rights. He has overcome a lot of challenges in his life. He really wants to change things. He is actively involved in a myriad of boards and organizations. He is very resilient, able to bounce back and transform that experience. He actively works to bring positive change. This is something that is in him and has been for a very long time.”
Sixto wants prospective foster families to know that being a foster parent to a teen is life-changing for both the teen and the parent. Asked what he would like to say to prospective foster families he thought for awhile before answering, “Their role is the most important role in all of this. They can either ruin a child or make a child’s life. It’s like that line in Spiderman, ‘With great power comes great responsibility.’” He hopes that more adults will consider fostering and mentoring youth. He knows that teens need and want homes where they can be accepted and loved for who they are. And he wants everyone to know that he will remain involved in the improving the circumstances of foster youth well into the future. There is no doubt that this engaging and bright young man will do just that.
This article was written by Deb Kelleher for Foster Adoptive Mission.