Six years ago, foster alumni students at college came to my attention. I was fascinated. What were their stories? How did they get from foster care to college? I started research that asked these questions.
And . . .
I learned to sit stoically while students described a bloody beating. I learned that children escape through windows and run for their lives. I learned to give no response when a young woman said she was raped at age 8. I learned that these students were resilient and resourceful and motivated far beyond what I could have ever imagined.
I learned that doors in life were truly opened for me. I had the normal teen angst. I was never beaten. Never raped. Never abandoned. Never starved.
I realized that we are the parents of kids in foster care because there is no “State of Oklahoma”; the state of Oklahoma is us. And due to lack of knowledge, the juggling of our own “stuff,” and sometimes to lack of concern, we have too often done a poor job of caring for our children, our orphans.
My job as a researcher is to ask questions. I struggled with being in a position that seemed to require I put my hands directly on the problem. All the reasons I “couldn’t” ran through my head. All the reasons others were more qualified were vividly apparent. I did not have a completely willing heart to do ALL that I was being asked to do.
Then came SALLT.
I learned that God does not call the qualified. He calls people like me. I learned that while I do not have a large community of like-minded people at the university, there are many who will reach in and support me – and that I needed to stay to be able to do what I was being called to do. In the first SALLT meeting, the facilitator Nathan said about assuming leadership, "I believe that you believe someone else is coming...and you are it. No one else is coming." Wham. That message felt specifically sent to me. We are here. And we must join the fight. Ourselves.
One of the initiatives that resulted from my newly energized passion is R is for Thursday which addresses the needs through research and service of students who are foster care alumni college students. The title, R is for Thursday, came from the story of one of the foster alumni students who as a freshman, with no one to guide her and not wanting to ask questions, did not attend her Thursday classes because she did not know that the letter “R” on university schedules stood for Thursday. The name was chosen as a reminder of the types of problems we need to address.
R is for Thursday has become a statewide collaboration. This group of mostly “unqualified people” is making mistakes, regrouping, finding success and slowly finding our way. At a recent event five R is for Thursday students again told their very personal stories and I once again marveled what they have survived, but more so at what they have achieved ... and that we were allowed to be part of it.
Hearing those stories reaffirmed for me that we will, indeed, be equipped to handle what we are called for. Even when it isn’t our training, not our background, when we don’t have time or the energy; it is not ours to choose. It never has been. It is our duty to simply stand up and respond, “I will.”
An R is for Thursday Statewide Conversation will be July 17; for more information visit www.education.okstate.edu/RisforThursday.
By Dr. Kerri Kearney
Associate Professor of Educational Leadership
Oklahoma State University
New Heavens, New Earth
(written as a gift to SALLT)
Music and Lyrics by:
©2015 Kyle Dillingham, LLC