Former Foster Child Credits Hillary Clinton as Inspiration
This is a nice story, it’s a few days old but I didn’t get a chance to post it:
When Jelani Freeman came home after school one day, his mother was gone. Eight years old, he waited, realizing as the hours passed that she would not be back. She was mentally ill and in need of treatment. His father was in prison.
“I just knew that was it,” he recalled.
By the next afternoon, social workers were involved. So began a way of life that he came to know as foster care, a world of in-betweens and stopgaps that brought six moves and inevitable questions about how to get beyond hurt and want and poverty.
On Saturday, against the odds, Freeman will graduate from Howard University Law School, where he has told few of his professors how far he came just to take a seat. Still, his journey has been a source of inspiration to advocates, friends and mentors, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who cited him in the 2006 edition of her book “It Takes A Village.” Many of those supporters will cheer him on as he crosses the stage at the Washington Convention Center to receive his diploma, one man’s humble demonstration of what is possible when grit and determination are melded with offers of help from others. Freeman is not the first child of foster care to earn a law degree, but experts say many youths who “age out” of the system struggle to finish high school.
For Freeman, what’s made the difference has been a kind of makeshift family of those who have cared along the way. Some cooked him dinner. Some steered him toward opportunities. One couple paid for a year and a half of his law school tuition. Many gave him the kind of advice a parent might bestow.
“I sort of see this as a collective achievement,” said Freeman, 29, who credits Clinton for his decision to go to law school. He had twice interned in her Senate office, and they had a talk about his career plans. “People say encouraging things to other people because it’s the nice thing to do. But she was sincere. She helped me believe it.”
Now an intern at the State Department, Freeman has become a voice for others who grew up in foster care, giving speeches at workshops and conferences. He serves on the board of the Barker Foundation, which has a program that focuses on foster-care adoptions. He has mentored interns who made the same journey he did: from the foster-care system, to college, to the daunting world of Washington politics.
“A lot of us still keep in touch with him,” said Ashley McCullough, 23, who spent eight years in foster care and got an internship on Capitol Hill in 2007 through the same program, created by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, that brought Freeman to Washington.