This blog series highlights the study abroad experiences of Justin B. and his advocacy for youth with experience in foster care and people of color, specifically men of color, who are traditionally underrepresented in study abroad programs. Justin is passionate about economic development and empowerment in African American communities. He aims to help other foster youth become aware of their strengths in order to solve the issues that plague their communities. He believes that access and poverty alleviation will result in lowering the number of youth in foster care.
Opportunities for Graduating Black Foster Youth
Do I remain isolated to protect myself from COVID 19 or do I demand society return to normal so I can finally find employment? As a recent Black college graduate, the rate of homelessness among foster youth, and the lack of opportunity for Black graduates are seemingly stacked against me. This is the ultimatum that plagues Black college graduates in 2020, elevates our level of anxiety, and forces us to choose between the lesser of two evils.
One month into my study abroad program in Cape Town, South Africa, I was emergency evacuated due to the pandemic. Arriving back in Michigan to live with my fiancée’s parents, I needed I prepare to graduate virtually from Western Michigan University while searching for housing and employment. COVID has left many of my peers in horrendous circumstances. College and universities have neglected the needs of foster youth by forcing us to leave campus while a majority of youth are dependent on scholarship funding and university housing. Their decision has left a multitude of youth scrambling for housing stability as well as some form of income. According to The Atlantic’s African-Americans With College Degrees Are Twice As Likely to Be Unemployed as Other Graduates Article, studies show that 12.4 percent of Black college graduates were unemployed. For all college graduates, the unemployment rate stood at just 5.6 percent. This means that Black foster youth who are graduating in 2020 are preparing to endure a great deal of agony amidst the COVID 19 pandemic.
Combined with the lack of family and community support that stems from the foster care system, Black college graduates who are also foster care alum are among the most vulnerable when facing poverty during the pandemic. The pandemic has sent Black people and businesses into a depression, making it difficult to create economic growth. Now more than ever Black graduates are in dire need of economic opportunity, not to mention the burden of student loan debt that follows college graduation. Reopening society is what numerous Black unemployed graduates are yearning for while simultaneously fearful of the consequences. The suffrage of homelessness and abandonment has created desperation among foster youth, searching for solutions to their hardships.
Furthermore, because of the instability of our living situation, foster youth are even more vulnerable to COVID as we search for someone to offer an extra bed or couch to sleep on. Coupled with Black people being twice as likely to be infected and die from the virus, this pandemic has inflicted even more adversity to an already oppressed population. Today’s circumstances have exhausted those suffering the most into risking their lives for their basic needs.
New Places, New Perspectives
It is common for foster youth to conform to the toxic environments that many of us have been placed in since birth. These circumstances unfortunately shape our world view, career aspirations, and vision for the future. I grew up on Detroit’s westside up to the age of 17. During those years, my vision was limited by my inner circle as well as my life experiences at the time. I couldn’t see myself going further than the options that were available to me in my community which was limited to say the least. There are many studies done connecting individual success to community prosperity. As a community advocate, I have chosen to create opportunities for the minority youth who are often victim to similar situations.
One of the most life changing experiences was deciding to attend Western Michigan University. Not only was this miles away from the neighborhoods I was accustom to, but it exposed me to numerous career possibilities while connecting with other students that were just as passionate. Following my introduction to college, I also met my soon to be fiancée who encouraged me to be educated on a global scale through study abroad opportunities. Through study abroad, I understood how interconnected the world really is. Today I am four study abroad programs in and every trip I wish I could bring more students who are from my neighborhood in Detroit. Their perspective, career ideas, and understanding of who they truly are would grow tremendously from experiences like this. Statistically, African American men are least likely to get an education abroad. I refuse to be the only student at my University interested or aware of these statistics.
I wanted to create opportunities for people of color to travel abroad but first I had to figure out why we weren’t traveling abroad. Multiple African American students have informed me that finances, safety, and a lack of representation have contributed to their disinterest in study abroad. While talking to other African American students who have studied abroad, they mention how welcoming many African nations are to students of color. After conducting research on this, I discovered numerous organizations in Africa are geared towards welcoming African American and those who are a part of the African Diaspora. This sparked an idea to create a study abroad program focused on African Americans and unrepresented populations such as foster youth who have a confined vision for their future.
To test the waters, I created the African Study Abroad info Session last February to see if people were actually interested in an additional African Study Abroad program at Western Michigan University. We received feedback that would only boost our confidence in creating such a program! Multiple people stated that they were interested in a multi-country African program focusing on heritages studies. From February to June, my fiancée and I have reached out to organizations that could help structure a program in specific countries. From the relationship and connections we’ve been privileged to establish, we decided that a two week, two country program in Rwanda and Uganda could finally improve study abroad opportunities for underrepresented students. The program would primary focus on ethnic relations and conflict resolution in Rwanda along with climate change and economic/women empowerment in Uganda.
Being dedicated to expanding the minds of marginalized group has ignited an opportunity even I am surprised has come to fortition. During the process of creating this program, I have grown expeditiously. Through adversity and often feeling uncomfortable while abroad, I have reached a point where my options are endless. After I expanded my environment, I expand my vision. After I push my limits, I discovered that my future is limitless. After I recognized my identity, no circle of people could change me. My mission is empower our youth to experience the same.
Learn more about Justin in the video below!
Justin B. is a public relations and African American/African studies student at Western Michigan University as well as an TNFC Ambassador. Justin’s mission is to work on economic development and empowerment starting abroad and eventually in African American communities. Campus based support has been tremendous in his journey in foster care as a great resource that has aided him while interning in Washington D.C. and multiple study abroad programs. Part of Justin’s mission to help other foster youth become aware of their strengths in order to solve the issues that plague their communities. Justin believes that access and poverty alleviation will result in lowering the number of youth in foster care. Ultimately, his journey in foster care has fueled him to serve underrepresented populations and become of The New Foster Care. Justin is a strategic leader who attacks the core of issues and works to challenge oppressive forces derailing underprivileged communities.
Fostering Success Michigan is a program of Educate Tomorrow that aims to increase access and success in higher education and post-college careers for youth with experience in foster care. Learn how you can contribute to building a holistic network that insulates (i.e., strengthens protective factors and reduces risks) the education to career "pipeline."Make a Donation