Activists and Politicians
This month we are launching a new series titled Foster to Famous. We will be following the journeys of several individuals who were fostered as children and rose to see enormous success in their lives. For many of these people, their history is not widely known and it's important to highlight the diverse journeys that people take on their way to influence and notoriety. It's also so important for children in foster care to see themselves represented in a positive light and to view their own future as full of possibility. Over the next few months, we’ll take a peek inside the lives of former foster children and see where their lives have taken them.
Growing up in care doesn’t mean you can’t have a future.” - Former Foster Child
While I fully agree with this statement, sadly not everyone does. Far too often the misconceptions imposed on foster children are that at best, they will accomplish very little and at worst, may fall into crime or dependency. From my personal experience working with children in care I have witnessed children achieve amazing goals; completing high school, attending post-secondary school, getting their first job and moving on to live independently. We must remember that there are many ways to measure success and all foster children need to be supported and encouraged to achieve their personal best.
I was honoured to meet former South African President Nelson Mandela when he was given an honorary degree from my alma mater, Ryerson University. What I didn’t know at the time was that he had been fostered as a child. This social activist and politician was cared for by the Chief of the Fenbu people after his father passed away when he was 9. The Chief trained him for leadership and allowed him to sit in on council meetings and engage with royal visitors. In the 1940’s, upon moving to the city, Nelson Mandela became aware of the racial injustices in South Africa and began fighting to end apartheid. This cost him his freedom and he spent 27 years in a ‘hard labour’ prison, charged with conspiracy and trying to overthrow the government. Upon his release from prison, Nelson Mandel won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 and became the first black President of South Africa in 1994. When he passed away at age 95 his funeral was attended by dignitaries and politicians, celebrities and watched by millions. President Mandela truly left a lasting legacy.
Malcolm X was raised in several different foster families following the death of his father when he was 6 years old and the institutionalization of his mother when he was 13. Malcolm X joined the Nation of Islam while he was in prison and he quickly became a prominent member and eventually the leader of the controversial organization. The Nation of Islam focused on many social justice issues such as free drug rehabilitation programs and empowering the black community. Although Malcolm X eventually left the group he continued to focus his social justice work on Pan-Africanism and self-defence within the black community. Malcolm X’s legacy has lasted far beyond his assassination in 1965 and he remains a steadfast fixture in African-American history.
Former first lady, Nancy Reagan was fostered by her aunt and uncle for 6 years after her parents divorced when she was 7. Following in her mother’s footsteps Nancy became an actress during the 1940’s and 50’s. After marrying fellow actor Ronald Reagan, Nancy became interested in politics and supported her husband as governor and President. She was well known as being very influential and protective of her husband. Nancy’s most famous initiative as First Lady was her Just Say No (to drugs) campaign which garnered national and international attention.
These activists and politicians faced early challenges with the losses of their parents through divorce or death. However, they persevered and dramatically impacted the lives of thousands of people just like you can. Together we can change lives.
Disclaimer: The advice offered here is the opinion of the author and is not meant to replace advice you receive from your professional network.