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Where the Light Beams Part 1: You are the Prize

September 08, 2021 The Kempe Center
Radio Kempe
Where the Light Beams Part 1: You are the Prize
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Radio Kempe
Where the Light Beams Part 1: You are the Prize
Sep 08, 2021
The Kempe Center

A Conversation with Amnoni (pronounced Ah-mon-knee) Myers

In this special three-part series, Where the Light Beams, Kempe's Virtual Village is excited to bring you two Radio Kempe podcast episodes followed by an interactive virtual Café on September, 23rd at 10 AM (Mountain Time). Join us throughout the month as we introduce you to Amnoni Myers, an advocate for elevating the voice of those with lived experience in child welfare. 

In this first Radio Kempe podcast episode, we will discover Amnoni's journey through the foster care system from the beginning of her life as a ward of the state through her transition from kinship care to foster care. We will discuss the long-term impact of her separation from her siblings and how she fought to overcome personal hurdles caused by exposure to secondary substance abuse. Follow us on this journey that inspired her to advocate for all children to have a voice by pursuing reform in child welfare first academically and then as a White House intern under the Obama administration. Experience her realization that she, and all children like her, are the prize! Be inspired by that experience to fuel a lasting change for all children. 

As professionals, we talk about trauma and how it connects to behavior. However, we do not always have the chance to reflect and understand from the child's perspective. Listen now to learn more! We will shed light on the numerous sources of trauma inflicted by the separation of children from families and the resulting developmental impact that is not uncommon for many children placed in the foster care system, and we will question our assumptions of what it means for a child to be "successful."

Get curious, tune in, and join us on the journey to prevent child abuse and neglect every month of the year!

Is there a story you would like to hear from Radio Kempe? Go to the Elevate My Voice Form to let us know @ https://www.custominsight.com/box/?cb28325wrbb!

Show Notes Transcript

A Conversation with Amnoni (pronounced Ah-mon-knee) Myers

In this special three-part series, Where the Light Beams, Kempe's Virtual Village is excited to bring you two Radio Kempe podcast episodes followed by an interactive virtual Café on September, 23rd at 10 AM (Mountain Time). Join us throughout the month as we introduce you to Amnoni Myers, an advocate for elevating the voice of those with lived experience in child welfare. 

In this first Radio Kempe podcast episode, we will discover Amnoni's journey through the foster care system from the beginning of her life as a ward of the state through her transition from kinship care to foster care. We will discuss the long-term impact of her separation from her siblings and how she fought to overcome personal hurdles caused by exposure to secondary substance abuse. Follow us on this journey that inspired her to advocate for all children to have a voice by pursuing reform in child welfare first academically and then as a White House intern under the Obama administration. Experience her realization that she, and all children like her, are the prize! Be inspired by that experience to fuel a lasting change for all children. 

As professionals, we talk about trauma and how it connects to behavior. However, we do not always have the chance to reflect and understand from the child's perspective. Listen now to learn more! We will shed light on the numerous sources of trauma inflicted by the separation of children from families and the resulting developmental impact that is not uncommon for many children placed in the foster care system, and we will question our assumptions of what it means for a child to be "successful."

Get curious, tune in, and join us on the journey to prevent child abuse and neglect every month of the year!

Is there a story you would like to hear from Radio Kempe? Go to the Elevate My Voice Form to let us know @ https://www.custominsight.com/box/?cb28325wrbb!

Intro: 

You're listening to Radio Kempe, elevating voices to cause change. Join us on our journey to prevent child abuse and neglect.

Kendall:

Welcome and welcome back. I'm Kendall Marlowe and this is Radio Kempe. Thank you for being with us today. I think you're going to remember the person we meet today. I know you remember April 20, 2021. We were all glued to the TV waiting for a verdict in the killing of George Floyd. But do you remember what happened earlier that same day? A 16 year old girl in foster care, Ma'Khia Bryant, was shot and killed by a police officer. There's someone I think you'd like to meet - someone who felt deeply at that moment in April that it could have been me and now they want to do something about that. Amnoni Myers. Amnoni Myers, how are you today?

Amnoni:

I'm doing pretty good. How are you?

Kendall:

Just fine. Where are, where are you?

Amnoni:

I'm in Sacramento, California.

Kendall:

You're in Sacramento, California. I want to take you back to what I imagine was a very different time. I believe it was a different place, as well. Amnoni, could we go back to June 16, 1988? What happened that day from what you know now, where were you and what happened that day on June 16, 1988?

Amnoni:

So on June 16, 1988, at 5:48 PM in Boston, Massachusetts, a beautiful baby was born. That was me. I was born in Massachusetts and, um, I was born premature. I was about four pounds. I had drugs in my system. I was, um, not necessarily doing too well and I had to stay in the hospital. And, um, yeah, I entered into this world. I think of a lot of unsureities, not necessarily sure that I was going to survive or make it. And, um, 33 years later, I'm here.

Kendall:

Where were your parents?

Amnoni:

So, um, my parents were both involved in, uh, drugs. They were, um, involved in criminal activity. Um, my mom, uh, was on drugs and, you know, ended up, uh, not being able to take care of me. And, um, so I was left in the hospital and, um, she ended up going on about her way and doing what she needed to do. And that's what was my first involvement in the child welfare system.

Kendall:

I'm gonna jump in right now and ask you a question about that system. If you could make it right, is there something that system could have done to help your parents at that point in time?

Amnoni:

Yeah, I definitely think that, you know, it was the height of the, uh, crack epidemic,. You know, I'm a product of the crack epidemic. And, um, I think that, um, as we've seen with the opioid crisis, there has been a lot of resources placed for families and that wasn't necessarily the case for families that were, um, involved in, uh, you know, using. And so I definitely think that, you know, some substance abuse treatment programs and support around that would have been helpful. I think, definitely think that, uh, parenting classes would have been helpful, um, for my, for my parents. Um, I don't think that they were necessarily ready to be parents. I don't think that they knew what that was all like. Um, I'd also don't even know if my, my birth was even planned and so in that we have a lot of families who have unplanned births and unplanned families. And so how do we help support our families who are going down that trajectory? And so I definitely think that there could have been some supports that were in place, um, for families whose children were impacted by the crack epidemic. I definitely think that it would've made our, um, relationships, um, a little more stronger in that way,

Kendall:

But that didn't happen at that time, didn't it? And you, how long were you in that hospital? Do you know?

Amnoni:

I'm not completely sure, but I know that I was, you know, in an incubator, I know that I had to be tested. I know that I had to go through the whole withdrawal period. And so I can imagine that I was probably in the hospital for a few weeks on top of, um, dealing with being premature. And so, um, the other hard part about, um, you know, being separated from your family is that you don't really know a lot about sort of the circumstances that happened that day. I only know what I was told and what I presume to be.

Kendall:

What happened next? Where did you go next and was anyone with you?

Amnoni:

Yeah. And so, um, this is something that I learned a little later in life, but I was told that I was placed in a white foster home in south Boston with my brother. My brother, um, is a little bit older than I am. And so him and I were placed in the same foster home together. And, um, from that experience, my great aunt, um, had heard about us through my father. Uh, he had asked my great aunt if he could, if she could actually take care of us because his own experience with losing his mother at a very young age, as well as his father leaving soon after his mother died, you know, they were left alone. And so in that, he had told me that my great aunt did not want the same thing to happen to us. And so in so many ways, I credit her for helping to break that, that cycle around, um, you know, uh, generational abandonment in that way. Um, and so that's when I was introduced to my great aunt around six months old.

Kendall:

So she stepped up. Did she even know you were there when you were born?

Amnoni:

You know, I don't think so. And the other thing too was that she was an older adult. She was about 66 when she took us into her care. And so she was an older adult. She had already had children, she had grandchildren, she had a thrive in daycare. And, um, I don't think that she knew about us. And, um, I know that she was particularly close with my father, because again, I know that in some ways she helped raise him and, um, but I don't think that she knew about us.

Kendall:

But she did step up. We try to do that so much in child welfare to connect people with family. How did that go? What was it like for you and your older brother in that home?

Amnoni:

Yeah, I was going to say that, um, you know, as a, as a very, very, very young child, you don't remember, you know, all the details, but I will say that one of the things that I truly remember was when my little sister joined us. She actually joined us at six months. She was with my mom, um, um, with birth and up until she was six months old. And I remember the first time that she entered into our home and I just remember the loud screams, the loud crying. And she just seemed like she was in a lot of distress. And I couldn't understand why that was. And from that, I would say that it was in this home that my sister and my brother we bonded. Um, it was as if we were the only ones that each other. I looked at that with my great aunt, um, you know, while I appreciated her taking care of us, you know, one of the things that we really lacked was the emotional, um, the emotional nurturance, uh, the physical affection.

Amnoni:

That was not something that I remembered growing up. I would say that I know that with her lifestyle in terms of her, you know, caring for, you know, other people's children, I think that it was really difficult to sort of understand and to see her, you know, take care of other people's children and nurture them and show them, you know, affection and we were sort of on the outskirts and not necessarily experiencing that. And so I know that that really impacted, um, how I viewed, um, you know, you know, nurturance and affection as I grew up. I also think that you know, being in the basement, you know, even though it was a basement that was, you know, fully furnished and it was where her daycare children were at, um, you know, she had a large house and I never understood why was it that we had to be downstairs in the basement and not necessarily in the house. And so, even though we were her biological family, it didn't always feel like that. And I think that for me growing up and, um, really asking questions about where's my mother, where's my father. It was something that I had always wanted and even though I was really thankful that my great aunt, you know, took us into her care and, you know, tried to do the best that she could, it was also really hard I would say.

Kendall:

You were in the basement with your brother and you were fortunate, you felt fortunate to be taken in, but you were in the basement with your brother.

Amnoni:

And my sister.

Kendall:

Did you have contact with your mom during that time? Was she aware of where you were or were you aware of where she was?

Amnoni:

You know, I grew up with this understanding that I was never supposed to be like my mother and my father. And I would think, I think that one of the other things that was pertinent to my growth was that my great aunt was Christian. And so in that we got a lot of messaging around really looking to, um, you know, God for sort of our support. But I think that that also erased, you know, the, the true feelings again of not having parents. And so I would say that I only remember being connected with my mom a few times. I know that there were times where she would call us, you know, on our birthday. I know that my father was sometimes we would talk to him, but I would say that their connection in their communication to us was very inconsistent.

Amnoni:

And, um, you know, as a child, when, you know, each year your birthday comes around and you're looking forward to hearing from the people that birthed you and you don't hear from them, you often sometimes wonder, you know, what was it in me that I wasn't worthy enough to have their love? And so I, I would say that not having their consistent support, their consistent communication, their consistent love in my life, um, was really hard. And so the messaging that I got was, you know, that, you know, my mom was, you know, on the streets. And the crazy part is that she stopped doing drugs with my little sister Ebony. And so I think that whole time, I don't necessarily know what she was doing. We didn't know. I know that my father was in and out of jail. He was in and out of jail my entire life. And so that was the narrative that I sort of had. I will say though that at the age of eight years old was the first time that I physically met my father and I physically met him in jail.

Kendall:

How did that, how did that happen? Tell us that.

Amnoni:

You know, I don't quite remember, um, how it all happened, but I do remember taking the drive up there. It felt like the longest ride of my life. It's, you know, that question that kids ask, are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? You know, I just remembered sitting in the back and feeling super excited about meeting my father. You know, I had this idea of who he was in my head. I, um, you know, knew that, you know, he wasn't, you know, according to my great aunt, he wasn't this amazing person, but somehow I still had this hope that it would be different. And so I remember the first time we went up to go meet him. We actually couldn't get in because my great aunt didn't have all the paperwork. And so for me, I just remember first walking into the jail. And even before that, seeing the smoke outside the building. Coming in into the building and smelling the aroma of the food that did not smell so good. I remember seeing men walking around in white and wondering what their life was like, wondering if that was my father, that was my father. And so, the second time around, when I went to go see him

Kendall:

So you had to go back a second time?

Amnoni:

We had to go back a second time. And in going back a second time and meeting him, I just remember his embrace and, um, embracing him and wanting to sit on his lap. And I remember he pulled out, um, three, he pulled out his wallet and handed each of us a dollar. And at that time that was one of the most, I mean, I thought that he was the best thing in the world. I thought that he was rich. I thought that he was generous. I thought that he was really nice, you know, because living with my great aunt, you know, she fed us, we, we all, we only ate healthy food. And so when he had given us a dollar each and told us to go to the vending machine, I remember the excitement that I had. And after the visit on my way home, I was saying, you know, we referred to my great aunt as grandma. And I said, grandma, I said, I really, you know, can, can, can our father come and live with us? And she laughed it off as if you know, Amnoni, you know, you're so naive, you're so innocent. But I remember wanting my father to come live with me and thinking that he was the nicest thing in the world. And that was sort of an impression that he left on me, uh, for most of my life.

Kendall:

Did you ever see him again?

Amnoni:

I did see him again. I saw him, um, at the age of 12, when I actually entered into foster care. He had took us on a little shopping spree. He had just gotten out of jail and he had taken us shopping. And, um, I would say for the, for the most part, the experience was good. Um, but in the other hand, I would say that it was also a little bit weird, um, because my father, I don't think that he knew how to look at me like a daughter. I don't think that he viewed me or saw me, or could see me as a daughter. And I think that was the hardest part of reconnecting with him was that on one hand he did see me as a daughter, but on the other hand, he didn't. And so I think that was really hard.

Kendall:

So you were with your great aunt/grandma for some time. Where did you go next and how did that happen?

Amnoni:

Yeah, so I was with grandma for about 10 years and I believe that, um, because the other part was that I had an older sister on my mom's side and she was with my other great aunts and we would go over there periodically. And so that's when, sometimes I would see my mom and I remember asking her, I remember looking up to her and asking her, why does Tiffany live with you but we don't? And I remember her saying, I'm going to work on that. And, you know, again, as kids, you know, the time and space, you know, you don't know how far it is, but I know soon after my great aunt began packing up our things, and we were told that we were going to be moving with my mom. And I remember feeling really excited, but also feeling really conflicted. I felt really conflicted because, you know, I had been living with my great aunt for 10 years and it felt so surreal that the opportunity that I had always wished for the opportunities that I had looked forward to was finally happening.

Kendall:

Should be a happy time, right?

Amnoni:

Yeah, yeah.

Kendall:

This is what you dreamed about.

Amnoni:

Yeah, exactly. And so I think there was definitely a lot of happiness, but I, I really also believe that there was quite some sadness too, because, you know, you've been in a place for 10 years, you know, even though the person may have been taking care of you and even if the experience was not beautiful or the experience wasn't all that great, I would still say that, you know, you still have ties to that person. And I think for me, that was sort of what I was afraid of letting go of.

Kendall:

So you, an older brother and a younger sister are now with your mom, is that right?

Amnoni:

Yes.

Kendall:

And what was that like? And what was that like for your mom?

Amnoni:

Yeah, I would say that it was definitely very, very interesting. Um, you know, like I said, that my sister was raised with my great aunt on my mother's side. And so my great aunt lived downstairs and we ended up living upstairs. And I remember when we first got there, I remember, you know, you know, you get all excited. You're trying to figure out, you know, where you're gonna stay. I will say one of the most exciting things was knowing that I was gonna be staying in a bedroom. It was exciting to know that, you know, when you go and you are in a place where you can pick that out, like you're able to pick out sort of where you're going to stay. That was exciting. And so my sister and I ended up sharing a room and my brother had his own room.

Amnoni:

And I remember, you know, the first few weeks we didn't necessarily have beds. I remember, um, staying on a, sleep out, a pullout couch. And, um, I remember my mom ended up, um, getting bunk beds and we didn't end up staying on the bunk beds. They were sort of separated. And I remember the bunk beds were, um, you know, not the newest, the sheets, weren't the newest. Um, but knowing that I had somewhere to stay, I think that that felt good. But I would say that I remember, um, just sort of like the early trauma that I faced with my mom. And, um, I was one of the first kids to get beat by my mom and she bragged about it. And, um, that early moment of that happening and I think that that sort of reaffirmed sort of the things that I was hearing, that my great aunt would tell me about her.

Amnoni:

It reaffirmed sort of the things about her. I would say that, um, living with my mom, I would say it was definitely an adjustment. Um, it was sort of as if my mom was trying to do her best, but she didn't necessarily have all the tools. I think you just knew what to do. So my mom worked a lot and so we were often left home, um, either alone or with my great aunt who was downstairs. And, um, I remember when we first met our family members, I remember we had a party and I remember sitting and just watching and seeing my mom connect with other children, but not connecting with us in the same way as though there was sort of this disdain that she had towards us, that she wasn't necessarily able to shake. Um, I would say that it was a confusing time. It was a confusing experience because my mom had a lot of hatred towards my father and she spoke very ill of him. And guess who looks just like their father?

Kendall:

Amnoni Myers?

Amnoni:

Amnoni Myers. And so I took a lot of the heat that my mom had against my father. And a lot of it was put on me. And that was something that I really didn't understand. Um, it was something that I tried to understand, but couldn't understand. I didn't understand and wanted to understand how was it that my mom worked so hard to get us back, but at the same time, it didn't feel as though that there were times that she wanted us.

Kendall:

And did that last, and did that last - staying with her? That's our dream, that's our dream in child welfare. Right. We got your back with mom, Amnoni. It's all supposed to work out just fine now. Right? What happened next?

Amnoni:

Yeah, we were there for two and a half years. And, um, I remember, you know, there was a lot of abuse that we sustained, um, over that period of time. And, um, I want to say that much of it was probably also, uh, caused by her own stress of all of a sudden taking in four children, you know? Um, no one gives you a roadmap to parenting and that's not something that I understood as a kid is that you sort of have to learn it as you go. And, um, I remember at one point, you know, a social worker did come in the home and, you know, try to do, you know, family, family work with us. And, um, I know that my mom, I believe that she was tired, um, because, you know, I remember, you know, one day we were all in the kitchen and she, you know, she loved Pillsbury cookie dough and, um, you know, she would always have it in the freezer and, you know, I, and my siblings would go in and sneak some. And I remember she came in the kitchen one day and just got really upset about, you know, someone eating her cookie dough and, you know, we all denied it and you know, that denial made it even worse. And I remember her saying that, you know, she was gonna be giving us up, back up to the system. And, uh

Kendall:

How did you learn about that? Where were you when you realized that you weren't going to be with your mom anymore?

Amnoni:

Yeah. I honestly thought that she was bluffing. I didn't think that she was telling the truth because for one, when we first moved in with her, she told me that she promised to never give us up again. And, um, so I thought that she was bluffing and, um, I was at my afterschool program in Boston. I was on the basketball court, you know, playing basketball and hanging out with the kids and my social worker came forward. And, um, I remember I was in the gym and so she came, someone came and got me and was, you know, bringing me down the hall. And I remember I was like, you know, I must be in trouble because they're pulling me out of, out of recess and I don't know what's going on. And I ended going into a conference room and seeing my brother, my sister and my social worker standing there.

Amnoni:

And it was at that moment that we were told that we were not going to be going back home. And, um, I think that there was like a lot of shock. I think there was some confusion. I wasn't quite sure what was happening. And it became real when they ended up bringing us down to the DCF office, which is the Department of Children and Families at the time, it was called the Department of Social Services. And they ended up bringing us down to the office. And I saw my belongings in duffel bags and trash bags. And, um, I remembered them handing me, I actually still have the duffel bag. They ended up handing me, uh, an American, uh, it had an American flag. It was a black duffle bag and they ended up handing it to me. And, um, basically it was sort of like, it felt like it was a gift like here, this is what we're going to at least give you all. And, um, I remember us driving over to, you know, our first foster home and not only were, we, you know, separated from my mom and my older sister, but it was here that I was told that we were also going to be separated from my little sister. And that was another blow, um, to the whole experience.

Kendall:

And now you're in foster care. I happened to know that you have some college degrees now. I'm skipping ahead just a little bit, but because I know that, I know how smart you are. School, must've been a piece of cake. Did you just cruise through high school? How did all that go? You're in foster care. What was all that like? And what was your experience with school like and graduating from high school?

Amnoni:

Yeah. Um, that's a really, really good question. Um, you know, one of the things that I did not mention, um, so as someone who had experienced drugs in my system, one of the effects of having drugs in my system was that I suffered and have suffered from a learning disability. And so throughout my whole educational journey, I was in a special ed classes. I was taking the special ed bus. I was in small classes. And, um, so I would say that my educational journey from the beginning was really hard because I struggled to learn. And I wouldn't say that it was really difficult to learn. I would say what made it difficult to learn was because I was also, uh, so I was experiencing abuse at the same time. And so while you're supposed to be focused on, you know, education and things like that, I was really focused on surviving.

Amnoni:

And so I honestly felt like I was being passed around throughout, throughout the, throughout the years and during my senior year of high school, which was one of the most, um, I would say pertinent times of my educational life is when my school turns into four smaller schools my senior year. And at the time I thought it was one of the worst things that could have ever happened because yet again, I was experiencing a separation from my friends, from what was normal, what was I, what was normal for me. But what I didn't know was that separating those schools into four smaller schools that actually set me up for success. And why I say that is because I was not on track to graduate. I hadn't passed the Massachusetts Standardized Assessment Test. I had taken it five times and Kendall listen to this. I passed the English portion the first time around, the middle portion I cheated every single time and still failed. And, uh, during the first week of school, I remember drawing, um, with, uh, a black Sharpie on the wall. And it said a dog was here and a dog was me. And as I was in the middle of writing that a teacher, a new teacher, he was a computer teacher. He was in the hallway, he came through the hallway and he saw me and I was like, oh my gosh. And he was like, what are you doing? And I was like, I ran off. And I was like, I'm going to clean it up. I'm going to clean it up. I ran off from him. I ended up, um, getting caught about an hour later. And I remember my high school principal. She was new at the time. And she looked up to me and she said, Hey, do you, have you seen a student by the name of the Amnoni Myers?

Amnoni:

I said, no and I kept walking and

Kendall:

Just keep walking.

Amnoni:

I just kept walking, just keep walking. And sooner or later I was caught by the school police. He ended up bringing me up to the principal's office. And I remember feeling really nervous because I was on my last leg of suspension. And, um, I remember one of the first things that came out their mouth was what do you like to do besides drawing graffiti on the wall? And, um, I remember having my head down and I didn't know what to think. And it was through them talking to me, it was through the conversations that we were having, that I slowly learned that they were really interested in knowing who I was. And once I found once they found out that I was in foster care, I think that they took extra measures to really support me.

Amnoni:

And, um, I remember, you know, they didn't suspend me, but what I ended up having to do was I had to do community service after school so I was there washing walls. Little did I know that the principal, uh, she had told me that the reason why she was really upset was because they had spent that whole summer painting all the walls. You know, as a student you don't know about that. She didn't have a budget and the mayor had appointed her to be, uh, to be the, um, the principal. And, um, from that experience, she ended up setting me up with the assistant principal. We ended up doing MCAS prep testing and, um, I remember I was so nervous because it was the last time that I had the opportunity to take the test before I could graduate. And they were even putting things in place wanting to get a waiver for me, because I did have limited disability. And I said, no, I want to do it. I want to prove to myself that I can do it. And I remember getting the test results back a few months later and not only did I pass the MCAS, I didn't cheat, and I had moved up, um, a level, um, beyond what they had thought.

Kendall:

What did your, what did your foster mom think about this?

Amnoni:

So she was the first person I called because I knew that she would be really surprised, um, because people were really worried. And, um, now mind you, she was, um, atheist. She didn't, you know, she wasn't spiritual. She wasn't, you know, anything like that. At that time, I was, and I remember calling her and I said, Hey, guess what? I passed the MCAS. And she screamed out, oh my gosh, there is a God. And at that point I knew that she was really proud of me, because again, she wasn't anything spiritual.

Kendall:

You've had so much happen through those years, but I want to move us forward now. You ended up in The White House.

Amnoni:

Yeah.

Kendall:

How did that happen? And what was that like?

Amnoni:

Yeah. Um, so I think that, I know that, um, I think that, you know, one of the things I think about is that in order to move forward, you have to go back a little bit. And so I go back to my sophomore year of, uh, being a sophomore in college and becoming homeless that year. And I was sent to a, uh, um, conference, uh, because my mentor at the time didn't want me to spend Christmas alone. And I remember feeling really frustrated and feeling really upset that I had to go to this conference because I really wanted to be at home with family, and that didn't happen. And so I ended up going to this conference and I said, you know, I'm going to make the most of it. I'm going to try my best. And I ended up walking by a table. You know, they had a whole bunch of tables, a whole bunch of, uh, you know, uh, recruiters. And I went over to the table and the program was called Focused Leadership Institute and the person's name is Yvette. She ended up, she's now a beautiful mentor of mine. And, um, we ended up talking and I just kind of ended up sharing with her a little bit about who I was and, you know, the things that I was experiencing and all of that stuff, we just kicked it off. And she said to me, she said, I just met somebody who works at the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, and, um, they have a foster youth internship program. And I really think that you'd be really good at it. I'd love to connect you. What ended up happening was that she actually recruited me for her program that summer, which was beautiful because I wasn't sure what I was going to do that summer.

Amnoni:

So she ended up recruiting me for her program that summer. And then that December, she ended up telling me about the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute again. I ended up applying. I got accepted and that was where I had an opportunity to work on Capitol Hill. And I was placed in a senator's office where I had an opportunity to really, um, it was the first time that I had been labeled an expert. Expert, huh, how am I an expert? But the reality is that you are the expert of your own story. And so, um, it was there where I got to share, um, you know, pieces of who I was to sort of help shape and influence child welfare policy. And I had, I was, I ended up, uh, being with um, being placed at Senator Grassley's office, who was the champion on child welfare. And he ended up highlighting my story about aging out of foster care on the US Senate floor.

Amnoni:

And it was in this program that I also had an opportunity to write a policy report where I got to focus in on a change that I wanted to make in the child welfare system. And so one of the things that I wrote about was how do we train foster parents and caregivers in trauma informed care techniques so that when children enter the foster care system, because they have already experienced trauma, we don't want them leaving with any more trauma, but what we want is for foster parents to be trained on those techniques. And so it was there where I had an opportunity to present my recommendations and my policy report to both members of Congress in The White House Domestic Policy Council. And the Senator actually took up my bill and, um, it was in draft legislation for a while. And, um, that summer I had received a call from the executive director at the time who ended up passing away, um, and, uh, mentioned that, you know, The White House was really impressed with our reports and wanted to invite, um, you know, me to apply, to become an intern.

Kendall:

Wow

Amnoni:

I was the only one that applied out of the program, I was, well, I was the only one that got accepted and, um, I became an intern at The White House. And, um, what I would say, Kendall, is that it's something that I never, ever, ever imagined happening in my life. I remember going on the plane and going back, uh, to, I believe I was going back to Boston and I said, wow, I went to, I went to Capitol Hill. It would be so beautiful if I got to, you know, you know, go to The White House. And even though I had an opportunity to go to The White House to present my report, I just never thought that I would have an opportunity to step in there and to work alongside the first black President of the United States of America.

Kendall:

But you did, you did. And we're gonna talk more about the changes that you're starting to bring to the child welfare system. But I want to move us ahead in time now to another point. Tell us about your sister. How did you learn about what happened to your sister and what were your feelings that day?

Amnoni:

Yeah, so I will say that my little sister was my best friend. Uh, she was someone that when people saw us, you know, they, they viewed us as the Three Musketeers, but Ebony was somebody who was short in stature, but everyone thought that she was older than me because she was bossy. She knew what she wanted. She was direct. And I was

Kendall:

Good for her being a little sister standing up to you, right?

Amnoni:

Yes, yes. And my cousin describes me as in between two extremes because my older brother, you know, the way that he acted out his trauma was through violence and anger. And the way that my sister act out her trauma was through, um, you know, being rebellious and, um, you know, just doing whatever she wanted to do. And I was the one that was sort of trying to hold, you know, hold the peace. And what I will say is that I was also sneaky. So that was my role. And, um, but my sister, she was, uh, really a protector and it's not something that I did, it's not something that I noticed until she passed away. And so, um, I know that you mentioned, you know, what happened. Um, so at two o'clock in the morning on November 15th, 2017, I was actually, um, experiencing a really difficult time in my relationship.

Amnoni:

And, um, I said, you know, it'd be really like a good time to call my sister because, you know, she has really good advice. And, um, that was one of the things about my sister is that even though she was going through a difficult time, she could still show up for me. And, um, you know, I was laying in bed and I was looking across the room and I saw my, my phone on my light flashing. And, um, that was surprising to me because usually my phone isn't on loud, but it wasn't. And so I went over to my phone and I saw that my oldest sister was calling me and she told me that, um, they had found her, I guess the paramedics had found her unconscious. She had, you know, a bleeding on the brain and, uh, she had suffered a heart attack or several heart attacks.

Amnoni:

And I didn't know at that time what was going on. I honestly thought that, um, her abuser at the time, I thought that he had killed her. And, um, I just remember feeling like my whole world was crumbling down right in front of me. Um, I had just graduated with my masters. And so, you know, I was at the peak of my career and to get that news and being all the way in California while my sister was in Boston was really hard. And so I jumped on a plane and, um, I went to Boston and, um, I saw my sister at the hospital and it was not ever something I would ever want anyone to experience. Um, but I got to hold her hand. And, um, shortly after she passed away, um, it was still

Kendall:

How did she go? Was it her abuser?

Amnoni:

Well, I would say that indirectly, yes. Um, but what we learned, what we later found out, was that she ended up taking her life. And, um, I would say that, you know, my sister was a fighter. She was, um, she was homeless. She dealt with substance abuse. She, uh, was in a DV situation, domestic violence situation. Uh, she was really smart. Um, but in watching her video in her phone, one of the things that she said was that she was tired. And, um, all throughout that, I had to remember her words that she has shared with me, you know, um, prior, and she said, you know, Amnoni always remember that you are the prize. And, um, it was really hard for me to sort of remember that in the moment because I sat there looking at my sister, recognizing that she herself probably didn't see herself as the prize. And, um, I would say that that experience to date has been one of the hardest things that I've ever had to experience. I think that, um, it's not something that you ever prepare for. I realized that I've dealt with a lot of ambiguous loss in my life, but to deal with a death, um, is something that's very different, and a close death at that. And, um, not only did I think that, um, her abuser contributed to it, but I also felt that the foster care system had a lot to do with it as well.

Kendall:

And so that has, that has motivated you now hasn't it? And that idea that you are the prize - what comes next? What comes next? What does that motivate you to do, that experience with her and what she shared with you?

Amnoni:

Yeah, I think that her, I think that her death in so many ways has helped me to, in a lot of ways, appreciate her life. Um, it's allowed me to view success very differently. Um, because I say that because oftentimes when people would look at me and look at her, they would see that my life was successful, but the lifestyle that she lived, a lifestyle that she had, they didn't see her as successful. And I recognize that my sister is an example, one of it, an example of how many young people in foster care, probably face. And, um, you don't have to make it to The White House. You don't have to graduate from college in order to be deemed successful. Um, the very fact that we are alive and well in the midst of our trauma makes us successful. And so for me, that's sort of the journey that I've been on as I've had to take a step back and think about my own life.

Amnoni:

Because like I said that before, you know, her death, you know, I was on a trajectory where life had me going, all sorts of places and life still has me going in all sorts of places. But one of the things that I experienced was that while the rest of the world kept moving, I felt like my whole world stopped. And so I feel that in so many ways I've been playing catch up for these last couple of years, while also in the midst of still trying to grieve the death of a loved one. And, um, so I think that for me, it's just really, really, um, has been motivating me to help young people to see that they are the prize and that they are worthy. And, um, you know, the death of Ma'Khia Bryant, as you mentioned earlier, was something that also just really sparked my motivation to continue moving forward as well.

Kendall:

And we're going to hear more about where all of that goes next on our next episode of Radio Kempe. Thank you, Amnoni, for the courage to share all of that with us. Let's continue this journey next time on Radio Kempe. Where does the Amnoni go from here? What does that call to action that she heard through her sister call her to do? What has she already done to change our system and what must we do? Join us again next time as we continue this journey with Amnoni and follow her lead to a different and better world. I'm Kendall Marlowe and this has been Radio Kempe. Reach out to us at thekempecenter.org. On this journey with Amnoni Myers, what will we discover next? We'll see you next time on Radio Kempe.

Outro:

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