The youth-written stories in Represent give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

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Love Makes a Man

Names have been changed.

When I was 7, my Uncle Donnie took me into his home for a year, and after that I went into foster care with strangers in Brooklyn. I’d only been in care three weeks when I first visited my mother at the agency office. Right when my sisters and I got there, my mother told me that Uncle Donnie had died.

Tears poured down my face. I loved my uncle; he was the only father figure I’d had since my father left when I was 4. Now another person had left, without a warning or a goodbye. I thought he loved me. How could he just leave me—and right after I’d been taken from my mother? My heart raced and my body said, “Run!”

I ran as fast as I could out of the building, bumping and passing everybody. My mom tried to stop me, but I was racing toward Uncle Donnie. I wanted to see my uncle’s face one more time. I wanted to ask him, “Why?” I wondered if he was alive somewhere hiding from me because he didn’t love me.

The wind rushed past my face and my tears ran like cops and robbers. After 20 minutes of running, I was exhausted and slowed down. I kept walking toward the Williamsburg Bridge: Across that bridge was home.

Then I saw a VERY familiar man. Dad! He didn’t recognize me, and my eyes watered. I walked a little more, then turned around to talk to him. I wondered, “What should I say? How should I approach him?”

I hadn’t seen my father since I was 5, but I still loved him. I remembered him picking me up from the couch and putting me to bed after a long night of watching TV. As I got closer, he looked at me funny, as if I were a hobo asking for change.

“Dad!” I said.

“Who are you?” he replied with a bewildered look on his face. My blood boiled. My father looked at me harder, trying to figure out who I was.

“Dad, it’s me, David.” I said, removing my hat. I held back tears because he didn’t deserve any tears from me.

“Oh, hey,” he said and handed me 20 dollars. He seemed uninterested.

“Thanks,” I said, just to be polite. I walked away from him, afraid that I would go insane from rage. When I got onto the bridge, I ran again.

A Choice

I stopped in the middle of the huge bridge and looked down into the water. I was tired from the run and my rage had turned into depression. My father left when I was 4 and now my uncle left when I’m 8. My thoughts started spinning: “How can they do that to me? My own father didn’t even recognize me.

“Nobody cares; everybody leaves,” I thought. “Maybe that’s why I’m in foster care, my mom wants to leave me but doesn’t know how. So I should leave too. Leave everybody. I can jump off this bridge and nobody would care. Maybe I should. That way I can talk to my uncle and ask him the questions I need the answers to. Why me? Is it because I deserve it or is God just being spiteful?”

“I’m sorry, Mom,” I whispered to myself as I looked at the dirty water of the East River. My feet got weaker as I leaned out over the bridge, crying. Was eight years as long as I was supposed to live?

Then I thought, “If I jump off this bridge I will be leaving my mom, my sisters, and my brother—everybody I love. I can’t leave them without, at least, a goodbye. I’ll be doing the exact same thing as my uncle and my father.”

I decided not to jump and to go home—not my foster home, but my real home. I planned to turn on the TV first thing and watch my favorite show, Yu-Gi-Oh. And when I got to my mother’s house, she was back from the foster care agency. She made me waffles and I got to watch Yu-Gi-Oh for a short time, before the agency brought me back to my foster home in Brooklyn.

Father Substitute

I didn’t find any caring adults in foster care. It seemed to me that all they wanted was the money. I found out when I was 12 that my sisters and I went into care because of “medical neglect” by my mom. My brother had diabetes and went to the hospital a lot. But I didn’t think that was my mom’s fault. I missed her, so I ran away from foster homes almost every day to go back to my mom’s. But I always had to go back to the foster home that same day.

My mom’s little brother, my Uncle Ruben, appeared at my mom’s apartment one day when I was 11. I hadn’t seen Ruben since I was a toddler, and now he looked better, more educated and more self-respecting. He stood tall, his shoulders straight and his chest almost pumped out. He looked like a real man, like a man from a TV show who has it all together. He had a good job, too, as a drug counselor at a treatment program.

I felt cautious about opening up to him because I didn’t want to get let down again.

“Hey David,” he said softly and hugged me tightly.

“Hey Uncle Nim, I missed you,” I replied, using his old nickname.

“I missed you too, David,” he said, tapping my arm with his fist. He pulled my favorite food—Lunchables, the one with the pizzas—out of his bag. I ran to the dining room to open it and my mom whispered into my uncle’s ear.

image by YC-Art Dept

“David!” my uncle yelled across the room.

I walked back to him a little scared.

“Are you AWOL right now?”


“Don’t lie to me, David,” he said sternly.

“OK, I am, but I’m going back soon,” I said with a puppy-dog face.

He looked angry and told me that he had been stuck in group homes till he was 21 because he kept AWOLing. “Stop going AWOL,” he finished. It felt reassuring to get advice from someone else who had been through the system like me. Maybe there is a male who cares, I thought.

Since that day six years ago, Ruben and I have hung out a lot. Sometimes we just talk, and sometimes he takes me out to eat, to see a movie, or to go play basketball. When hanging with my uncle I feel a type of bond that no women or other children can give you—the bond of a father and son.

He teaches me how to be a man; he says it’s about accepting responsibility for your actions and thinking about other people before thinking about yourself. He came out of a group home at the age of 21 and went straight to live with my mom. He understands everything I go through because he’s been through it as well, and his job as a drug counselor makes me want to help people too. Having his understanding and encouragement has helped me learn to love and believe in myself.

Trusting My Teammate

Even Uncle Ruben’s advice couldn’t completely keep me out of trouble. I’ve been arrested a few times and ended up going to a group home like he did. But I’ve been turning it around since I hit 13. Being arrested you see the same type of people, none like me. I knew I didn’t belong in a group home. Too many people there have angry faces. They talk about robbing and stealing and ways they won’t get caught. That’s not me. I want to excel at positive things, like school and sports.

I always loved playing football, so when they started a team at my school, I signed up. Playing football has helped me believe in myself and in other people. One game in particular during junior year stands out. I was the quarterback, which means I had to make sure the play happens. Being in this position made me feel proud and honorable, like a captain.

The score was tied at 14 with 30 seconds on the clock, and my team had the ball. Rain splattered on my helmet, and the smell of the wet field filled my nose.

“Blue 42!” I yelled, calling a passing play.

I stared at the guy behind the defensive line getting ready to blitz the quarterback, me. I tapped the person in front of me to signal him to block the blitz. I bent my knees and put my feet into position.

“Down! Set! Hike!” I screamed at the top of my lungs.

I got the ball and took two steps back. I faked the handoff to the running back. The blitzer fell for the trick play, so I looked deep into the field and saw two people. One was the best catcher on the team but he had three defensive players on him. The other guy had nobody on him, but he couldn’t catch a cold during flu season.

A defensive player ran at me full speed, but I faked the throw and he flew past me. I started to run, but the rest of the defense surrounded me, close enough that I could smell their sweat. I had no choice but to throw the ball as hard as I could to the open receiver. I got tackled as the ball left my hand.

As I fell, I saw the ball hit the tips of the open reciever’s fingers and bounce in the air as if he were playing hot potato. Then he grabbed the ball in midair and ran it in for the touchdown. My team won! And I realized that maybe I can count on other people—if that kid could make that catch, then I’m not the only person I can trust.

Football lets me enjoy doing well at something that takes a lot of hard work, and that carries into school. My Uncle Ruben reminds me that school is important and that I can do better. He knows I can get straight A’s if I try hard. (I am a B+ student because girls at school distract me.)

Doing well in school led to an unforgettable night in May of my junior year. That night I was the featured speaker at a gala at the Museum of Natural History in Manhattan. The superintendent and the principal chose me to speak at this event to raise money for the school because I was an honor student and the most respectful in our school. Everybody stared at me and asked for a picture. I felt like Will Smith at a Fresh Prince of Bel-Air reunion.

Respect, Determination, Kindness

It seemed like everyone at the gala was white, so I stood out. Yet it felt good to be there, not awkward or uncomfortable. Everybody at the gala seemed upper-class and confident, and the fact I earned this honor made me feel like I belonged. I never thought I would accomplish so much. My uncle always told me to do well at school and look at where it has taken me.

I felt like a man standing on the podium with my head held high, strong jaw, chest pumped out, eyes filled with determination. A man who will stop at nothing to succeed and will pass by any obstacle in his path.

This man may have lost a lot at a young age, but that won’t stop him from accomplishing. This man knows what is good for him and knows how to achieve it. This man is tough as a diamond, but he wants to help people other than himself. He is kind and gentle. He can put other people’s needs before his own because his Uncle Ruben taught him that he can do better and be better.

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