On this day, 8 years ago, I lost my father to liver cancer. I found out 4 days before he passed, and I had no idea how sick he truly was until I saw him.
I received the news that my dad was ill from my case manager. She called me and my world fell apart. Even though I was in foster care and finally got placed with a beautiful couple who loved me very much... there was still a huge part in my heart that loved my father... very much. No matter the mistakes that he made, there was never a mistake grave enough for me to dismiss that he was the only parent I had. Good or bad.
When I begged my social worker to see my father, it was impossible. My social worker wouldn't approve of a visit unless my foster parents were there. I screamed and cried, I felt cornered and powerless because the only person who held all my childhood memories, the only parent I ever had, was dying- and because I was a "foster kid", I couldn't even get my last visits with him alone. What else could he say that would hurt me more than his death?
The time I found this out was the same time homecoming was happening. Life was happening, and I wanted so badly for everything to stop. On the day of my homecoming, I went to see my father in my homecoming dress at the hospital. It was the first time, in a very long time that I saw him smile back at me. I had been away from home for almost 5 years, every family visit was awful- and at the family court, he could barely stand seeing me. But this moment, he smiled at me and that was all I ever wanted. I felt for a moment, that he saw me as his daughter again. He turned to my foster parents, with barely an ounce of life left in him, he said to Bill and Rosemary, "take care of my Whitney".
The next day at 7 am, I got a call from my brother, "Dad is gone".
Like a toddler scared of the dark, I jumped out of bed and ran to my foster parent's room and cried, "my dad passed away". I distinctively remember that as they looked at me with worry and shock, they did not know how relieved I was that they were there in my life.
As everyone rotated in the hospital and all my siblings took their turns to say goodbye, I couldn't remove myself from my father's bedside. I sat there staring at him, begging him to just wake up and smile back at me again. Despite the commotion happening, the room felt silent to me. There were no monitors beeping, there were no fluids dripping, there were no sheets rusting.
Since I said my final goodbye to my father, I leave remnants of him in my life as a reminder of that smile that I saw. Maybe, he did want me back home after all.
My father gave me a jade necklace when I was born. It's very special to me and on days where I am unsure or need to feel empowered, I wear it. Sometimes I sign my name in emails with "Lam" in it. Those are my simple ways to show that I will never forget my father. I choose to remember him for his strength, wisdom, and courage. I choose to forgive him.
As my life in foster care continued, it felt that outside looking in, many forgot that I lost a parent while I was in care. My social worker kept talking about a case plan. My classmates still said, "at least you still have parents". I carried a lot of guilt with me when these things happen. Should I be happy that the person who contributed to my time in foster care has passed, and at least I still have parents?
No one can ever fulfill the place of my father. There's no love that can every erase that he existed, and time won't take away the very breaths that he breathed into my walk of life when he was alive. All of that is ok.
My foster parents are very much my parents today. They love me and adore me. My mom said to me the other day "your love is the sunrise", my dad always picks up when I call him. Still, they don't ever try to replace my father. His role, just like theirs- is sacred and irreplaceable.
After his funeral, my family went to eat pho. Tonight, that is exactly what we are going to do.
Photo (left to right): Chatham County, GA DFCS case manager Ms.Ferguson, Director Brown, and Whitney Gilliard loading Comfort Cases into HavINN™
When the swelling went down and the throbbing pain that made the room spun finally settled down, I looked at my wrists and said to myself, "well... here we go again". For the 3rd time I have been arrested and without hesitation the routine went as it has always went:
1. I fought the cop.
2. They charged me with resisting arrest.
3. My foster mom is crying.
4. My case manager whose been pissed off at me for months now needs to find me another placement.
Gosh, the cuffs feels cold... and have I been crying? I can't remember, my eyes feels tired... I wish all the talking would stop.
3 months later after being released from "Juvie", I found myself in a residential facility at Riverside VA. I stayed there for about 6 months. It wasn't fun, it's wasn't a "get well" retreat. I barely felt sun on my skin and I had to ask permission for the doors to be unlocked each time I had to use the bathroom. One day I was talking to a staff member about nonsense while I was watching TV. She asked me "what do you want to do when you get out of here?", I told her " I don't know maybe be a tattoo artist. She laughed a wholesome laugh and said "oh child, I don't know bout that".
Throughout my years of growing up in the foster care system, I heard that very message but in different ways. Sometimes it's said with slang "nah, it aint boutta happen", sometimes it's more proper, " I think you will need to work on a few things first". I outgrew my desire to be a tattoo artist when I approached my college years and I was motivated by my father in-law to look into the field of social services. Even with a degree in my hand that says I majored in "Human Services" with a focus on Psychology, I still found myself handicapped in this world. The "oh child, I don't know bout that", still lingered in my head.
I cannot tell you how often those words stopped me from doing the many things that I knew would help others. It supressed my speaking and my advocacy. After all, i'm just a delinquent from the sytem- and made life hard for everyone. How can I ever make a differerence? It truly felt that being associated with foster care has crippled me. The self-esteem and courage that comes with being a leader of charity was somthing that I never thought I would fathom to do.
Secret: self-esteem and courage aren't the only traits that will change the world. It's your will... to all my brothers and sisters, honey- you already have that and then some.
Today our foundation, Gilliard and Company carried our partner's donations (Comfort Cases) into the building of Chatham County DFCS. We will be launching a new program called HavINN™ that will help my little brothers and sisters cope in a peaceful place, no matter where they are in their foster care journey. No more sleeping in offices. A desk is not a place to rest your head.
Who knew the kid who walked those same steps with no bags, would come back with over 3 carts worth..."Yes Child..but I did."
As of last week, I felt like I walked the stage and received my diploma from "Hard Knocks University of Foster Care".
We almost can't help it, it's only human... when we help others, it feels good to feel appreciated. But what if doors are slammed at your face, texts are ignored, and awful things are said about you? Last week I felt that about half the lives of children in foster care that I worked with truly hated my help... I was either too annoying, too direct, too kind, or not strict enough. Gosh- I even questioned myself and wondered if I was a bad person.
So this entry is dedicated to all my foster parents, providers, child welfare workers, and anyone who is involved with children in the foster care system. It can be absolutely draining. If you're wondering if you should foster- please read this too, because this is the truth and you need to know.
Last week one (out of a few of my children) absolutely could not stand seeing me. I didn't know what about myself made this kid so mad. I asked, and I was shunned... OUCH. I called and there was no answer. I felt so helpless and I wanted to know so badly what I did wrong. Did I say something that triggered emotions? It was eating me alive that something as simple as my presence made this individual so angry. So I gave it a few days before I reached out again, when I did, the text messages were short, and what I felt like were kind words were answered with "ok".
I called my team immediately and I wanted to know what they observed that I didn't pick up. I went and re-read the treatment plan to see where I went wrong. Then I called my mom and she said: "it's not personal". Those words didn't feel very comforting because it felt truly personal... but she was right.
As a teen, I gave my foster mother the hardest time. I couldn't stand her help and nearly every advice she gave me was ignored. When I think back on how last week felt, I couldn't help but realize why I was the way I was towards my foster mom. She was kind, she was selfless, she was loving, and she was always there. But she a was all the things that remind me of what my biological parents WOULDN'T give me... and for that, I was angry, hurt, confused, and ashamed. I couldn't respond to the "I love yous " because I felt guilty for saying that to someone other than my bio parents. The times when they showed me I was their entire world, made me scared because I was never that to someone before. I pushed my foster mom away the most because my mother left me as a baby... and if my own mother didn't see value in me, why does she?
Guys, it's not personal. It's trauma.
Please don't feel discouraged when your child shows you anything outside of pure happiness to see you. There is a divine miracle that is being shined through you, that neither yourself or your kids can see right now. It takes time... years later my foster mom is the only person in the world that I want when I feel sick, afraid, or unsure. She took the time and just like planting roses to the ground... understanding all the thorns and care it will need... she did that to my life. That is what you're doing right now. I see your tired eyes and your aching heart, trust me... the roses will bloom.
Growing up in foster care... things don't mean the same to me, as it does for others who weren't affected by the system.
Yes, I love pumpkin spice- the cool breeze (or as cool as it can get in GA), feels so nice. But the nostalgia isn't about the beauty of Autumn. My heart feels the most anxiety around this time of year. Around this time of year, when I was in foster care- I had the least visits, the saddest people around me, and there's this beating fear that Dr@NadineBurkeHarris talks about...
Fall is not the same for a "foster kid". The wisp of the fall air is nearly a siren for us to start begging for homes and shelter to go to- because oh yeah, the campus isn't open all year for the ones with no family. It's an SOS for the kids who are lingering in care, wondering what type of cruelty we are going to be subjected to this year (being ignored by family members, devasting reminders, abusive words, becoming ostracized, etc).
So toast up with the pumpkin spice... here's to the ones like me, who felt the reaping of fall that reminded us of the times when love was just as bare as the branches on the trees.
Hello and welcome to my blog! My name is Whitney Lam Gilliard and I am the Co-Founder and Chair of Gilliard and Company. You may recognize me from congressional advocacy forums, foster care reform articles, foster care awareness podcasts, and many other platforms that surrounds foster care.
I have a huge heart naturally for children as I am a mother myself. But I also have a deep rooted history with foster care becuase I was raised by the foster care system during my teen years. As a child in the system, I have always cried wondering why I was trapped in what felt like the 'time warp continuum" of bouncing around places to live. Now that I am an adult and on the other side providing services with different outreach, I find peace knowing that what I went through was for G&Co's existence and so that other will never go through what I went through.
Many says what I do is brave... speaking up about my abuse and advocating for others. I must admit, I don't always feel very brave doing this... but I also don't think that anyone while doing something brave- ever feels brave? So if you are an advocate too and hesistate on speaking up... honey, do it. You are braver than you think.
This blog was created because many have approached me to write a book. One woman in particular during an evening where I was the guest speaker and I emphasised on what family looks like when you're in foster care, came up to me right before I left and handed me a note. She told me "this is what God is moving my heart to tell you". I held onto that note and cried on our drive home, telling my husband how I couldn't believe that coming from the kid who wasn't worthy of a "nice family" is now asked to write books. This blog is for you, the woman who held the note in my hand.
I must admit that I am still pondering on when will be a good time to write a book. But this blog will be a good place to start. I hope you all enjoy this blog. Please provide feedback! Every time you join my blog you will be asked to please consider donating to our cause, I hope that we can all read and make a difference together. I can't believe we are starting this! So scary but so exciting! Here we go!
Living over 18 places has taught me that every child deserves a home. Being a survivor of child abuse has taught me that every child needs to be heard. Growing up in foster care has taught me to bloom where I am planted. Being a mother and a wife has taught me to be resilient. Operating a charity has taught me that people really do want to help. Providing homes for youth in care has taught me that bad days does not mean a bad life. Advocating for children has taught me to be brave.