Be The Answer for Jamel

14 11 2010

To learn more about Joint Council’s National Adoption Month Advocacy Campaign-Click Here

Millions of children through out the world will never know the joy of having a safe, permanent and loving family.  Today we honor of all of the children who will grow up abandoned and afraid and will become adults without a family support system.  Today we spotlight a young gentleman for whom a family was never found.  However, despite all odds young Jamel Robinson prevailed and became an advocate for foster care reform in the U.S.  It is our hope that more children will find a family before aging out of foster care.  And may more of us see the strength, ability and drive of young Jamel Robinson and help reform the system that fails so very many children.

In early December 2008, twenty one year-old Jamel Robinson was facing a fairly grim future: he was about to ‘age out’ of the New York City foster care system.  Roughly 40 percent of those in his place leave foster care and are immediately homeless.  But after 21 years of numerous traumatic experiences and struggles in the system, Jamel decided to not fall victim to a hopeless future, but to give his voice as an advocate for those who face the same battles and challenges he has had to face.

Jamel was born to a drug-addicted mother (with alcohol and drugs in his system) on September 2nd, 1987.  He was placed in New York City’s foster care system at the age of two months, and over the years was diagnosed with a series of physical and physiological health problems – failure to thrive, mild cerebral palsy, quadriplegia, and A.D.H.D among other learning disabilities.  He spent years living with his grandmother and her ten other children.  Although she did the best she could while raising a family of ten, Jamel’s grandmother suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, which caused him to wander the streets in search of peace.   As a result he was molested at age 12.  By 15 he had been drugged, raped and had dropped out of high school.  The same year, his grandmother had a nervous breakdown.  Having lived half his life at his grandmother’s home and half on the street, he was arrested for driving stolen vehicles in 2005, and spent a year in prison.

Jail, however, was a turning point for Jamel.  “It gave me the opportunity to refocus,” he says.  “Incarceration for me was getting away from a dysfunctional household.  It gave me peace.”  Upon his release from jail, Jamel was placed in a series of foster homes, and had received some education and job training that prepared him to enter college.  However, his twenty-first birthday – and the automatic expulsion from the foster care system that followed – left him in a vulnerable position.  Now left to navigate the complexities of welfare, work and education all on his own, the threat of recidivism, homelessness and failure were all very real. But Jamel’s own experience of this unfortunate deadline has only made him more able to empathize with the thousands of other foster children who have gone through – or who will go through – it.  And so Jamel now find himself to be one of the most vocal advocates for reform in the foster care and criminal justice systems.

“It is my undying unwavering overall commitment,” he declares, “to improve the outcome and quality of life for NYC’s most disenfranchised youth and my peers in our city’s foster care system.”  Jamel’s advocacy includes testimonies before city councils and foster care boards about his experiences in foster care and in the transition out of foster care and as a keynote speaker at colleges, youth forums, foundations and community meetings.  Further, he has created the Jamel Robinson Child Welfare Reform Initiative, which calls for an independent advisory committee to oversee foster children, a system that would track those who have aged out of foster care and further background checks of potential foster parents.  He advocates for more foster care oversight and a more caring and guided transition for those who most need it.  His efforts are broad-reaching, and all motivated by a strong compassion for foster children.   “My commitment,” he says, “is to ensure that no other children have to experience the tremendous hardships I have experienced.”

Be The Answer for Jamel by reading Rage Against the Minivan and find out what others in the community are doing to battle the global orphan crisis and what you can do to help!

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