A 19-year-old who was in about 15 different foster placements by the time he was 10, then a variety of group and residential homes might be expected to be down on life.
Not Alexander James. Despite remembering crying while being taken from one foster home, being in another where the foster mother was shot, and being told in a group home he was good for nothing, this teen-ager never gives up.
“Even though other people didn’t believe I could do it, I’ve got to exceed expectations and overcome the odds,” he said.
Alex is upbeat and focused – to the point of being accused of being boring, he said with a laugh. Rather than go out, he likes to study, sell homemade brownies and chocolate-covered strawberries to make extra cash, and keep his eye on his goals.
He is not sure what he wants to be after he finishes MATC, but he characterizes himself as an entrepreneur, someone who wants to be something big one day. And, because he “grew up in the system” and loves children, he hopes to make a difference for them somehow.
“In the foster system, sometimes you feel like an outcast, and I still feel like it sometimes,” he said. “The rules change from house to house, but it made me who I am today …. When you dwell on this stuff, you get negative. You gotta keep moving and stay positive.”
And that’s one thing this young man certainly is. A sign in his living room reads, “Believe there are no limits but the sky.” Post-its add: “$2,000 or more saved by May 21,” “Tell your story and keep spitting (rapping),” and, “Pray before you leave, and whether spiritual, intellectual, material or physical, come back with more than you left with.”
“Alex has great determination to overcome adversity, and I believe that society will have to brace itself for his positive contributions!“ said Tony Penman, Alex’s case manager at St. Aemilian-Lakeside, a social services agency at 89th and Capitol. Alex is part of the Youth Moving On program, which provides former foster kids with rent assistance and case management for 18 months. The goal is to help them successfully transfer to adulthood.
Alex enjoys working with Tony and being in the program because, he said, it provides support and honors his independence. For now, Alex likes selling his homemade sweets at school, church and barber shops. “I have a knack for it, and the gift of gab.”
Will he make it big some day? “I have no other choice, I came too far, and I don’t see myself settling for less. Failure’s not an option for me.”
Reflecting back on his foster days, and showing wisdom well beyond his 19 years, he said, “Kids lose hope sometimes, but if you believe in yourself, no matter where you’re at, you can prosper …
“You can’t let another person define what you are. You need to find your dream and follow it and not be afraid to fail.
“If you’re afraid to fail, you’re afraid to succeed.”
For more information on St. Aemilian-Lakeside’s Independent Living Services, see www.st-al.org.