This piece is part of a series of blogs we've been publishing since 2020 written by CASA staff and volunteers on the importance of racial justice, equity, and inclusion. The goal of this series is to highlight the importance of equity, inclusion, and anti-racism education so that we can truly honor the best interests of every child CASA serves.
Here's a bit about the author of the following piece, Lakinia Ramsey:
Lakinia Ramsey is the Diversity Recruitment Specialist at CASA of Travis County. In her role, Lakinia engages with the community in an effort to educate them about CASA and the Volunteer Advocate position. Lakinia’s primary focus and interests are on reaching diverse communities and educating them on the specific need for advocacy for children and families of color in the child welfare system. Lakinia has been with CASA for a little over 2 years and previously worked as a Child Advocacy Specialist where she supervised volunteer advocates. Lakinia is a native of Georgia and a former “military brat." She has almost 20 years of advocacy experience, having served as an advocate for trafficked youth, domestic violence victims, and those experiencing homelessness. She’s formerly served as the Program Manager for the Women’s Daytime Drop-In Center in Berkeley, CA, and the Victim-Witness Assistance Program of the Southwestern Judicial Circuit (GA).
by Lakinia Ramsey
At the age of two, I became a “military brat” when my father enlisted in the U.S. Army. When I was seven, we moved to Germany and I became the only Black, or even child of color, in our neighborhood. One day while venturing out on my bike, I came across a birthday party being held outside in one of the neighboring yards. As I stopped to observe the festivities, the kids in attendance all ran to the fence, pointing and teasing. “Schwarze!” they exclaimed. I didn’t yet understand the language, so their actions made me nervous and uncomfortable. The scope of white faces peering and pointing through the chain-link fence made me feel like a spectacle—as if I was the one who was actually enclosed. Caged.
Later, I brought up the event to my father, and I’ll never forget the look on his face as he explained that “Schwarze” in German translated to “Black.”
"Growing up Black, or as a person of color, brings about a certain level of awareness that is difficult to explain to others. In fact, having to constantly do so, often to tone-deaf ears, becomes exhausting and exacts a heavy and emotional toll."
Crazy enough, since I’d grown up in a predominantly Black neighborhood in rural Georgia, that was the first time I had ever thought of myself as a Black child. I didn’t know how to feel about that sudden realization or the ridicule it brought on. I was hurt, then angry. What gave them the right to dismiss me as a color? It was as if I was no more than a shade of wax in a giant box of crayons. Even at the age of seven, I recognized that somehow, I had become… reduced. There was shame in that knowledge.
Growing up Black, or as a person of color, brings about a certain level of awareness that is difficult to explain to others. In fact, having to constantly do so, often to tone-deaf ears, becomes exhausting and exacts a heavy and emotional toll.
"At seven, my father was unable to shield me from [this] reality. In fact, it’s not a luxury that many of our youth are afforded."
Not just a shade in a giant box of crayons. Pigmentation of skin with weighted, often dire consequences. At seven, my father was unable to shield me from that reality. In fact, it’s not a luxury that many of our youth are afforded.
James Baldwin, a prominent Black literary figure so eloquently wrote, “To be a Negro in this country is really never to be looked at. What white people see when they look at you is not visible. What they do see when they do look at you is what they have invested you with. What they have invested you with is all the agony, and pain, and the danger, and the passion, and the torment...”
"Those stereotypes and misconceptions have, throughout history, been perpetuated at large on a systematic level: educationally, religiously, legally, and professionally."
A word historically synonymous with dirty, ugly, threatening, impure, uneducated… untamed. Not good enough. Lazy. Less than. That has been instilled in our culture from the days of our enslavement when we were only deemed 3/5 of a person. When our value only rivaled that of livestock and other commodities of trade and commerce. Our worth only equal to our physical capabilities without any regard to our mental capacities.
Those stereotypes and misconceptions have, throughout history, been perpetuated at large on a systematic level: educationally, religiously, legally, and professionally.
That systemic level of racism is all too prevalent in our child welfare system.
"Recognizing the historical context of race begs the questions: Are children of color in the child welfare system truly being heard? Are families of these children visible?"
Recognizing the historical context of race begs the questions: Are children of color in the child welfare system truly being heard? Are families of these children visible? Are their specific challenges being adequately and fairly addressed? Or, are there unseen forces—those long-held racial biases, stereotypes, and historical misconceptions—creating an unequal field of play within the family court system?
It’s no secret that children of color are disproportionately represented in the system. All too often we see the end results of vast disparities in our economic and social justice systems. Results that include Black families being reported to Child Protective Services (CPS) at an alarmingly higher rate than other families.
As an essential role in the child welfare system, CASA has recognized this disproportionality and has sought to tackle the challenges resulting from it. CASA’s mission has been to train volunteers on how to advocate for children’s best interests in the child welfare system. It’s also been our ongoing, evolving mission to train volunteers how to recognize the ways in which children of color are being disproportionately treated in that system and how to subsequently advocate from that lens. Unique to Travis County is our Family Finding program where our volunteer efforts seek to ensure that children of color who have been removed from their homes do not lose vital connections to their families, communities, and cultures.
"It’s also been our ongoing, evolving mission to train volunteers how to recognize the ways in which children of color are being disproportionately treated in that system and how to subsequently advocate from that lens."
But the work doesn’t stop there.
Once these children/youth enter the system a greater challenge is faced: There are not enough key players to advocate for their best interests from a shared perspective or experience. Can you imagine how daunting it is to be not only traumatized and displaced, but then shuffled through a system where most of the people responsible for your physical, emotional, and mental well-being don’t look like you, understand you, or share your same culture, values, or experiences? Can you imagine the level of distrust, knowing that you’re already facing those long-held racial biases and often being judged accordingly?
This is why representation matters.
"You can ensure that a child is heard and seen. You bring with you experiences that allow you to recognize systemic injustices and to ensure that they are addressed and not willfully ignored."
As CASA’s Diversity Recruitment Specialist, one of my primary goals is to actively engage with communities of color in an effort to educate and inform them about the child welfare system and how they can show up for these kids. The children we serve need people of color in roles of Supervisors, Advocates, Attorneys, and Case Workers who are not only present, but have the racial authority to effectively advocate on their behalves across their spectrum of needs: medical, legal, educational, therapeutic. As a Guardian Ad Litem with CASA, and specifically one of color, this means that you can be a powerful voice in advocating for a child of color. You can ensure that a child is heard and seen. You bring with you experiences that allow you to recognize systemic injustices and ensure that they are addressed and not willfully ignored.
"By becoming a CASA Volunteer you get to ensure that a child of color gets to be mentored and guided by advocates who look like them and have succeeded in spite of racial barriers and bias."
By becoming a CASA Volunteer you get to ensure that a child of color gets to be mentored and guided by advocates who look like them and have succeeded in spite of racial barriers and biases. These advocates and other roles give these children/youth an opportunity to engage with people of color who are intelligent, articulate, and successful, thus defying the stereotypes that plague our communities. They are granted invaluable access to wisdom, knowledge, and insight from perspectives that may be similar to their own. They get an opportunity to be heard without those accompanying feelings of shame, resentment, or defensiveness.
So much more than a shade in a box of crayons. It’s a determining factor in the world’s treatment and perceptions of an entire race of people.
Black Children Matter.
CASA Volunteer Advocates Matter.
Interested in becoming a volunteer advocate? You can apply now or get started with our online Info Sessions and online Volunteer Training! Learn more on our Volunteer page or RSVP for an upcoming Volunteer Info Session over Zoom!
2021 Featured Story Culture & Diversity Advocacy