By Volunteer Advocate Elizabeth Marks
I started doing my own hair around the age of 8 or 9—simple stuff, of course. But before then, my mom would sit me on the bathroom counter for ponytails, twists, plats, and buns. After adding a barrette or bow for final touch, she’d look at me in the mirror and say, “Aww... you look so pretty! But where is pretty?” She had asked me this question countless times before and had taught me the proper response of “pretty is in your heart.” Of course, I didn’t know what that meant at the time, but the mantra has manifested itself in my person over the course of my life, having shaped the lens through which I view myself and others.
Becoming a CASA volunteer was important for me because I wanted to give children in the child welfare system experiences similar to the ones I had with my mother. No, I don’t sit the young woman I advocate for down on bathroom counter tops to do her hair. However, I have invaluable moments of affirmation with her, I have the privilege of making sure she is treated fairly as a child of color, and I proudly exercise my voice to be certain her needs are taken care of when the voice she puts forth isn’t reaching very far.
I have the privilege of making sure she is treated fairly as a child of color.
The reality is that the child welfare system isn’t fair and that children of color, and particularly Black/African-American children, are overrepresented in the system. In 2018, there were 50,846 children in substitute/foster care in Texas. 10,889 of them were Black—that is 22% of the population of children in care.
Texas census data estimated that Black people made up only 12% of the population in that same year.
And things only get worse for Black children once they’re in the system. National adoption data shows that 22.4% of White children were adopted after spending 2 or more years in the child welfare system, versus only 16.1% of Black children.
As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. persistently fought for equal rights and consistent fair treatment of all races, he reminded us that, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
At CASA of Travis County, we recognize that the direct experiences children have while in foster care can dramatically affect the rest of their lives and indirectly affect us all. We take on the responsibility of providing a constant, safe and reliable adult who can be in tune with the child’s best interest as everything around them changes. As a CASA volunteer, you won’t be doing bathroom countertop hairdos either, but the indelible impressions you can make on children in care—as a consistent pillar within their ever-shifting world—are innumerable and essential. On this MLK Day of Service, I challenge you to see if volunteering with CASA is right for you. Go ahead and register for the info session you’ve been thinking about; fill out the application you were going to take care of “tomorrow;” speak with a current volunteer you may know… whatever that next step is, take it. There’s a child who needs your consistency.
Culture & Diversity Advocacy January 2020