Monday, April 23, 2007

Victoria Rowell says foster care served her well

Victoria Rowell was interviewed by the The Indianapolis Star today.

Question: What made you decide to write a memoir?
Answer: I've always been a writer. I believe an artist must create to manifest. I started writing by way of the tutelage of my foster mothers, guardians and mentors because they wrote to me -- regardless of where I was -- very vividly so I could get an idea what was going on with them after I had left, and I wrote to them to tell them about my life where I was. Also, I journaled a great deal before I moved to New York and also while I was there. I was amazed at the theater that played out every day in New York. I became my own journalist and photojournalist, documenting my life.

I crafted two different incarnations of the memoir back in the '90s. I was offered a movie for television before it was published, but I said, "It's not just a movie. It's a literary work, first. After I write the book, then we can talk about a movie." I've never regretted that.

Q: You had a very positive experience with foster care. Why do you think that side of foster care is so rare in the media and popular culture?
A: All you see on the news is the negative stories because the sensational stuff sells. But if all the media shows is the negative stories, how are we supposed to galvanize these beleaguered systems? It's like going up the side of a mountain on a bike without a chain. I met remarkable people, and I've been shaped and nurtured by those people. Not just foster parents, but big sisters, big brothers, court-appointed special advocates, social workers, mentors. It doesn't get reported, but that makes a huge difference in children's lives.

Q: So many foster children who never get adopted have a very difficult time functioning as adults. Why are some children in those circumstances resilient and others struggle?
A: In my case, I knew that I was loved. Not always in the same way, or to the same degree. Every person was different. Every circumstance was different. There was no formula on how to love a person. I had to figure out how to decipher, "What color is this love that I'm being given? It may not be like the last one, but it's still love." I realized I had better recognize where the love was coming from if I was going to get through this.
I also had the anchor of classical ballet. I know ballet loved me and I loved it back. It was always someplace to go. Always open arms. It was consistent.
Beyond that were the examples. These women led by example. They never gave up. In their own lives, with their own families, in their own circumstances and certainly given their character, they weren't going to give up on me.
I do a lot of speaking to foster children, not only foster but to a lot of youth. I tell them that you really have to recognize when somebody is trying to help you. This applies to us all. That is the miracle, when you are able to recognize when someone is trying to teach you, mentor you, love you.
They're not in a classroom, necessarily. Lessons happen in life. It was the senior citizen teaching me how to plant a cantaloupe seed. The ballet teacher teaching me to fold my slippers. The bus driver who took me from Roxbury to Cambridge and back for ballet classes. I'll never forget him. He was always on time. He was always concerned. He would say, "Be careful," because I was walking in the dark in the 'hood.

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