Dallas CASA’s powerful Cherish the Children luncheon was April 9, and we’ll tell you about that soon.
But a truly remarkable event happened the night before when Cherish the Children guest speaker Anthony Trucks, who spent his childhood in foster care, spoke to some of the teenagers Dallas CASA serves.
Because the children are in the custody of Child Protective Services, Dallas CASA maintains their confidentiality. It was an intimate group of teens in foster care and the advocates who serve them gathered in Dallas CASA’s training room.
For an hour, Trucks circulated in the room as the teenagers ate grilled cheese sandwiches from Ruthie’s and popsicles from Steel City Pops. Wearing hip red leather sneakers, casual gray slacks and a form-fitting red sweater, Trucks looked like the American Ninja Warrior and former NFL player he is. Many of the teens were star struck.
One girl said “Oh my gosh, you were on TV? That’s so cool!” He pulled out his phone and showed her pictures of his time competing on American Ninja Warrior, and she was sold. Many of the boys asked what NFL teams he’d played for and what football advice he had.
But beyond his cool factor, the kids were also able to relate to him like a peer. He asked them their names, where they were living and how they were doing there. The teens were honest with him. “I’m not going to lie,” one said. “It’s tough.”
Once the program started, Trucks opened by telling the crowd of advocates, foster parents, Dallas CASA staff and teenagers that he was glad they were all there but “I’m here to talk to these kids. I want to show them you can come from craziness and do great things.”
The room was still and quiet as Trucks described his mother giving him away, abusive foster homes he survived and how he stood up in court at 14 to sever his mother’s parental rights, allowing him to be adopted by his foster family.
“My first memory is of my mom giving me away at the age of three to this lady driving a black Crown Victoria,” he said. “I felt really worthless. Was I too bad? Was I not smart enough? What did I do wrong?”
He told the truth about his time in foster care, sharing with the kids he broke four lamps in two weeks at his final foster home where he was placed at the age of six. He got in 16 fights in sixth grade. He put holes in walls and windows. He remembered sitting at the back of English class in 8th grade with his hoodie pulled over his head, half sleeping and half eating Cinnamon Toast Crunch straight from the bag, when he heard a fellow classmate tell another student “The reason I’m so bad is because I’m in foster care.”
“It was the first time someone said out loud the excuse I’d been floating on for years,” he said. “I realized I didn’t want to look back in 40 years with regret. I told myself ‘You’re going to be great, Anthony.’”
After sharing his story for about ten minutes, he opened the floor to questions. A room full of teenagers dressed in cargo pants, hoodies, sneakers and headphones slung casually around their necks sat up. Hands popped up everywhere. Trucks had an amazing memory for names, and during the question and answer session he called teenagers by their names. The questions were heart-wrenching and honest:
- “Do you hate your mom?”
- “Did people try to hold you back?”
- “How did you deal with it when your siblings weren’t doing well?”
- “Do you ever feel good and like you’re having a great day and then a bad thought pops in telling you you’re not good enough because you’re in foster care?”
- “How did you forget about your mom?”
- “Do you feel like no one understands you?”
Trucks’ answers were just as heart-wrenchingly honest.
- “I never forgot about my mom. I realized my anger at her was only hurting me, and so I didn’t forget but I made peace.”
- “How did I get through my down times? I cried a lot. By the age of 14, I think I cried every tear there ever was.”
- “Do I ever feel bad about myself? Yeah, man, of course! You all think I’m special, but I’m just the same as you.”
- “Those walls you’re putting up to protect yourself from the bad people? Well, those walls can also keep the good people out.”
- “I felt so much shame being in foster care, I didn’t tell anyone at school. No one knew until I was in high school.”
He advised the kids to find someone they can talk to. He told them they were fortunate to have their CASA volunteers – those consistent, caring adults – to support them. He told them to recognize that the hardships they’ve been through have only made them stronger and more able to handle rocky times. He told them to start making one better decision every day and to drop people who don’t support them and lift them up. And he told them not to bottle up their sadness and anger but to find an outlet.
“You have a lot of life to live, and it could be really amazing,” he said. “I have a heart for you, and I’m here for you.”
After the questions and answers, kids stood in line to shake his hand, grab a photo with him and shyly ask him for a hug.