Crown of Thorns: One Woman’s Journey From Foster Care To Success

Crown of Thorns: One Woman’s Journey From Foster Care To Success

Shalita O’Neale is not your average survivor.

The 34-year-old is a foster care graduate who took her experiences and used them as inspiration to create the Fostering Change Network, a nonprofit that creates avenues to a successful life while eliminating the stigma of being a foster care child. The organization is based in the Washington, D.C., area and hosts networking and workshop events throughout the country, including its Six Degrees of Foster Care Gala/Alumni Powerhouse Network event planned for New York City in May.
When O’Neale was approached for this interview, she was eager to tell her story so that anyone who has gone through similar troubles will be encouraged. Check out our interview with Shalita below as she shares her journey from sufferer to survivor.

THE BEGINNING OF GOD’S CHARGE

O’Neale was thrust into a horrific situation that many do not survive, but her tenacity to be loved served a purpose and she was encouraged along the way by an unlikely person.

How did you end up in foster care?

SO: My mother was murdered when I was two years old and my father was never part of my life; he drank himself to death when I was 16, but I didn’t find out until I was 19.

What was your experience in foster care?

SO: My experience in foster care was extremely lonely. I tried very hard to fit in and to avoid being a burden, even with my own family. I was put in a Kinship Placement with my grandmother at age five, but due to her alcoholism and physical and verbal abuse I was placed with my uncle until I was 13. Unfortunately, he was also physically abusive. At 13, I gathered the courage to tell someone and officially went into foster care. I lived in two different foster homes before going to live in a group home and often felt I was being punished because I did not have parents. There were people along the way that encouraged me and spoke to my potential and I am forever grateful for them. It was this and my desire to prove everyone wrong that fueled my ambition to succeed.

What are some of words inspiration that kept you going?

SO: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” — Mahatma Gandhi

CB: Who was your role model growing up?

SO: Aaliyah! I was so lonely through my different living situations, despite that I had much older siblings (17 years older). My brother and sister were dealing with their own set of trials, because of our mother’s murder. But Aaliyah was the big sister I never had with her mix of tomboy and “girly” style, love of music, and humility that I could relate to. When she died I grieved heavily, but she still inspired me to grow into that type of woman, a woman who was loved and admired for all that she gave to the world.

PURPOSE FOUND

Shalita chased the light despite her strenuous beginnings and went on to complete her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and her master’s degree in social work, with a concentration in community organizing and social action from the University of Maryland. Looking at Shalita, she did not seem like the hard-core detective type like Misty Knight from Luke Cage. We laughed about that. However her past did dictate what her future would become and in this case it was a good thing.

What was your “savior” moment? What made you create the Fostering Change Network?

SO: I’ve had several savior moments. Every time I wanted to give up, even end my life, there was something that removed the despair. Almost as if in the next moment, the feeling was forgotten and my will to live and to continue to move forward, replenished. I believe God has consistently used people, angels and spirit guides to intervene on my behalf. I started Fostering Change Network to show others from foster care that they are valuable contributions to this world and that they are capable of great things. I created FCN to highlight the accomplishments of alumni of foster care nationally and internationally and to provide the support they need to take their personal and professional endeavors to the next level.

Do you feel like God handed you this journey for a reason?

Shalita poses with her family. She admits that her family’s love is what keeps her motivated in spite of her past.

SO: Absolutely! I have come this far, learned so much and kept my “crown” in place during all attempts to remove it. I accept the power that I have been given and understand it is my calling to help others do the same. I’ve been married to an amazing human being for almost 10 years. He has always been very supportive of and patient with me. He was the first one to show me that you can disagree with someone without leaving them.  You can love someone and not agree with everything they do or say. From my experience with my family and in foster care, I used to believe that it was normal to just leave people or force them out when you didn’t see eye to eye. My husband and I have grown together through our different journeys. He is an amazing father to our 6-year-old son, Amani.  Amani has shown me what it feels like to have a heart on the outside of my body.  I was afraid that I would not know how to be a good mother or wife because I have never seen it, but they have awakened those instincts in me. I may not have known what unconditional love looked like as a child, but I knew what it was supposed to feel like. I let my heart lead and I now have a family of my own to pour into, in the way I would have wanted to be poured into.

THE MARCH FORWARD

Although living a Christ-like experience we are only human and can still hold animosity towards those who have wronged us. When Shalita was asked about this, she took a breath, and with wisdom explained why it was important to forgive in order to grow into who you must become; and more importantly how it affects the future of those around you.

Do you forgive your parents? Both biological and your grandmother and uncle?

SO: Forgiveness was necessary for me to step into the person I am today.  I will always be on the journey of “becoming,” but about a year ago, I was stuck and I didn’t know why.  I realized that after so many years, I had not forgiven my father, mother, grandmother or uncle and so many others.  I told myself I did, but the way I was living my life, making my decisions and attracting negative people and situations told me otherwise. Not only did I have to forgive them but I forgave myself, which was the hardest thing of all.

If there is never another like you, what is your hope for the future of foster care kids?

SO: I want foster children to grow up in a world where there is a universal understanding that they add value and are worthy. My hope for the future is that they see themselves and their greatness through people who have been in their shoes and lead by example. My hope is that they see the world full of opportunities that are available to them instead of a world full of people that mistreat and misunderstand them.

What is next for you. When it is time to remove your “crown”? 

SO: I don’t think I will ever remove my crown; I strive to always be present with my power as a “Light Worker” in human form. Although some days its more challenging than others. In everything I do (foster care-related or otherwise) and with every person I meet, I hope even if only for a moment to help them adjust their own crown and to realize that it has always been resting there, gracefully, on their heads all along.

Do you have anything that you want the world to understand about people like you?

SO: It is time for adults who have experienced foster care at some point in their childhood to step forward. We are gifted. We are resilient. We have given so much to our communities and to the world. There are so many of us hiding in plain sight, waiting to bump into someone who can share in our experiences of foster care. We have wanted a safe space to heal and achieve with others that “get it.” Fostering Change Network is it. We are a network of alumni that have overcome the barriers associated with foster care and we are leading Fortune 500 companies. We are celebrities, legislators, community organizers, human service professionals. We are amazing parents to our children. We are not the stigma. To the alumni of foster care reading this I say: Welcome home.

Shalita O’Neale ended this interview with an embracing hug that gave the feel of “home.” Essentially she was built for this purpose. The Upcoming Alumni Powerhouse Networking Conference and Six Degrees of Foster Care Gala will feature a variety of speakers , workshops, and entertainment to include Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, Humble G, and poet Bathsheba & Cage Free Voices.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Case for Christ: Can Atheism and Faithfulness Coexist Under One Roof?

The Case for Christ: Can Atheism and Faithfulness Coexist Under One Roof?

The Case for Christ film, debuting nationwide this Friday, is the most authentic journey from hardcore atheism to faith. The film is based on Author, Journalist, former atheist, and now Pastor Lee Strobel’s life without Christ as he intensly seeks the ‘truth’ behind the Christian faith that he once deemed bogus in order to ‘save’ his wife and marriage.

Jesus is a Fairy Tale

Although Lee (Mike Vogel) and his wife Leslie (Erika Christensen) collectively decide not to induldge in faith as a married couple, Leslie makes the decision to turn back to God after their daughter’s near-death experience and her asking questions about who Jesus is.

The unexpected series of events sends Lee on an exploratory tirade with his investigative journalism in tow. Throughout the film, viewers are able to witness how an atheist fights to prove his beliefs as ‘gospel’ through the use of science, historical facts, and general disbelief.

Many people have been a part of debates both online and in-person that discuss whether or not Jesus is a fairytale based upon scientific facts and anger towards the plights of the world. However, even with scientific evidence of the miracles of Christ and God, the doubt often continues to leave non-believers searching for more. “So, when is enough evidence, enough evidence?”

Facts vs. Faith vs. Marriage

Before Leslie decides to become a born-again Christian, her marriage to Lee was considerably solid. However, as her faith grows, so does Lee’s rage and presentation of facts against Christianity.

Lee’s main argument is that his wife believes in something that no one else can see, and he only chooses to believe in things that he can see. To add insult to injury, Leslie tries to force her husband into becoming a believer, which only drives him further away.

In fact, there are several moments like these throughout the film that makes moviegoers wonder, “Can a faithful and faithless love co-exist?”

On social media, the answers vary in the form of everything from scripture that discusses the concept of being equally yoked to those who think you should meet in the middle.

C.B. Fletcher Twitter

Gary goes on to say that, as long as her children were not coerced into believing in God or atheism, he finds comfort in knowing they are making their own choices.

Blind Faith and Real Love

Case for Christ is a love a story between God, Leslie, and Lee. When we love someone we want the best for them and fight and are willing to fight on our loved ones’ behalf. Lee fought for his wife’s ‘sanity’ , while Leslie fought for Lee’s peace and salvation. And all of this took place as God fought for both of them to find Him and grow together.

It is the undying love between Lee and Leslie that keeps them going despite their differeces, and that love is what saves them both.

Check out the trailer for The Case for Christ below:

 

HOW WE CAN WE PROTECT OUR CHILDREN IN Washington D.C. & BEYOND?

HOW WE CAN WE PROTECT OUR CHILDREN IN Washington D.C. & BEYOND?

Imagine a time when members of the Black community looked out for one another. Neighbors were more like family, children were safe, and troubling news such as 26 open missing persons cases were incredibly rare.

There is an unrelenting rage boiling in our community due to the lack of coverage or collaborative effort to find the missing Black and Latina girls in Washington D.C. However, we can point fingers, or even yell at the police, city officials and federal government, but what are we doing to protect our own children?

While there has been coverage from major news outlets and support from organizations such as BET and The Women’s March on Washington Organization, some would argue that the issue is larger than one may think.

There have been many cases of missing children who are White that have received major state and national coverage, along with extensive, coordinated searches, but when 14 Black girls go missing, it is a different story.

The issue is not that there is no coverage. It is that this issue became important when it became a hashtag. It should have never gotten this far.

What can we really ask of our civil servants?

There are mixed messages on the severity of this situation. Some outlets say there are 14 girls missing, while others are implying that the girls aren’t really in danger and are labeling them “runaways.”

While that assumption is not stressed by D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser or other public officials, there is still a permeating, public message that lessens the concern of onlookers across the nation.

Since gaining national attention, the news of our missing girls has produced town halls filled with tears and frustration. However we are still left to wonder, “What else can be done?”

New York resident Aura Severino is one of many Americans following this story.

“Law enforcement needs to understand why they are [being] taken,” Aura says. “Are they victims of opportunity or targeted? These are questions that need to be asked to figure out what is being done with these girls. Once that is understood, moves can be made to prevent more girls from being taken and rescuing those who are already gone.”

Aura, a program manager in New York City, also feels that the family unit plays a huge role in making a difference. “Families need to educate their girls and boys about what is currently happening to encourage vigilant awareness,” she says.

Although local and state city officials are making strides to find the missing girls, one can’t help but notice that there is a lack of coverage on the fact that there are missing boys too. What is to be done when our boys, our future leaders who are raised to protect our communities and families, are also missing?

Atlanta resident Mario Jackson believes it all comes down to training and resources.

“There needs to be more neighborhood surveillance and trainings in kidnapping for D.C. Police,” Mario says. “I also believe in the old-school practice of neighborhood watches and communal security.”

Fortunately, it is being reported that Mayor Bowser is unrelenting in her efforts to address the number of missing person cases in D.C. However, some believe that addressing the issue starts right here in our own communities.

COMM’UNITY’

‘Unity’ plays a major role in “community,” and its members have a responsibility to be a part of it.

While Mayor Bowser attempts to reel in the community through her task force and other efforts, none of it matters without the support and action of the community. The task force will follow a procedure as deemed appropriate by the city, but how will the community light the beacon of hope?

Although New York-D.C. Native Aisha Jones commends the city’s efforts to make a difference, she charges us, the community, to do our part.

“We are so quick to save on the money and energy we put into our kids that we don’t worry about safety,” Aisha says. “Most of these girls are being abducted on the way home. Their parents are not picking them up from school or encouraging a buddy system or teaching them how to fight back.”

Like Mario, Aisha agrees that the proper resources are critical in resolving these issues.

“There should be self-defense classes for both boys and girls,” she says. “Also there is a responsibility to speak up if you see something. ‘Snitches get stitches’ does not apply when you see someone in danger.”

 

Take a look at BET’s compelling video on the recent news coverage below:

 

Weigh in below on how you and others can work to rebuild the community and protect our children.

‘The Shack’ takes moviegoers on an emotional journey

‘The Shack’ takes moviegoers on an emotional journey

Forgiveness is the ultimate form of love—and that love is a creation of God that is seen throughout Octavia Spencer’s performance as Papa, a character that is one of the depictions of God , in The Shack. Mack Phillips, played by Sam Worthington (Avatar), is a character whom some would call a “churching” Christian due to a combination of an upbringing by an abusive father who was an elder in the church, and the unwavering faith of his wife.

The movie, based on the bestselling novel with the same title, centers on Mack’s loss of faith after his daughter is kidnapped and killed during a period the author calls “The Great Sadness.” When Mack receives a letter from Papa, he encounters the many faces of God, including Jesus (Avraham Aviv Alush), Wisdom/Sophia (Alice Braga), and what is described as the Breath of Life (Sumire Matsubara). This film will take moviegoers on a spiritual and emotional journey beyond the Bible and help them understand how God works all things out with love. Be prepared for a light chuckle, the vibration of an elevated way of thinking, and a healing upon leaving the theater.

We Are Made in His Image

                  In a time when the racial rhetoric has become aggressive and the Bible is sometimes used as justification, it is beautiful to see the different elements of God played by a racially and ethnically diverse cast. There was some criticism leading up to the film’s release that Papa was being portrayed as a Black woman: To some people, that is just not how God looks. As the film reaches more people, the color and gender of God depicted will matter less. Papa appears as many people to convey the idea of many religions in the film; the message is that, essentially, we are all connected through the same God, no matter the appearance.

Bad Things Happen

                  The biggest question that is continually reiterated in this film is: “Why did you let this happen?” This is a question on everyone’s mind as our world is filled with senseless violence, corrupt politics, and very little compassion for our brothers and sisters. Sometimes we wonder why terrible things occur if God is so mighty and powerful, or why God has abandoned us. One moviegoer, Chaunetta, a former doubter, identifies with this sentiment.

“I’ve always felt like I got the short end of the stick when it came to my life,” Chaunetta explained. “I use to say that God may be all-present but he forgot about me. Seeing this film was right on time, because now I see that I am not alone [in that feeling]. This was a message to all who feel like they’ve been abandoned, and they haven’t been.”

There is a powerful image of Mack drowning in his fears and sorrows instead of relying on God, in all forms, to work with Him and take it away. When unfortunate things occur, we can blame ourselves, God, and whomever else before surrendering it to God, which drives us into a deeper darkness and further from our peace.

We Must Forgive

                  Mack goes through a path of forgiveness in which he combats a variety of emotions, including anger. Wisdom gives him a “Ghost of Christmas Past”-like awakening to show that Papa is the final judge and that our willingness to take that power away is so rampant that it creates wars and more sorrow, as explained by the Holy Spirit. Jesus teaches Mack how to rely on God for healing and in those moments you’ll feel like you can walk on water. Forgiveness in this film is the direct key to peace for Mack and although it is not an easy road, it is worth the journey.

The Shack is a film for the moviegoer who wants to experience a connection to God instead of the sermon of a preacher. It is also for those who want to experience God’s grace through the eyes of Mack. And for those who have questions about God’s existence, this is a great flying lesson that reinforces how the love of our omnipresent God is with us always.

 

Check out the official movie trailer of The Shack below:

Do you agree with the portrayal of God in The Shack? Share your thoughts below.

The Message is Clear after the Women’s March on Washington

The Message is Clear after the Women’s March on Washington

Photo Courtesy of C.B. Fletcher

On January 21, 2017, streets around the world turned pink and shook from the passionate vibration of a unified message for gender equality at the Women’s March on Washington.

Although fiery passion could be felt at the Washington D.C. march and the hundreds of other marches worldwide—673 marches to be exact—the atmosphere was one of love and unity amongst the chanting crowds, at one point quoting former first lady Michelle Obama saying, “We go high!”

Most of the leaders of the Women’s March are women from all backgrounds who built this cause from a single Facebook post demanding that women speak up. Their principles, as listed on their website, are to create a non-violent movement to emphasize that “women’s rights are human rights.”

Activists and celebrities alike contributed their voices from a more personal perspective while simultaneously making a universal connection to the cause regardless of race, ethnicity, nationality, socioeconomic status, or faith. Their words stirred the crowd and revved up the aura of revolution that took to the streets and social media.

At times, there was a wave of cheering that blanketed the National Mall in seeming praise for the unity and progress. And even with the negative commentary from a few supporters of the new U.S. president and his administration—some bashing the movement on social media—that did not deter the motivation.

The message of demanding basic human rights for women and negating any discrimination regardless of faith, gender identity, and ethnic groups was clear. With the energy of this movement in mind, millions of people agreed that we cannot be a force in voice and not a force of action. Therefore, it is important that people all over the nation take that same energy back into their respective communities and implement ways to ensure basic civil rights and equality as promised to us by the Constitution.

Photo Courtesy of C.B. Fletcher

Have no idea where to start? Here are five ways to keep the fire going and get involved in the fight for equality and protection against marginalization:

  • Research and support local organizations that deal with minority and women’s issues, in addition to outreach and educational organizations that are designed to propel others forward.
  • Educate yourself on local and global issues through major and smaller news outlets.
  • Push for consent and self-defense classes for students of all ages to help reduce the rate of domestic violence and sexual assault. Additionally, provide resources to students on basic laws regarding sexual assault.
  • Don’t allow the Women’s March to be your only movement. Join and support other causes that are affecting other large groups of people both locally and worldwide. We must acknowledge that there are blanket and specified issues that all need attention.
  • Connect with your local, state and federal officials to voice your suggestions or opinions publicly, then follow up with an email or letter. This can be done on social media, at a local town hall meeting, or even at a state convention as a way to maintain open dialogue with those who have the authority to make the changes to our legislation.

The overall message of the Women’s March in Washington and all over the world was clear: “We work peacefully while recognizing there is no true peace without justice and equity for all, ” according to the organizers’ website. Does this message sound familiar?

How do you plan to move forward in our nation’s fight for equality? Share your thoughts below.