On Monday, I was invited to join a march to San Jose City Hall that was organized by the local chapter of the California Youth Connection (CYC). CYC is a youth-led organization that aims to develop leaders who will empower each other and their communities to transform the foster care system through legislative and policy change.
The group is mainly comprised of former foster youth who stay connected to CYC because of their common experiences in foster care and their desire to influence positive change.
The purpose of Monday’s march was to raise awareness and educate people on the lack of services for homeless youth, particularly youth who age out of foster care. In speaking with Chrystal, the Chair of the local CYC chapter, I learned that nearly 50 percent of her chapter members are currently homeless.
I met the marchers in front of the Performing Arts Center, where they were making posters to hold up while marching. Slogans included: Education not Incarceration, We Want a Hand Up Not a Hand Out, and Homeless Youth Need Services. We held our signs and marched down the street while the leader shouted chants through a bullhorn and we repeated or answered. Drivers honked their horns and people on the street cheered us.
The march ended at City Hall, and I was asked to say a few words about the importance of services for homeless youth. I spoke about the services Bill Wilson Center has available for homeless youth and the need for even more services in our area. A couple of youth also shared their stories of being homeless, captivating the small group that stuck around for the rally.
At the end of the event, Chrystal came to me to thank me for joining the march. We chatted for a while and I learned that she had just graduated form Stanford University. I was so impressed to see a former foster youth who has made it to Stanford, as the statistics are not in her favor.
The national stats indicate that while 70 percent of foster youth report they hope to attend college, only 20 percent ever enroll, and a tiny 1 percent actually earn college degrees. I think it’s a testament to CYC’s success that Chrystal had the support and encouragement needed to complete her studies at Stanford.
Sparky Harlan, Executive Director/CEO at Bill Wilson Center, is a nationally recognized advocate for youth in foster care and in the juvenile justice system, as well as homeless and runaway youth.