If you would’ve told me while I was living on the streets that one day I’d be a college graduate I would’ve taken you to be a bit ludicrous. I would’ve gently reminded you that kids like me don’t make it. For all intents and purposes, we don’t matter to the world. Kids like me don’t go to college. We don’t get to be successful. That’s just life.
In retrospect, I realize that it was my own frame of mind that was foolish. As I walked across the deliberately constructed stage in the middle of Minute Maid Park on the morning of May 23, 2015, I thought about all the times I had been told I wouldn’t make it… how all my life I had been conditioned to believe the odds were against me… that the sum of my life was to simply become another statistic. And I bought into it all so easily.
Why was it so easy for me to believe that my life was meaningless?
There weren’t people like me who were successful. There was no one I could emulate, or look at and say, “If they made it, surely I will make it too.” No, as a young adult, I was only the sum of all the things people said I would be growing up – and as a product of the foster care system you don’t hear a lot of positive things about your future.
Perhaps the better question one should ask is, “Why does society, our communities, and the everyday people around us place so little value on the lives of homeless youth?” Do we not have dreams too? Goals? Aspirations?
Do our lives matter?
That’s a valid question. Because right now, it seems like the message we are sending far and wide across America is that they don’t.
When Congress ignores the needs of thousands of homeless youth by failing to pass legislation like the Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act, when a young person comes out to their parents and is kicked out and forced onto the streets, when a trans* person is berated and harassed in a homeless shelter, or when LGBTQ youth are outright denied access to services, it sends a loud and clear message — one that suggests that our lives don’t matter.
As I walked across the stage on May 23, 2015, clad in dark blue and maroon, I thought about these things. I thought about the opportunity I was given to supersede my circumstances. I thought about how fortunate I was to be where I was at in that very moment. I thought about how far God had taken me.
When the announcer called my name, it all finally hit me. “Kristopher Sharp, Bachelor of Social Work.” I am now a college graduate.
All my life, the odds were against me — yet there I was, walking across the stage to receive my diploma.
I had made it.
I am a product of community investment. I wouldn’t have been able to cross that stage on May 23, 2015 without the many investments of the people within my community. So many of them pushed me to make this happen. There were people in my life who encouraged me when I was down, stood by my side when I was attacked, and believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself.
And it has made all the difference in my life.
We’ve all heard the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Well, it took a community to save me from the streets, and it will take society’s investments into the lives of our most vulnerable youth to end youth homelessness. Walking that stage on May 23, 2015, I proved that it’s possible. I am proof that we can change the lives of the young people within our communities who need it the most. We hold the power to end youth homelessness, and we can do it right now by valuing the lives of youth on the streets and by making deliberate investments into their futures.