– February 27 2021
Racism is our reality
Jeffrey, a house parent at SOS Florida, shares what it takes to raise 4 young Black men in a country torn apart by racism.
Jeffrey, what does it mean to be a foster father?
I am foster father to four boys between the ages of 15 and 18, at the SOS Children’s Village in Florida. What I am doing here is my passion. I’ve always dreamed of supporting young men on their way towards a successful life. I am trying to compensate for the father they never had since most of the kids in my SOS family come from a home led by a single mom. It’s my job to give my boys stability, to be a role model and to encourage them. I want them to know I am always here to support them.
The past year has brought racial tensions to the forefront in the U.S. and across the globe as well. How did your foster children react to this?
They’ve been upset and sad about what has happened, especially since some of them have experienced racism in their own lives. Unfortunately, for Black people like us, racism is part of our daily life. In our SOS family, we are talking a lot about it, so the kids can deal with their emotions and their fears. If necessary, they can also talk about it with their therapist. The topic of racism may be uncomfortable for some, but it is part of our reality in the USA and we have to prepare our children for it.
What advice do you have for the youth to prepare them for racism in society?
I teach them concrete ways on how to react when they get into a dangerous situation. Be cautious and remain calm—don’t further escalate the situation. If they need help, they know to call me or anyone at SOS right away or talk to someone close by. Never go anywhere alone, always go in small groups of two or more persons. The key is to be careful and aware at all times.
Did you experience racism as a kid as well?
My parents taught me very early that as a Black boy, I shouldn’t do anything that could cause any trouble. For example, I was not allowed to play with toy guns. And they taught me how to conduct myself in an emergency.
What do you expect from your new president Joe Biden? Do you believe that something is going to change?
Of course, I hope that the situation will improve for Black people. We are such a broken country right now. I hope that we can come together again and treat each other normally. Things will become better. That’s at least what I am hoping, but we keep hearing about Black men being shot. Police brutality unfortunately still exists.
In addition to the protests in the country, the year 2020 has been marked by a pandemic. How are your kids doing in the lockdown?
We do home schooling and are pretty isolated to keep the kids and teenagers safe. But we are lucky, because here in the SOS Children’ Village Coconut Creek we are like a big family. We have 13 homes in our community. The children can rely on this community even in these hard times. In the morning to noon, we do home schooling via video calls and in the afternoon the kids do their homework, then they relax or play basketball together in the cul-de-sac. It is not always easy to motivate them for school at the moment and they find it hard to concentrate, especially when the couch is right next to them or a computer game is tempting them. I do my best to motivate them again. I tell them this will not be going on forever and that they need education. Education is the most important thing. This is what I am preaching to them.
Where does your focus on education come from?
Over the years, I have seen so many broken families. Mother alone at home, the father isn’t there. Drug problems. Also, in my childhood I have seen this often: Many of my friends didn’t go to school, they wanted to deal with drugs and to make a lot of money. Sooner or later, you end up in prison that way or in the grave. Therefore, I am teaching my kids that your education can get you very far. You can get a good job and provide for your family.
One of your foster boys is 18 now and he will be leaving the nest soon. How will he go on?
He will finish high school soon and will be independent then. We call it our “Next Steps Program,” as he will continue to have the support of SOS Children’s Villages as he transitions to adulthood and independence. A life coach will accompany him during his transition and help him with big decisions, like if he wants to go to college or start working right away. Many of the kids who have left my family over the years have studied or are still going to university. They have become engineers, business owners, game developers and gone on to several other areas. Today, one of my boys is a professional football player in the NFL. They all make me so proud.
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