Reflections on the Public Opening of Foster Youth Museum
By Jamie Lee Evans, Co-director
My heart won’t stop racing and my head can’t calm itself long enough for me to explain or understand why I have found myself in near or complete tears since the public opening of Foster Youth Museum. Is it something about being seen? Is it pride or exhaustion at the culmination of a long project? Is it expectation and hope that Lost Childhoods will open hearts in a way that can have a new and lasting impact on foster youth?
I felt weak in the knees during our opening, particularly when I talked about the history of the Museum and how it started during a curriculum jam session with six other former foster youth. I feel so much gratitude when I recall sitting among this group of former foster youth who were constructing answers to the problems that broke our hearts and spirits as children, to be actively working to right wrongs that had cost us so much.This Museum has been no small undertaking – collecting artifacts; telling the stories of the items and the youth who donated them; and doing so in a way that protects human dignity and gives voice and visibility. It’s a big responsibility to get it right, so that the contributors feel honored, respected and seen. And so viewers will take action upon seeing these stories.
Over 1,000 people viewed Lost Childhoods over the opening weekend at Warehouse 416. I watched in awe as the Museum filled with dozens of people and then hundreds, and I watched while groups of ten and 15 people gathered around individual photographs and artifacts, reading the descriptions, and absorbing the significance.
Several people approached me to share that they too were former foster youth and that they were so glad we were here. One former foster youth, a real estate agent, looked at me blankly, clearly disoriented by her surprise of seeing stories of her life represented at an art show she wasn’t expecting. Another former foster wanted to touch my hand and tell me that she was a photographer and a museum curator, and that she loved our presentation. And there were foster parents too, and expectant foster parents, CASA’s (Court Appointed Special Advocates), and people who wanted to volunteer with fosters.
Lost Childhoods, communicated through powerlessness and disruption, is a dizzying, powerful and honest perspective of foster care through the eyes of youth. When you turn the corner in the exhibit and view the hope and transformation theme, there is relief, joy, hope. Our former foster youth serve as Museum docents and specifically tell people to please turn the corner and see how some youth have gotten to the other side. How? Through healthy and loving connections with family and friends, through education, advocacy and opportunity.
We hope Lost Childhoods impacts people the right way – the kind of way that moves people to be involved, to listen more, to volunteer, donate money, and be a part of the solution. We are hoping to stop the trend of foster youth losing their childhoods.
Someday, we would like this to be a historical museum where people don’t understand how some of the struggles were even possible, but who definitely do understood the power of redemption.