Nikki J. is an author, speaker, and entrepreneur who “grew up” in the foster care system in Ohio. At a very early age, Nikki J. was caring for herself and her four siblings. The instability and lack of proper adult supervision resulted in the children’s placement in foster care before Nikki J.’s seventh birthday. She was labeled defiant and stubborn but she believes that she was merely a street savvy child with a dominant personality who asked a lot of questions. Young Nikki J. experienced the stability she sought while living with a suburban Caucasian family for two years but also suffered abuse while in their care. Nikki J. loved to read and the local library was her retreat at that time. During our interview, Nikki J. detailed the culture shock and teasing she experienced beginning at the age of nine when she was adopted by an abusive African American woman who lived in an urban neighborhood. At age fourteen Nikki J. was placed back in foster care. She was shuffled through thirteen different placements, including foster homes and group homes, before her fifteenth birthday.
At fifteen Nikki J. met her “guardian angel”, a foster mother with whom she had found the right fit. They had mutual respect for each other and Nikki J. was given the freedom and independence she needed to thrive. She remained with her foster family for three years and although she was against adoption (because of her failed adoption) Nikki J. felt that she was a part of the family.
Nikki J. liked to learn and liked school. She was an honor roll, college-bound student who turned 18 and moved into her own apartment during her senior year in high school. Although Nikki J. had attended college tours and planned to live on campus during her college years, she had grown fond of independent living and instead entered the military after graduating from high school in 2001. She served in the military for six years (serving in the National Guard for two of those years).
Nikki J. self-published “The Pain in the Promise: Child Neglected, God Protected, Beauty Reflected” under her publishing company NikNak Nation Publishing . Nikki J. always knew that she wanted to be an author but was unsure of what to write about. She had decided many years ago that she would not become a statistic by letting her past determine her future. Nikki J. said, “I wrote about my life because people always told me that I was a miracle and that I inspired them. I decided that if people were inspired by the little that I did share about myself then I should share more and inspire millions of people. I believe that many people lose hope after dealing with life altering situations, and that too often we let life make our decisions for us instead of making our own decisions. I want to be an example that no matter what happens to you, you can overcome. That through all of the pain in life, there is promise if you’re willing to hold on and fight for it.”
Nikki J. has worked with youth in foster care in group homes in Ohio and has participated on panels for potential foster and adoptive parents to provide insight on the needs of teenagers in care in Cleveland. Nikki J. plans to distribute 300 copies of her book, “The Pain in the Promise: Child Neglected, God Protected, Beauty Reflected”, to foster children and their caregivers to help with healing and bonding. She believes that her book will provide valuable insight to caregivers and allow them to be a resource for teens and provide a positive role model for teen readers. The big vision of NikNak Nation is three-fold: (1) NikNak Nation Publishing Company; (2) TrueLight Ministries nonprofit which will operate group homes in Ohio; and (3) AlterNIKtivz nonalcoholic night spots.
Nikki J. believes that distress, blaming the victim, and the emergency nature of the foster care system make it ripe picking for pedophiles. When asked how we can support teen girls in foster care Nikki J., her first recommendation is that caregivers and child welfare workers should believe children when they say they have been sexually abused. She believes that many children (herself included) do not tell about the abuse they endure because of the guilt and shame they experience and also because of the fear of being ignored or not believed.
Nikki J. has experienced personally and seen firsthand in the youth she has worked with that there needs to be more emphasis on independent living skills before youth age out of foster care. Because of trauma and instability, teens are very often unprepared to live successfully on their own after they exit the foster care system. The outcomes can be tragic.
Nikki J. is a woman with a vision on a mission whose testimony is that God will never leave you or forsake you. She is using her life to change lives.
As we host our 6th Annual Pack A Purse Drive™ in December 2012, we will use the Teen Toolbox blog as a platform to spread inspiration and hope by highlighting the triumphs of successful women foster care alumni.
Nicki Sanders, MSW, Chief Visionary Officer
The Teen Toolbox provides youth portfolio development and civic engagement and academic empowerment strategies to help teens set goals for life after high school and create a road map to reach those goals through its PACKAGED FOR SUCCESS™ Programs. We are committed to supporting and raising awareness about the needs and potential of teenagers in the foster care system.