Announcer: Welcome to the Adopting and Fostering Home Podcast. Whether your family has been on this journey for years, or you’re just getting started, we’re here to support, and encourage you along the way. Now your hosts Lynette Ezell, and Tera Melber.
Lynette Ezell: Welcome back to the Adopting, and fostering Home Podcast. I’m Lynette Ezell along with Tera Melber, and you know over the years Tera, and I have learned the significance of hearing from, and learning from adoptees, and former foster children. It just helps give us insight, and perspective, and to the feelings, the emotions, the thoughts that our children may be experiencing. We’re so happy today to be joined in the studio by Crystal Williams, and Crystal grew up in the foster care system. Welcome.
Crystal W.: Thank you. Glad to be here.
Lynette Ezell: Crystals an artist, and inspirational speaker, and an advocate, and she has over 15 years of experience in the foster care system working with foster, and adopted youth. Foster, and adoptive parents, case workers, advocates, and key decision makers across the state of Georgia, and nationally. That’s impressive Crystal.
Crystal W.: I know. I’m a little nervous.
Lynette Ezell: I’m excited. I’m excited. So Crystal tell us a little bit about your story growing up in foster care.
Crystal W.: Absolutely. I’m originally from Memphis.
Lynette Ezell: Oh I love it.
Crystal W.: Tennessee.
Lynette Ezell: Those are my people.
Crystal W.: Yep. Originally from Memphis where the barbecue is great.
Lynette Ezell: Yes.
Tera Melber: Mm-hmm.
Crystal W.: And my biological mom, and my sisters, and I we all lived there, and we pretty much lived with our biological family most of the time. Instead of us having our own home, a lot of the times we were staying with relatives, or living with friends, and that type of thing. I actually don’t remember a time growing up outside of foster care having a car, or having a home that was ours until we moved to Atlanta. In Memphis my mom would leave us home alone a lot. She struggled with her own things trying to make ends meet for her family, and she actually was the product of a blind mother. Her mother went blind when they were very young. It was four of them, and my grandmother went blind while my mom was probably around … I’m just going to guess, and say 10, or 12.
Lynette Ezell: So she was young.
Crystal W.: Very young.
Lynette Ezell: Right.
Crystal W.: Very young. My mom pretty much raised herself. She, and her sisters kind of fended for themselves in that time. My grandmother did the best she could, and so my mom started off with a rough beginning. Whenever I tell this story I like to just emphasize the fact that a lot of times the situations that happen that land a child in foster care have generational roots, and their not just stemming from some bad decision, which it is, it is a bad decision, but there’s so many roots, and always emphasizing the fact that the enemy is trying to take our families. Trying to take out individuals from the beginning. He’s sowing those seeds from before even I was even born. Before my mom was even born he was trying to sow seeds that would hinder our family.
Lynette Ezell: Wow that’s interesting. Wow.
Crystal W.: Yeah. My mom, she had her first child. She actually had twins, and my older sister she actually was a twin, and her twin passed away very young. My mom is now dealing with that. All of the struggles she’s having plus the death of one of her children. Of course, I wasn’t born yet, but by the time I was born my mom, the two of us. She had my older sister, and I, and she was still trying to make ends meet, and she ended up having another child. My baby brother who also ended up passing away.
Tera Melber: Oh.
Lynette Ezell: Wow. Gosh. Tragedy. So much trauma.
Crystal W.: Right. The death of two of her children, and for me as an adult I think back on that. I never really kind of processed, and put pieces together until I became an adult. Of the trauma that my mom actually experienced. I know that foster care was difficult for me, but when I think about the trauma my mom experienced. My mom was never in foster care as a kid. She probably should have been, but she was never in foster care as a kid, and she had her struggles that she dealt with. Here we are a family now. My mom had three … She had another child after my baby brother passed away. She had three girls, two of her children that passed away, and she’s thinking to herself, what am I going to do to try to make ends meet for my family? The decision that she made actually changed the trajectory of our entire lives, which was a decision to come to Atlanta from Memphis.
The decision was basically we had heard one of my aunts say Atlanta has clean streets. My aunt would always come down, and play the lottery in Georgia, and she just loved Atlanta. We heard all these great stories, and my mom decided, okay, to kind of start over. To kind of get us on a new path I’m going to move the family to Atlanta. We moved here to Atlanta without any support systems. If you remember in Memphis we had family. No one was super, super well off, but at least we had the connections of family, and friends, but coming to Atlanta there were no connections. We basically ended up bouncing around from homeless shelter to homeless shelter, and that’s when we ended up in the foster care system.
Lynette Ezell: Wow. How old are you at the time?
Crystal W.: I was 10. I was 10. My older sister was 13, and my younger sister wasn’t even one yet when we moved to Atlanta.
Lynette Ezell: Wow. What happened after that? You were at the homeless shelter, and that’s when you were removed. From 10 until you said that you aged out of the foster system, so were you in different foster homes throughout? Did you go back, and forth to your mom?
Crystal W.: Our story was a bit different. We were in the homeless shelters for probably several months. I warn you guys, my sense of time is a little off thinking back on that time.
Lynette Ezell: Yes. We understand.
Crystal W.: Between ages of like 15 and 20, something happened. Basically we were in homeless shelters for a period of time, and then we ended up getting our own apartment. The homeless shelter helped us get our own apartment, and-
Lynette Ezell: So your moms trying to move forward.
Crystal W.: Exactly. She’s trying to move forward. She’s doing the best she can. We actually got our own apartment. My mom she would leave us home alone a lot in Memphis. So here in Atlanta she apparently had gotten a job that was overnight, and so we were in that new apartment. The case worker from the homeless shelter who was helping us get furniture, and food, and stuff like that comes, and realizes these children have been home alone for two, three days. She’s a mandated reporter, she has to say something. She reported it. We initially went into a group home setting.
Lynette Ezell: All three of you with your little toddler sibling?
Crystal W.: My little sister was actually placed somewhere else because of her age.
Lynette Ezell: Oh, okay.
Crystal W.: Because of her age she was placed somewhere else. My older sister, and I were placed in a group home.
Lynette Ezell: Okay.
Crystal W.: Which was again divided by age. I was a little rebel so I screamed until they allowed me to sleep by my sister. They allowed me to sleep by my sister, and we were in that group home for I would say I don’t know. A couple of weeks to a couple of months. Again, hard time remembering the time. Then we were placed into a foster home, and that is actually the reason why I said my story is different is because that’s actually the only placements we had. A lot of children who come into foster care bounce around from house to house to- … I have friends now who had 30 plus placements when they were in foster care.
Lynette Ezell: Wow.
Crystal W.: That’s very rare, especially during that time like 96, 97 when we came into care. That time period. Young people had multiple placements. We moved into that home, and that’s the home that we stayed in for the duration of our time, and care. I’m still connected with that family now. I was actually adopted at the age of 25 by that family. Amazing family. I just got off the phone with. My adopted mom, and my adopted dad yesterday, inviting them to my graduation. I graduate from grad school tomorrow.
Tera Melber: Oh. Congratulations!
Crystal W.: Just having that support.
Lynette Ezell: Yes.
Crystal W.: Having that family that I can reach back. Actually my biological dad called me last night, and he’s just like, “Hey I heard from your sister.” I have those connections now, and there are still some that I’m trying to form like my younger sister, she was actually adopted by my maternal aunt very young, and so we lived in different states, and so I’m in the process now of rebuilding those connections. I have sisters, and brothers that my dad has where we don’t have the same mom that I’m trying to build those connections. It’s definitely a process of being totally content in this position that God has put me in as a former foster child, as an adopted child, but also feeling that my family is fluid. It’s not just my adoptive family whom I love dearly. They are amazing, but also my biological family is a part of who I am.
Lynette Ezell: Right.
Crystal W.: It’s exciting for me. I spent Christmas with them this year in Memphis, and it’s exciting for me to be able to see, wow this is that cousin that they always said I looked like. And this is that aunt. It’s definitely a process of kind of rebuilding at this time.
Lynette Ezell: Yes. That’s so important, because we’re seeing it in our home as well. We’re having to reach across the ocean, but it’s so important I’m noticing as we go into young adulthood. My dad did that as well from the Memphis area too, and just trying to put the pieces together. My siblings, and who looks alike, and who has hands that match.
Crystal W.: Absolutely.
Lynette Ezell: And those sorts of things, and those are so important to bring those pieces together.
Crystal W.: Mm-hmm.
Lynette Ezell: Wow.
Tera Melber: They really are. We found as well that our children who do have some sort of communication with their biological families have had a healthier perspective, and our children who have not had that same opportunity really are always seeming to be searching, and we want to help them search, and find as much as they possibly can, and recognizing too we’ve said often, “You won’t fully feel restored. None of us will on this Earth until the day that the Lord takes us home, and we’re with him. Then we’re fully restored.” Any piece of the puzzle that the Lord gives us while we’re here on this Earth is a gift, and a treasure. You’re not defined by all this stuff from your beginnings that you’re defined by who you are in Christ. Really rooting them in their identity, and their foundation there.
How has your faith helped you walk through all of this stuff?
Crystal W.: My faith is everything. Just realizing even when you tell that story about it’s our identity in Christ, and all those broken pieces in the past, but it’s amazing how God uses the broken pieces.
Tera Melber: Yes.
Lynette Ezell: Yeah.
Crystal W.: How he uses even that. Even when I personally make mistakes, or someone makes mistakes, and I don’t know what to do with this. This big mess that is in front of me, God knows what to do with it. A lot of the children in foster care are dealing with the mistakes of other people. They’re dealing with-
Lynette Ezell: They’re victims of circumstance, right.
Crystal W.: Right. They’re dealing with the mistakes of their parents. Of their grandparents. Its generational curses, and that’s what they’re dealing with. It’s like even in the midst of that, God he’s so able to take that, and make it into a masterpiece. For me, I have found that my faith, and being able to communicate through my poetry, which is what I use, has been freeing. Sometimes people will hear me speak on a stage, or I’ll do poetry, and I’ll cry, and they’re like, “Oh, she must be sad, and broken from her past.” Most of the time it’s tears of joy, and it’s me thinking about wow God, you picked me out of millions of people, and decided that you were going to place me somewhere different, and that you were going to … Even though it was difficult, it was hard, you were going to place me in a place where I could form all these connections that I otherwise would not have had an opportunity to have.
It’s just mind blowing to think about the level of precision that God has, and the attention to detail. I’m totally honored every time I get an opportunity to share my story, or every time I get a opportunity to talk to young people. That’s my heart as well. I love teenagers. I feel like that opportunity to speak back, and reach back, and share my faith with younger people, and let young people know that God is more than able to bring us all the way through. Yeah, my faith is definitely everything. I use it whenever I’m communicating. I share the depth of what God has done, and how he is able to make a masterpiece out of broken pieces.
Lynette Ezell: He does it every minute of every day, for all of us. I tell ya. Well we’re talking today with Crystal Williams who grew up in the foster system in Atlanta, and just continued this conversation with her. I do have a question, because Tera, and I just work with foster children. We work with advocates for foster children, and so there’s a lot you know we don’t know. Would you mind sharing about a time, or maybe something that was done for you that blessed you, or gave you a dose of encouragement when you were in the foster system? Maybe your middle school years, those trying middle school anyway, when you’re being uprooted. Just something that sticks out in your mind that was done for you that just gave you hope?
Crystal W.: I think for me I hear a lot of stories. Not just youth in foster care. Just young people in general saying that they’ve had people to say that they would never make it. Someone told me I’d never make it. They told me that I’d be just like my father, and that’s surprising to me. It’s surprising that someone would say something like that to a young person, and personally I always had people who were encouraging me, and who saw things in me that I didn’t even see, or believe. As a young person growing up in poverty first before foster care. Growing up in poverty, there was no time to practice sports, or get involved in music. There was no time for that. There was just survival.
Coming into the foster care system, even though I was in middle school, well, I started off in elementary school, but middle school, high school was the majority of my time. Even though I was that age, I wanted to explore stuff. Usually you do that with your child when they’re young. You put them in dance, and you realize that’s not my kid. That’s not your gift baby. Let’s put you in basketball. So you kind of play that game with your child early on, and try to find out what they’re good at, and then when they get in that you just encourage them, and they kind of form this level of expertise in that particular thing. Well I didn’t have that luxury as a young person growing up in poverty. So when I got in the foster care that was the first time that I was able to do that exploration.
Even though my friends had been involved in this stuff for five, six years, this was the first time I could explore, and so I tried everything. I played basketball in middle school, and basketball is like a big deal in my family. My younger, well she’s older than me, but she’s the youngest of my adopted parents biological children. Her name is Amber. She is like basketball queen.
Lynette Ezell: No pressure, or anything, right?
Crystal W.: Right. I wanted to be like her. I’m like, oh yeah, I’m going to join the basketball team. Not my thing. Definitely not my thing. I stumbled around. My dad has videos of me running down the court like, oh my god. Oh my god. I’m like so embarrassed. Burn those. Burn those videos.
Tera Melber: That’s leverage for your dad.
Lynette Ezell: Prerogative of a parent.
Crystal W.: Right. That wasn’t my thing. I tried tennis, because tennis team had short skirts.
Lynette Ezell: Oh, cute outfits.
Crystal W.: Definitely. Tried that. That wasn’t my thing. I tried oratory. I signed up for an oratorical contest where we had to pick a topic on the constitution, and we had to write a speech, and then that was the first part, then the second part was like you had to do a speech from memory, and I did that, and I was good.
Lynette Ezell: I bet.
Crystal W.: I was like this may be my thing. I got involved with that, and kind of started to gravitate the arts, and opportunities to speak, and my family supported me all the way. Even when I joined the dance team, and I was one of the flag girls with the band, and they were in the stands. They were in the stands, and they were supporting me, and I remember-
Lynette Ezell: Whole new world for you.
Crystal W.: Right. I remember my dad. We always had a lot of kids in the house. A lot of kids. I remember one game, it was halftime. There was tons of people in the stands, and I remember after the game he came up to me. He was like I’m so mad. I’m so mad. I went to the concession stands with one of these kids, and I missed it. I missed the halftime, but for me it was just having people in the stands. Having people supporting my gift, and even supporting me when I stumbled. That to me was just powerful to have that. I think every young person in foster care needs a whole rally of people in the stands rooting for them, and cheering them on, and encouraging them to keep moving forward in whatever it is that God has called them to do.
Even to encourage them in the stumbling around until they get into that place where God has called them.
Lynette Ezell: Right, because as we said it’s a whole new world for them. They’ve not had any choices before.
Crystal W.: Mm-hmm.
Lynette Ezell: I know with my children, it was with one of my mine it was just awakening. Amazing to see just to be able to choose your clothes. Things that we take for granted.
Crystal W.: Absolutely.
Tera Melber: Your older sister, was she with you in the same placement all through?
Crystal W.: She was.
Tera Melber: But you were adopted by this family when you were 25?
Crystal W.: Mm-hmm.
Tera Melber: So does she have the same sort of relationship? No?
Crystal W.: She did not. I love talking about my sister. I love talking about her, because she’s so different. Literally I always say if she was here doing this interview with you, you would be like, “Did y’all live in the same house?” Yes we did. Yes we did. She was a bully, which I always make fun of her. She wasn’t really a bully, but she was a bully. The thing is, there was this dynamic of my older sister had been my mother. She had been my mother. She had raised us. She had fought for us to get food. She made sure we were clothed. Even beyond her taking care of herself. I didn’t know until I was an adult that my sister couldn’t read on her eighth grade level when she got into foster grade. She was in eighth grade.
Lynette Ezell: Who had time for that?
Crystal W.: Exactly. She was raising kids. No, she did not. She didn’t get adopted by that family. She clashed with my foster mom a lot, and she was a teenager. She had stuff she was dealing with. She wasn’t as vocal as I am. She was more of a introverted person. She still is very introverted, and so she didn’t get involved, and mesh with the family like that until later.
Tera Melber: Well her role had been relinquished.
Lynette Ezell: She’d never been a child.
Crystal W.: Exactly.
Tera Melber: Right. She didn’t have that opportunity to be a child. We’ve seen that a lot.
Lynette Ezell: We see it a lot. Right.
Tera Melber: It is so hard, because you want to say it’s okay for you to be a teenager, and not have to be caregiver, but it’s almost like but these are my people, and I’m going to take care of them, and so it is a clash.
Crystal W.: This is the only part of her identity that she could own.
Tera Melber: Right.
Crystal W.: She could own that piece to free me up to be … To be creative, and you go out, and do, and I’ll own this piece of being the mother. I own that. When I come into a foster home, don’t take that away from me. You have to-
Lynette Ezell: It’s her identity.
Crystal W.: Exactly. With her she definitely had a different experience than I had, and even if you have siblings in a placement their interaction at home, and their experiences will be different. They will handle things differently. They will vocalize things differently. My sister, and I were very different in the way that we kind of meshed into the household. But now my sister, she’s very creative. She’s a mother, she is an entrepreneur.
Lynette Ezell: Oh, wow.
Crystal W.: She had five gorgeous children. They’re all on the honor roll.
Lynette Ezell: Oh my goodness.
Tera Melber: That’s awesome.
Lynette Ezell: She was just made to be a mother.
Crystal W.: I love my babies. Yes. I love my babies, and I was over there this past weekend, and the youngest one she was like auntie, I’m in gifted. I was like oh so sweet.
Tera Melber: I love that. That’s amazing.
Crystal W.: She takes education seriously, and you can think back on-
Lynette Ezell: I’m sure as to why.
Crystal W.: … her experience, and my adopted dad actually used to make her. He used to sit her at the table, and make her read the newspaper out loud after school for about an hour. When someone else would walk in he would tell her she could stop so that she wouldn’t have to be embarrassed that she couldn’t read. He would make her read it for an hour, and now that is effecting the way that she raises her children. Her children read. Her next to the youngest child wants to start a Facebook live of her reading to children who don’t have people to read to them.
Lynette Ezell: Oh. How cool is that.
Crystal W.: I’m just like this is amazing to see how God-
Tera Melber: Only the Lord does that.
Crystal W.: … uses that.
Tera Melber: That’s right. That’s right.
Lynette Ezell: Crystal thank you so much for joining us today. You can find more information about Crystals ministry in our show notes at crystallwilliams.com, and you can also purchase her book called Stronger, and Inspirational Journal. We look forward to talking to you some more.
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