An abandoned child of drug-addicted parents and Florida’s broken child-welfare system, Kenisha E. Anthony was left to wonder if anyone would ever want her. As a young girl, desperate for love and belonging, she bounced from one unstable home to the next, packing only resentment, abandonment, and heartbreak to take with her. Still, Kenisha found her way, ultimately breaking barriers and shattering statistics. Against advice to “just get a GED,” she earned both an undergraduate and graduate degree with the aid of tuition exemption per Florida Statute 1009.25(1)(d), a resource for children aging out of foster care. As an advocate for change in the child welfare system, she found her voice in the presence of state legislators and earned a name as a dynamic professional and change-maker in the field of social work.
Kenisha shines a spotlight on life through the lens of a survivor with a vivid portrait of her journey from victim to victor, rising above hardships that could have easily left her defeated and destitute. This is a story of triumph, redemption, and the will to become more than just a Ward of the State. Teeming with vulnerability, candor, and wisdom, this unfiltered reflection of Kenisha’s life is, fittingly, more than a memoir. It is a social awareness tool for anyone who’s faced adversity, beat the odds, and refused to be labeled.
Hearing the nursery rhyme “Where Is Thumbkin” triggers a blurred, tearful memory. It reminds me of a time when I saw my mother’s hands and feet shackled in handcuffs as she was guarded by police officers. While trying to understand the correlation, the full scope of the moment never comes to mind. I have asked questions and heard stories, but everyone I turn to has different versions or hardly remembers anything. It sucks that either I was too young to remember or suffer from suppressed memory. My conscious mind stores the reminiscence of being a young girl living at Nile Gardens Apartments in Opa-Locka, Florida with my mother, Gina, and my older siblings, Craig and Ashley.
I can’t recall the number of bedrooms or the decor of our home. I loved for my hair to be styled with red beads while my arm was accessorized with gold bracelets. I enjoyed playing hide-and-seek and getting into the neighborhood pool with my friends. I followed my mother’s rule while playing outside. She had only one: “If you hear gunshots, do not go near the front gate of the apartment complex.” I remember spending one summer with my maternal great-aunt, Auntie Mae, and her husband, Uncle John Henry, in Palm Coast, Florida. During the four-hour drive in my Auntie Mae’s cream-colored Lincoln, she described the city like it was a special island. Her stories left me eager to arrive at the destination. Auntie Mae’s home was beautiful. It was a mansion in my eyes. It was the only house on the block, surrounded by acres of trees. She told me it was her own special design built from the ground.
It included a two-car garage, garden, walk-in closet, jacuzzi, built-in pool, a lake, and my own room. Uncle John Henry even had his own room outside of the bedroom they shared. That summer, I learned how to fish, hook bait, and scale a fish. I got scared when it jumped. I learned it was taboo to eat with elbows on the table, how to garden and make up a bed. I was introduced to salmon croquettes, southern fried corn, shopping sprees, and Golden Corral Buffet and Grill. Uncle John Henry was the man of the house, and cutting the corn off the cob to make fried corn was a job only for a man. Auntie Mae spoiled me with seasoned T-bone steak any time my taste buds craved them. I always had to be pretty and dressed in my Sunday’s best. It was painful to get my hair done. She would hot comb my hair and blame it on the steam when she burned me, then we’d laugh about it. She’d say, “You have to suffer for beauty” as we admired the pretty sleek ponytails she’d styled in my hair and the sweet scent of Pink Lotion. I hold those memories near to my heart. They’re special to me. But my return to Miami was unfamiliar.
I returned home to chaos. My aunt Shawn screamed as she badgered me, asking if this was the home I wanted to return to. People rampaged through our apartment, taking all our stuff. Some of our belongings were already on the front lawn. We had been evicted. Shawn was aggravated with me and my return to Miami. We all lived in the same apartment complex; her home was just on the other side of the building. She called me a cry baby and left me alone in her apartment. Gina showed up and tried to find a way to get me out through the window but failed due to its structure. What I didn’t know was she would never be my mother again once she walked away that day. I was too young to grasp what was happening and what was soon to come. Kids should only be concerned with having fun, watching reruns of their favorite television shows, and eating candy. But not me. My kidulthood started at the age of four. I was making decisions that should be made by adults because I didn’t know a thing about life. It was the summer of 1996. Unbeknownst to me, what I knew to be a summer vacation was a premeditated safe haven. It made sense. The plan was for me to live with Auntie Mae all along. Gina had been deteriorating as a parent before I’d left for Palm Coast. But I didn’t stay in Palm Coast because my cries for my sister, Ashley, were too much to deal with while my auntie and uncle tended to their health. I used to run out of my room screaming, “I want my sister!” At least that’s the story Auntie Mae told me before passing away. I wish she hadn’t allowed my tears to determine her decision because returning to Miami resulted in me being removed by social services followed by a slew of custody battles and trauma. The thought of my parents abandoning me for cocaine and heroin never crossed my mind. My mother’s partying and poor money management, my father’s absence, and both their drug addictions led the judge to agree with the Department’s recommendation—to be legally removed from the custody of both my parents. The judge ordered that I be placed in the custody of Grandma Rose. Ashley told me she had refused to leave the courts without me that day. She didn’t want me to be separated from her and Craig. You never know what life has in store for you …
Life as a foster kid does not exempt you from detrimental environments that the system intends to shield you from. It seems being removed from my parents left me more vulnerable to them.
KENISHA E. ANTHONY is a first-generation college graduate, award-winning foster care advocate, and author. Known for being resilient and bold, she’s an outspoken activist utilizing her experiences to empower others. As a foster care visionary, she starred in the documentary, Foster Shock and has been featured on NPR and in the Miami Herald. Her eye-opening memoir, Labeled, is her debut.
Get to know Kenisha:
Where are you from?
I was born and raised in Miami, Florida. I currently reside here as well.
What inspired you to tell your story?
The inspiration to share my story stemmed from life experiences; once being a child in foster care, a youth advocate and child welfare professional. Many people are working to combat the injustices in child welfare and society, and I wanted to be a stakeholder in the movement. I’ve seen injustices as a child and then as a professional. As a writer and advocate, I wanted to bring those injustices to the light to support children and families and impact systematic change.
What do you hope readers gain from reading your book?
It is my hope that readers are inspired by my actions to take control of their life, understand their current situation is not their final destination and learn ways they can help children and families that are experiencing challenging times.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I would tell my younger self to give others a chance, everyone was not out to hurt you and sometimes my attitude and disrespectful ways were not warranted.
How did you come up with the title of your book?
The title of my book was inspired to defy statistics that are set to define children that are in or were previously in foster care. And, ward of the State is the title listed in court documents to highlight the child is in the custody of the State.
What did you gain from writing this book?
Through every detail written in my book, I learned that there is more work to be done in the world and within myself.
What tips can you provide for authors interested in self-publishing?
The tips that I would provide to indie authors are find your tribe, create a budget, market, market and market some more, always bet on yourself, learn the market and don’t be afraid to tell others about your work.
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