by: Jessica L. Dupree
Photo’s by Arnold Turner
Just As I Am President Laura Williams, isn’t the type to turn a deaf ear. Williams has been a humanitarian and foster care advocate for several years and makes it her business to be present and offer support to those in need. Whether it’s being a mentor, the big sister or making provision for their needs Williams is determined to serve with passion and affection while creating a family-oriented space to make those around her feel at home.
In Los Angeles alone, there are currently 35,000 children in foster care. According to statistics on jamesstorehouse.org, 20% of the children who turn 18 and age out of foster care will become instantly homeless. It’s a statistic that Williams is working hard to change through her various non-profit initiatives which include an annual fashion show in which clothing is donated to foster youth. This year, her non-profit As I Am will host its first back-to-school back-pack drive in August but her ultimate goal and where she plans to make the most impact is in providing transitional housing for foster youth who age out of the system.
Born to a mother who struggled with drug addiction, Williams and all seven of her siblings were placed into the foster care system. At one-month-old, it was Valerie Johns who took young Laura into her home and didn’t let go. Shortly after her untimely death, Johns’s daughter legally adopted Williams, and her life trajectory changed. “They say that family is not defined by blood. My mom and dad have always been very loving and caring towards me – they always wanted the best for me. I never felt like an outsider.” Williams went on to graduate from college with a Master’s degree.
Her motto and brand message to foster is Birth Didn’t Confine Me. “I try to instill in them because through my determination I was able to overcome and achieve the things that I have so far. I believe that everyone has a sparkle so it’s up to you not to let anyone dull it. Keep pushing and know that your story makes you who you are but you can always rewrite your story as you make new experiences,” she tells Heart & Soul.
This past month Williams graced the red carpet of Musicology’s Styled by Fashion where she joined celebrity fashion stylists Winnie Stackz and EJ King to kick off BET Awards week. A lover of fashion shows, the humanitarian stood beneath a silver sparkling ball as she posed on the runway. It was a reminder to “Never let anyone dull your shine.” Whenever she struggles, she writes and always finds a way to shine.
Heart & Soul spoke with Williams about her powerful, heartfelt story of going from foster care to adoption and what drove her to start her own non-profit Just As I Am.
What inspired you to start your non-profit Just As I am?
At the age of 20, I went through this phase of wondering who my biological parents were. Although I have phenomenal parents who raised me, who are mom and dad no matter what, I couldn’t help but have that curiosity about who they were. Going into it my train of thought was “expect nothing but be ready to embrace it all” as I hired a private investigator, Jay Rosenzweig, and started meeting more family members when it came down to meet my biological father I was nervous, anxious, and just didn’t know what to expect. I remember picking up the phone anxiously waiting for someone to answer and when they did, I explained to them who I was and the response I got was “I can’t do anything for you, don’t want to do anything for you so don’t ever call this number again.”
Even though I was devastated by the response because I wasn’t reaching out for anything it was more so me filling in the void of not knowing, I realize that I have a dad at home and I have a family to fall back on whenever times get rough. Many foster youths don’t have that haven -a place to call home or that family commitment. I created Just Who I Am so fostered youth can use their stories to become unashamed successful leaders in society by realizing Birth didn’t confine them.
Tell us about your transitional housing plans and why it’s essential to reach out to foster youth as they age out of the system?
As one of seven children, only three of us were adopted. I’ve seen the struggles that my siblings have faced when transitioning out of the foster system. They’ve been left hanging because they were no longer in the age range of having income from the state, so they were left alone trying to figure out what’s next. So many age out of the foster system and have nowhere to go so they go straight to being homeless or it’s a gateway into the pipeline system and that is what I want to change. To keep that from becoming a cycle for so many, my goal is to open up a transitional living space for foster youth once they age out of the foster system at 18. This will be a safe place for them to live and build the life skills they need to mature to be on their own instead of just being thrown into the world and having to fend for themselves.
If you could educate the public about how they can help, what main things do they need to know to support?
Statistics show that Black children account for eight out of 100 Los Angeles County children, yet they make up 28 out of 100 foster children, according to Department of Children and Family Services data. There is a strong need for more families to become educated and more receptive to becoming foster parents and advocates of the desires of the children at hand. As I former foster youth, I can truly say adoption was the best thing that has ever happened in my life and I would like to bridge the gap so no child is left behind.
For more information, follow Laura Williams on IG @_ldw2_