Last year, Steinger, Greene, & Feiner introduced its $1,000 Child Advocacy Scholarship for child advocates and abuse survivors currently pursuing a law degree. Founding partner, Michael Steinger believes attorneys are in a unique position to help child abuse victims and their families end abuse and establish legal protections for victims.
The essay-based scholarship is opened for nationwide application with the first winner, Patricia Boone, named late last year. Steinger says “Ms. Boone turned life’s challenges into triumphs and fully embodies the intent of the scholarship.” Ms. Boone was kind enough to submit to an interview with us and has allowed us to share the interview with your here.
SGF: Your story is one of perseverance, personal power, and the power of self-advocacy. How do you get that across to the youth you work with now?
Boone: Any person who works with youth knows that the first hurdle to get over is credibility. Whether they are high school students, grade school kids, or foster youth in their first year of college they all want to know: who you are, where you came from, and why they should listen to you. Answering these three questions is where I begin when I work with youth and I do so by using my personal story to highlight the importance of my message–All Warriors Must Train!
This is a statement of possibility in which I outline my substantial obstacles, the tools I used, and the lessons learned from each experience to demonstrate that overcoming their adversity is not only a possibility within their reach but a requirement for warriors. I find that youth embrace the idea of becoming powerful and this is even truer for youth who have been the victims of all forms of abuse which initially renders them powerless.
And so I share my process…
In my life, I have learned that in order for me to feel powerful I must practice self-acceptance daily. This means that I take responsibility for my actions good or bad; I make it a priority to engage in self-reflection; and I accept all my qualities as evidence that I am an imperfect beautiful human being (also known as showing myself grace). Once I begin to accept myself then I am more likely to see and accept others for who they are even those individuals and situations which cause me the most pain. Through self-acceptance I can accept myself and life as it is without blame, regret, or hostility. And with this knowledge, along with my personal story, I am better equipped to be an advocate for others.
Most youth, much like me for the better part of my life, have a hard time grasping the idea of self-acceptance. And most interestingly, I find that youth are more willing to stand up for others then they are for themselves. This observation is eerily familiar to my battles with self-worth and so, I make it a point when working with youth to begin with self-acceptance, followed by self-worth, leading to self-advocacy. It is when they are able to recognize their own stake in this world that they can begin to help others obtain their own. Bottom-line, we must be willing to embrace the changes in self before any meaningful changes will transpire in the physical world and it is through this process that we become warriors in life.
In the end, my message to youth is predicated on the idea that it isn’t our personal experiences which dictates our abilities in life because then we are limited, but rather it is our ability to use our personal experience to help others which makes life limitless; and such power comes with the responsibility to do good in the world starting with being good to themselves.
SGF: Other than the judge who gave you a second chance, who else in your life inspired you to reach beyond where you were and let your light shine?
Boone: I am fortunate to have an advisory board of mentors and I owe much of my success to their efforts. These mentors include: my first academic counselor Toby Bodeen; community college professors: Nancy Hickson, Ann Sittig, Kevin Fox, Pamela Spoto, and Frank Nigro; UC Berkeley professors Christine Palmer and Cara Stanley and Berkeley Law professor Bill Fernholz; NU Law professors Leonard Rubinowitz, Julie Biehl, and Alison Flaum; my previous employers Christine Silver and Jeremy Lefler; legal professionals: Judge Monica Marlow, Judge Janet Gaard, and Judge Dave Rosenberg and NU Law Alumni Sean Carter, and other professionals such as Larry Kutner and his wife Cheryl. Each of these individuals was instrumental in my life providing me with love, support, and guidance every step of the way.
I should also note that my social worker Delores Simpson, who I have known since I was a child, was the first person to ever show me unconditional love (although back then I rejected it) and she never gave up on me.
Another person who was instrumental in my life was my probation officer Dep. Janelle Banning. I know this may seem random, but it was her hard-nosed supervision but with compassion which taught me the importance of accountability.
I am also thankful for a loving, healthy relationship with Joel Garner who stuck by me for seven years providing a safe space to be vulnerable. And, of course, I must thank the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship which made higher education possible for this once high school dropout.
Lastly, I would also attribute much of my current success to the wonderful community of Redding, California. This community embraced me as I transitioned from trouble-maker to dream-realizer.
SGF: What type of law will you most likely practice?
Boone: I am very committed to public interest law. I have a passion for advocating on behalf of those most vulnerable in our communities; namely, abused and neglected children and youth who find themselves caught-up in the juvenile/criminal court systems. However, I am not sure yet what that path will look like as I am using my time in law school to explore various opportunities: non-profits, clinic work with the community, and teaching in alternative schools.
SGF: Fast forward 10 years post law school. Where do you see your life?
Boone: In ten years, I see myself engaging in work which creates opportunities for others. I am still undecided whether I want to be a practicing attorney or work in the non-profit sector. Although, I am almost certain that I will find a way to do both throughout my career.
If I were to work in the courts I would like to either be a criminal defense attorney specializing in cases re: automatic transfers of juveniles or as an attorney for children in the dependency courts. Then again, I really like working with the community so I could easily see myself working at a legal aid agency helping people in marginalized communities find their voice.
If I were to go into the non-profit sector I would like to work with organizations that work on youth-related issues; homelessness, education, and self-sufficiency. Additionally, I am interested in helping people transition back into the community from prison. After years of experience in the non-profit sector I could see myself starting a non-profit too; specifically, one that helps former foster youth obtain their dreams.
Regardless what path I take or a mix of the two I know I will engage in non-law related professions to achieve my overall vision–creating opportunities for others. For instance, I have plans to publish a book, “Under a Thousand Roofs” which is based off my life and its lessons which I hope will provide additional insight into working with at-risk youth. Similarly, I would continue to share my story through the public speaking arena. This could possibly turn into a radio show in which I provide youth, foster parents, social workers, families, and advocates with a safe space to discuss their challenges while I offer advice.
All of these goals are possible within ten years while some will take longer than others. However, I know that I have been given the right amount of luck, tenacity, courage, and pain to make these all a reality. In the end, I hope to use the proceeds to setup college scholarships for former foster youth with no age requirement, re-entry populations, and community college students so they too can realize their dreams.
SGF: Any aspirations towards serving on the bench or in politics?
Boone: As a child whenever anyone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up I would answer like this: “When I grow up I want to be a children’s court judge so I can help children just like me.” This dream was inspired mostly by Judge Marian Martinez (Edleman’s Children’s Court, Los Angeles, CA). It was in her courtroom that I first realized that I had a voice worth listening to. This dream is what led me to law school. While I am still focused on advocating for children’s rights (although, I have many passions outside of this) I am not sure if the courtroom is the platform anymore.
As I shared in my essay, I made some irresponsible choices as a young adult which would make this dream nearly impossible. For the same reason, I am reluctant to go into politics. Yet, I pride myself on defying the odds so I would say that Judge Boone is still a possibility and Senator Boone has a nice ring to it. Right now I am open to taking my role as an advocate as far as I can in this life. Time will tell.
SGF: If you could go back and speak to 10 year old Patricia Boone, what advice would you give her?
Boone: This is a great question as I have thought about it once or twice along the journey. What is most interesting about my answer each time is that it does not waiver much even when I think it should on account of my growth. And so, I would offer little Patti three things: (1) an embrace; (2) words of confirmation; and (3) unconditional acceptance.
First, the one thing I lacked as an abused and neglected child was a safe hug; a person’s arms that I could fall into as I cried myself to sleep as they wrapped their arms around me assuring me that I was safe. By providing little Patti an embrace I would give her permission to feel comfortable being vulnerable. Through this act, little Patti would know that human touch can be a source of healing and therefore, she would most likely allow herself to be hugged sooner and more often. The lack of this hug as a child left me uncomfortably exposed and vulnerable which led me to reject love for years–from others and myself. For this reason, the first thing I would do is provide 10 year-old Patti the warmest embrace I could muster.
Second, as I held little Patti in my arms I would tell her that she is worthy of good things–worthy of love, laughter, and happiness. I would stroke her head while explaining that one day all her shame and pain will transform into a badge of honor which will help other children and adult survivors of abuse and neglect overcome their adversity. I would wipe her tears as she looked up at me while describing the endless possibilities of her dreams while reminding her of her special capabilities to realize those dreams. We would talk for hours as I would tell her how the abuse she endured was not her fault and that it was time to let go of the guilt surrounding her brother’s murder–“Little Patti you were only five years-old and there was nothing you could do to prevent it.” And so, I am sure these words would bring more tears and my arms would wrap around her even tighter rocking her until the pain lessened.
Lastly, I would offer little Patti an oath of unconditional acceptance. I would place an emphasis on the word “unconditional” because for her love, care, and support were always accompanied by a set of conditions. However, no child should lack these three things on account of less desirable behaviors or at the whims of a caretaker. I would remind her that her 10 year-old position in life was no fault of her own and that little Patti was always enough. Despite the obstacles she would inevitably face in life, little Patti could face them head-on knowing that she had self-love and self-acceptance. From this moment on she would no longer be alone and could walk with her head high knowing she was loved by someone (herself). Therefore, I would end our time together with a final embrace and a gentle whisper in her ear, “You are enough and don’t you ever forget that.” It is my hope that these words and acts would continue to resonate deeply within her heart all the days of her life.
SGF: Is there anything that we haven’t asked about that you would like to share?
Boone: Thank you for this opportunity. I can’t tell you enough how much this scholarship has inspired me to continue towards my dreams. Thank you for giving a voice to the voiceless.
The Steinger, Greene, & Feiner family is honored to be part of Ms. Boone’s journey. We continue to accept scholarship applications and hope to identify others with the same passion, focus, and desire to help the most vulnerable among us; our children.
Photo Credit: http://pattigiddings.wordpress.com/