As the Co-Chair of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth, I have time and again seen the power of positive mentorship. With encouragement and opportunity, many of the roughly 424,000 children in America's foster system go on to lead successful lives. That said, I was still deeply moved by this Hillary Clinton inspired video featuring Jelani Freeman, a foster youth turned government lawyer.
If you haven't watched the video yet, you absolutely should! Jelani describes a moment from his 2003 internship in Hillary's Senate office when he came across his boss talking with Sen. Ted Kennedy. As Jelani tells it, Hillary was "bragging about" him as an incredible young man who had rocketed from foster care to Capitol Hill.
That encounter meant the world to Jelani. "I grew up... just wanting someone to be proud of me," he says. "It was moments like that when Hillary would brag about me and build me up that I really, really treasure."
It's not often we get these glimpses into a presidential candidate's personal side. I'm thrilled that Jelani shared his story, as part of the "Let's Talk Hillary" project, and I'm hopeful that Hillary's example can inspire others in this country to offer support. After all, role models like her make all the difference.
In Hillary's case, Jelani is a single but important example of a long career helping young people. As a lawyer with the Children's Defense Fund, Hillary advocated for juvenile justice reform. She later worked as First Lady to push the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997, which boosted foster adoptions by 64 percent by 2005. And as Secretary of State she created a special advisor on international children's issues while bolstering foster care worldwide.
Hillary's current platform is equally ambitious. She calls for universal preschool, so that children with fewer resources can make strides alongside their wealthier peers. Meanwhile, her New College Compact promises lower tuition rates, which means people like Jelani can continue to succeed from foster care onto college.
Too Small to Fail, family planning, criminal justice--the list goes on. My point is this: when it comes to helping children, Hillary has far more experience and far more detailed proposals than her opponents, Democrat and Republican alike. That fact, alone, earns her my vote.
Congress can only do so much, even on issues where both parties agree. The power to protect foster children will largely rest with a bully pulpit and executive actions--with the next leader in the White House. Four (or eight) more years are too many to wait around on this issue.
Jelani's story follows a pattern. If you had successful former foster children how they came to succeed, I'd be willing to bet a person like Hillary played a role. And with Hillary's nuanced proposals, many more foster kids can be business leaders or civil rights activists--maybe, one day, the President of the United States.