In the Community

‘I'm gonna take back my power': Once in foster care, woman wins DC award for advocating for change

Justice Thurston used to jump from foster home to foster home. She now uses her voice to lead youth foster communities

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Justice Thurston, 22, entered the foster care system when she was 12 years old. Now, she’s been recognized in D.C. as an advocate for children in foster care.

“If they don't have a place, I’m gonna speak,” Thurston said.

She said she was in 20 foster homes as a child. While great foster parents exist, she said she didn't get any. The moving around made being apart from her siblings hard.

“I didn’t want to be split up from them,” Thurston said. “It put a strain on me and my mental health and my physical health as well.”

She said the strain made her start to neglect herself and question what she wanted in life. Instead of dwelling on the bad, she said she turned her experience into something good for others.

“I was like, 'I’m gonna take back my power',” Thurston said. “Those failed attempts made me become who I am, and I’m OK with that. Those things happened to me but it didn’t break me.”

Her mentor, Marie Cohen, helped encourage Thurston on her journey. When they first met nine years ago, Thurston wasn’t so open towards Cohen.

Cohen would ask what her favorite color was or what she liked to do and Thurston would answer with silence.

“One day, I decided to start talking to her and I found out we had a lot of things in common,” Thurston said. “The moment I gave Miss Marie a chance, I’ve been loved ever since that day.”

Cohen recalls the time the pair went to Great Falls in Maryland together, a place that Thurston had never been. The mentor remembered how Thurston's mouth dropped open and the huge smile on her face when they got there.

“She has such a sense of wanting to change the world, to change the system [and] fix all the things that were not good for her and other foster youth,” Cohen said. “I’m just so impressed with that.”

Thurston was recently named “Youth of the Year” by the Foster and Adoptive Parent Advocacy Center in D.C. because of her leadership in the youth foster community.

“I truly hope one day that I can change some of the laws that is put in place with child and family services,” Thurston said.

Despite being separated from a young age, Thurston has a relationship with her birth family. Some of her siblings are with a family member and one of her sisters is still in foster care.

She said her advice to children waiting for their forever home is to keep using their voices and to stay brave.

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