Remarks presented by Rev. Donnie Garris at “Envision and Empower” –
a benefit event hosted by Young Ambassadors Group of the Council and the Young Affiliates of the Mint at the Mint Museum Uptown on June 11, 2015. Reprinted here with Rev. Garris’ permission.

Steve Pemberton was a foster care child taken away from his mother when he was 3 years old and spent nearly 15 years being bounced from one family to another. During that time, his name wasn’t Steve Pemberton. He had a Polish last name that started with a “K” …, taken after his mother’s side of the family. His mother was Polish descent, his father was African- American and Steve turned out to be a fair-complexioned boy with blue eyes and a curly blond Afro. He stated that he sensed as a child that he didn’t fit in.

DSCN0392His 15 years as a foster kid was a terrifying existence – cruel families who subjected him to constant mental and physical abuse. He remembered a babysitter made this prediction about him saying, “This little boy doesn’t have a chance in the world.” He said what he remembered most about that time, he would wake up every day asking himself, “Is today the day that I’m going to die?” He often prayed that one day he might have a different life.

Well, now, Steve Pemberton is the Divisional Vice- President and Chief Diversity Officer for Walgreens; the first person to hold this position in the company’s 113- year history. He now is a successful businessman, entrepreneur, educator, author, husband, father of three children and an advocate for equality, access and opportunity for thousands of kids in foster care.

On Sunday, April 20, 2014, I watched on television as Steve Pemberton was given the Trumpet Award for his work with foster kids. When he accepted his award, he gave this speech:

“You know sometimes the man that I am wishes he could go back and talk to the boy that I was. And I would like to talk to that boy at a moment of his greatest despair when he thought that even God Himself had forgotten him. And I want to tell him, God has not forgotten about you. It’s just that sometimes God asks us to do hard things. And God asks us to do hard things so that we can be an example of what is possible!”

… Steve Pemberton tells his experiences as a youth in foster care and his determined search as an adult for his biological family in a book entitled, A Chance in the World. There’s a sentence on the back cover that reads, “Through it all, Steve’s story teaches us that no matter how broken our past, no matter how great our misfortunes, we have it in us to create a new beginning!”  

Because of your resilience and determination to overcome the odds stacked against you; and because of the caring intervention and positive influence of others, we salute you today because you are an example of what is possible! We do have a chance in the world! And you remind us that we all have it in us to create a new beginning!

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