Meet Davina Merritt; From Tragedy to Triumph

I almost seven years old when I was whisked away from my parents by social services. As tragic as it was for me, it almost seemed as
though it was considered a normal way of life in my family.  My mother herself was a product of the foster care system as well as her
mother, my grandmother, who grew up in an orphanage.

My father was your typical blue collar worker. The work he did on a daily basis was so physically demanding that he began to deal with
those demands by drinking excessively.  It’s no surprise that his alcohol consumption lead to physical and emotional abuse towards my
mother.  I learned at a very young age to embrace every sober moment my father gave me. Even though they were few and far between,
those memories resonate in my heart even today.  I used to, and still do at times, dream of what life would have been like if my parents
had stayed together and we could have been a family. I was “his little sherbet” as he would call me when we would go to the ice cream
parlor. Although it’s been 25 years since I have seen my biological father, hearing those words in my mind still bring a smile to my face.

When I was still very young, my mother was pregnant with her fourth child and one night my father came home drunk and shot holes
into the wall with his gun.  I was in the bathtub and heard the clock fall off the wall with the gunshots. He was so physically abusive
towards my mother that night it caused her to miscarry. After the painful loss of the pregnancy, coupled with the never ending abuse,
my parents split up. Neither my mother nor my grandmother had ever learned to drive and they both had become very dependent upon
others for transportation.  Because of this and the urgency of removing us from a house of abuse, my grandmother did what she had to
do to get me, my mother, and my sisters out of Chicago and on to southern Illinois to begin a new life.  My grandmother arranged for
one stranger (whom she trusted because of the woman’s “religious” affiliation) to take us half way, and at that point another stranger
of the same religious affiliation picked us up and took us the rest of the way. I was only 5 years old when we moved from the only city I
had known as a small child.  Life as I had always known it was abruptly changed.  Deep inside of my five-year-old heart, I continued to
long for the day my dad would come and make us whole again.

My childhood memories from the early years in southern Illinois begin with the fear of going to sleep due to the reoccurrence of being
sexually abused, but yet I innocently trusted everybody.  It was a thin line between who it was I feared the most; the man who abused
me or the constant age should be able to do.

My oldest sister was placed in foster care a year before all of us were separated from one another. She had a mandated court hearing
and this process is to give the parents the opportunity to demonstrate to the court that they have the ability to provide for and protect
the child in question.  I learned that my mother did not show up for my sister’s court hearing.

We were told she did not come because she could not drive.  This prompted more action by the social services system, and they soon
came for me and my other two sisters. The day of separation was the most difficult day of my life; I was now a ward of the state.  When
I arrived at my new foster home I quickly learned my foster mother ran the house like a tight ship. It was a house full of foster children.

I remember the caseworker as a mean lady and I blamed her for taking me away from my mother and placing me in a home with
strangers. I was very angry that she would say my mother was not meeting her goals to get us back.   Living in foster care was very
different than the life I knew when I was very young.

I thought the court appearance was just a routine procedure. My foster mother and my social worker coached me on what to tell the
judge. I remember feeling scared and nervous. I was told to tell the judge that I wanted to continue living with my foster family. At ten
years old, I did not understand the significance of visitation rights. So I told the judge I wanted to remain in the foster family. The part I
was not aware of was that I was asking the court to release me from my mother’s rights. Consequently, I would not be able to see or
visit my mother from here on out. I told the judge I felt safer in my new situation and that I loved my foster grandmother.  Even now,
sometimes I wonder if I made the right decision.

Going to the courthouse was always extremely painful; I would search for my dad every single time, but he never showed up.  I felt like I
was torn between two families, being labeled as a ward of the state. The deepest pain was that my father did not even show up to claim
his rights. I felt responsible for what had happened. I felt like my dad was my only hope for us being a family again because my mom’s
rights were already revoked. The court system said they mailed him letter after letter but received no response. I have dreamed of my
birth father for years and am still searching for him. My dream is to meet him at an ice cream shop and simply say, “You are forgiven.”  
I would love to share my heart and my source of joy with him and tell him I love him for being my father.

Life in the foster home was different because you never knew if you were going to have to move to a different one. In my foster home,
we constantly had new children moving in and out. So anytime I did anything wrong I would worry, I hope they don’t move me. I would
go to my room and cry; I was worried and scared that I would be next.