Ke’Nija’s Story

The Sauer Family Foundation seeks opportunities to increase public awareness of the foster care experience. We are grateful to Ke’Nija Wallace (she/her) for joining us in recognizing National Foster Care Month by sharing her life journey which has intersected our foster care system and so much more.

My name is Ke’Nija Wallace, and I am a 23-year-old African American woman. I am a
student at Augsburg University and I work within my school as an assistant for Augsburg Family
Scholars and an Academic Peer Mentor.

Unfortunately, my community is no stranger to the foster care system. The unspoken
brokenness of its clouds rains over vulnerable families. Creating a sense of distrust of the
outside world. At the age of 4, the clouds of the foster care system burst into my home and took
me and my sibling away. Stranger hands and uniformed police officers pulling us every which
way. Until finally we were no longer a family, just five African American children unrecognizable
to our new environments. Daytime was all fun and games for me until the night crept into my
new home and stuck fear within my tiny body. I screamed, cried, kicked, and pleaded for my
mother. This would be my new reality for the next two years. Supervised visits, court dates, and
trials. Quietly whispering to my mother as she held my hand and swung it back and forth. “Can I
go home with you today?”

My mother fought a lengthy and exhausting battle with the foster care system until
ultimately, we were reunited. One thing I have learned throughout my time on this earth is that
life will challenge you. I have held poverty in my hands and sexual trauma weighed heavily
throughout my body. At the age of six, I was diagnosed with a disease by the name of
transverse myelitis that threatened to end my life. At that moment I knew if I survived I would
become something phenomenal in life. Just after a year of treatment, I was able to walk out of
that hospital. My journey of strength continued into high school; I was grateful to be a part of a
program that assisted youth with foster care backgrounds. This program helped give me a full
ride to Augsburg University. Unfortunately, during my first two years in college, the deep
emotions of trauma I endured finally caught up to me. I guess no one told me that even though I
was returned to my mother, the foster care system still left an emptiness that persistently sat in
our faces. I dropped out and my full-ride scholarship was taken from me without warning,
support, or guidance. Feeling completely alone and burnt out I decided to re-enroll into
Augsburg. I missed learning and being a part of a community meeting for something larger than
myself. It was one of the hardest transitions, I was broke and unhoused because of a failed
engagement with my ex-partner.

Although life was still happening to me as soon as I stepped foot back onto campus, the
Divine Beings were listening to me and everything I needed was taken care of. I was now doing
well in my classes, participating in extracurricular activities and set on making a name for myself
at Augsburg University and that’s actually what I have done! I met a very special person that at
the time I did not know would change my life. I was introduced to Dr. Tim Pippert at a Sociology
department outing. I spoke with him briefly about why I wanted to pursue a career in sociology
and how it related to my foster care experience. He mentioned that he was a director of
Augsburg Family Scholars, a program designed to support students with foster care
backgrounds. I was invited to join and was beyond thankful for that opportunity. I was now part
of a stable family that provided consistency. Education has saved me and gave a new and
beautiful perspective on life. It’s given me a space to explore my interests and cater to my
creative and well-spoken side. I have been provided with a network of peers within my
university. Because of Augsburg family scholars I have been given a unique opportunity to
become one of the assistants for the program. I am proud to say that I am currently working on
a huge project to ensure that other colleges incorporate a support system for students with
foster care backgrounds. No matter what life throws my way I know that I can handle it. I believe
in myself and my ability to bring love, light and peace to others. My life is a story of reliance and
beauty. It’s a story that education can be your way out of life’s sticky situation. It’s a story that
holds much on the importance of a stable family and how far that can take you in life.