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Foster care awareness month: Queens activist recounts life in the system

IAMQUEENS leads a Juneteenth march in Queens.
Photo by Dean Moses

Ever present on the street marching for justice and a superstar on the protest scene since he was eight years old, the young advocate known by the moniker IAMQUEENS has been making strides for change for well over a decade.

Although many activists know his face, some do not know his story — which is wrought with woes that can only be found within the foster care system. In an interview with amNewYork Metro, he shared his account of his life in order to bring awareness to the level of mistreatment an adolescent can face when alone in a government system.  

“I ended up in foster care because my mother and father were addicted to drugs and alcohol, and my mother was outside doing things that she shouldn’t have done. She made a family mistake, and that family mistake caused me a lifetime of being placed into 23 foster homes, including a group home and including children centers,” IAMQUEENS said, describing how he was left alone in an abandoned building crying out on the top of his lungs until a neighbor informed police.

Born to troubled parents suffering from a strong drug dependency, his life began as harsh as the world allows. Once the Administration for Children’s Services were informed about his parents, a court revoked his mother’s maternal rights, and IAMQUEENS was thrust into a life he would lead until this very day.

With his biological mother and father out of the picture, he was fostered by an elderly woman, Ventura Armstrong, who he would soon recognize as a true mother. In her early 70s, she adopted IAMQUEENS.

The young boy would be happy and truly loved for a time, until she passed away.

IAMQUEENS alongside a fellow marcher celebrating Marsha P Johnson’s birthday. Photo by Dean Moses

“She taught me everything. I never was asked, ‘IAMQUEENS are you okay?’ That’s all I ever wanted a foster parent to ask me, and my adopted mother was the only one to ask me that,” IAMQUEENS said, becoming emotional.

That tragedy set off a chain reaction that would not only send the then-11-year-old back into the foster system and 23 different homes, but it would also indoctrinate him into a perpetuating circle of abuse.

“That is where I started from square one all over again because my adopted mother died, I was put back into this system, and there I am just a number,” IAMQUEENS said, explaining that since then he has been in the foster care system for over 15 years.

The next home IAMQUEENS found himself in could not have been more different than the prior, loving environment.

In a house packed with other children, it seemed, at first glance, to be a perfect atmosphere from which to nurture an emotionally wounded child. However, instead he found the perfect storm of further heartache.

During his stay, IAMQUEENS’ new foster brother undertook the reprehensible and methodical act of sexually abusing the latest family member.

“I got out from my adopted mother’s house, and I was put into another foster home. This second foster home that I went into I got beaten, molested, sexually abused at such a young age by the foster kids that were in the home. They were supposed to be my foster brothers,” IAMQUEENS told amNewYork Metro.

Soon this victimization spiraled out of control when his rapist also developed into a sex trafficker. This older boy would not only force IAMQUEENS onto the street where he would be sold for erotic favors, but the abuser would also steal money garnered from the underage sex work.

IAMQUEENS was warned to never speak out or he would be stabbed by his abuser. He recalled days when he was forced to wait out on the streets for individuals to drive by, pick him. IAMQUEENS stated this went on for years and eventually led him to a life of prostitution.

Sex work became an ever present, ever looming shadow that lingered over him through the years and many foster homes. Passing from home to home, IAMQUEENS shared that he was not only the victim of sexual misconduct but also says he was used as a ploy to garner more income for a household by being falsely diagnosed with mental illness he adamantly declares he did not suffer from, such as ADHD.

This kind of mental abuse came to a head when IAMQUEENS fled from his final foster father after the man held his financial support hostage. During this time, while couch surfing with friends, he was informed that he had aged out of the foster system and unceremoniously tossed aside with the parting gift of a MetroCard.

IAMQUEENS on 7th Avenue and 34th Street, those rallying took a knee. Photo by Dean Moses

IAMQUEENS was homeless for about seven months, before moving into a shelter.  It was also during this time when New York City became the epicenter of the pandemic. 

In addition to the health crisis, George Floyd was killed; despite being unhoused, IAMQUEENS not only joined the thousands of others calling for justice, he also helmed several marches. 

“This is where my activism comes into place because of how I was treated from foster parents, from people who I trusted, from my rapist, activism was never a choice. If anything, activism chose me. I became activated because I just knew that I couldn’t secure a stable living environment, so I had to fight for the liberation of black indigenous people of color and foster care youth who are faced with marginalization during a pandemic,” IAMQUEENS said.

Through his righteous activism, he has received certificates, citations, and even a congressional achievement award from renowned organizations, such as the National Action Network (NAN). It is through his call for justice on the streets of Queens where members of the community dubbed him Mr. Queens. He took that moniker and transformed into his persona, IAMQUEENS.

 “As I am getting awards, I’m literally living in a homeless shelter,” IAMQUEENS said, calling for secure housing as well as social justice.

IAMQUEENS believes that his harsh experience in the world is what many other foster care children are also experiencing. Yearning to be a positive role model, IAMQUEENS revealed to amNewYork that he is a gay man and hopes his coming out will inspire others and establish that children in similar shoes are not alone.

 “You can actually work so hard and just lose. It’s okay to lose. The reason I say that it’s okay to lose is that I’ve been losing. All these awards, all this recognition but I live in a homeless shelter, and nobody can help me with housing. It’s okay to lose. The reality is sometimes you lose, with me looking at this as a loss, when God presents the victories in front of my face, I’ll be able to appreciate the victories when I get it,” IAMQUEENS said.

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