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NYC mentor helped immigrant in foster care find her way

Kadi struggled to learn English while navigating adult life on her own, but ultimately graduated from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in May.

Kadi, left, and her mentor Tanisha Abernathy Browne,

Kadi, left, and her mentor Tanisha Abernathy Browne, right, attend the Mentor New York awards ceremony on June 21, 2018. Photo Credit: Sunny Norton

As a young immigrant from Mali, grappling with the realities of the foster care system while attending college in New York City, Kadi wasn’t very interested in working with her new mentor Tanisha Abernathy Browne — at first.

“As a youth in foster care she definitely had a long list of people that she had to keep in touch with,” Browne, of Brooklyn, recalled. “She saw me as not necessarily as a resource or somebody that she could trust but as another box to check, quite frankly.”

But the women, paired in 2014 through the nonprofit Good Shepherd Services, had a breakthrough when Browne offered to help Kadi write an essay for an internship opportunity. Once the connection was forged, Kadi and Browne’s relationship began to flourish.

“At first, I really didn’t like her,” Kadi, who requested her surname be withheld out of privacy concerns, said with a laugh. “But she didn’t give up on me. ... She was very helpful.”

Kadi came to the United States as a teenager in 2009, undocumented and alone. Her mother, worried that Kadi would marry too young, sent her to America to live with her uncle and further her education.

“I had the potential to get married when I turned 16, because that’s so common,” Kadi, now 23, explained of her life in Mali.

Her uncle, however, was unable to support her financially, and she ended up in the foster care system. A native French speaker, she struggled with learning a new language and getting her documents in order for a green card.

“It was really hard, but being that I didn’t have any option to make my mother come and help me, I had to just suck it up and be strong.”

Seeing the ramifications of the Trump administration’s now-rescinded immigrant family separation policy, Kadi and Browne couldn’t help but draw on their own experiences of what the future might hold for those children.

“As somebody who does have sort of a front-row seat of the trauma that kids experience by way of the foster care system and family separation, I’m just deeply saddened by the fact that, essentially, the United States is in the business of creating trauma for children,” Browne said of the policy. “Simply put, I think it’s uncontainable.”

While the White House has promised to reunite the families, Kadi said it was still “heartbreaking” to see innocent children caught up in the mayhem, especially because it could have easily been her.

“I was in the same situation and I was undocumented,” she said, adding that she has since obtained a green card.

Kadi credits her foster care agency, Good Shepherd Services, and her subsequent relationship with Browne, with helping her overcome the difficulties thrown her way.

“I think the mentoring program is a very good opportunity,” she said. “The kids need an adult in their life who can impact them in positive ways.”

In May, Kadi graduated from John Jay College of Criminal Justice with a degree in public administration. She intends to pursue a career working for an organization that helps African women.

“The foster care system was very, very difficult. There was a very tumultuous period of time, over a six-month period, she lived in about four different homes,” Browne said. “But she got through it, she persevered, she was very determined, and it was really nice to see her cross the finish line because she had a lot of hurdles in front of her.”

Kadi said Browne inspired her to continue her education, even in the face of adversity. The pair has grown so close, they consider each other family.

“She’s like my mother. I love her,” Kadi said. “She has really inspired in a lot of ways and pushed me to finish school.”

For Browne, the sentiment extends beyond just her. “My husband and I do think of her as a member of our family.”

In June, Browne was honored as one of two mentors who were given the 2018 Mentor of the Year award by Mentor New York.

“Tanisha has seen Kadi through several foster homes, transition to supportive housing and leaving foster care and a very long separation from her mother and family,” Shirley Solomon, coordinator of Good Shepherd Services said. “Tanisha and Kadi are family, and what started as a mentoring inquiry will undoubtedly be a lifelong friendship. ”

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