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Growing up in the foster care system, Alexis and Justin had the odds stacked against them. Easily, they could have let fate take the wheel, allowing the trauma of their past to define their future. But determined to show the world that you can change your destiny, they took charge of their situation, unlearned bad habits, and tackled goal-after-goal to reach success!
Today, NSLS members Alexis and Justin Black are symbols of hope and inspiration for anyone facing adversity. Their touching story proves that we all have the power to take control, set a plan, and build the life we want to live.
MENTORS MAKE ALL THE DIFFERENCE
Childhood is a time that many look back on with fond memories — good times spent with family, stability, happiness. But, for some, such memories are few. Such is the case of then 9-year-old Justin and 13-year-old Alexis, who entered foster care early on in life, and were forced to adapt and grow up, quicker than most.
It would seem like these early obstacles would prime Alexis and Justin for a lifetime of challenges, left coping with the constant internal dialog of, "Why didn't my parents want me? Why weren't they there for me?" Such questions amid the continuous shuffling from various foster homes undoubtedly takes an emotional toll. And it's not unheard of for foster kids to have a difficult time adjusting into adulthood, some plagued with mental health issues of their own and engaging in unhealthy habits to fill emotional voids.
But for Alexis and Justin, their stories would turn out differently.
Having met in college, they formed a fast friendship that quickly evolved into more. Through the instability of their past would emerge a loving couple of uniquely different backgrounds and ethnicities, yet wholly aligned in their shared experience, having grown up in foster care. Even in their young lives of uncertainty, they never gave up on themselves. Ultimately, strong mentors and caring figures would make all the difference in helping them thrive, and today the married duo are successful business owners and authors.
YOUR FUTURE IS NOT PREDEFINED BY CIRCUMSTANCES
Many of us are affected by traumas of the past... but does the past have to define us or dictate if or not we can be productive and successful in our pursuits? Justin passionately answers no to that question, and his own life is a living testament.
For example, being born an African American male, growing up in poverty, and having a generational family history of substance abuse are all factors that could have easily led Justin down the wrong path. However, Justin approached his circumstances from a place of knowing. He reflects, "It took me being aware of these statistics of black men, of people who come from poverty, of men who come from the foster care system, people who come from the foster care system altogether."
Justin's awareness of imposing factors that could negatively impact his life allowed him to be intentional in overcoming those statistics.
It starts with awareness and being intentional every day. For Justin, that also meant learning how to deal with emotions, letdowns, and a sense of failure that stems from his family history. He encourages others, "Be intentional about meditating, prayer, working out — whatever habits that you practice and that you need to do, practice that on a daily basis and create that daily routine that will make you get to where you need to be and who you want to be in life."
Alexis shares Justin's sentiment of not being relegated to a life preordained by the past, and she too, stresses the importance of being intentional with life goals. She and Justin are strategic, setting their goals out at the start of each year, similar to how people make resolutions; only they keep themselves accountable.
Alexis explicitly credits the SMART goal framework. Often used by businesses, SMART is a valuable tool for companies and individuals that maps out a plan to reach goals successfully.
Alexis explains, "For us, every single goal that we create for the year, we create it into a SMART goal. So how can we break that down by month, by week, and ultimately by day. And that allows us to stay accountable with each other where every couple months we reflect over our goals, how do we need to pivot, how do we need to move forward.”
A lot can happen in one year, especially with planning. Alexis reflects that within a year, she and Justin wrote a book, got married, and bought a house. This is a shining example of attaining positive outcomes from setting goals and following through with intention.
HOW NSLS SCHOLARSHIPS HELPED SUPPORT THEIR JOURNEY
Among the main hurdles college students face, financing their education is often the most taxing. The NSLS Foundation prides itself on being a provider of over $350,000 in scholarships and awards each year to NSLS members. As Alexis shares her story of success, she credits NSLS scholarships as an integral part of her academic achievements.
She explains, "Being a part of NSLS actually has provided me with several scholarships, which has been absolutely amazing. Pretty much every time that I've applied, I have been awarded a scholarship, that has helped me graduate college with over $200,000 in scholarships."
The NSLS scholarships alleviated some of Alexis’ financial burdens of paying for school. The money allowed for opportunities she had not thought possible before, such as studying abroad — which amazingly, she was able to do eight times!
Having found a community of support and life-changing resources through the NSLS helped her successfully arrive at where she and Justin are today.
Listen to the bonus episode to learn how to define your vision for the future and stay positive as you work towards your goals.