Ohio’s Intercourt Conference continues to grow. The conference is most typically attended by juvenile court judges, probation officers, counselors, intake officers, diversion officers, counselors, court administrators, clinicians, magistrates and bailiffs from the majority of Ohio’s counties. This year, attendees heard the keynote opening presentation, ‘From Desperation to Inspiration’ by Derek Clark, made possible through support of platinum sponsor colleagues at TVN. Pomegranate Health Systems was a silver sponsor/exhibitor at the conference.
Perhaps few saw the presentation coming when Derek began his story. His mother had only known abuse and that is how he was conceived, product of a violent father who did not want him. His father tried to cause a spontaneous miscarriage through physical force and beating his mother, actually stomping on her womb while he was just in utero. His father was imprisoned for a time. Living in poverty-in a garage for a time, as an infant and toddler, he endured not only child abuse (scalded hands by his mother), but ultimate abandonment, and was eventually turned over to the psychiatric system at age 5. He Dad was later incarcerated as ‘criminally insane’. Derek said he brought several key points to his seemingly hopeless story: ‘resilience and redemption’ was key. There were two messages he made to start the morning, namely, ‘the past has never held him back,’ and ‘make no excuses.’
He showed photographs of his psychiatric records and read the descriptive language. It sounded like he was all but ‘un-adoptable’ and ill-suited to any placement. As he read the labels, and described his emotional distress, aggression, anxiety, and behavioral coping mechanisms, he would show photographs of himself, a sweet- looking, blond-haired California kid. ‘Disable the Label’ became the title of a book. At age six, reports said he had the IQ of a 2 year old and was mentally handicapped. There were speech and emotional problems. He then spent 13 years in the foster care system. One couple made a picture-perfect impression and had a beautiful home in the SF Bay area, good position and stable income, but his abuse continued. Clark shook his head, ‘You never know what goes on in people’s homes’. What he endured, ‘followed me for years’, he explained, and that ‘Sometimes our behavior is the only way we can communicate.’ From eight foster home placements he went into shelter care. At this point the main issue was rage; what to do with the anger. This resonated with the court crowd.
Clark made the point that if you re-arrange the word ‘listen’, its ‘silent’. ‘You don’t solve problems without listening first,’ he emphasized. At the ‘end of the line’, his social worker, a pretty woman with a green sports car, offered a unique pair of foster parents in the San Francisco Bay area, a weekend with the boy. She’d advised him not to mess up and all was going well until the end- when he pitched a fit. The foster dad said, ‘he needs to run- get it out of his system.’ Clark discovered the homestead had gardens, chickens, bunnies and other farm animals and plenty of space to run. (And one chicken adopted him as it’s pet.) There were house rules with this family: no video games; TV -1 hour a week; no fast food; no sugar-coated cereal; no soda; and he would have a creative outlet- in this case, music. The clarinet became his best friend- he became a talented musician. Clark performs internationally today as a singer and songwriter and inspirational speaker on not letting the past limit your life in the present.
He shared how his frugal foster mother of several kids, modified K-Mart sneakers to look more like the far pricier designer brands so he would not be made fun of, by obnoxious and bullying teens. Clark is still very close to his foster family. A piece of wisdom he interjected, ‘love is thicker than blood. It doesn’t have to be about DNA to be a parent –foster!’ The 16-year old fashioned himself punk-hip; as ‘Diamond D’ and began to vocalize his anger through rap music. The audience saw his ‘hip’ teen picture with the big hair from ‘back in the day’. One day on the playground where teens gathered to skateboard and rap he was challenged to ‘bring it’ by a black teen ring leader. That’s where he connected with and discovered his mojo with the rage and gritty life experience spilling out. As ‘Rappin’ Dad’ one or more of his videos went viral (we posted the link on Facebook) and Clark auditioned recently for America’s Got Talent. His message is ‘I will never give up.’ Clark has given a TED Talk on ‘The Power of Determination’; appeared on CNN Headline News, The Steve Harvey TV Show, The Ricki Lake Show and has authored six books- all inspirational in nature. Clark challenged the audience, “We are all born with a bag of concrete and a bucket of water. Are we going to build stumbling blocks or stepping stones?” The audience was on their feet.
Here are links to Derek Clark’s website, TED Talk, videos/CDs and books:
[photo credit: DNf-style/Dreamstime Frank and Danielle Kaumann My Adopted Daughters]