Veteran of foster care seeks to save his own kin

By Helen O'neill

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, June 18 2011 2:36 p.m. MDT

In this Wednesday, May 18, 2011 photo, Adrian McLemore takes his nephew Tyiaun Jones, 2, out of a shopping cart after visiting a store in Dayton, Ohio as his niece A'Rayiah McLemore, 4, gets in their car. Once a foster child himself, McLemore took custody of the children two years ago when his sister was forced to give them up.

Al Behrman, Associated Press

TROTWOOD, Ohio — As a child, Adrian McLemore was a troubled little soul who spent much of his time exploding in confusion and rage — acting up in school, running away from home.

At 6, he nearly set the house on fire.

At 7, his mother — raising him and his two sisters alone in Georgia — told social workers to place him in a foster home.

McLemore would spend a total of 11 years in foster care and he would learn many things — how to control his anger, how to channel it into programs and projects that helped children like himself, how to survive in homes where families had completely different rules and expectations, even different religious beliefs.

He learned that foster kids are largely invisible to the lawmakers who craft the rules that govern their lives. And he became determined to change that, joining youth organizations, becoming a dynamic young leader who lobbied fiercely for the rights of foster children to a better childhood — and a better preparation for adulthood.

And then, at 22, McLemore — who had devoted so much time to thinking, speaking and writing about the lessons of his own childhood — would be given a chance to put those lessons into practice.

Overnight, he became a "father."

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The call came shortly after midnight on Dec. 20, 2009, as McLemore finished his shift at Family Video. There had been a bad situation at his sister's house, the sheriff told him on the phone (out of loyalty to his sister, McLemore won't discuss the details). Her children — 3-year-old A'Rayiah and 1-year-old Tyiaun — had been taken into custody.

McLemore's mind raced as he drove to the police station. He knew exactly how things would unfold. The children would be separated and placed in different foster homes. There would be tense weekly visits with their mother in a small room with toys at the Montgomery County Department of Job and Family Services. His sister would vent at the case workers, calling them "child snatchers." A'Rayiah would cry when they had to say goodbye. Everyone would be miserable.

It would be like watching his own wounded childhood, repeating itself.

McLemore was a full-time student at Wright State University studying political science. His days were packed with classes and studies, as well as a grueling schedule of speeches, presentations, committee meetings. And he had his job at the video store.

But he didn't hesitate.

"I will take care of my niece and nephew," he told the authorities. "I will feed them and take them to day care. I will make sure they get their shots. I will give them a stable home. I know them. And I love them like no one else can."

And so he bundled up a sleeping Tyiaun and a scared A'Rayiah and drove them to his two-bedroom apartment on Culzean Drive.

They slept in his bed that night. Later he would get a twin bed for A'Rayiah and a crib for Tyiaun. He would move his trove of Denver Broncos memorabilia and make a room for them with a big princess picture over A'Rayiah's bed.

But immediate priorities were more urgent. He called his friend Chrissy Moore.

"I need diapers," he said. "And baby food."

McLemore is well known as one of the success stories of the Ohio Foster care community. Some of the people closest to him are social workers who have cared for him and seen him blossom over the years.

Word spread quickly. Friends threw a baby shower — collecting clothes and shoes and toys for Christmas. Moore helped with baby-sitting. His friend Rico Spears, also a young father, coached him on diaper-changing and offered advice on nighttime crying.

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