Next time you think about giving up, remember Cory Carter.
Carter grew up in over 26 foster homes. And yet Carter has graduated from college, has a good job, lives in his first apartment and finally–just last year at the age of 26, he was adopted.
“I have no recollection of being with my birth family,” said Carter, who only knew he was born in Tampa and had at least three sisters. “My mom was a drug addict and had a lot of problems.
“I only saw my mom two times. The first time was after I got a call from a hospice. I didn’t even know what a hospice was. I was 17 and had just graduated from high school.”
At the hospice, a nurse told him it was his mother’s “dying wish” to see him. “She looked like a bag of bones. She was dying from two kinds of cancer. The only thing she could do was gasp for air,” Carter recalled. “The next day I got a call saying she died. The next time I saw my mom (she) was in the casket.”
At the funeral, he saw his three sisters he hadn’t seen in years.
“The first foster couple adopted my sisters but they didn’t adopt me,” Carter explained. “There were eight of us. At my mom’s funeral that was when I met all my sisters and brothers.”
Early in life, he found out he was different than the other kids in his classes.
“Once at elementary school one of my case workers got on the PA system and announced, ‘I’m here to pick up our foster child by the name of Cory Carter.’
He remembers, “Kids laughed. That’s when I really felt I wasn’t like other people.”
Much of his childhood he couldn’t participate in some sports activities because he needed a guardian to be there as a chaperone. He was very unhappy.
“Honestly, I tried to kill myself over six times,” he said. “I didn’t have anyone to care for me. It was hard to believe in God. If God was so good why did he let this happen?
“I grew up in the streets–in every part of Tampa (Fla.). I experienced so many nationalities and religions before I was 16,” he said. “I dealt with a lot of abuse. I felt like an adult by the time I was 14…”
He attended different schools each time he changed homes. In seventh grade he was expelled from school after beating up another kid who made a “mama joke,” not knowing anything about Carter’s family life.
Still, Carter managed to keep up with his school work.
In 2004 in the twelfth grade, he aged out of foster care. He had already left his last home after a disagreement with his foster parents.
In high school, he finally got to play football, which meant he could stay at school until late at night. He was living from sofa to sofa, staying with friends. Sometimes he slept in the baseball dugout at his high school.
He said after graduation people in foster care encouraged him to go into the military, but he decided going to college would be his way out of homelessness.
“The year I graduated I was the No. 2 receiver in my football league,” said Carter.
He knew he was doing something right because he had gone from “being labeled and picked on to being captain of the football team.” His basketball coach introduced him to the possibility of going to college on an athletic scholarship. He ended up at a school in West Virginia, a community college in Tampa and a junior college in Marysville, Ca.
“I was just going wherever I could to be in school. I could better myself and have a place to live,” said Carter.
He kept leaving schools because he never had enough money to cover all of his expenses and the schools didn’t have dorms for athletes. Then an assistant coach at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte called. Smith had dorms; Carter accepted the offer.
He graduated from Smith on Mother’s Day of 2011 with a Bachelor of Science in Information System Engineering. Two of his sisters and one of his brothers attended the ceremony.
Now Carter is Director of a nonprofit program called Charlotte’s Web, which works with at risk middle and high school youth, teaching them computer skills. Then this year he received the best gift of all. He was adopted by the President of Johnson C. Smith, Ronald L. Carter, the man Cory calls “Pop.” (Ironically, they both shared the same last name.)
The elder Carter calls his new son “a blessing.”
He first met Cory after the dean of students came to his office to discuss a student with disciplinary problem. President Carter’s own experience as a foster parent prompted him to wonder if the student was dealing with some personal issues. Then the dean mentioned that the student had been emancipated from foster care. Carter said, “Don’t do anything until I have an opportunity to talk to him.
“I know children in foster care struggle with a lot of pain they sometimes cannot articulate,” he said.
He invited Cory to meet with him, then decided that in order to win his trust they needed to spend some time together, so he invited Cory to dinner.
“He agreed, much to my surprise,” Carter said. “At dinner, I used all my experience from nurturing foster kids to get him to open up. I said if he allowed me to mentor him, I would not impose sanctions against him. He agreed. That was the beginning of a relationship.”
That was Cory’s freshman year. It was an up and down relationship. Carter said, “He continued to try me, to see how committed I was.” But each time he got into trouble, Carter asked people to be patient. While working with Cory, Carter began to conceptualize an educational program he had dreamed of that offered a network for young people emancipated from foster care. The Foster Village Network Center was born.
Then the elder Carter tore a ligament in his leg and needed Cory to drive him around. Their relationship deepened.
“The turning point was when my daughter met Cory,” said Carter. “She took an immediate interest in him. They got along quite well. I remember one evening talking to my daughter and she said, ‘Dad, he’s such a part of our family and I see him as the brother I always wanted. Why don’t we make it official?’”
Carter approached Cory with the idea, and Cory responded: “That’s what I’ve been dreaming about for some time.”
“I’m very delighted to have him as part of family,” said Carter, who hopes their story will encourage other parents to consider adopting adult children.
Today, Cory Carter is happy—even with $150,000 in school loans, he said, laughing.
His advice to other young people?
“Just because you don’t get treated a certain way, you don’t have to feel sorry for yourself. Don’t give up. People may say you are not going to make it in school, or in life or college. If I had listened, I would have never made it.”