Los Angeles, Calif. – Tamika Quillard, who was born and raised in Baltimore, and now lives in southern California, believes in the mission of Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc. In fact, for her, it’s personal.
YAP is a national nonprofit in 31 states and Washington, DC that partners with youth justice, child welfare and other systems to provide services in communities instead of placing young people in institutions like jail or congregate treatment or group homes. YAP Advocates and other frontline staff are trained to help program participants see their strengths while connecting them and their families with tools to firm their family foundation.
Quillard said from age 7 to 12, she was placed in foster care when her mother was confronted with complex challenges and felt it would be best for their wellbeing.
Quillard says, the family she lived with had a lot of good structure, but that she was one of seven children in the care of the couple who were in their 60s.
By the time Quillard and her brother returned home, her mother had remarried and had other children. She has no ill-will toward her mother for taking care of her health, safety, and stability.
“I’m not upset at my mom for taking care of her wellbeing at the time; in fact, now that I’m a mother, I realize how important a mother’s mental health is,” she added. “The daily challenges that most mothers of color have to go through is daunting. All of us really, not just mothers.”
Quillard, who leads YAP’s social media efforts, says if the nonprofit was available to her family when she was a child, perhaps an Advocate could have provided her family with some wraparound services so that she and her brother could have remained at home.
“There was a YAP then, but she just happened to be the caring mother who lived down the street,” Quillard said referring to neighbors looking out for kids in earlier years. “That sense of community doesn’t exist anymore, but YAP fills that hole. In the 70s and 80s, neighbors would say ‘I’m taking all the kids on the block fishing.’ It takes a YAP Advocate to do that now. YAP picks up where those earlier caring neighbors left off.”
An early stand out for drawing and design skills, Quillard auditioned and was accepted into the prestigious Baltimore School for the Arts alongside stars Jada Pinkett and Tupac before continuing her education at Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia, the only undergraduate women’s private art and design school in the U.S. After graduation she landed a job at Black Entertainment Television (BET) in Washington, D.C., where she worked for seven years. She then relocated to Los Angeles and freelanced with the cable television network for another 10 years.
A mother of two, Quillard’s childhood is an example of why working at a place with a mission to help young people and their families is imperative to her. She said it has been a lifelong goal to change the narrative about foster youth and youth involved in the justice system because they are valuable, and they matter.
“My childhood used to be a source of shame and embarrassment, but now it is a source of inspiration and endurance,” she added. “Because of my lived experience, I feel like I know exactly where the head of these kids are. You’re always 50 percent desperate for stability, 25 percent hopeful and another 25 percent responsible about doing what you got to do. Our childhoods are a short moment of time in our lives. How and where we are born doesn’t dictate where you are going.”
Learn how you can join the YAP team or support the nonprofit’s mission at www.YAPInc.org. Follow the organization on Twitter @YAPInc.