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Berkeley Writer Recounts Foster Care Horrors

By SUSAN PARKER Special to the Planet
Tuesday January 13, 2004

“If somebody was to ask me how I came to be here, I swear b’fore God that I wouldn’t know what to say to ‘em. My whole life, I always wanted to be able to hear stories ‘bout how I came into the world a wanted and special child. But the folks I lived with told stories, ‘bout my mama that wasn’t meant for children’s ears. Truth be told, seemed like nobody could even dig up a idea of how I got inside my mama, let alone what happened afterwards. Since no one was gonna tell me what I wanted to hear, I let myself believe that God had gave me a mouth and mind of my own to do what I seen fit…” 

Thus begins Berkeley writer and resident Regina Louise’s stunning memoir Somebody’s Someone, the story of her harrowing passage from Texas to California through the foster care system. Lucky for us, and for the thousands of foster children she represents, Regina does say what’s on her mind, in a writing and speaking voice that is genuine, colorful, and inspiring.  

At first glance I thought that Regina’s book might be the black female version of David Pelzer’s lurid A Child Named “It.” But thankfully, it’s not anything like the over-the-top sensationalized Pelzer’s series. Although sometimes shocking, Regina’s prose is full of pure, raw lyricism. Foster child Lula Mae is “…more ornery than a tick full of turpentine.” Another foster child, Donna Janine “…could steal you blind faster than you could smell a roadrunner’s fart.” Aunt Carlene got her name because “…her forehead was so big you could lean a car into it…” And half-brother Dennis “…kept a secret like a baby who ate Ex-Lax kept her bowels.” 

When Regina describes, in her child voice, her frustrations at not being wanted, it is gut wrenching. “Miss Matthews said that my well-being was b’tween my daddy and mama; they was the ones that I belonged to. But I knowed better; what was b’tween them was what got me into this mess in the first place… What would make somebody want to throw out they own flesh and blood and not even think two times ‘bout it? Why do folks go round having babies they don’t even have a mind to keep in the first place? What did I do to make this be?” 

I caught up with Regina at Keter, her wildly successful hair salon on Berkeley’s fashionable Fourth Street. As we walked over to O’ Chame for lunch, Regina explained that keter is the Hebrew word describing where the soul enters and leaves the top of the head. It’s a wonderfully metaphoric name for a place of business that is full of energy emanating from its spirited, remarkable owner.  

Over heirloom tomato salad and sea scallops on a bed of radicchio, Regina told me about her extraordinary journey from foster care, to motherhood, entrepreneurship and writing. “What I really want to do,” she said sipping her special—ordered Honeybush tea, “is to talk to people about foster care and make changes. There are over 632,000 kids in the system at any given time and each year 20,000 18-year olds get turned out without a parachute. There’s a 52 percent failure rate. These kids end up back in the system, incarcerated, on welfare, or doin’ drugs out on the street. I know, because I’ve been there.”  

Regina doesn’t just talk the talk. She’s got speaking engagements lined up all over the country, at Big Brother and Big Sister conferences, the National Foster Parent Association convention, the CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) organization, and the Celebrity Philanthropic Initiative which includes the Magic Johnson Foundation, the Bruce Willis Foundation, the Rowell Foster Children’s Positive Plan and many others.  

But raising a son, running a business and giving speeches are only part of her big plan. “I’ve got to get moving, girl,” she said to me. “I’ve got a two-book contract and the next one is due soon.” 

“What’s the second book about?” I asked. 

“It’s about finding my momma after 24 years. Not my real momma, but the woman who wanted to adopt me when I was fourteen. She wasn’t able to because she was white and single and back then the authorities didn’t want black children going to anyone who was single or white.” 

“Where is she?” I asked. 

“Alabama,” shouted Regina, “and she wants to adopt me now! Can you believe that? Forty years old and I’ve finally got my momma!” 

“Congratulations,” I said. We beamed at one another. There wasn’t much left to say. Regina has found what she’s been searching for since she was a small child. 

“What should I do about my hair?” I asked. 

Regina didn’t miss a beat. “Cut it all off, honey. You need to start over.”  

Like she says, Regina Louise doesn’t have any trouble speaking her mind. 

Regina Louise has founded The Esther Collins Memorial Children’s Foundation for Literacy. For more information about this program or to learn the locations and dates of her next speaking engagements contact Regina through her website at 

Somebody’s Someone, A Memoir, by Regina Louise, Warner Books, 367 pages, $23.95.