Justin Mercado

Justin Mercado

I’m Justin Mercado and I’m 23. I’m stoic, reserved, I don’t have many words to say. I’m about helping people out, encouraging them.  Fixing a broken world.

I was in foster care when I was young, and I spent years in the shelter system with my family until I was 18. Going into the shelter was my introduction to Brooklyn–violence and ignorance. I’m from Queens. Some of the neighbors in the shelter thought we were boujee, because we weren’t talking or we’re not engaging in the activities that they had going on outside the door. It was on the first floor, the worst floor. I wasn’t going to try to antagonize anyone into doing something or saying something. You’re at risk of getting shot.

The shelter system that’s meant to house, protect and save someone from adversity, but then it turns around and just gives false hope. That’s what it was. Like a dream deferred.

I got out and went to college upstate. But, it was a “sun-down” town – a divided, racist place. I was alone.  I stayed there by myself. Given the political climate upstate, the pandemic, and everything, it was a lot harder than I thought. My mental health got to the point that I was on the brink of self destruction. I developed massive anger issues, which I had to deal with on my own, since I couldn’t really go to my family with that. Everybody had their own thing going on. Just a lot of seclusion, a lot of avoidance, a lot of just being by myself.

I wish I could have told my moms what was going on. I wish I could have told my family overall. Just like, “this is not what I came out of here for. I kind of want to give up. I’m feeling real bad mentally.” I didn’t have anyone then, just a lack of understanding. It was like I was in a twilight zone. So it’s just me, myself, and I and my thoughts, trying to survive.

But I’m still here. I survived.

I did that for a year, and then I came home to live with my mom and sister in an apartment in Brooklyn.  I want to say it’s better, but I don’t want to say it’s coming with its challenges day to day. I want to help my family the best I can. I’m just doing what I can, doing good things, doing big things. I’m out of college, I’m out here working in a real estate firm right now. So I’m trying to find a better way for myself but also help them along the way. I find that when I’m alone or just away from them I can help them better, financially. Everybody needs finances.

At this point in time, I’m very much stable. I’m easy going right now. I’m just relaxed. Maybe it’s because I’m at work. When I go home I’m always uneasy. Given that I live in Brownsville, it’s very violent, very aggressive, almost 24-7. It’s not even outside. It’s also inside the building where I live. I have to navigate those people. When the conflict’s outside, then of course the police are outside.

I have to come in and help out my mom and my sister out of nowhere while  I’m trying to help myself out too. It’s just a constant cycle of being stagnant. One step forward, then two steps back. We are living there because we’re waiting on lottery apartments. But, me personally, I’m not going to wait. I’m going to work towards something so I can get out.

I haven’t lived where I have peace and for a long time.  I don’t think I’ve ever had peace, to be honest. It’s a foreign thing to me – kind of my dream, when I’m at work. But at the end of the day I always have to go back to a nightmare that my family is in.

Finding peace would definitely be peace of mind, having somebody to be with so I could just actually dedicate myself to a relationship.

I also want to be present – in a nice area, where events take place, festivals, a block party.  Without the gun shots, no mass police presence – just quiet people.

I’m proud of the impact that I’ve had on others, especially some of the youth that I mentored. I taught a lot of students. I made a great impact on some young black men’s lives. They’re doing great. And I can say I did a good thing and I’m still here. For those of us who have survived systems like foster care and the shelter system, we have to find peace, find happiness, and grow.  Don’t let those experiences be you – that’s not all you are.

Each year, about 1,000 youth age out of foster care across New York State.  As many as one-third of youth who age out of foster care experience homelessness, and many more experience unstable housing arrangements.

This was part of my own experience with the child welfare and homeless systems in New York City.

What me and my family experienced should not happen to anyone.

That’s why I am part of YouthNPower: Transforming Care.