Stories of Professionals of Color at Compass
As our organization works to foster transparency, facilitate deeper conversations, and drive action toward creating a more equitable community, we’ve launched the Unfiltered series as an essential component of that mission. In this post, our C-Work case manager, Misha Cook was interviewed by our Parent Educator, Cecily Banks.
Misha is very goal-oriented, as you will learn she has had to become. She presents herself as an observant and attentive service provider. When she chooses to speak, it is with intention and purpose. She has beaten incredible odds and is present today as a flourishing community contributor and mentor to other youth with similar life paths.
Misha was raised as a “ward of the court” or in the foster care system almost from birth. Due to this experience, she began wanting to understand social systems better and help navigate people through them. Misha shares that she also saw the disadvantages that present themselves to young people without a natural family,. “I wanted to make a difference for others in the community as well.”
Misha grew up in a system that was not designed to help her succeed. As a foster child, her personal experience was full of change and transition. She was too often unseen and counted out regarding her education. She was identified as a “problem” child early and subjected to suspensions and expulsions from school. Misha did not have an advocate to guide and support her during these formative years.
“I remember in elementary school, noticing how my classmates and I were treated and how separations were made based on a child’s color or a family’s ability to be involved. Many of the children of color were sidelined and treated differently. My clothes weren’t the same; our home lives weren’t the same; I struggled with academics and had no ongoing positive support.”
Misha is one of six children born to her parents. Her mother has been in and out of her life, and she recently re-connected with one of her sisters. Misha never lived with her biological family. Misha shares, “Throughout the years, I began to see and understand the needs of others whose experiences were like mine; a youth or person of color, disconnected from family and community, and who needed help and support in life.” At some point in middle school, I began to teach myself things while I was home on a suspension or expulsion. My foster families did not take the time to make sure I was learning and keeping up academically. For much of my childhood, I used self-teaching to get by. I would seek out books and different ways to retain information.”
During her teen years, Misha met a therapist who was pivotal in her life. “This was one of the only people who invested time and interest in me,” she recalls. Misha remembers the positive words from this person advocating for her and pushing Misha to be her best self. “My therapist supported me in many ways, including listening to me, challenging me, helping me to see my positive character, and encouraging me to reach goals that seemed unreachable at that time. Today, I believe in the efficacy of therapy; it can help you work through challenging situations and places, enabling us to see into the future.”
When Misha successfully entered college, she began to be transformed by information and education. She began to look at the holes in our systems and the lack of support provided for students of color. Misha did struggle through her undergraduate years but came out on top and successfully graduated in 2016 from Cal State East Bay in Human Development. Through that experience, she has learned persistence and a DO NOT QUIT attitude.
I asked Misha what advice she would give her younger self. She paused as she thought this question through. The statements or mottos that came to mind were “I will be OK,” “I will have successes in my life,” and “Not everyone has the same situation.”
Misha said she would tell her younger self not to give up. “This connects to what I do now; I want to teach others how to use the resources available and navigate the social systems.” She goes on to proclaim,; “There is no shame in asking for support or help. Often people don’t get what they need because they don’t know how or whom to ask for help.”
Today Misha serves her community and all communities of SF with support for parents needing to continue their education or land a meaningful job. “I love working with clients and helping families find a path to sustainability. Statistically, only 2% of youth raised within the foster system are stable upon exit from this system. I plan to improve this statistic.
“Overall, I am grateful. Not just for the positive points and moments in my life but also for the challenges and moments I could not get up. They all have made me who I am today.”