Vickie Braxton yawned when she saw “The Blind Side.” Been there, done that. Over a ten year period, Braxton’s family grew from four to 12 as she added eight high school students. Some were gang members, some were drug dealers, and some were both. Today those seven boys and one girl, all thriving, still call her “Ma.” And every single one of them helps kids now.
Braxton didn’t plan to become a de facto foster mom. As the school coordinator and a part-time advisor for Super Leaders, Braxton help start tutoring programs at Anacostia and Ballou High Schools as part of the Super Leaders program. She noticed that most of the kids were stellar athletes and had the potential to excel academically, if they would only show up for class. The kids had fallen through the cracks, she said. Most were in some sort of foster care or living on their own, and some had never met their social worker. One was dealing drugs to provide for his younger siblings.
As an incentive to motivate her students to study, Braxton offered to take them to her large, suburban home on Sunday afternoons for study-group, a home-cooked dinner and a movie.
Charles Reid was the first student Braxton brought home. Soon afterward, Reid asked if one of his friends could tag along. And pretty soon Braxton’s home, which she shared with her husband, son and daughter, was overrun with teenagers from the District.
Though the trip was 30 miles at most, it was a whole new universe for the students and not without its challenges. Braxton’s rules of no guns, no drugs, and no fighting were a contrast to the rules of the street that the kids had learned in order to survive. Not surprisingly, they reacted with shock, disbelief and arguments but her tough love approach prevailed. “They became disciplined and learned how to follow rules,” she said.
The weekend guests stayed with Braxton’s family for longer and longer periods of time until, gradually, they were all living in her Sterling home. Braxton never took formal steps to foster or adopt them, explaining that most of the kids had either absent parents or were already living on their own. And while her home is now mostly her own again, each of her new family stays in continual touch with her. She’s guaranteed a visitor or two each weekend to meet a new girlfriend, talk or drop in for dinner.
Braxton is proud of the accomplishments of her extended family. Reid, the first son in her extended family, won an Abe Pollin scholarship for $10,000 during his senior year of high school for his leadership abilities. He’s now a high school counselor in Richmond and the manager of two group homes. Another of Reid’s “brothers” and his “sister” have college degrees, and four others are a police officer, a chef, a firefighter and an award-winning manager of GameStop.
Most of all, Braxton is proud of how each of her kids have paid it forward. “The most important thing that they’ve done is give back, and all of them work at group homes, are athletic coaches for community teams or are counselors in high schools now. All eight of the children who lived with me are working with other kids on some level.”
Jane Hess Collins is a retired Air Force colonel who writes to inspire people to contribute. She is also a public speaker, conducts workshops for clients to discover their most intrinsic way to serve, and has established game nights for at-risk families throughout the country. You can contact her at www.getoutandgiveback.com.