Editor’s Note: After surviving more than a decade of her youth on the streets Trai Williams has become an important voice for change through the Mockingbird Society’s Youth Advocates Ending Homelessness program, which the Raikes Foundation supports as a grantee. As her official tenure with the program came to a close last month, she had the opportunity to reflect on her journey and share it with thousands on stage at We Day Seattle.
Since I was a little girl I have always had a big heart, a knack for helping others. Whether it was giving kids my lunch, protecting them against bullies even though I would get bullied too, sneaking kids in my room so they didn’t have to sleep outside, or coming out to my school so that other kids would no longer be the target. I could never just sit by and do nothing! My heart wouldn’t allow it.
As I got older I lost sight of that. At 13 years old I became homeless; not only did I want help, I NEEDED it. Yet—no one was there!
As I started to live my life on the streets, I continued to help people, and I expected them to help me in return. Instead, I got the complete opposite. I was bullied more, abused more, neglected, manipulated, assaulted, and abandoned more. I gave up and let people lock my heart and melt the key. I became a monster—something that I hoped never would happen because I expected something from people that they were not obligated to give me. It made me look at the world differently.
I assumed that everyone was the same, so I treated everyone as such. I decided that I would only care about myself and things that benefited me. I became a ruthless, resilient homeless youth, like most youth become after being homeless for so long.
All I ever wanted was for someone to love me for me! It wasn’t until eight years later that I got what I had asked for. I met an entire family that loved me for me, and truly wanted to help and be there anyway that they could.
Two years later I got involved with an organization called The Mockingbird Society, an advocacy-based organization that teaches youth and young adults to be their own best advocates by using their voice. This was the next step that would change my life forever.
I have always loved talking or speaking with others. It is a hidden passion, I guess you could say! They worked with me, stayed on top of me, showed me they truly cared, and motivated me to become the person I used to be.
Through speaking about my personal experience, sharing my emotions and feelings, I started to see the old me, and started to feel and love again. I started to trust again and see that there are people who want to help and there are people who still need my help and my big heart.
I thought that I should continue to help people. There are hundreds of millions of people in the world that still need someone who will never give up, who will support, protect, and fight for their rights.
Being a speaker at We Day reassured me that I am doing the right thing. I have never heard of an event like this. So many youth, adults, leaders, and celebrities inspiring the world to go from ME TO WE. So many kids changing the world one step at a time.
It was beyond inspirational to see how kids as young as 12 years old changed the world in their own special ways. From surviving HIV, 15 surgeries, being 16 years old and breaking world records, or being the first African American female astronaut.
We Day taught me to never give up and never give in. It doesn’t matter how sick, how short, or how old you are; anyone can make a difference. It was the icing on the cake that brought the younger Trai out of me! That night I laid in my bed making a promise to myself and my mother that no matter what obstacles may get in my way or what someone may say to bring me down, I will stop thinking about ME and I will change the world by speaking about WE!