(As Seen On Ventures Africa: See Original Post written by Cynthia Okoroafor)
An inspirational video shared by a young African-American man, Tyrone Obaseki on Facebook is generating a lot of buzz on social media and provoking social discourse due to the overwhelming content of his story. In the video, Tyrone, a native of Houston, Texas is properly suited up, holds up plain white paper after paper with written details of his experience as a foster child who underwent a myriad of traumatising stages involving physical, sexual, mental, and psychological abuse but scaled through them to become a counsellor and a motivational speaker.
Only a “heart of stone” would not have bled while watching the almost six-minute-long video. Particularly if it was digesting the words that vividly describe the horror which used to be the life of the pleasant-looking, brave young man who penned down the summary in black ink. And the viral video which currently has over six million views is the “G-rated version”, according to a post on Tyrone’s Facebook page.
Tyrone gives the full details of his story in his recently completed memoir “18 Years a Slave: Ward of the State”, following which he now has two requests; that a Hollywood production studio snatch his story up and turn it into a movie, and a book editor helps him get published. This is because his aim is not only to document his story but enlighten the general public about the ills of the American foster care system and its effects on children.
Another benefit Tyrone hopes would come of a movie is that other “wards of the state” – past or present – are motivated to overcome the usually corrupt and destructive Child Protective Services (CPS) system by having goals and dreams and striving to achieve them. Just as he did. Tyrone credits finding Jesus at a young age for being able to persevere and become the man that he is today. And he is positive that his faith would take him even further in achieving the next phase of his goals which is a movie and book deal.
It’s not difficult to visualize Tyrone Obaseki’s compelling drama on the silver screen or in a book and imagine the poignant emotions that would accompany any of those scenarios. Imagining him struggle through psychophysiological trauma, constructing coherent speeches, trying to appear ‘normal’ in order to survive one day without multiple instances of abuse and bullying, with only his determination and his faith to cushion him.
Emotions such as sympathy, anger, hopelessness, despair, hope, and joy would ooze and blend as the thought of a helpless little boy regularly beaten, sexually assaulted, and mostly drugged out of his mind consumes the audience. All without being able to truly imagine how exactly young Tyrone felt all those years. More so if you are not one of the many that can, unfortunately, identify with his story because this is currently their case, or because just like Tyrone they managed to survive out of sheer willpower.
But beyond an expose of the inhumane activities that go on in the harsh world of foster care, a movie or a book would assist in reaching the people who do not fully comprehend the implications of being exposed to such a toxic upbringing due to the fact that it is not an everyday reality in their environment. And these people might never come across Tyrone Obaseki’s posts on social media.
Hence, this is one area where the influential and multifunctional film industry Hollywood certainly comes in. The Nigerian society, for instance, is one that is not yet properly acquainted with the foster care system, even though the practice is quite common in the western part of Africa. Therefore, the likely levels of abuse that children in this system might be undergoing are probably not part of a conscious or established thought in the mind of a Nigerian.
As Tyrone repeatedly notes on his Facebook page, films such as Antwone Fisher and The Blind Side were produced to primarily promote a social awareness stemming from the inspiring stories of triumphant individuals such as himself. Those films went on to make the murmurings of a handful of people more audible and start discussions that invoke a much needed social reaction.
Presently, stories such as Tyrone’s has seen lawmakers in the state of Texas move to scrutinize the foster care system in the state and seek for ways to fix it come 2017. Thus, either as a gripping film production or literary publication, the multitude of issues raised by Tyrone’s viral video make for a legitimate reason it needs to be told.
Child abuse and corruption in the foster homes.
Tyrone was taken to a group home as a two-month-old baby, and his experience growing up in the home was characterized by various forms of abuse, of which severe physical abuse was one of them. As a child, Tyrone was “beaten by group home staff, restrained, body slammed on tile floors, thrown outside at night, and treated like a wild animal.”
According to Tyrone In an interview with Psychetruth, “it felt like death for a staff member to body slam you to make sure that you’re manageable.”, and any little behavior that he displayed was penned down to him exhibiting bipolar and schizophrenic tendencies. He also recounts instances where children’s arms and shoulder blades were broken, while some died due to asphyxiation.
Another issue that young Tyrone had to deal with was excessive drugging and overmedicating by the staff. He was given pills three times a day in one home. Eventually, he would be written off as mentally retarded by mental health care professionals. This caused further problems for Tyrone.
Improper mental diagnosis and the toxicity of the numerous pills combined to inflict untold psychophysiological trauma on Tyrone as a child. At the age of eight, he was already placed in two psychiatric hospitals. In these hospitals, he was tied to boards in straitjackets, left screaming for hours, and regularly sedated because he refused to take meds that he didn’t need.
The traumatic effects of the abuse and drugs would cause Tyrone to become a victim of bullying in high school because he “looked funny and stuttered really badly”. Also, his foster parents when he was 11 (and supposedly “Christian”) subjected him to even more abuse, calling him a “retarded nigga” and “chemically imbalanced”.
Sexual abuse was also very much a part of the equation. On one occasion when Tyrone was six and leaving in an orphanage, a staff member asked him to perform oral sex on him. Sexual abuse was so prevalent in these homes that a common sight at night was children performing sexual acts on each other.
Overcoming the horror.
At the end of the video, Tyrone is smiling. He writes that he now provides counseling to children, drug addicts, and sex offenders as a seasoned professional. His faith and determination coupled with hope and confidence helped him scrub off the stigma of being labeled retarded and schizophrenic that was smeared on him during his childhood and teenage years.
And so, Tyrone wants foster kids to know that they can do the same. That they can shake off the chains from their past and make it if they set their mind to it. In Tyrone’s case, he knew that he wanted to be educated from a young age and go ahead to publish a book one day, even when he was homeless and at his lowest points.
The story of Tyrone’s triumph over a system that seemed determined to demoralize him and keep him that way is already gaining popularity with social media users. Friends and commenters on his Facebook page are showing their support for Tyrone’s ‘Hollywood mission’, and a film studio even offered to produce his movie.
Perhaps the film industry would feel the same way soon and Tyrone’s story would be the next ‘based on true events” blockbuster to hit our screens.