JHS student overcomes challenges on road to graduation

May 10—A soon-to-be Joplin High School graduate overcame a series of challenges growing up, including homelessness, but said he is now ready to step into his future.

Though Demarcus Shaw will not have his natural family watching him walk across the graduation stage May 19, he said he is grateful for relationships he has built that will be enough to launch him into the next phase of his life.

Shaw, 18, was born in Poplar Bluff.

"Immediately after birth, I was kept in the hospital. ... I was immediately put into foster care," Shaw said.

Until he was about 4 years old, he said he was shuttled around to 18 different foster homes.

He landed with a family that moved to Joplin and was a foster child for about two years when they adopted him. That relationship was severed, he said, because he said he suffered from an inability to nurture relationships and behave.

"I was a very ignorant kid. I took them for granted. In order to hide all my emotions, I would take it out on them ... I tore them down and took every goodwill out of them. They ended up eventually putting me back in foster care because they couldn't take it anymore."

He learned later there was a reason for that failure.

"I was diagnosed with something called RAD — it's a real thing. It's called reactive attachment disorder."

That condition prevents a child from forming healthy relationships with people, including parents and other family. It can stem from emotional neglect or abuse at an early age, and causes children to have trouble managing their emotions.

"You basically lose the ability to love and not show emotions that most people feel. That was the main reason I was never able to truly connect with them."

Shaw today said he lives with regret for the loss of that relationship, saying that family was good to him but RAD caused him to push them away.

At 9 years old, he was put back in foster care and later sent to live as a foster child with another area family.

"I had been to 21 different foster homes at that point."

"It was my second adoption, and I was never able to truly connect with them," he said. "We never got along well. It just didn't work out."

He got in a disagreement with the foster parents. He left the family and was homeless for several months. Then some friends and their families got him off the streets, allowing him to live with them.

"They helped me get a job, get back in school and get going again. They were great people who did a lot for me."

At age 17, he thought he was emancipated from foster care, but it turned out the law had changed and he was supposed to be in the custody of a foster family until age 18.

"But I was able to work things out," he said. He got a job, not knowing that he was supposed to receive a state payment toward his expenses. He was finally able to get those monthly benefits that helped him become independent. With the help of friends, he was able to get a small apartment.

Shaw said he has good grades in school, which enabled him to be in the A+ program that would have helped fund college. But he had an accident that caused him to be hospitalized and required surgery. That kept him out of school temporarily, which he said knocked him out of the A+ program.

Despite that, he still has plans to attend Missouri Southern State University with financial aid he hopes to get to help fund college.

Shaw said he is grateful for those who have helped him, including his friends, his boss at the Dollar General store where he works, his coach and others on the faculty and staff.

What would he say to children who are without their natural parents or in foster care?

"If they are struggling like me, behaviorwise, and struggling to accept a family, I would say that 'You don't know what you miss in life until it's already gone. You need to take a step back and think about what really matters and who really matters. Give your family a shot. You don't want to take the path I did.'"