Sherrelle Jackson, LCSW
Oregon Department of Human Services District Manager, Multnomah County/District 2
When I was little (around age 2 to 12 years old) I lived in a big group with a bunch of other kids and adults that I later learned was a commune. While there, I was separated from my mom and dad. I was forced to work out everyday and as a form of discipline I was beaten with belts, paddles or straps that sharpen razors until I bruised, got welts, or bled. I wasn’t able to go to school. One night, I had to watch a peer get murdered as a form of punishment. She was 8 years old. This event is what landed me in foster care. Because there were so many of us to put in foster care, they ran out of foster homes. Until they could locate a foster home for me I was placed in Hillcrest Correctional Facility for youth.
While there, they had a psychologist evaluate me. That psychologist wrote in his report that because of what I went through I would likely not be able to make it in public school, I would suffer from low self-esteem, and most likely would fail academically and socially. This began my foster care trajectory.
I started school in the 7th grade in Salem, Oregon and graduated 8th grade at Beaumont Middle School in Portland, Oregon. Because I didn't grow up going to school I didn't know at first how to acclimate. I didn't know the cultural and environmental expectations of the school system. So I had to watch people. I learned basic things like you put your things in a locker so you didn't have to carry them all day. I learned you raise your hand to answer questions. I learned what a report card was. I learned what grades were. It was hard. But I also learned other things. It was the first time I’d ever heard the "N" word when my white peer yelled it at me. In high school I had a teacher call me the “B” word in a class where I was the only girl.
But some of my teachers encouraged me. They believed in me. And their support and belief in me helped me to believe in myself. Some of the other kids who grew up in my commune didn't have that. And because of how hard our transition was, and all of the adversity we continually faced, without feeling supported, some of them committed suicide. This hurt me. I lost close friends. I decided, despite what the psychologist said, that one day I would be in a position to understand people, behavior, and the psychology behind not only why people hurt people, but also how hurt people can learn to heal. So I got my degree in Psychology. I also decided to get in a position where I could help other kids who've been abused or hurt or were in foster care, so I got my Master’s degree in Social Work. And ultimately, I decided to put myself in a position to train professionals on how to work with kids who looked like me, who've been through trauma, and teach them how to see these kids as kids of promise, not statistics, so I got my license in clinical social work.
When people called me defiant, oppositional and resistant, I dismissed their labels. Instead, I chose to accept that I was strong, determined, and unintimidated. When people called me aggressive, I dismissed it. Instead I realized I wasn't afraid to use my voice and be my own advocate. When people called me intimidating, instead I understood that I was unbothered by their agendas. This was how I coped. This was me being resilient. And because of that, by the grace of God, despite what I had been through, I defied the systems expectations of me. And as a result, even though I didn't start school till the end of 7th grade year, I stayed on honor roll even through high school, was selected as the Grant High School Rose Festival Princess and graduated high school with 4 scholarships including a full ride scholarship to college. After I graduated with my undergraduate degree, I got a second full ride scholarship for my Masters program. I was hired by Multnomah County at the age of 23. At age 29, I was the youngest person to be hired on my management team as a clinical program supervisor. And by age 33, in my division, I was the youngest to be hired as a program manager. I was with the county for almost 20 years, until November 2018 when I became the District Manager for the Oregon Department of Human Services overseeing Self-Sufficiency and Child Welfare Services in Multnomah County.
Motivational verses I’ve leaned on for years to help me push through adversity have been:
"We are more than conquerors through Him that loved us" - Romans 8:37
"We are fearfully and wonderfully made" - Psalm 139:14
"For I know the plans I have for you says the Lord, not to harm you but to prosper you, plans to give you hope and a future" - Jeremiah 29:11
I Rock because I didn't become a statistic. I beat the system. It didn't define me. I Rock because I'm resilient. I use my voice for social justice. I rock because I am dedicated to empowering young girls and women to be their amazing selves because they rock. And, I rock because I learned the power of forgiveness.