As a former foster youth, Adrien Sebro overcame many hurdles to make it to college and succeed at UCLA. Now, while in pursuit of his Ph.D., he dedicates his time inspiring foster youth to look beyond their turbulent past and be uplifted by a promising, limitless future.
Why did you choose UCLA?
School has always been a safe haven for me. Many times I didn’t know where I was going to be sleeping after school. Going to college became a mission. UCLA has vast resources, amazing alumni and a deep history. As a foster youth, I sought a place where I can find myself and establish a home base which drew me to UCLA.
Were your first few years difficult?
I was immediately drawn to the Afrikan Student Union and had a position every year starting in my second year. I came to UCLA and tried to forget about my past. I didn’t want people to pity me or make me feel like I was less. Being able to take comfort from the fact that I’ve been in the foster system, drawing strength from my past and taking pride in who I am – all these things came about because of my time at UCLA.
What do you want people to know about foster youth?
I want people to simply know that we are here, and we’re not invisible. The chance of meeting someone who is a former foster youth is high. It takes a lot of strength for someone to identify themselves as a former foster youth. Even though we’ve had difficulties in our childhood, we are just as capable as any other student. Only 3% of foster youth finish college. It’s a struggle to open up about our past because of the abuse and neglect we’ve experienced.
What do you do currently?
I got my bachelor’s in Women’s Studies. Then I went to Columbia and got my master’s in African American Studies, and I am currently a Ph.D. candidate in Cinema and Media Studies in the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television. I’m also the program coordinator for the First Star UCLA Bruin Guardian Scholars Academy, helping mentor high school students who are in the foster system. At first, the program was about college readiness and now it’s more about life readiness.
I identify with these students, and I think they need someone who can guide them to take pride and develop self-confidence in themselves and their hardships. Being a part of this program helps these students open up much faster than if they didn’t go through it.
Recently I was asked to join the National Board of Directors for First Star, and I humbly accepted.
How do your friends describe you?
Busy. I’m always wearing different hats and I dedicate a lot of time to mentoring youth. I’m also strict. I am someone you can talk to if you are going through a tough time, but I hold people accountable and give constructive criticism. It all comes from a place of love.
Probably emotional. I can melt into tears if I get too emotional.
Ambitious. To me, it’s never enough. I’m always thinking about what I can improve for next time. A person that made time for me was my AVID teacher. I credit her, Kathy Deering, for starting me on this path.
What was your motivation to help make Bruin Guardian Scholars what it is today?
Honestly, realizing other people were foster youth. I got to UCLA and received an email about being a foster youth, and I just thought, “What is this? How do they know?” So many people would not identify themselves as a former foster youth on their college application. Opening up as a former foster youth is the reason why I have the amazing people in my life who have mentored and guided me. Janina Montero, Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs, has been like a second mother to me.
What’s your proudest moment so far?
Graduation day at UCLA. It was the first time in 5-6 years where my entire family was at one place at one time.
How did you go from Women’s Studies, to African American Studies and now to Cinema and Media Studies?
I’m focusing particularly on African American television and how they create identities with gender and race. I learned how media, and those in power, frame race and gender and how powerful the media machine can be. So all my past studies are co-existing.
What role did UCLA play in shaping who you are today?
UCLA placed me in a microcosm of people, success and a large network. People come all the time to UCLA—new visitors, new lecturers, new figures who have been around the world and have a story to tell. UCLA really encouraged me to tell a story. It acquainted me with people I’ve never been acquainted to before. I realized that I have control of my future and that I have access to resources and knowledge that will help me build a better future.
UCLA made me realize I should never take no for an answer and I realized that there will always be something that’s going to help me with the next step. There’s always someone I can call. It made me not afraid to ask questions.
Who are the most influential and inspirational people in your life?
I would definitely say my mother and my father. My parents are very different and opposite. My father is quiet and reserved and the hardest working person I know. My mother is very loud and active. My mother has the ability to be the light of the room. Her character is huge. Seeing the struggle she went through, getting all her children back and now she’s 10 years sober – that’s amazing. Seeing what both my parents were willing to put on the line for their children and struggle through taught me that living a selfless life is a more rewarding one.