My Journey: From Foster Care to Investment Banking

18 AUG 2020

Tiana Barnwell, an analyst in Goldman Sachs’ Investment Banking Division in Dallas, reflects on how her experience in foster care shaped her as a person and her commitment to increasing the number of students in foster care who go on to graduate from university programs. 

Growing up, everyone thought they knew me, but only a small group of people knew my story. After years of embarrassment and fear, I finally had the courage to tell it.

At the age of 14, I was molested in my own home. I was then placed into kinship care within my aunt’s home, separated from my sisters and mother. I could not help but believe that everything was my fault, and I spent my adolescence and early adult life wondering what I did wrong, why I couldn’t just get over it and heal.

I lost myself to my trauma, and during this dark period, I was oblivious to my goals. The New York Foundling, a New York City child welfare agency, stepped in and provided me with a life coach, a therapist and a tutor to ensure my success. The Foundling stepped in once more, paying for my full tuition at Spelman College, to make sure there was nothing in the way of my dream. 

It was during my senior year at Spelman that I had the opportunity to share my story with Essence, Good Morning America, NowThis, Closer Look With Rose Scott and the Find Your Voice podcast. In doing so, I began to release my trauma and heal, and it created a platform for me while also empowering other young people to reach out to share their stories.

I learned that only three percent of students in foster care graduate from four-year degree programs, and I want to ensure that number continues to rise. I don’t want to have this unique story while others continue to struggle and fall through the cracks.

This goal led me to create a book scholarship, LIFE: A Barnwell Book Scholarship, for students who are facing hardship, and a social media space, LIFE: Not According to Plan, for students to speak out and share their stories of life not going according to plan.

I also became involved with the Fair Futures Campaign to help increase the New York State budget for students in foster care to $50 million in order to provide coaching and tutoring services through the age of 26. The goal of the Fair Futures Coalition is to offer the support foster kids need, not only through high school and college, but also in terms of finding housing and navigating stages of adulthood that other youth have family to support them through. After moving to Texas, I joined Dallas CASA, becoming an advocate for children in the system. Most recently, I became a board member of At The Table, which connects high school and college students in New York City who have experienced foster care with long-term 1:1 tutors who double as mentors and skilled allies in navigating New York’s complex educational system. 

I challenge every individual reading this post to remember that you are working towards the life you are destined to have, to never lose sight of your goals, and to remember the importance of opening up and sharing your stories with others.

As we navigate the impact of COVID-19 and the persistence of racial injustice, sharing your story becomes even more important as many people do not have an outlet. Take this time to reach out, build new connections and extend a hand to volunteer virtually to those in need.