OTR Interviews

From Foster Child to Lawyer

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," May 10, 2010. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: You are about to meet one of the most inspiring men in this country. Jelani Freeman is a former foster child whose life took him through six foster homes to working in the office of then-Senator Hillary Clinton to law school at Howard University, and now against all odds, with all that in his past, he has graduated from law school.

Jelani Freeman joins us now. One of the great things about my job, Jelani, is I read that story in the "Washington Post" about you, and I thought I have to meet this guy. You started off in foster home at age eight. What happened?

JELANI FREEMAN, FORMER FOSTER CHILD: Age eight, I came home one day, and I sort of knew something was going on with my mom. I didn't know what it was. I knew I was doing things most kids shouldn't in terms of taking care of the home. I came home and waited and waited and she never came home that evening.

VAN SUSTEREN: Your father was where?

FREEMAN: I never met my father.

VAN SUSTEREN: Wasn't he in prison?

FREEMAN: Yes. My father was in prison.

VAN SUSTEREN: Still haven't met him?

FREEMAN: Still haven't met him.

VAN SUSTEREN: After your mother doesn't show up, what happened?

FREEMAN: A social worker showed up the next day. And then I was off to my first placement.

VAN SUSTEREN: How was that?

FREEMAN: The first placement wasn't all that great. I had a foster mother who I think she knew it was temporary, so she barely talked to me. It was more just like business like dinner is ready and then that was it.


FREEMAN: A bit. But I was more concerned about my mom, because at that point I had been sort of taking care of her, cooking dinner, cleaning, handling mostly everything. So I wondered how she was doing a lot.

VAN SUSTEREN: Then you get bounced to another foster home.


VAN SUSTEREN: What happened there?

FREEMAN: Next foster home I went to wasn't all that great either. There were times that they would take their own kids to the circus and other places and have fun, and, you know, they would leave me at home. So that didn't feel all that great.

But during all this time, my main focus was sort of just to somehow get back to my mom even though I knew that was very unlikely.

VAN SUSTEREN: So how do you go from that beginning to law school? With what changed everything? How do you do that?

FREEMAN: I had so many people throughout my life that helped. It really started later in high school when I was part of this program and I worked at Xerox part-time afterschool, had a mentor. My mentor, Jackie Booker, took me by the collar and said I'm not going to give up on you. You are going to college that was the beginning.

And that was the beginning of my life.

VAN SUSTEREN: You brought a "Time" magazine cover. Why did you bring that? Hold it up.

FREEMAN: I think this was the point where I begin to understand that it was sort of a duty of mine to make a change. I was in college. I was shopping for groceries. And I ran across this cover. It amazed me, because I was like, why does "Time" magazine have something on foster care? I didn't think anybody cared about foster care.

And the horrific stories in here about kids being abused by their foster parents and their own parents and kids being homeless after aging out of the system, it touched me. It showed me that I couldn't just leave behind the system. I needed to come back and help.

VAN SUSTEREN: One point -- after one of your foster mothers died you end up with your sister who throws you out when you turned 18. Why? Is it because she couldn't get any more money?

FREEMAN: No, it wasn't quite like that. My family, it was hard. We came from a broken family, and my sister did the best she can. And it was just sort of like at 18 I knew I had to do something with my life. I couldn't stay around.

VAN SUSTEREN: You have done something that is so extraordinary when I read -- I actually posted the article on GretaWire.com so people can read it. So let's go to the happy news, you just graduated, congratulations. You are going to take the bar?

FREEMAN: I'm going to take the New York bar this summer. Looking to pass it the first time and not do it again.


So, I'm excited. I'm excited about what is next, my future.

VAN SUSTEREN: You don't have a job, but you are looking for a job?

FREEMAN: I'm looking for a job.

VAN SUSTEREN: If anybody wants to hire a soon to be lawyer who has shown more endurance than anybody I've met. It is an extraordinary story, Jelani, and against all odds, you made it.

FREEMAN: Thank you so much, Greta.

VAN SUSTEREN: Good luck.

FREEMAN: Thank you.

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