From the outside, Derek Clark’s life looks perfect — a successful motivational speaker, foster care speaker and expert, foster care Ambassador, inspirational author and singer/songwriter with a dedicated wife, four children and so much more. But what hides behind the success and perfect facade, are scars that mark his body and a harsh past of abuse, neglect, hurt and despair. Derek’s journey has been fraught with difficulty and challenges, but the message he shares with others is filled with hope and inspiration. Derek experienced abuse even before he was born when his father physically abused his mother and tried to kill Derek in the womb during her pregnancy. Derek first suffered child abuse from his father, then later on, his step father and mother. Though the child abuse ranged from emotional, physical and verbal, one particular incident stands out in Derek’s mind. In a fit of rage, his mother grabbed him and took him to the bathroom, turned on the hot water and proceeded to hold his hand under the water until it burned and scarred his hand. She literally burned the skin off of his hand. “Not only did burn my hand but she burned it into my heart and soul that I was a bad kid,” Derek said.
That child abuse came at a price for Derek. Kicked out of kindergarten, Derek entered the foster care system at age 5 when he was admitted by his family to a psychiatric unit at a California hospital. “I had major behavioral problems,” Derek said. “I was a tough little kid, but I was scared.” There, Derek would be abandoned by his family and receive numerous labels, including mentally handicapped. Derek bounced through a few foster homes before finally landing in a temporary placement with a foster family living on a small farm. The first trial week in the home turned into a life changing experience for Derek, who was enamored by the animals. What that foster family provided for Derek was stability, love and the consistency he needed to begin pulling out of the dark predicament created by his early childhood. Even though his foster parents, both teachers stuck by him, Derek continued to be a difficult child. “I was the terror of this little farm neighborhood,” Derek said.
Derek frequently beat up other children and continued to struggle in school. But what his family showed him was the determination to stick by him, offering him tough love. After harming another neighborhood child, Derek’s foster dad gave him a new task: shoveling manure. “If he’s going to shovel out crap to people, we’re going to make him shovel it,” Derek said he remembers his father saying. Derek credits that dirty, distasteful job with teaching him a solid work ethic as well as an outlet to release his anger. Though his anger continued to overwhelm him and the only way he could release it was through fighting, he also began rapping to express himself.
It was during this time that Derek, who was a teenager now, also experienced a series of devastating losses. First, he attempted to contact his biological older sister who he learned was married and had two kids. But, after exchanging letters, Derek never heard from her again. Months later, he found out she had been murdered on Mother’s Day. “I was completely devastated,” Derek said. And just a few months later Derek’s foster brother and mentor was killed in an accident, directly followed by the death of another close friend. “I was mad and upset at God and my foster parents and the world,” Derek said. “I was so angry. It became a very violent episode and I was expelled as a senior.” Coinciding with all of those difficulties was his upcoming emancipation from foster care.
But a three-day counseling course on how to deal with the past and anger began to turn the tide for Derek. During the course, Derek was encouraged to display his anger and was antagonized by the counselors to the point of exploding. But at that point, the counselors shifted gears and began complimenting Derek instead. “They go . . . ‘no, no, Derek, we believe in you. You’re a great person,’” Derek said. Hearing those words, he was finally able to recognize his value as a person and release some of the anger he felt in being abandoned by his biological family and the hurt and loss he felt over the deaths of some of the most important people in his life. “My life transformed in those three days, they saw something great in me that I couldn’t see in myself” Derek said. Those three days also created in him a drive to overcome and grow as a person. First, he was reinstated to high school and worked diligently to graduate with his classmates.
After graduating, his foster parents allowed him to stay on as he attempted to launch a career rapping. For the next few years, Derek worked menial jobs and stayed with his foster family trying to find his place in the world. “I didn’t know where I was going to go,” Derek said. “I was very fortunate that they kept me and I have a very deep appreciation for them now.”
Then, at age 23, Derek met a woman who would change his life. Previously, Derek had been in a series of relationships, but always had a difficult time settling down with one person. “I had a major trust issue with girls because of my mom,” Derek said. But Joy was different. She offered unconditional, trusting love. In the years since, Derek has become a husband to Joy and father of four, as well as a successful businessman.
With the help of counseling, EMDR – Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, an eight phase information processing therapy, and some deep soul searching, Derek has come out on the other side with a positive, refreshed attitude.
While not completely free from the demons of his childhood, Derek has faced each one head on and now considers himself a fortunate survivor of his experiences. “I finally detached myself from the pain of my life,” Derek said. And on the other side, Derek has continued his journey trying to help others. In 2006, he produced the song “Goodnight Soldier” in honor of those serving in Iraq. That song presented him with a new level of success with national attention that he decided needed to be used to benefit others. Since then, he has written several books, produced many songs that verbalize his foster care journey and speaks internationally about his experiences. “[Writing a book] was a huge healing process for me,” Derek said.
Directly following the publishing of his book about his life before, during and after foster care, “I Will Never Give Up,” Derek closed his business and took on a new mission. First, he began focusing more on his children and his family life. “I had to start working on a relationship with my kids,” Derek said. “I was still progressing and growing. The purpose of your life is to help others. I’m going to give back what I never had.” On this journey, Derek has discovered himself, God and a new emphasis on life. Today, as a popular and inspiring motivational speaker, he travels internationally sharing his story of hope and perseverance with audiences. His message to them is simple: “never give up hope and never limit your life”
Today, he recognizes the importance of his foster parents and others who stuck by him when he was at his worst. “They’re my mom and dad. I put them through hell, but they never gave up on me,” Derek said.
“If it wasn’t for my foster parents never changing the lock on their front door, I would not be who I am today.” The foster care labels and professional misdiagnosis have never held Clark back from accomplishing what he set his heart and mind to. Derek Clark is the author of Never Limit Your Life and the critically acclaimed I Will Never Give Up book series which includes I Will Never Give Up, I Will Never Give Up For The Teenager, I Will Never Give Up On God Again and his fictional fantasy Tru Lockhart. Derek is an inspiring motivational speaker, foster care speaker, child welfare advocate, inspirational author, a business man and a dad.
Derek has spoken and performed his music to tens of thousands of people, including the President of The United States. His music is featured on iTunes and his books are featured on Barnes and Noble.com and Amazon.
He has experienced the life of fear, rejection, wrongly labeled and being unloved. He has turned his situation from a victim to a victor, equipping him with the wisdom and the will to never give up. He unleashes his creative and fun-loving personality in a never-ending effort to ignite passion in others and instill the courage to take action. His maxim is to make no excuses and become what you want to become. He simply believes that foster care saved his life.
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