Foster care as a whole is a dreary, dismal situation. Kids being ripped from awful situations. Parents with questions of their kids’ location. Foster parents receiving tiny adolescent wrecking balls, who they calm back down into tiny people, only to give them back to the world. It’s depressing, the whole thing is depressing. Its draining, emotionally, in some cases physically.
The wins are few. The gratitude impossible to find. Success stories? Those we have. Success is measured in all sorts of ways when it comes to foster care. For some it’s a college degree, for others a GED gives a sense of pride. As survivors of care all achievements, large or small are victories. But, on occasion we get a bona fide star.
There’s been Jimmy Wayne, Michael Oher, Rhonda Sciortino, Jimmy Graham among others have all made their mark on the national stage. But perhaps the most intriguing star to capture the nation’s attention is Derek Clark. As far as inspiring motivational speakers go, you can’t get any better than Derek Clark aka Diamond D aka Derek “Never Give up” Clark. How do I know this? I Googled it.
Out of 38 million choices, Derek Clark stands above all others. As a matter of fact, if you Google “Stories on Never Giving Up” Mr. Clark is the #1 choice out of 1.8 billion choices. 1.8 BILLION. There are many reasons for this distinction. Speaking engagements that send crowds into frenzies. Award winning books to motivate and inspire. And then of course there’s the rocker lookin dude who busts out rhymes on demand.
The complexity of a man that is Derek Clark is tough to dissect. His determination is not.
After a childhood of abuse Derek would navigate through foster care to fatherhood, to a business owner, to a musician and finally one of America’s most sought after speakers.
When you ask Derek about his childhood he’s pretty direct, “I was a five year-old kid, and already a survivor of appalling events. I have never known my father who was in prison for the criminally insane. My mother, having given up on me, dropped me off at the psychiatric emergency unit which started my thirteen year journey through the foster care system. She was desperate to be rid of me. The saddest, most inexplicable part of this was that she kept my younger brother and older sister. I was devastated knowing I had been deleted from my family. I was now motherless and fatherless. I loved my mother, brother and sister, but my love for them wasn’t enough for her to keep me in the family. She claimed she could not control me, and that I was a “devil,” but I now know she was the one out of control.”
Derek continues, “as I entered foster care, hate raged within me. I could no longer trust adults and constantly defied authority, always eager to challenge the wisdom of my elders. I was not fearful, I was fearless, albeit not always in a healthy way. Some deep mistrustful instinct was triggered inside me, and knowing I could no longer trust adults, I felt I had to survive on my own and could only trust myself. While other kids were happy with their families, I was with foster families who often provided me little more than a bed to sleep on and food to eat. I knew these families weren’t my real one, and the parents weren’t my real Mom and Dad. Nor did I ever really know how long I might be at a particular foster home. This uncertainty kept me constantly on edge.”
The rage he felt continued through his early years in care. Anger can consume anyone but none are more susceptible than abused kids who find themselves in care. A fascination for things a 6 year old shouldn’t care about, sex, violence and swearing are all side effects of a tortured childhood. The most memorable abuse was a session of scolding hot water from a fountain searing the skin of a child’s hand held there by his mother. The years of trauma had left its’ mark on Derek, both emotional and physical. Clark refers to those scars as “signs of my self destruction”.
Through grit and determination he would defy the odds stacked against him. He made it through care with the same scars as others with similar experiences. But rather than dwell on the terrible childhood, the time in care, the sense of abandonment and all the abuse endured, Derek channeled those emotions into his work. He got his life together. “Everybody has a story but not everyone gets the glory” explains Clark. At a certain point you need to grow up. That happened to Derek. He grew up. He got married. He had kids. Started his own business.
You don’t want to read about that part of his life though, do you? You want to find out how a tiny blonde haired parental chess piece transformed into a tower of positivity with the ability to move thousands with his words.
How does someone who defied all that was stacked against him? Foster care, trauma, abuse, rage. How do you move on from that? He found his worth.
He managed to get to that comfortable part of life. You know, the nice house, pretty wife, good kids. But something was missing. He had all of this drive and determination. It was too much to keep inside.
Musical by nature, Derek picked up his guitar one evening. The song was called “Goodnight Solider”. The vehicle was YouTube and the rest is history.
” I was a business man who owned a multimillion dollar company and thought my identity was a businessman…but it was the song that opened up my heart and opened my heart to others. The song took 20 minutes to write and it flowed from my soul. It was very cathartic and literally started my journey to healing and forgiveness. After that, I started to become my authentic self and share my foster care story. For years, I kept it hidden inside because I thought my identity was a CEO of a multimillion dollar company but in reality I was still hiding until I decided to accept my new journey.” Said Derek, when asked about the song that changed everything.
He goes onto say, ” It was one song that changed my life. When I wrote Goodnight Soldier as a military tribute, I never expected that it would touch a part of the world and take me all the way to the President of the United States. I received thousands of emails from all over the world saying thank you for sharing hope. I then decided to share my own story of being a rejected and abused little kid that was dropped off at the psychiatric facility. I wrote my follow up song about my life In Foster Care called “I wanna be a kid”. The music has connected with many audiences all over the world as I sing the journals of my life as a way to share my vulnerabilities that empower others with hope.”
That was the catalyst needed to leave the past in the past. The response to Goodnight Solider was so overwhelming that it would change his life forever.
TV appearance, playing at the White House for the President and being mentioned in the same breath as Michael Phelps and U2 all sent Derek Clark on a whirlwind rise to national prominence. Suddenly, Derek Clark had found his worth.
” I closed the business cold turkey and found my purpose in life. The money did not being meaning into my life but compassion for humanity brought that meaning.” Now it was time to find a way to share his gift. Because through his abused years, his time in care, his time after care and the struggles of growing his business he never gave up. He never caved in. He never back down.
For years Derek had used rage to fuel his drive. Out of nowhere, his rage was gone. That rage had shifted to a sense of self. A value inside of Derek that needed to be shared with others. A new enthusiasm for life. Couple that with that grit and determination he carried with him from care and a recipe for success was in place.
People wanted to know about Derek now. They wanted insight into the man who created this incredible song. Once he explained how he came up, they wanted more. Next they wanted to know how he managed to stay positive in the face of such adversity? The long answer is, years of self evaluation and reflection. The short answer? He NEVER gave up.
And a mantra was born. A mantra or message that was true to life. Easily accessible for anyone, not just foster kids or Alumnus of care. NEVER GIVE UP.
How to get this message to the masses? His YouTube fame paired with his TV appearances had people all over the world calling, asking if Derek would speak about his life.
He would, but not in the way you would expect.
Applying what he learned from his own business, he formulated a speaking event. It wouldn’t just be a man standing in front of a crowd explaining his abusive past. That’s too easy for Derek. Moreover, it isn’t a reflection of the man who as a child, was left behind by his mother, who kept his brother and sister, but not him. He would find a unique way to tell his story, about being left behind, about being burned and abused, about clawing his way up from the bottom.
Utilizing his musical gifts, his ability to disarm a room by rapping, his high energy shows rocked the speaking circuit. He was in even more demand. Soon he would be trekking the globe with his messages of “It’s not your I.Q., it’s your I will” or “It’s not how many times you are knocked down. It’s how many times you get up and fight harder.”
Word of mouth spread. Enthusiastic comments about his appearances flooded Facebook and Twitter walls. The response that Derek garners at one of his shows rivals that of a rock concert. Crowds scream, chant and clap along with Derek as he sings songs about not giving up on life. Audience members walk away from one of Derek’s speeches feeling as if they have the ability to walk through walls. They have a sense that there isn’t any obstacle that they cannot overcome. They have a new ability. The ability to never give up.
Fortunately for Corporate America, Derek’s message of never giving up transcends foster care. It’s applicable in every aspect of life. When Derek speaks to a company you can almost see the enthusiasm of employees who may have found themselves in a rut. They walk out like wolves , hungry for success.
Somehow the boy who wasn’t worth the effort convinces others of THEIR worth. Imagine that.
From the boy who was told he was woefully behind other students, ” I have written 6 books on the psychology of achievement and overcoming labels and a horrific past and passing my experiential knowledge to the next generation as well as the professional that work with us kids in care and how they can help us heal verses label us. Labels can negate us and steal our personal power and joy in life. I am all about never limiting life and not letting the past infect our great future.”
When asked to describe himself, Derek says, ” A survivor, self reliant and driven with tenacity to make a better life for my children and one day, my grand children and so on.”
He’s not nearly done either. It’s never slowed down. He’s still ascending.
One night, a successful businessman that overcame a childhood no one should have ever experienced, wrote a song for the military. Since then, the world learned about an intense upbringing that led to an intense drive. Derek Clark’s never give up attitude has propelled him to the top of the speaking circuit.
Circling the globe. Giving hope to the hopeless. Resurrecting those resigned to failure.
Because he never gave up, millions of people have found the courage to fight and NEVER, EVER GIVE UP.
Written by Chris Chmielewski, Editor and Founder of Foster Focus Magazine