From the outside, Derek Clark’s life looks perfect — a successful motivational and inspirational speaker 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. Clark’s journey has been fraught with difficulty and challenges, but the message he shares with others is filled with hope and inspiration. Experiencing abuse even before he was born when his father physically abused his mother during her pregnancy, Clark first suffered abuse from his father, then his mother. Though the abuse ranged from emotional to physical to verbal, one particular incident stands out in Clark’s mind when his mother burned and scarred his hand by holding it under hot water. “She burned it into my heart and soul that I was a bad kid,” Clark said.
That abuse came at a price for Clark. Kicked out of kindergarten, Clark 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,” Clark said. “I was a tough little kid, but I was scared.” There, Clark would be abandoned by his family and receive numerous labels, including mentally retarded. Clark 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 Clark, who was enamored by the animals. What that family provided for Clark 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, Clark continued to be a difficult child.
“I was the terror of this little farm neighborhood,” Clark said. Clark 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, Clark’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,” Clark said he remembers his father saying. Clark 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 Clark, 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, Clark never heard from her again. Months later, he found out she had been murdered on Mother’s Day. “I was completely devastated,” Clark said. And just a few months later Clark’s foster brother 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,” Clark 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 course on anger began to turn the tide for Clark. During the course, Clark 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 Clark instead. “They go . . . ‘no, no, Derek, we believe in you. You’re a great person, Do you know how great you are?” Clark said. Hearing those words, Clark 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,” Clark 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. With the stage name, Diamond D, Clark was on the cusp of obtaining a record contract when Vanilla Ice entered the rap scene and Clark’s dreams of becoming the first white rapper were dashed.
For the next few years, Clark 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,” Clark said. “I was very fortunate that they kept me and I have a very deep appreciation for them now.”
Then, at age 23, Clark met a woman who would change his life. Previously, Clark 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,” Clark said. But Joy was different. She offered unconditional, trusting love. In the years since, Clark has become a husband to Joy and father of four, as well as a successful real estate broker. But still his childhood has haunted him. “This little foster kid keeps coming out in me,” Clark said.
With the help of marriage counseling, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, an eight phase information processing therapy, and some deep soul searching, Clark has come out on the other side with a positive, refreshed attitude. While not completely free from the demons of his childhood, Clark 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,” Clark said. And on the other side, Clark 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 nationally about his experiences. “[Writing a book] was a huge healing process for me,” Clark said. Directly following the self publishing of his book, “I Will Never Give Up,” Clark closed his real estate 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,” Clark 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, Clark has discovered himself, God and a new emphasis on life. Today, he travels internationally telling his story, mostly to child welfare workers, foster parents and youth in foster care. His message to them is simple: “If I can do it, you can do it.”
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,” Clark 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 labels and misdiagnosis have never held Clark back from accomplishing what he set his heart and mind to. Clark is the author of his critically acclaimed book “I Will Never Give Up,” “I Will Never Give Up For The Teenager” and “I Will Never Give Up On God Again,” “Never Limit Your Life”, “Tru Lockhart” and “Who Am I and Where Do I Belong? an inspiring motivational speaker, a business man and a dad.
Clark has spoken and performed his music to thousands of people, including the President of the Unites States of America. His music is featured on iTunes and his book 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.
To learn more about motivational and inspirational speaker and foster care expert Derek Clark, visit www.IWillNeverGiveUp.com and www.FosterCareSuccess.com He has a great message of hope, perseverance, courage, resilience and redemption.
Article written by Kim Phagan-Hansel from Foster Families Today