Dashawn Patrick is a former professional baseball player who spent much of his young life in foster care and wrote about that experience in his commercially successful book, And Some Rise Above It. He has spoken to foster youth, caseworkers & other professionals, and adoptive families across the country. He founded the nonprofit, Youth In Care Launch Pad, an organization that supports youth in foster care with fees and equipment needed to participate in extracurricular activities.
I interviewed Dashawn on a warm Sunday afternoon and I could have talked to him forever. He smiles easily and warmth emanates from his voice. Here’s some of what he told me that day.
What made you write And Some Rise Above It?
I started it as a journal. My best friend committed suicide after we graduated from high school. He jumped off the tallest bridge in the state of Washington. I had already played my first season of pro baseball. He was a good high school athlete but no one was looking at him to play pro ball. There were three of us that played together but for some reason, no one was looking at him. Other people have this happen all the time and bounce back. Their dreams of pro ball or what-have-you don’t come true and they move on. But then other people… I don’t know what happens. It got me thinking.
His mom, she couldn’t go in his room, so I went in and my new phone number was there on his dresser and it made me wonder if he’d been going to call me about it. So, I journaled after the funeral about all of it: our friendship and the game we played. It was not going to be a book.
I sat there one day and started thinking about all the things my brother and sister and I went through. But through thinking about all of it, I always smiled about it. I’ve always had this attitude that I have this great life, tons of friends. Other kids don’t think of their lives a gift. So I wrote it to give kids another way to look at their lives, to look at life in a different way.
What surprised you about writing and publishing this book?
The writing part. I was surprised by how quickly it was written. Once I sat down to write it, I wrote it in less than 10 days. It poured out. I called in sick for 5 days and stayed home and I did not stop writing for 72 hours straight. I could not stop writing. It literally poured out.
I sent query letters out to 8 different literary management agencies. All 8 of them came back and said they loved it and wanted to do it. I picked an agent who does a lot of top writers and journalists and sports writers. But I didn’t understand the system. I didn’t understand, as a 1st time author, that if you’re not generating income for them, there’s not a lot they’re going to invest in you. I didn’t have a national audience at that time. The offers weren’t good monetarily, and I wanted it marketed as a book toward foster kids. They did it their way for about 6 months where they wanted it in Barnes & Noble and toward general audiences. Then I asked them to let me out of my contract. I said, hey, I will personally publish the book and get it out to the people I want to get it to. Financially it was better for me.
I got lucky with my illustrator and editor. There was a kid on a baseball team I was coaching and I bartered batting lessons with his mom in exchange for drawing the cover of the book. My editor was an instructor from my English department in college who volunteered to do the editing.
What’s the hardest thing about writing?
Fear of writing. It prevents you from putting it out there. You get caught in that fear and it can go on for years and years without a completed project.
How did you deal with your own vulnerability with putting your story out there for audiences?
I was content with the place that I wrote it from. I had been writing in a journal about it for a long time and by the time I sat down to write the book, I wrote it from a true heart. That took away the scrutiny for the project. If someone didn’t like it because of the writing style, they owned it.
I bound onto who I wrote it for and why I wrote it. The people my book’s intended for, I nailed it for them.
Why did you rise?
There are people along the way who recognized that nobody showed up to my games. They noticed that I was doing my own thing. A lot of people who lent their own love.
I was blessed with talent. Baseball really helped me.
When you age out, you don’t age out into some big warm happy world. You age out and you’re on your own in life.
But I got immediate stability from the Mariner’s when I aged out. I had never thought about going to college until that. I didn’t have the self-esteem that I was smart and intelligent. I had self-esteem that I was fast and I could hit and I could run. Once I got to college though, I thought, “Wait a minute, I’m not just faster than these kids, I’m just as smart. I can write just as well as anybody in my English dept.”
I don’t have to be the statistic of that kid aging out. I can be better than any expectations that anybody has about me. And that comes from people caring.
I remember being with a friend’s family driving home after a game and I was in the back. For some reason, that day I was feeling really good, really comfortable and I was talkative.
At one point the dad said to me, “Dashawn, you’re a really smart guy.”
I was smiling back there like “wow, somebody said I’m smart. Maybe I’m kinda smart.”
You talk with foster youth often. What do they say helps them most to rise as you have?
Support. Connection. Honestly, foster youth, no matter where it is around the country, it’s always the same story. Whether it’s white kids from Utah, or inner city kids from Brooklyn, or Hispanic kids from San Antonio. We want a chance to have stability, to have a chance to show what we can do. It’s too much bouncing around.
I always remember this kid telling me this. He said “I bounce around so much that my grades don’t go to each school, they don’t even transfer over. But my foster files are there before I get there.”
How can you be stable, how can you start to build something when you know that in 4 months, 3 months, everything is going to change? And you don’t have any control?
45% is the high school graduation rate for foster kids but 75% of kids adopted from foster care graduate from high school. It has that big of an impact.
Any projects you’d like to share about?
But my current project is a video I’m working on: Charlotte’s toolbox. It’s all about promoting adoption of kids out of foster care. The number of adoptive families in the state of Washington has been dropping every year and as I said earlier, it’s the same everywhere I go with foster kids. They need stability. They need to know where they’re going to live. So I’m working on this video about Charlotte where you follow this girl and see how she wants to participate with the other kids in sports but she can’t. So she just watches. Adoption would provide the stability for her to start tapping into her potential, to participate.