Lisa P. Cohen entered the world of professional boxing at the relatively late age of 29, eventually bobbing, weaving and pounding her way to an IFBA Junior Featherweight World Title.
But Cohen engaged in even greater battles long before she donned boxing gloves. She grew up a ward of the court, living in 13 foster homes where she often witnessed or experienced abuse and neglect.
“For many years I tried to avoid even thinking about my past,” says Cohen, author of the memoir “Being Too Fierce: One Woman’s Incredible Journey from Foster Child to World Championship Boxer” (www.beingtoofierce.com).
“I marched forward trying my best to become a completely different person and chose not to feel sorry for myself.”
Now, though, she talks openly about her foster-care experiences, sharing her story to inspire today’s foster children and doing what she can to correct the flaws she sees in the system.
It’s a system that can leave bitter memories for children who live in a series of temporary homes, and rarely feel they truly belong.
“I knew that no matter how big or fancy the house we lived in was, we were still the same old malnourished, Medicaid card-toting, free lunch-eating, hand-me-down-wearing foster children we had always been,” Cohen writes in her book.
Cohen says any time is the right time to make improvements that will ensure a better life for the more than 400,000 American children in foster care.
Some fixes could require major policy changes. But Cohen says foster parents can improve the children’s lives in small ways right now.
Among her recommendations:
Understand that trash bags are not luggage.
Foster children often are shuttled from one foster home to another. When those moves take place, the children usually don’t pack their belongings in a suitcase. Instead, they are given a trash bag. “They deserve better than that,” Cohen says. “Please don’t put their clothes in a trash bag.”
Learn the “love language” each child needs.
Some children want and need “tough-love” talk. Some want to be spoken to in a more gentle way. “You have to learn the child’s love language,” Cohen says. “You have to connect to them individually.”
Take photographs the children can keep.
One of the sad realities is that many foster children grow up with little to no photographic record of their childhood. In most cases, they don’t even get the school pictures that are the norm for other children. Once after Cohen grew up she was going through her court file and stumbled upon a photograph of herself as a child. She kept the photo, one of a handful that recorded her childhood.
“One reason I like to share my story with foster children is that I want them to see that I am them and they are me,” Cohen says. “They are champions, too. They just don’t know it yet.”
Lisa P. Cohen is the author of “Being Too Fierce: One Woman’s Incredible Journey from Foster Child to World Championship Boxer” (www.beingtoofierce.com). She grew up as a ward of the court and lived in 13 foster homes. In 1996, at age 28, she began boxing and turned professional the next year, competing under the name Lisa “Too Fierce” Foster. During her career, she won the IFBA Junior Featherweight World Title.