A former foster youth turns pain into progress in Marina del Rey

By Gary Walker

Lazarus McCrae is sharing his story to help kids who are going through similar challenges
Photo by Michael Kraxenberger

For more than a decade, Lazarus McCrae was ensnared in the labyrinth of the Ohio foster care system, moving from home to home and not even knowing his true name until he was in almost in middle school.

Now a resident of Marina del Rey, he’s part of a public television-sponsored initiative to dispel stereotypes about young people in foster care. McCrae hopes to show children and teens in foster care that there is life after emancipation, but in the process he also revisited feelings and memories he thought he had resolved long ago.

McCrae, 29, joined current and former foster youth last November in filming video testimonials about their personal experiences for a PBS SoCal initiative called To Foster Change. During the month-long workshop, participants received training in video production and editing supervision from entertainment industry professionals. Their final cuts are published on tofosterchange.org

“It’s their stories. We think they’re very powerful,” says Kathy Jura, director of PBS SoCal’s Foster Youth Initiative. “We hope this video project will change the way the public views foster youth.”

Social workers removed McCrae from his crack-addicted mother’s care at the age of 2 because of malnourishment and other signs of neglect. His father was incarcerated. McCrae was bounced from one foster home to the next — or, as he puts it, “thrown around the state like a javelin” — and lived in seven foster homes over 12 years.

“I really didn’t know who I was during the whole time in foster care. For a long time I thought my name was Bud,” McCrae recalls. “My mom used to drink Budweiser. She’d leave cans of Budweiser around the house, so I thought that was my name. I would drink beer from them so she would call me Bud.”

For McCrae, who is pursuing a master’s degree in social work at the University of Southern California, filming his project — a rap video titled “Lazarus Rising” — unearthed emotions he was initially reluctant to revisit.

“For some more than others, during the project a lot of us woke up to some of the things that we had experienced in foster care. When I was shooting my video, I was in this dark room and I had to mentally take myself back there and think about the lyrics and having these thoughts. I had to make sure that my tone reflected how angry I was about some of the things that I went through,” he said.

The lyrics of McCrae’s rap confront his brief but harmful time with his mother, and the resulting trauma of her neglect: “Mama, I wrote it all down / Because of you, I was isolated / ‘Cause of you, there was molestation / ‘Cause of you, I grew up heinous / ‘Cause of you, it was hard to relate.”

“One thing that you really have to be [for the To Foster Change project] is vulnerable.  You go through a period where you can still feel ashamed and even angry,” McCrae says of the emotionally charged video. “I dealt with so many of the things that happen to foster youth — homelessness, starvation, neglect.”

But there’s also yearning for, and belief in, salvation.

“My only hope is at the end of this rainbow there’s a pot of gold / 100,000 miles on this broken road / not even time can replace a broken soul,” his lyrics continue.

Jura says McCrae’s video leaves a very strong impression.

“Of all the projects I’ve done, this is the one that I’m most proud of. To me, this represents hope,” says Jura, who has previously worked with disadvantaged children.

McCrae, a former PBS intern in Cleveland, was in the audience at a PBS-sponsored documentary on foster youth when he learned about To Foster Change and asked how he could get involved. He moved to Los Angeles in December 2013 after graduating from Baldwin Wallace University with a bachelor’s degree in public relations.

“I always knew that I’d come out here,” he says. “Leaving Ohio was like closing a chapter in my life.”

Just before heading west, McCrae met a man who had known his parents and introduced McCrae to extended family members, most of whom McCrae hadn’t met.

“For this to come full circle the week I was leaving Ohio,” he reflects, “the stars couldn’t have aligned any better.”

McCrae currently works in property management as a licensed service technician at the same Marina del Rey complex where he lives. Nearly all of McCrae’s foster fathers worked with tools in blue collar professions — bricklaying, auto repair, construction — and he learned something from each of them.

“I fix everything,” he says proudly, upbeat about the future and his desire to create mentorship opportunities for foster youth.

“All the moments and experiences that I’ve had have prepared me for this moment in my life,” McCrae says. “I’d do it all over again if it brought me here.”