DJay with CASA Program Manager Lance Jones and Kids Matter Executive Director Susan Conwell in December 2019. Please read messages about DJay submitted by community members, friends and colleagues in this newsletter.
Dosha DJay Joi, age 28, of Milwaukee, passed away Thursday, May 14th from COVID-19. People across Milwaukee knew DJay for his welcoming energy as well as his persistence in advocating for foster youth. DJay was an absolute joy.
DJay explored every path for improving the lives of foster youth. He was part of the Youth Advisory Council (YAC) to inspire change in the foster care system; he was a counselor at Camp to Belong, which reunites siblings who have been separated in foster care for a summer experience; he shadowed Rep. Gwen Moore for the National Foster Youth Institute’s Congressional Shadow Day in 2019. In 2018, he was named an Outstanding Young Leader by FosterClub. He was a friend and mentor to many.
DJay first joined the Kids Matter community in 2014 as an intern developing a bill of rights for youth in foster care. In 2015, DJay became a CASA volunteer and has since advocated for five CASA youth. He specialized in guiding teens through aging out of foster care and being on their own for the very first time. By DJay’s own account, his experience with independent living as a teen was a struggle. He had trouble following the rules and staying with a program, partly because he didn’t have anybody to hold him accountable. As an adult, DJay used his personal experiences to teach his CASA youth how to hold themselves accountable and make sure their rights are respected while they’re still in care.
DJay said, “That’s why I can’t always be a total professional, because I feel that I’ll lose that insight. I have to keep it personal for my kids.”
Earlier this year, we talked to DJay about his most recent journey with a 17-year-old named “Vince.” On the cusp of aging out, Vince was also coping with the death of his brother who had been ill for some time. Helping Vince through the grieving process was particularly difficult for DJay since he had lost his own brother right before entering foster care.
“When I finally got to meet with Vince after his younger brother’s passing we talked about all that they’d been through together. I was able to walk with him through his happiest memories of his brother, especially the ways that they used to tease each other. That brought me a different perspective on my grief. I realized that we can choose to be afraid of death or we can choose to celebrate life,” DJay reflected.
DJay supported Vince through his grieving process. At the same time, they prepared Vince for the responsibilities of adult life, which was quickly approaching. Similar to teenage DJay, Vince struggled to follow the rules of his placement.
“In the beginning, it was a struggle to…understand the importance of responsibility, of finding a job, that using substances was not okay. I came to find out that those things would be the easy part. For Vince, the difficulty was [channeling his free time into positive activities.] Being a former foster youth, that was something that I related to.”
DJay explained that Vince did not have a clear vision of what a day in the life of a responsible adult might look like, so many of his harmful behaviors were the result of boredom. At seventeen, Vince was two years behind in school. Graduating with his class seemed nearly impossible, but that was before the unstoppable DJay stepped in. With DJay’s guidance, Vince was able to graduate high school on time and find a job.
DJay was a star advocate—he walked in his kids’ shoes and spoke with the wisdom of someone who aged out of care and found his way in the world. Along the way, DJay built wonderful connections with group homes and independent living programs across Milwaukee, making him both an incredible source of support and a life-changing resource for the young adults he served.
A Brief Q&A with DJay:
What is something that surprised you about being a CASA volunteer?
DJay: “I didn’t think I’d feel like a parent, but as a CASA you need to be whatever a kid needs you to be at that moment. Sometimes that’s a parent, sometimes it’s a big brother, and sometimes it’s a friend.”
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned in your time as a CASA volunteer?
DJay: “It’s not about being in that courtroom as an advocate. It’s about being personable, being human, and knowing that you don’t always need the judge to make changes. CASA volunteers should keep in mind that advocacy is a day-to-day process, and you don’t always need a court order to make things happen.”
Why should other people consider becoming a CASA volunteer?
DJay: “When I started I was not prepared for the life saving work of being a CASA, and I was a pushover with my first CASA youth. I jumped in before I was ready, but because I took that case I became stronger, I became wiser, I became independent. Now, I hold my ground. It can be a great catalyst for growth. But what I really love about being a CASA is that you’re able to be the person that gives a child hope. You’ll have a bigger impact on that child than you could ever imagine.”
A memorial service for Dosha DJay Joi will be held on Monday, July 13, 2020 from 1:00-3:00pm at Inspired Word Ministries, 3410 W Burleigh St, Milwaukee, WI 53210.
- Dosha ‘DJay’ Joi, a former foster youth who advocated for others, has died of coronavirus (Journal Sentinel)
- National CASA/GAL-The loss of a young advocate dedicated to service
- Statement from National Foster Youth Institude (NFYI) on the Passing of Dosha Joi
- Press Release- Reps. Bass, Moore To Introduce The Dosha Joi Immediate Coverage for Former Foster Youth Act
- D.C. Lawmakers Push Reform to Honor Relentless Advocate for Wisconsin Foster Youth, Taken by Coronavirus (The Chronicle of Social Change)
- Rep. Bowen Statement on Passing of Foster Care Activist Dosha Joi
- TIME Magazine: Coronavirus Obituaries
- Advocates, Officials Gather to Remember Dosha DJay Joi, the Foster Care Reformer Taken By Coronavirus (The Chronicle of Social Change)
- Remembering 5 lives lost to coronavirus (video via PBS News Hour)