Makeda Lacking stands in front of Avenues for Homeless Youth. 
She will be graduating from Augsburg in two years. Photo by Sarah Whiting
Makeda Lacking stands in front of Avenues for Homeless Youth. She will be graduating from Augsburg in two years. Photo by Sarah Whiting
submitted by Makeda Lacking

I was a straight-A student and on the high school debate team when my family moved to North Minneapolis from out of state. I had an infant brother and three other younger siblings. Alcoholism played a huge part in my upbringing, which included a lot of verbal abuse. While my parents worked or went job searching, I missed about 90 days of school because I was babysitting. After I started taking my baby brother to school with me, a counselor was worried about me, and there was an investigation. 

At roughly the same time, my parents learned I was gay, and kicked me out. I grew up in an Islamic household. Being gay was the utmost disgrace. I felt neglected, and I hated that they didn’t want me around the family anymore.

For a few months I couch surfed at friends’ homes. When my dad’s sister discovered that my parents put me out, she stopped talking to them. She let me stay with her and helped me get back into school. At my lowest, when I felt hopeless and alone, I found a lot of strong women who were there for me.

My school counselor referred me to Bridges for Youth, where I stayed for a few days. Because I was only 16, Bridges staff tried to facilitate reunification, but my family wasn’t interested. Eventually I ended up at Avenues for Homeless Youth, where I lived for more than a year while I finished high school.

Avenues was my saving grace. It is where I grew up and acquired stability, and learned how to create a foundation for myself. I had dropped out of high school only because I didn’t have a support system and stable housing. At Avenues, I fell back in love with education. When I finally did get shelter and stability, I knew education was the best path to success. 

I wasn’t interested in the street life. I saw what it did to people around me. I knew there was more to life. 

In some moments, I doubted I would be accepted into college, but I never doubted that I would actually go to college. Education was my way out. I wanted to live in a dorm, not on the street.

My case managers were genuine. I wasn’t just another number in the system to them. They showed me what youth work is about. That caught my eye — and it inspired me.

Since graduating from high school, I have been attending Augsburg College for a degree in social work. I now have a vision of myself as a professor or teacher someday.

Avenues has been in my life for 12 years now. For the past four years, I’ve also been working at Avenues. I was recently promoted to Youth Advocate and Engagement Specialist, as a case manager. When I find myself dealing with a disgruntled youth, I remember myself in the same situation. 


It’s humbling for me to work in a place that doesn’t feel like work. I love my job. I love the kids. Even the tiniest bit of growth in a youth is precious. Who can say they see people’s lives change right before their eyes?