“Bearing Our Soles”

M.F.A. student’s play recalls experiences growing up in foster care

Regina Louise

A play by Regina Louise that draws from her experiences as a foster child will be performed at the Culver Center May 9-10.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — Regina “Vivii” Louise survived a childhood of abusive foster homes, treatment centers and profound loneliness. She wanted a mother, someone to be proud of her. She wanted to be somebody’s someone.

Today, Regina Louise is a published author, motivational speaker and advocate for children in foster care who is completing her Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and Writing for the Performing Arts at the University of California, Riverside. “Bearing Our Soles,” a play she wrote based on her experiences in foster care, will be performed on Friday, May 9, and Saturday, May 10, at the Culver Center of the Arts, 3824 Main St., Riverside. Performance times are 7 p.m. on May 9 and 6:30 p.m. on May 10. Admission is free. Seating is limited.

This production is a Culver Arts Research Laboratory Residency production in honor of Foster Care Awareness Month and Mother’s Day. It is under the direction of Louise and UCR New Play Festival Director Kris Ide, and serves as a preview for New Play Festival performances scheduled at UCR on May 23 and May 31. Festival ticket information is available here.

“Bearing Our Soles” grew out of an original monologue titled “Somebody’s Someone,” which the Sacramento Theatre Company premiered in 2007. That monologue was based on Louise’s 2003 memoir of the same title. “Bearing Our Soles” is a story of hope and resilience told through 16 pairs of shoes, imagery the playwright said recalls an early childhood spent going barefoot until she made her first pair of “shoes” – 2-by-4s strapped to her feet with belts.

Louise, now 50, lived in foster homes, group homes and psychiatric treatment centers in Texas, Georgia and California from birth until she emancipated from the system at age 18.

Labeled “below average” and “marginal” by some social workers, she said she felt “shrinkwrapped to reality with no possibilities. How do you peel that off and believe your life is possible? To grow up hearing that you’re taking up air for people more valuable than you, that’s the kind of stuff I didn’t believe or I wouldn’t be here today.”

Rare kindnesses and snippets of wisdom were tucked away in her memory “so when things got bad I could pull them out. And I believed that God would never leave me alone. I believed I could make my dreams come true.”

Despite frequent moves that wreaked havoc with her education, overcoming withdrawals from inaccurately prescribed drugs, and a brief period of homelessness, Louise enrolled at San Francisco State University at age 18. But she withdrew when she realized there was no one to invite to commencement, no one to say they were proud of her.

“I know how that sounds,” she said. “I was profoundly alone.”

She became a hairstylist and eventually owned three salons in the Bay Area. When she wrote the best-selling “Somebody’s Someone: A Memoir” in 2003, she found herself in demand as an advocate for children in foster care and the subject of interviews with national media including NPR, CNN, CBS, the Los Angeles Times and the San Francisco Chronicle.

With the media spotlight and frequent speaking engagements, Louise said she found it increasingly difficult to answer questions from children in foster care about whether she had a college degree. She enrolled in the California School of Integral Studies in 2010 and graduated two years later.

“I want to show these young people that nothing is impossible,” she explained.

One media interview caught the attention of a former counselor at the Contra Costa children’s shelter where Louise was sent after failed placements, a woman who had tried to adopt her at age 11 but had been denied because of racial differences.

The two reconnected, and at age 40 — with a 17-year-old son of her own — Regina Louise was legally adopted by the woman who had loved her 30 years prior. The woman she now calls her mother “healed a broken heart,” Louise said. “Now that I have a mom, I can satisfy the thirst to have someone be proud of me.”

Louise recalled a recent conversation with her mother about a relationship problem. “She validated me. That helped me let go of a lot of anxiety. I’ve been an adult as long as I can remember, so when I get to be the child, those are breath-taking moments.”

Louise has been honored by numerous organizations for her advocacy on behalf of children in foster care, and she is a supporter of programs like UCR’s Guardian Scholars, which provides resources for teens who have aged out of foster care and want to attend college. There were no such programs when Louise emancipated from foster care.

“What would that have meant to me? What does water mean to someone in the desert?” she asked. “It would have provided sustenance, mentors, a chance to learn to develop and keep relationships, having my possibilities role-modeled for me.”

When she completes her M.F.A. next month, Regina Louise said, she will graduate with something more essential than the degree: “A sense of myself, of mastering who I really am.”

Media Contact

Tel: (951) 827-7847
E-mail: bettye.miller@ucr.edu
Twitter: bettyemiller

Additional Contacts

Regina Louise
E-mail: regina.louise@email.ucr.edu

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