Experiences as a young child in the child protection system have inspired Christopher Oquist’s determination to become a social worker to help children like him “who had bad beginnings turn their futures into something brighter.”
Christopher remembers being four years old and watching wrestling on TV with his brothers and cousin when he saw flashing blue and red lights and heard the crashing of police breaking down the back door to his childhood home in the Little Earth community of Minneapolis. The police were there because his parents were dealing drugs. He remembers the smell of drugs and people going in and out of his home, but he didn’t know that what his parents were doing was wrong until the police came that night. They took Christopher and his two brothers from the home and put them into the child protection system. Tenets of the Indian Child Welfare Act successfully ensured Christopher and his brothers were placed in a loving family where they would be surrounded by their American Indian culture. Christopher’s adoptive father is Anishinaabe and has taught Christopher about his culture and engaged him in his American Indian community at Sun Dance, lodge and Pow Wow ceremonies.
Christopher says, “My only option to succeed is through education. I cannot and will not be like others before me who gave up on their dreams.” Working hard toward his dreams, Christopher gets good grades and takes rigorous honors courses at Roosevelt High School in Minneapolis. Additionally, he plays baseball and soccer, competes on the school’s debate team and is a grass dancer. With an array of college options across the country, Christopher looks forward to continuing to study hard.
His academic success, he explains, is fueled by his desire to help others. Like many other young people who beat the odds with the support of caring adults and public and private support programs, Christopher was inspired by his social worker’s help to study social work and psychology himself so that he can offer support to other children with similar experiences. Christopher’s nominator, the principal at Roosevelt, believes “Chris will forge a career that benefits many, many individuals.”s