For some children, the uncertainty of life on the street is better than certainty of violence at home. It was for me. At age 14, I escaped from an abusive home with no money, nowhere to go and only the clothes I was wearing. I remember staring into the night, standing somewhere between fear and freedom. I became one of the millions of homeless teens, yet I was lucky because foster care ultimately saved me.
However, after an emergency placement and three foster homes, the challenges were not over. At 17 I aged out of the foster care system early when my foster parents moved out of state. On my own again, I had to find a job, a place to live and finish high school. Then I climbed the next mountain to graduate from college and medical school. I completed residency, became a physician, a vice chancellor and dean of a school of medicine, and now will be President of the Lasker Foundation.
I only recently began publicly talking about my foster care experience because I realized that speaking out would help foster youth - and I discovered that many people lack an understanding of the harsh statistics and their impact on the country's future. The nation faces a crisis that demands a call to action to start truly caring about foster youth before it is too late.
• Nationwide, more than 400,000 youth were in foster care in 2011, more than 100,000 were waiting to be adopted and more than 7,000 entered the system than exited. Nearly 60 percent were children of color.
• More than 10 percent of the country's young adults who age out of foster care lack a permanent family - and have a one in 11 chance of becoming homeless.
• Less than half of U.S. foster youth who age out of foster care graduate from high school and only three to 11 percent earn a bachelor's degree.
• Throughout the country, foster youth have high rates of poverty, incarceration, substance abuse and suicide, and are more likely than other youth to experience depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic medical conditions.