A Survivor of Foster care system urges others to just ‘Neva Give Up’

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Dina Levin wants to empower other young people through her play - "Neva Give Up."

She is a young survivor of New York's notorious foster care system. She believes her experience - trials and some successes - will help others navigate the system and even improve it. "I want to achieve more in life for my siblings and possibly for my future family," she says, in an interview with The Black Star. "I'll be able to have a bigger voice because of this play," Dina says.

Dina stresses that the play is for people inside and out of the foster care system. “It is my biography but so many young people are being abused outside of foster care also and they can definitely be encouraged to tell someone and ‘Neva Give Up,’� she says.

Many young people who grow up in poor neighborhoods and households suffer from low self-esteem. This comes from the stereotypes they deal with and the humiliation of not being able to afford material possessions that their peers may take for granted, including new clothes and shoes, Dina says.

Her play includes recitals of positive messages, poetry and rap. "The play deals with issues of peer pressure. Like young people who are so poor that they keep wearing the same clothes. I try to put the bullies in the position of those people who are abused," Dina explains. "I want to empower young people to resist peer pressure."

Coming from a troubled household, Dina found herself in the foster care system at the age of seven. She was not discharged until she was 21, which was just over a year ago. She says that her experience and current living conditions provide her with even more "inspirational poetry" which she weaves into her play. Now she is on a quest to let others still in the system know that they can reach for the stars, realize their ambitions and live independent lives.

"I do see myself performing on Broadway one day," she says, confidently. "There are probably a million other people out there who think their play is going to make it to Broadway. But there are not too many plays that are real. So many of them are make believe."

"I keep it real. If I don't keep it real how am I going to influence the next person," Dina adds, "I can't wear $80 jeans. I can barely wear $20 jeans. But I look decent all the time. And for those who can't look decent don't worry about it. Your time will come."

Judging by two recent performances at the Oberia Dempsey Center in Harlem where more than 600 people attended based primarily on word-of-mouth advertising (It also helped that letters were sent in support of Dina from independent living case workers at 2 Washington Street to other ACS agencies throughout New York); Dina just might have her day on the big stage one day. Her next show is August 28 at Columbia University's Miller Theater at 7 p.m.

Dina believes her play can help improve the foster care system by highlighting the good things while cautioning people about the abuses that also exist. She says one major problem with the system is that foster parents always get notified far in advance before visits by Children's' Services caseworkers. This gives the foster parents an opportunity to tidy up everything.

The play has a diverse cast - all selected for specific purpose to highlight something about the problems young people face through foster care or growing up without their biological parents or to shatter stereotypes.

Dina doesn't believe she is too tough on individuals and soft on the foster care system itself. "I want children to know that they cannot be helped unless they speak about it!�

Tickets for “Neva Give Up� cost $20 and are available by calling (212) 340-9073 or e-mailing nevagiveup04@yahoo.com Tickets at the door are $25. Take the #1 or #9 train to 116 Street to get to Columbia University’s Miller Theatre.

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