Tiana Barnwell has had many highs and lows. At her lowest point, she was separated from her mother while in foster care. Now, the 21-year-old is set to graduate with a Bachelors degree from Spelman College, and has already secured a job at Goldman Sachs in Dallas, Texas.
Now, Barnwell is sharing her story in hopes it will inspire young people to chase after their dreams.
This teacher created a mental health check-in chart for her students and now teachers around the world are doing the same
- May 09, 2023
"When I was accepted to Spelman, that was the absolute happiest day of my life," Barnwell, a New York native told "Good Morning America" on Tuesday. "I knew when I got in, that nothing was going to stop me."
At 14, Barnwell said she was placed into kinship foster care and lived with her aunt after revealing that she was molested in her home. She remained in foster care until she was 17.
While she felt fortunate to be in the care of a family member, Barnwell found herself in what she calls a "dark place."
"It had a negative impact on my life," Barnwell explained. "I started acting out in school, I started cutting class. I kind of just didn't care, which is terrible because these were the years that were molding my future. I kind of lost sight of Spelman and I lost sight of my goals."
Through Barnwell's foster care agency, The New York Foundling, she found the right resources and regained her spark. She leaned on teachers, social workers and even went to therapy with her mother -- their relationship that was rocky during that time.
I knew when I got in, that nothing was going to stop me.
Barnwell also received tutoring and standardized test help through The New York Foundling.
"I was trying to work towards who I wanted to be, I was never meant to be this [other] person," Barnwell said. "So I worked harder, went to class, passed my tests and today I am 33 days away from graduation."
"I was able to shine through."
Bill Baccaglini, president and CEO of The New York Foundling, told "GMA" that the organization is "so proud" of Barnwell.
“Less than three percent of youth who grow up in foster care ever graduate college; many young people who are or were in foster care do not have access to the educational and social resources available to their peers," Baccaglini said. "Tiana’s story may be unique, but it doesn’t have to be – every student in foster care should have access to the kinds of resources and support provided by The Foundling that helped put Tiana on her road to success.”
Barnwell, a political science major, said she got accepted to a handful of colleges, but Spelman was her "dream come true."
When she's not hitting the books, Barnwell is actively involved in school activities and even served as the vice president of Spelman's first LGBTQ organization.
"I was able to pull myself back together, stand up tall, have faith, have hope in my dreams, in Spelman and in everything," she said.
As she approaches her May 19 graduation, Barnwell said her future mission is to open a chain of international hotels and share its revenue with the communities they're in.
"[I'd like to] stimulate the economy and make sure I'm leaving a positive mark in the location where all my hotels are," she explained.
Barnwell shared the following four pieces of advice for kids who are struggling to rise above their challenges.
Even if you can't see them, someone out there thinks you're strong, beautiful, wonderful and successful -- keep that in mind.
Never lose sight of your goals.
Barnwell suggests putting your goals on paper so it's always in front of you.
"Set your focal point -- 'These are my goals, my future, my life.' It gives you something to work for even in your darkest days," Barnwell explained.
Don't hold everything in. Confide in somebody you trust.
Whether that be your guidance counselor, a family member or adult that you can trust, Barnwell said releasing your worries can make a huge difference.
"[Otherwise] you're clouding your judgement," she added.
Find a creative outlet to express yourself.
Barnwell suggests journaling your feelings, affirmations or drawing uplifting pictures to express yourself in a positive way to inspire you to achieve your goals.
There's always somebody watching.
When facing adversity, it may seem like no one is in your corner.
"Someone is watching you," Barnwell said. "Even if you can't see them, someone out there thinks you're strong, beautiful, wonderful and successful -- keep that in mind."
She went on, "Remember that you are working for the life you were destined to have."