Justin Willis is a product of the U.S. foster care system and he wants to use his platform to raise awareness about the environment he came from.
The surging UFC heavyweight is currently on a seven-fight win streak and has yet to be matched for what he claims is the final fight on his current contract.
On the latest episode of The MMA Hour, Willis informed Ariel Helwani that he grew up in “foster homes, group homes, treatment centers, residential centers, homeless shelters,” and as far as he’s concerned, it was far from an ideal environment to spend your formative years.
Willis has previously stated that staff members in a Frago treatment center ran a fight club and pitted him against other children when he was young as 10 years old.
“It was a place called Frago Treatment Center and it was in Oakland, California,” Willis remembered on The MMA Hour.
“That’s the place that sticks out most in my mind as the most memorable moment when it comes to this pit fighting. When I was at Frago, I was nine, 10 or 11, I don’t remember exactly. This was in 1998 or whatever it was. They closed down in 1998, so I was 11 then.”
“Big Pretty” believes that going through such traumatic situations as an adolescent has given him a responsibility to inform the masses about what’s going on in the U.S. foster care system.
“If it was wrong, it was wrong. I don’t know if you know about the foster system, but there are a lot of things that are wrong in that system,” Willis said. “I think God put me in this position to shine a light on what’s going on in those foster care systems.
“If you take these kids out of their homes, you have to offer them something better,” he continued. “And what I received was not better. I wouldn’t say it was worse, but it created what I am today and that’s a monster when it comes to getting in that cage.”
When he was 15, Willis moved in with a family in Valley Christian where he was afforded a private education.
“The contrast is crazy,” he said. “You grow up in the inner city or these homes and you have to go without. Then I moved in with the family and I had everything essentially.”
According to Willis, too many foster families are not providing children with what they need.
“The psychology we all know is outdated because if you have a person that you go to for help, that person shouldn’t be depending on you to eat, to pay their gas, to put their kids through college…to essentially live. So if you only go to them one time, that residual income does not happen. So what a lot of psychologists have to do is create a codependency. What psychology is today is essentially codependency pushing,” he explained.
“Back to foster care, some kids do need saving from the situation they are in, that is a fact. Some people and kids are in dire situations where they do need to be saved, but my whole thing is: If you do save these kids, make sure you offer them something better.
“You offer them something where the success rate is more than one percent when it comes to graduating from college. We have to raise the percentages. Fifty percent shouldn’t be homeless after they get out of the system. We have to do better. All you have to do is look up the success rate of kids who come out of system and you would know exactly what I’m talking about. We have to offer them something better and it can’t be codependency.”