Arthur Lee Rose, Yogi, to friends and family, is definitely a man who relishes all life has to offer. An accomplished dancer and professional singer by trade; Yogi has an air of joy about him. This former foster child is the picture of happiness, contentment and success.
Yogi was born in Tuskegee, Alabama, the fifth of ten children born to his mother. When he was a year old, the family moved to Waterbury so that his single mom could live near family. As Yogi describes it, “We lived in the poor section of Waterbury. But I never felt we were poor, we just didn’t have a lot of money. We never had to sleep on the streets and there was always someplace we could go to get fed.” Yogi’s mom worked as a domestic on the overnight shift in New Haven. His older siblings watched over him and the younger children at night while his mom worked.
When Yogi was 8, the house caught on fire because the children had been using candles for light. Seven of the children were present, the oldest age 12. All of the children made it out of the house safely; however, the six youngest children were taken into state custody and sent to the State Receiving Home in Windsor Locks. Their mom found out what happened when she returned home from work. She fulfilled the state’s requirements and a month later the children were returned into their mother’s care. The four youngest immediately left to live with their biological father in Wilmington, DE. It was just too hard for a single woman with ten children to make ends meet. Yogi remembers thinking he was going to live in Delaware also and being terribly confused and disappointed when he remained behind although he did visit his half-siblings occasionally throughout his childhood. Two weeks later he and one of his brothers were back in state custody. He remembers thinking it was due to his mother’s drinking problems. But in some ways he was okay with returning to the Receiving Home. He remembers, “I had a chance at a childhood then. For the first time I attended school regularly, had a bedtime and did not spend my days shining shoes for pocket money.”
Yogi has fond memories of the State Receiving Home. “I was there for two years. I was in my first play ever while I was there.” After two years Yogi was transferred to a foster home – Kay Wyrick’s home. Yogi remembers Kay well. He and Kay did not get along. Both had strong personalities and thoughts about life. After 3 months, he moved to a foster home in Prospect where he began to study ballet. Yogi was, and still is, passionate about dance and theater. Yogi’s DCF worker, Judy Bardorian supported his dreams. Until her death, he considered her a good friend and mentor.
Yogi moved to another foster home in Waterbury during these formative years. Although he moved from the foster home in Prospect, he still speaks fondly of this family, and maintained a caring, close relationship his former foster parents until they both died. He says that during his time in Prospect he was “a kid of two separate worlds: one a dime a dozen (visiting Waterbury projects) and the other, the only black kid on the block.” He eventually returned home to live with his mom when he was a freshman in high school. He credits his mom with his self-confidence. “She always believed in me. My father died when I was one, and she carried a flame for him for the rest of her life. I reminded her of him. It made her treat me differently from the rest of my siblings and it made me believe in myself.”
Despite returning to live with his mom, Yogi remained a ward of the state until age 21. He took advantage of all the state could offer him. He attended classes in Torrington at the Nutmeg Ballet School on scholarship. After high school he attended NYU for two years. In 1981 he joined the Dance Theater of Harlem, considered a premier multi-cultural ballet company.
Yogi, now retired from dancing, had a short (he was injured) but successful dance career traveling the world. Now he travels the world singing. To other youth in foster care he says, “I have the life I always wanted. Learn to believe in yourself. With that everything is possible. Gravitate towards people who encourage you to try.” He reminds youth, “You must be willing to do the work. Forget the rejections. If you believe in something, don’t give up. I always worked towards what I wanted. I’m a kid from the ghetto and I don’t buy into those negative stereotypes.” Yogi is living proof of the power of believing in oneself. Next stop – Japan!
written by Deb Kelleher for Annie C Courtney Foundation. All rights reserved.