Alexis Black was 6 when her mother died, 13 when her father went to prison.

Justin Black lived in abandoned houses in a bad Detroit neighborhood before his parents surrendered him to the state at age 9.

Alexis and Justin met at Western Michigan and bonded over their shared childhood experiences. Together they overcame the obstacles and made a life together. They share their story in Re-defining Normal: How Two Foster Kids Beat the Odds and Discovered Healing, Happiness and Love, the autobiography they co-authored in October 2020.

Alexis and Justin Black will share their story in person, via Zoom, at the 2021 Embark Georgia Leadership Conference, which will be held on-line May 24-26.

The conference will also feature other state and national speakers sharing their experiences with students in foster care or homeless during the pandemic and how they are moving forward to serve those students. With this year’s conference taking place in a virtual format, Embark Georgia has been able to attract an even more diverse field of nationally recognized speakers.

“While we certainly wish we were gathering in-person, the virtual format provides us an opportunity to bring in even more of the top experts in this field, strengthening the conference further,” said Lori Tiller, Fanning Institute public service faculty and Embark Georgia co-network director.

The UGA J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development runs Embark Georgia, a statewide program that partners with the University System of Georgia (USG), Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG), the Division of Family and Children Services, the Georgia Department of Education, and numerous nonprofit and community organizations to increase college access and retention for youth who have experienced foster care or homelessness. Through Embark Georgia, each USG and TCSG campus has a point of contact to help identify and provide resources to homeless and former foster students who need help.

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“Campus points of contact are one part of a broader system that Embark Georgia brings together that plays a crucial role in ensuring these students have a support system,” said David Meyers, Fanning Institute public service faculty member and Embark Georgia co-network director. “This conference provides an opportunity for individuals throughout this support system to learn from each other, learn the latest research in this field and strengthen networks.”

Since its inception in 2017, the conference has provided attendees with necessary resources and knowledge that applies directly to the students they serve, said Shanequa Warrington, special populations and Title IX coordinator at Chattahoochee Technical College.

“The conference is amazing,” Warrington said. “It has allowed me to open my eyes to different perspectives. Embark Georgia brought in quality speakers that demonstrated in a practical manner how to implement new strategies and resources.”

Open to higher education and high school professionals, case managers, homeless liaisons, private foster care professionals and any other interested community partners, the conference will also include virtual breakout sessions and networking opportunities.

Conference sessions will take place in the morning only on all three days and registration costs $40.

“Embark Georgia is part of the university’s commitment to ensuring students, regardless of background, have an opportunity to achieve their educational goals and pursue their dreams,” said Matt Bishop, director of the Fanning Institute. “This leadership conference plays a vital role in building the statewide support system needed to make that happen, and we look forward to welcoming everyone virtually.”

Click here to register for the 2021 Embark Georgia Leadership Conference.


Charlie Bauder Public Relations Coordinator • 706-542-7039


David Meyers Embark Georgia co-network director • 706-542-5062