MIAMI (CBSMiami) – A young man who had a tough life growing up learned to not let his past control his future. Today, he works to help other kids, just like him, have a better tomorrow.
Brandon Burke has a 10-thousand watt smile and is filled with love and hope.
“I’m a lover, not a fighter,” said Burke.
However, he said that as a little boy his heart was broken a couple of times.
At three-years old, Burke ended up in the custody of the Florida Department of Children and Families which expressed concern for his welfare. In an 18 month period, he was placed into three foster homes and a group home.
“One minute you are sitting at the table with your family having dinner the next minute you are with complete strangers,” shared Burke.
At age five, he received a surprise. His dad came forward and took him out of foster care to live with him.
“I got reunited with my father and it was a wonderful time, we were a family,” said Burke.
He treasures the wonderful times he had with his dad. But on the night of his high school’s homecoming he got a call that would change his life.
“A call telling me that my dad passed away from a drug overdose,” said Burke. “It really crushed me cause, I was like ‘man, it was going so well.’ It just ended so quickly and abruptly.”
Burke said the news broke his heart.
He was placed back into foster care at age 15. He said that this time it was even worse. Some of the homes that they stayed in were drug infested and filled with chaos, but he never gave up on himself.
“I never lost sight of myself, pride,” said Burke.
To survive, he decided he had to move out on his own. At the age of 17, Burke scraped together his pennies and spent his senior year of high school looking for an apartment. He soon figured out how to live on his own, cooking, cleaning and paying bills.
“Either that or you’re homeless. It’s a no brainer,” said Burke. “You have to grow up really fast.”
Burke realized that he was finally alone in this big world.
“That was probably one of the hardest moments I had to deal with personally,” said Burke.
However, he used school as a life raft.
“What I have learned is that you can take my home away, you can take my family away, you can take all my belongings away, but what you can’t take away from me is my education,” said Burke. “That’s going to last forever.”
His grades flourished and so did his abilities as a public speaker. Worried about other foster kids, Burke spoke before the Florida Legislature and is now credited with helping to get two laws passed. One of them extended the benefits for foster care children from 18-years old to 21-years old.
“It was an extraordinary moment. I’m just a regular high school foster youth and I would have never in a million years imagined me in front of the governor or a state representative or a state senator,” said Burke.
So impressed with the power of making change, Burke said that he has committed himself to run for office. One of his dreams was to meet a member of the U.S. Congress and CB4’s Michele Gillen made it happen.
Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Shultz took Burke for his first power breakfast hearing. They both shared dreams of helping children.
“We got kids that are in the worst circumstances,” said Burke.
Wasserman Shultz was so impressed that she asked him to accompany her to a press conference where he wowed the crowd.
“I want to help people, I want to do the right thing,” said Burke. “I want to make a difference that helps the world.”
Burke is just beginning to start his train, but is continuously moving forward.
“Most definitely, a locomotive that won’t stop,” said Burke.
As if this dream couldn’t get any better it did. At the congresswoman’s invitation, Burke applied to be an intern in her Washington D.C. office. He was just accepted and will begin this fall before he starts the University of Florida in Gainesville.
“I’m too thrilled for words,” Burke told Gillen.
He added that he would like to thank Florida Youth Shine, a program under the non-profit Florida’s Children First which believed in him and ushered Burke into their campaign that gives voice and help to foster care children.