Living Proof: From Foster Care to the White House and NBA

The powerful story of a form foster care child, born premature to a courageous teenager caught up in the grips of substance abuse and how he overcame the challenges of life in pursuit of his dreams. Developmentally delayed as a result of exposure to the substance abuse that his birth mother sought to overcome, Lucas Daniel Boyce struggled out of the gate and ended up failing kindergarten. His adoptive mother, Dorothy, didn’t cast him aside as another tragic statistic however. Instead, Dorothy Boyce instilled in Lucas two very important principles that drove his determination to overcome the cards he’d been dealt and enabled him to eventually serve at the White House, fly aboard Air Force One, and become an executive with the NBA’s Orlando Magic at the age of 29.

Lucas Book Signing


Eyewitness to Grace

May 29, 2008

Thursday Morning Aboard Air Force One.

It was the last leg of a three-day cross-country trip that took us through New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Colorado. As we prepared to touch down at New Century Airport in Olathe, Kansas, I peered out the window just off the right wing of Air Force One, deep in reflection. Th e last few days were a presidential whirlwind: visits to small businesses, statements on the economy, a commencement address to the 2008 graduating class of the U.S. Air Force Academy – and a few fundraisers peppered amidst the official events. As an associate director for the Political Affairs Office, I oversaw political activity and event planning for the president in ten states spread throughout the Mid and Southwest. From the towering St. Louis Arch in Missouri to the sprawling vineyards of California’s Napa Valley, it was my good fortune to serve the country. And while it was a tremendous amount of work, any sense of fatigue was outweighed by the overwhelming sense of gratitude I felt for the unique and rare privilege to work for and travel with the president of the United States.  A river of polarizing, contradictory emotions coursed through me. I thought of the first few decades of my life and relived the challenges caused by choices I had no control over. Twenty-nine years prior, I was prematurely born as the undesirable byproduct of a 19 year-old teenager who struggled with substance abuse. My birth mother, a young black teenager with unlimited potential and intelligence, got caught up with the wrong crowd and went down a path that had a less than desirable impact on her life. I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that I have struggled with some of the same obstacles and challenges that she faced. To be transparent, my birth mother struggled mightily with substance abuse. In order to sustain her bad habit she did some things that she wasn’t proud of. At the end of the day though her bad habit led to me, of whom I believe she is proud. Looking out the window of Air Force One, I thought of how life began for me as an orphan labeled an illegitimate mistake with failure as my birthright, and whispered a brief prayer. “Thank you.”

Flipping back through the pages of time I accessed the part of my memory where some of my most cherished, vivid moments were stored: three years spent in foster care; struggling with developmental delays; being adopted by white parents; growing up in a multi-cultural household. Tears welled up and my eyes began to mist. As I reviewed nearly 30 years of memories and tried to reconcile past challenges with being on Air Force one, I asked myself, Whoever would have believed or imagined that the illegitimate kindergarten-flunking son of a 19-year-old teenager who struggled with substance abuse would ever amount to anything – much less fly with the president aboard Air Force One?  As I reflected on God’s grace and the unmerited favor that had brought me this far, thoughts turned to one person in particular who made this daunting feat possible. Brought to her doorstep by way of grace, that one special person was waiting on the tarmac in Kansas with a big hug and a smile.  Our nation is on a continuous search for heroes and leaders of supernatural ability.  With the leader of our country receiving national security briefings in his presidential suite at the front of the plane, I asked myself a question that I had pondered several times before: what really makes someone a great leader, a hero? What qualities must one possess to reach the highest pedestal of our admiration and become the apple of our eye? Is it the number of points they score in a basketball game or how many strokes below par they golf? Is it the ability to captivate audiences and inspire nations to come together and meet the challenges of our time? Is it walking on the moon or finding the cure for all cancers? Th ese characteristics, though very much the attributes of heroes we have heard of – or yet hope to know – are still the talents of such a small percentage of the population that it is unlikely we will ever see them in someone we know. Or will we? Authentic heroes quietly cross our paths each day, unrecognized, because they are not defined or classified conventionally – rather, they can be identified by their core characteristics. Their contributions are far greater and have far more impact than we realize. They go about their daily lives unnoticed, and, sadly, more often than not, unappreciated. Yet, these heroes, these testaments to true leadership, are more real than any professional sports superstar or astronaut. They are the genuine witnesses of moral virtue. They are more influential than any politician, statesmen, billionaire or actor. Yet they fly under the radar, with their bright red heroic capes of selfless sacrifice. Through their discipline, love, encouragement and unwavering determination we are inspired to reach for something more than we are. They lead us to invest in the promise of a future that is already laid out if we only have the courage to think big, step outside ourselves and leave fear by the side of the road. I am proud to be the son of a true American hero. Dorothy doesn’t have an oversized personality and she wasn’t born on the planet Krypton, but to me, she can still fly.  With a small frame, standing five feet seven inches, my Irish-born, adoptive mother is a woman of steel. She reminds me of that Energizer Bunny in those Energizer battery commercials. She keeps going and going and going, no matter what lies ahead. Behind her sunny and friendly disposition and quick wit is a woman who possesses a wealth of knowledge and an ever-growing faith that has been forged in the fi res of life.  There are some people who succumb to the flames, their lives made ash heaps because of the senseless and insensitive things humans do to each other sometimes. Not Mom. She’s like the three Hebrew boys in the Old Testament who stood up for what they believed in, would not go with the crowd, and were thrown into an old-time crematory “fiery furnace” as a result.  Chapter three in the book of Daniel tells us King Nebuchadnezzar looked into the fire expecting the worst but witnessed something all-together different. The king not only saw the three Hebrew boys alive and well. He saw a fourth person in the fire with them and the fourth looked like the Son of God, the king said.  Mom’s faith has brought her a mighty long way and through many fires.  When things have been the hottest, I’m convinced she’s so incredibly strong because of her faith and that other person in the fire. I never got to know my birth mother and my biological father remains a mystery.  I haven’t seen my biological mother since I was almost three years old and she signed the document that paved the way for my adoption. But I’m thankful for an adopted mom, regardless of her skin color, who believed in me. Dorothy Lee didn’t cast me aside as another tragic statistic, indicative of hard life on the streets.

Mom believed that I was created for something greater and wouldn’t yield to a society that yawns at failure and quickly casts it aside. Mom’s life is the purest testament to decency, honor and integrity that I’ve ever seen; her virtues those that any would-be leader or hero should aspire to.  Mom would never, in a million years, define herself in this way. But I, and the many others who benefited from the full measure of her devotion, can testify on her behalf. I know, without a doubt, were it not for her example of leadership and constant sacrifice, I would never have dreamed it possible to work for the president of the United States.  If asked whether super heroes exist in a world filled with sad stories, disaster and disappointments, I, along with my seven sisters and five brothers, can testify without reservation; “Yes, they do!” Thursday, May 29, 2008 wasn’t “just another day at the office” for me, but an important anniversary and life milestone. Twenty-nine years earlier, as a 10-day-old premature infant, finally big enough to be released from the hospital and weighing only 4.2 pounds, I was brought to Dorothy as a foster care child by the Division of Family Services (DFS).  Since that time, May 29 serves as a second birthday for me because it was the day I truly arrived at home and began my life. And 29 years to the day that I was brought to her, my mother, Dorothy and my father, Larry watched Air Force One touch-down at a small airport in Kansas with their son aboard.  To make the day even more special, our pilot had a surprise in store for them. He had agreed to give my parents a VIP tour of one of the most magnificent planes on earth. I asked a friend of mine who was staying on board while I attended our scheduled event to point out to my mom where I sat. Knowing that she would pass by my seat, I quickly wrote a brief note:

Mom, I love you and thank you for everything you’ve done for me. I hope you and Dad enjoy the tour!  —Lucas

New Century Airport in Olathe, Kansas Approximately 1:00 PM When Air Force One rolled to a stop, I deplaned at the tail end with the rest of the junior staff and press. Th e sky was clear, and with it nearing one o’clock in the afternoon, the cement on the tarmac was quite warm; it was obvious that the cool air of spring was giving way to the humid heat of summer. I anxiously scanned the waiting crowd, looking for that familiar face, until I noticed Mom waving her arms excitedly. She was easy to spot, especially since she was the only one jumping up and down, an obvious annoyance to the Secret Service agents who were posted there. She was beaming from ear to ear, prompting a smile to creep across my own face as well. The thought flashed, My hero. A little concerned by her obvious animation, the Secret Service agent tried to gain control. “Excuse me Miss… Miss! Please stay in one spot. The plane is landing. You can’t keep running back and forth.” Mom didn’t want to miss seeing me deplane. She was normally a very soft-spoken individual and not one for public disturbance or disobedience to authority.  My mom saw the agent’s mouth moving but in her excitement pretended not to hear his rebuke. Never mind the crisp black suit, stern look, dark Ray Ban sunglasses, an earpiece and standard issue Sig Sauer 228 semiautomatic pistol at his side!  “I have to get a good photo,” she tried to reason with him. “My son is on the plane!” She could hardly contain her excitement and to be honest, neither could I! I walked across the tarmac to the barricade and gave her and my dad a big hug. I told her and my stepfather I loved them and to enjoy the tour. Then I scurried off to a 15-passenger van in the waiting motorcade before I got left behind.

A few hours later when the presidential entourage returned to the airport for the two-and-a-half hour flight back to Washington D.C., a white piece of paper caught my eye as I took my seat. My mom had returned the favor and had written a reply.

Dear Lucas, waiting to board for this tour, I thought of ‘our’ life – your life – and it’s more than humbling, isn’t it? Thank you for giving us this day! Thank you for your good, sharing life. We love you so much! —Mom & Dad.  And I miss you.

As I read the note, my eyes filled with tears again. I could only imagine where I would be without the grace of my God and the adoptive mother.  He divinely appointed me to be with. Flying aboard Air Force One, serving at the White House, or accomplishing any of the other life goals that were still to come would not have been possible without Mom’s life intermingling with my own. As a result, I’m very cognizant of the fact that when grace meets hard work and opportunity, anything can happen. I’m also keenly aware that these dreams were not achieved by my strength alone, or my ability, but by that which God has given. I believe that if you want to be the greatest, the leader; you must fi rst be willing to be the servant of all. While this is not an original philosophy, I witnessed this belief system first hand in the way my mother served and led our family of 11 and later 15. My mother’s unfailing

desire to give others a life of quality and meaning puts her on the level of our superstars and greatest heroes. My hope is that I can encourage people with her example, by sharing what it has meant for me and for so many others.  And maybe, just maybe, I can enable others to pursue their goals with a sense of purpose and buy into the fact that it doesn’t matter where we start in life. What matters most is where we’re going and the opportunity each of us has to shape our own destiny.


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