Tiffany Haddish says she remembers the sting of foster care, strives to inspire other struggling youth

“I didn’t think I would make it to 18," Haddish recalled.

Tiffany Haddish recently opened up about the challenges she endured while growing up in foster care, saying those experiences inspired her to create the main character of her debut children’s book, Layla, the Last Black Unicorn.

The actress, comedian and author took part in a virtual keynote conversation on Tuesday for the 2022 Variety Changemakers Summit, recounting the trials and tribulations that shaped her and encouraging children to fearlessly remain themselves.

“When I was in foster care, I mean, I thought I was going to die there,” Haddish told the outlet. “I didn’t think I would make it to 18. And when I made it to 18, I was like, ‘OK, I got to really think bigger.’”

The confidence Haddish exudes today was not always her demeanor, she said, explaining that the toll of constantly changing living locations and carrying her belongings in garbage bags resulted in the internalization of low self-worth early on.

“When I was a kid and I was moving around, all my stuff had to be in trash bags, and moving like that is not good for the self-esteem because it makes you feel like garbage that can easily be transported to here or there,” Haddish said. “You start thinking of yourself as such, as garbage.”

“That was the worst feeling in the world personally, and I told myself, if I ever get any power, I’m going to try to make sure kids don’t feel like that,” she added. “If I can reach out, I’m going to try to change that feeling for them.”

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – APRIL 18: Tiffany Haddish attends the Los Angeles special screening of “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” at DGA Theater Complex on April 18, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Leon Bennett/Getty Images)

In 2017, Haddish released The Last Black Unicorn, a compilation of personal essays about coming of age in south-central Los Angeles while living as an underresourced person. She told Variety on Tuesday that the “unicorn” moniker was reclaimed from a name children used to tease her with.

“I used to get bullied a lot, I used to get picked on, they used to tell me I was a dirty unicorn because I had something growing out my forehead,” Haddish said. “I kind of took that and ran with him. Like, yeah, I’m the Last Black Unicorn.”

Her latest children’s book, published in May, follows a child named Layla as she navigates her first year at school, as previously reported by theGrio.

“She has her issues fitting into this whole new world,” Haddish told PEOPLE last month about Layla. “But in trying to be something she’s not, she realizes, I can just be myself — and it pays off to be who you are.”

“I think Layla is my alter ego,” she told Variety on Tuesday. “What Layla was going through in the story, trying to fit in, I was going through that same thing.”

“I feel like a lot of us have this issue — we all want to be a part of something, we all want to feel like we’re included,” she continued. “A lot of times, people do a lot to try to fit in, and they don’t have to do that much. Just be who you are, because you’re special the way you are. And it took me a long time to learn that.”

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