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A Chance After All

By Ann Marie Scheidler

Photography by Robin Subar

11.02.17

Steve Pemberton penned a memoir of his heartbreaking upbringing as a foster child. Now this Highland Park resident and chief diversity officer for Walgreens continues to inspire as his story comes to the big screen.

ONE NIGHT, STEVE Pemberton was reading the book The Lion and the Mouse to his 6-year-old son when his little boy looked up at him, puzzled. “When you were small, did you have a daddy?” he asked Pemberton. Surprised, Pemberton realized he had to answer honestly. “No, I didn’t.”

Pemberton was abandoned as a toddler by his mother, who was a struggling alcoholic. Before she died, all five of her children were taken in by the broken foster care system in New Bedford, Mass., each to a different family. “It’s hard to describe what it was like waking up in fear of my life as a child,” says Pemberton, who didn’t know who his father was until he was much older. “My secret weapon was that I loved to read. It gave me a vision that I was different from all of the labels that had been put on me.”

Pemberton defied all expectations, outlasted the abuse from a horrific foster family and earned a full scholarship to Boston College. The question Pemberton fielded from his young son prompted him to write his memoir, A Chance in the World ($17, Thomas Nelson). Almost immediately, filmmakers approached the busy Walgreens executive about turning it into a movie. This fall, A Chance in the World debuts on the film festival circuit. “When I was researching my book, I was given access to my [foster care] case file,” Pemberton says. “Early on, someone predicted, ‘This little boy doesn’t have a chance in this world.’ They painted me as this broken child. I had the choice to lament and languish or rebuild and believe. I knew I had to build something different, something better.”