My wife and I are white. We adopted our wonderful African American children at birth. We strive daily to help our son grow up to be a confident, proud and loving black man and our daughter to be a confident, proud and loving black woman. I hope our experiences will help others who are doing the same.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

I read a post on an adoption Facebook page today. It was about a teenage daughter who was adopted talking to her mom about how she looked forward to one day having a biological daughter that she could share DNA with. The gist of the story was that the mom, who had both biological and adopted children was very supportive of the idea. In part, her readiness for such a discussion was because of reading posts on the page by adult adoptees. I posted the following personal account to the thread.

For our first adoption, our social worker was pregnant. She had been adopted into her family. As we undertook the rigorous soul searching process of the home study, she would share her excitement of soon having a biological child–someone who looked like her. We had never had a pregnancy last to birth and found her youthful enthusiastic comments to be surreal. Just a few years earlier we had felt the same way as she did now. It is simply natural to expect your kids to look like you, whether you were adopted or not. I understand there is a very strong desire to share a biological connection if you had never had one. I get it, in part because of my early reluctant training along my adoption path. I look forward to the day, hopefully many years off, when I am a grandpa. I'll love my grandkids no matter what. I also hope both of my children will be able to share the joy of natural child birth with their spouse. Thanks for sharing this your story.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

We celebrated MLK Jr. holiday like the Johnsons-We went skiing

We decided to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. holiday like, according to the Johnson family, many African American families do, by going skiing-albeit our family is a 50-50 blend.

My son grew up watching Anthony Anderson movies-Big Momma's House, Kangaroo Jack, Malibu's Most Wanted, Scary Movie 3, Cody Banks 2, Harold and Kumar go to White Castle (not necessarily in that order)- so Black-ish strikes a chord with him.  Anderson's character Dre is constantly concerned that his children, who are being raised in an upper middle class predominately white neighborhood and schools, are not developing a sense of their African American heritage and empathy for black culture.  This too is my concern, as well as many other white parents of adopted black children.  Because of this my wife and I make watching Blackish a family event.  Even though we don't resemble the Johnson family, there are enough similarities that our laughter is often a reflection of our own experiences triggered by Dre's antics.

And as the Johnson's did in this episode our children did this past weekend on a west Michigan ski-slope, increased diversity on the slopes of African American skiers, in our case from two to four.

While there is a strong and thoughtful movement among white parents of adopted African American children to provide opportunities for our children to interact in settings where their skin color is the majority (see my articles in Adoption Today), I feel that it is also important to provide outdoor experiences where my children can develop life skills, exercise and appreciate nature.  Because of this we find ourselves in settings where our children are often among the few people of color.  This includes, camping, skiing, hiking and canoeing.

As we work to instill in our children traits shared by many parents- confidence, sense of adventure, empathy, cultural awareness-we provide opportunities for outdoor adventures and intercultural day to day life experiences.

Black-ish - Celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. National Holiday

Friday, September 5, 2014

I absolutely love this poster. It is in significant contrast to what I saw when I visited Cheryl's Beauty Supply two days ago.

My teenage son is training his hair for waves and he has been asking for a Crown Quality brush for his birthday.

The is either sold out or out of stock. So, naturally I ask the father of one of my daughter's classmates, who happens to have some Hardcore waves (o.k., I don't think I can get away with that--nice waves) where I might find a "Is it Royal Crown, or Crown Royal, brush?" My children cringe every time I open my mouth.

"Why do you have to talk to Elijah's dad like that Dad? You're embarrassing."

I find the shop. It is just down the road from Barber Love's where Jake and I get our hair cut. I park my car behind the new development in old Lansing, a joint project with a local developer and Michigan State University attempting to gentrify a Michigan Avenue Shopping District.

Parking is in the back and I enter the rear door to Cheryl's Beauty Supply. I step inside and am overwhelmed by an abundance of straight hair packaged in plastic hanging on all the walls--blue, red, blonde, black, streaked, tipped, brown, pink. The only place there isn't straight hair in plastic packages is on top of the aisle shelves where there is straight and wavy hair perched atop foam heads. The earless heads with pointed noses and the thin lips seem to be staring at me through the their concave depressions where eyes should be. "Wrong door, Subways around the corner."

But, long ago I found that my comfort zone is being uncomfortable, and I walk up to the counter and ask if they have a Royal Crown brush. "You mean a Crown Quality brush?" Donna nicely corrects me.

They don't carry them but they do have a collection of 100% boars bristle brushes. She also shows me the wave curl activator section. I walk out with Luster's S-curl Wave Jel Activator.

I give my son the activator and ever since he has been brushing more than Snapchatting.

I'm still looking for the Crown Quality Brush. But, I was informed that in addition to the brush, he now requires a doo rag.

Now, I bought him one when he as seven. At the time my wife was like he doesn't need a doo rag. But eight years later now it is, "Well you know the cotton pillow case absorbs the gel and his hair will get all out of place. He needs a doo rag." Thank you Erica and Adoption hair_skincare Facebook Page. Seriously though, thank you, we have both learned a lot from the page.

With time running out before his birthday, I think I'll be stopping by Cheryl's this afternoon.

This time I'll just glare a "Yep, I'm in the right place," at the army of straight haired foam heads as I enter the backdoor.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Family Oreo photo taken on hike in the woods.

In the waning days of the school year, I am happy to report that the new school principal at my daughter's elementary school finally can tell my daughter apart from a girl who's only similarity is that she is in the same class and is the same height. Sure the girls are both African American, but they wear their hair differently, and their skin tones are different, and one wears glasses.

Last year my daughter's principal, who was African American, would say, "Hello little Ms. D," when she saw her in the hallway. She would also invite my daughter as well as other students to lunch regularly. I developed a nice relationship with her when we both read Langston Hughes to the fourth graders when my son was in fourth grade. She provided some of her own experiences growing up in Detroit, before she read Mother to Son which starts, "Well son, I'll tell you: Life for me ain't been no crystal stair."

My daughter's new principal seems to doing a fine job, she just hasn't impacted my daughter or our family like her previous principal.

As white parents raising strong, compassionate, self confident African American children I relish opportunities for our children to have strong, self confident, and compassionate African American role models in their lives.

While our district couldn't keep her previous principal in the district, I am glad that they have hired a Superintendent who who appears to be extraordinarily capable and happens to be African American. Even though, I doubt my children will even meet our new Superintendent - her leadership at the top will help to improve our schools, set the tone for increased diversity in hiring to reflect our multi-cultural district, help to narrow the achievement gap with which our district struggle, and improve community relationships after our district recently closed of our most racially diverse elementary school.

This picture is making the rounds on many Facebook pages. It is disturbing when seen through today's politically correct lenses. I decided to look into the picture further, to understand the complete character of Franklin. And, while Chris Rock might be right that Franklin doesn't talk in the television specials, he has plenty to say in the comic strip and was a very good friend of Charlie Brown. I think it speaks well of Charles Schultz that he added Franklin to his strip in 1968. Did, you know that Franklin's father was a Vietnam Veteran. MLK Jr. was certainly speaking out against the Vietnam War prior to his death. I also, wonder about this particular still when regardless of where Franklin was sitting at the table, would he still feel that he was isolated at this all white Thanksgiving dinner. And, as for Snoopy being at the table, the entire strip is about an anthropomorphizing dog. 

In this link you'll see a strip about Lucy and Franklin arguing over ice time at the local pond. Franklin says that he needs time to practice his hockey so that he can join the NHL and Lucy points out that there are no Blacks in the NHL - which I believe was true in 1974. He was called out on it and Charles Schultz defended his column as a joke with no intended racism. Perhaps he could have benefited having subtle racism sensitivity training. Or, he could have added one more pane which had Franklin say that he would be the first. We measure progress by celebrating the first. I prefer to celebrate that in a tumultuous time in race relations in our country, Franklin was the first kid of color to enter the Peanuts Comic Strip.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Here in Michigan there has been much remembering of the time Mr. Mandela came to Detroit's Tiger Stadium four months after he was released from prison.  49,000 people attended.  Andria and I were there too, along with our close friends, Joe and Steph who are now my daughter's Godparents.

I spent some time thinking today about Nelson Mandela and what an impact that he and the struggle for the end of Apartheid had on my life.  

Andria and I would meet at the soup kitchen in the basement of Wesley Foundation for lunch while we attended WMU in the late 1980's.  There was a passionate graduate student, John Lee, lecturing on how WMU was the fourth university to divest its retirement portfolio of businesses doing business in South Africa because of student action.  MSU was the first university to do so.

He was the leader of WMU's South African Student Organization (SASO II).  The II was used to show solidarity with the South African organization of the same name which had been banned by the South African government and kept that name as long as it existed.  The organization's faculty support came from Professor Don Cooney who also sat on the City of Kalamazoo's City Council and the Reverend Don VanHoeven.   Our Congressman, Howard Wolpe, fought tirelessly in the U.S. Congress to free Mandela and to divest in South Africa and was a supporter of SASO II.  

We quickly joined and attended a number of marches from campus to City Hall urging the city to divest its portfolio.  "Break the links, break the links, break the links, Apartheid stinks."  We also marched as tribute to the thousands who died in the struggle to end apartheid rule.

We also took trips to Chicago to protest the South African Consulate.  We never did get past the front door.  We tried.  I'm pretty sure we had handcuffs at the ready to cuff ourselves to furniture.

Three years after I graduated Nelson Mandela was free.  It was the first time that I saw that the voices of many can ban together to achieve political change.  My part was minuscule and done in the confines of my comfortable Mid-western university and its cozy soup kitchen.  But, it was something.  And, when people join together to do something about an injustice positive change can happen.  It may be incremental but the pathway to freedom is build on individual pavers - one brick at a time.  I was born in the middle of our own struggle for equal rights, but in the mid 1980's I had an opportunity to do something to help the ongoing world wide struggle. 

Little did I know then, that I would spend my lifetime, as a father of black children, continuing to keep the "Eye on the prize," and pushing toward equality.  

It was an incredibly moving day, being serenaded by Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin and being in the midst of so many who fought for equality in the US and South Africa. And, hearing Mr. Mandela's inspiring words.

"Your solidarity has given us enormous strength and courage. We will not forget you."

It was like he was speaking to me, personally.

Thank you Mr. Mandela.  Your words and passion will echo in my children's voices.

Mr. Neslon Mandela's speech at Tiger Stadium - June 28, 1990