2018 Recap

Reading Time: 5 minutes
It’s snowing in Tucson. So, I feel better that I am a few days late on my 2018 top eight because… snow in the desert. And, as you know or probably don’t because it never happens, watching snow sit on cacti is probably one of the coolest sights.
I don’t know about you, but I’m not the type for New Year’s resolutions. However, I do like to start the New Year with intentionality. At my wedding, a dear friend encouraged my husband and I to choose a specific word each year on which to reflect and meditate on together. Each year, I have enjoyed and learned to enjoy the ways in which I am stretched by this exercise.
No spoilers for 2019, but our word for 2018 was ‘listen.’ Looking back, I cannot help but notice the way in which God has continued to use that word to move my heart to and for marginalized communities, as well as towards my own and our joint healing and wholeness. And yes, I know it’s already 2019, but I wanted to take a few moments to reflect on my top eight resources, in addition to the Scripture, that helped me to listen more closely in 2018.  
  1. Intentional Mentorship. At a recent church gathering, someone tossed out this think piece: what is the meaning of church? It was just quippy/ironic/taboo enough that it immediately caught my attention, and a couple of giggles. I was hooked. What would people say? One of the most concise and profound answers was something like: it is hard to follow Jesus by yourself. Okay, so what does this have to do with mentorship? When people ask me why I advocate for mentorship, I have found myself saying something similar: it is hard to do life by yourself. We desire and need human interaction. And mentorships help to fortify and restore us.  These past two years, I have been blessed to form a mentorship of sorts with a black woman who has encouraged me to radically reconsider my understanding of social justice, womanism and the deconstruction of racism. Mentorship invites accountability and vulnerability – both stretching and powerful! If you haven’t already, I would invite you to consider a mentorship.
  1. Friendship Circles. What is that old saying about friends? Friends are a rare commodity? Growing up, I have been fortunate enough to find, usually, the right friends at the right time. Some have been long-lasting while others have been there for a season. These last few years, I have been fortunate enough to find friends that have continually spent time invested in and connecting intentionally with me on more of the gritty aspects of life. And, for that, I am forever grateful. Where do you feel safe enough to be vulnerable? I have been blessed with a variety of friendships which can hold my questions and can be soft, safe places to land. Where are your safe places? Whom are your soft places to land?
  1. Literary Resources. The other day, I was listening to an NPR podcast between a Syrian refugee and her American friend. During the interview, after doing her best to communicate her empathy for her friend, the American friend said something particularly profound which has stuck with me. I can’t remember the exact words, but it was essentially this: “You know, I have done my best to read and to educate myself on Syria, and I can’t imagine what living through that profound trauma must have been for you or how it continues to impact you. I can’t know…but, I want to tell you that your story impacts me, and I have held it and made it a part of me and what I carry.” While there are pieces of this sentiment that are, perhaps, problematic, I particularly appreciate the image of carrying the stories of others. That resonates with me as well as the idea that educational resources can only provide the smallest glimpse of historic, shared and lived trauma. That being said, don’t stop with your own due diligence. Read. Learn. Educate yourself. But also, don’t forget to invest in and get to know real people. And, because this section is titled “literary resources,” you already know you are going to get a few of my favorite book titles from this last year. Check out the graphic at the top of the post for some of my favorites. 
  1. Community Investment. Nowadays, there are so many ways to get invested in organizations and NPO’s. And, usually these investments cost you something: time, money or both. I spent time breaking down how I wanted to invest in my time and money in 2018 through 4 parts:
    1. Identify my own core values
    2. Educate myself on NPO’s and organizations within my local community which closely aligned with my core values.
    3. Invest in those communities and organizations either with my time, money or both
    4. Resource out the information I have gathered with my community
  1. Educational Opportunities. You know those people that are always like, “I LOVE SCHOOL,” or even “I LOVE HOMEWORK.” Okay, so #nerdalert, but those folks are seriously my kind of folk. I thoroughly enjoy learning and living close to the UofA makes me happy for all things seminars and workshop(py). Part of my listening journey included paying attention to opportunities for growth and then maximizing my growth potential. In education, we probably overutilize the idea of turning everything in a “learning opportunity,” but I believe access to education and continual resources and supports are crucial when considering a more equitable and just future. This past year, I attended seminars on everything from toxic masculinity and black lives matter to intersectionality and wealth disparity, and I wish I could’ve hauled each and one of you to them. From attending workshops led by Jason Reynolds to listening to Harvard Professor William Julius Wilson, I am grateful for free and accessible events.
  1. Truth Warriors. Truth can sometimes be a complicated thing. This past year, I have found myself really struggling with naming and committing to living my own truth. After a few heated scenarios with loved ones regarding my own experiences with racism, I found myself resisting my own truth. I couldn’t make sense of how to navigate living into my own truth if it meant breaking relationship. I couldn’t make sense of living into my own truth if it meant that loved ones couldn’t accept my black body. Problematic…I know.  But I also couldn’t seem to imagine pretending away my blackness for white comfort.? It didn’t seem fair to ask me to make the compromise. I wanted to channel unconditional love and yet the sentiments expressed thoroughly renounced me as a black woman and as a truth teller. What did it mean to live into truth? To be honest, I am still wrestling with this scenario. It hurts me. But I have also learned to fortify myself with some additional truths. I am named and known. I have value. I can speak the truth in love and ask for what I need. I can disengage. I can choose not to argue with those whom are unwilling to see or recognize my inherent value as a human being. I can still have power.
  1. Intentional Mindfulness/Mental Health Awareness. What are the ways you unwind? This past year has been a doozy for me, and as I’ve struggled to begin to manage my anxiety, I discovered the importance of meditation and routines. As resourced in a few previous blog posts, I have particularly found supports like therapyforblackgirls, ourselvesblack and even forharriet helpful and encouraging. On the IG or Twitter, check out #blackgirlmentalhealth, #blackmentalhealth or #blackwomenmentalhealth
  1. Media. One way I listen is by exposing myself to different cultures through television, radio and media. Check out the graphic at the top of my page for my recommendations.

All the Light Within Part III: Bonita

Reading Time: 9 minutes

In the past few years, it has become increasingly important for me to connect with other transracial adoptees. In the wake of reconnecting with my biological mother two years ago, I have found comfort and solace in the shared connection of the transracial adoption experience, and a renewed commitment to amplifying the adoptee voice utilizing my blog platform.

I have dedicated the month of July towards telling transracial adoptee stories through a series entitled: All the Light Within, by featuring 4 different transracial adoptees. If you missed the Part I and II, please click on the appropriate numeric link for access.

So, full disclosure? I had four adoptees lined up for this interview series, but due to unexpected circumstances, two needed to decline at the last minute. That being said, I try not ask others to do something that I am not willing to also do, so this last and final adoptee series will be on yours truly. The following piece will be written Q&A style. I will answer the same questions used for the first two interviews.

How do you racially identify?
I identify as a black woman with a biracial experience. 
When were you adopted and were you placed with any foster families?
I was born in October of 1992 in Philadelphia, two months premature, and placed into the first of three foster care homes. The third foster care home, which would become my forever family, received me in December of 1992, and, four years later, I was adopted in December of 1996. 
Do you have any biological siblings and, if so, were you adopted with any biological siblings?
I have three older biological siblings, though it seems silly to say older because one is my twin sister, and I was adopted with my twin sister. 
How do you think your adoption journey has been shaped by being adopted with a biological sibling?
I think that being adopted with a biological sibling has allowed me to have a sort of comrade in the journey. It helps to know that there is someone whom may be experiencing similar emotions and feelings. But, to be honest, we process everything so differently, that, maybe as strange as it is to say, it sometimes feels even more alienating. 

You know, because if I experience something racist and she doesn’t…I feel like we are sometimes “pitted” against one another…and then, you know, I am told that I’m just playing the “race card” or something BS… But, overall, I am really grateful to have been adopted with a biological sibling. 
What was the best thing about your adoption?
Well….being adopted was the best thing. 
But also, I think that one of the best things about my adoption has been the relationship I have cultivated with my adoptive mother. We went through a lot of pain and struggle together, and there is something so sweet and sacred about our journey. She has taught me a lot about unconditional love and forgiveness, and, I think because of that (and our personalities) we are able to speak frankly and hold each other accountable in ways I wouldn’t have expected otherwise. 

I am also really grateful for my relationship with my dad. I don’t have a biological father – he passed before I was born and didn’t know about me – and so, one of the things that I really appreciate about my dad is that he has really been intentional in being a part of my life and letting me challenge him on issues of race and politics. 

Oh, and my oldest sister. She likes to say that she always wanted two sisters, and I have always really admired her…I think that she is really strong in ways, perhaps, that she doesn’t even know. And, I really admire that she is willing to say hard truths and stay committed to relationships. 
What values did your parents instill in you?
I think that my parents both instilled similar and different values in me. They both instilled the value of hard work, and by that I mean, the importance of doing a job thoroughly and making sure it is correct the first time.

I think that my dad has instilled in me the value of service and doing things for others without seeking recognition and to always have a sense of humor. 

My mom has instilled in me the value of curiosity and wonder and the ability to not discount my own ability to do hard things, particularly if those things are mechanical or industrial. I’ve learned to surprise myself by gaining new skill sets just because I allow myself to try things that I don’t always think I can do. 
Did you, if at all, recognize early on that you were different from your adoptive family?
I’m not sure. I think the first time I realized that I was racially different was when I received my first black doll. I think that was the first time I had something racially representational, and that was really important. 

Another memory I have and will always hold onto is the moment I went on a 1st grade visit to the Waldorf School. A girl, who ended up being one of my early childhood best friends, was watching out the windows when I arrived. And, as soon as I entered the classroom, she ran up to me, picked me up and yelled, “YOU ARE SO BEAUTIFUL.” 

Up until that point, while I hadn’t really heard negative things about my skin, I knew it was problematic. Mostly because my skin was so different than my white families and it required constant attention. You know, ashy knees, easy scars, stuff like that. I remember my mom always yelling at me if I didn’t lotion right after a bath, and here to have this young, white girl just not even caring…that was really special. 
Did you live in a racially dominant area?
I grew up in a predominately white, rural area in, what I would now consider would have been, a conservative, semi-Bible Belt area. But, kind of a weird, anomaly thing was that a close neighbor friend was married to a black woman. They each had had kids through their previous marriage, but I remember that her daughters offered to do my hair. 
Did your parents/family discuss your differences with you?
To be honest, I don’t remember a formal conversation with my parents about race. At some point, I think race became more important to them because I started to notice that the literature in the house suddenly started to become more racially representational. We had this one book, ‘Brown Angels,’ and then all of a sudden we started to have books like ‘Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters’ and ‘I Love My Hair,’ but I don’t remember my parents ever having explicit race talks…

I guess when I was still in foster care, my mom learned how to do black hair and she did a really good job because I remember how sometimes I would get these compliments and people would ask me who did my hair, and I would just point at my white mother and they’d look kind of dumbfounded. So, I guess we talked about race by the way we talked about hair…

But, I think for the most part my family and extended family kind of adhered to a colorblind ideology, which has the unfortunate effect, I think, of racial erasure. Or, at least, looking back…it seems maybe more like a convenient colorblind ideology. I think this ideology has been the most difficult one to, now as an adult, confront because then I’m seen as the problematic, unreasonable, dramatic, emotional black girl. 

So, it feels complicated and exhausting to recognize that family won’t always mean ally, and that has been a really hard truth to grapple with, particularly because it feels so alienating…but also, as strange as it sounds, it is so empowering and healthy for me to confront and recognize. But even vocalizing and admitting that feels hard because, as an adoptee, society conditions you to think so much about being grateful for being “rescued” that it is easy to just “ignore” the rest. 
Was race an issue for your family?
I think, and maybe this will sound weird, but the more I lean into my own double consciousness and my own truths, the more I realize how much race was and is an issue for my family. 

Let me explain. I think that in order to be anti racist and an ally one has to intentionally commit to 1) seeing race and injustices and 2) committing to a intentional anti-racist action. 

I think race was and is an issue just in the vernacular I hear used in my family (extended included)…you know the white hair grab and the casual toss of “illegals” and “ghetto walmart” and “those blacks” etc, kind of tossed into everyday conversation. But, that is how it happens, right? Race colors our understanding of whom has value and whom is worth protecting and believing and whom is viewed as a truth teller. I want my kids to be loved and to have allies in their family. And…some days…I just get really sad thinking about the comments that are said to me and how I refuse to have them said to my children.   
In your neighborhood, was race an issue?
I don’t recall specific racial events in my neighborhood…then again, it was a rural area. I remember being mistaken for a Fresh Air Kid, and racialized incidents at school and in other the larger community, but not specifically in my neighborhood. 
What was your first negative racialized moment?
I think my first negative racialized moment was the first time I was called a nigger by a classmate in third grade. I don’t remember hearing that word before then, and I remember that when I came home, I was just crying. I ran to my dad’s office and climbed up on his chair, grabbed this big old dictionary and just searched and searched for the word and my mom came and like, took the dictionary away and just held me for a while. 
What was your first positive racialized moment?
Well, I think that moment with the first grade classmate might have been the first one. But, I honestly think that other than that, I don’t really remember having a positive racialized moment until much more recently…probably in the last few years..and that sounds really sad.. 

Something changed within me and I realized that I deserve to be proud of my skin and my body and that I can be a powerful black woman. I had a teacher in college, I will never forget her, and she really pushed me and believed in me. She kept telling me that I could become anything, and that has really impacted me. 
Do you feel like race impacts you?
Absolutely. And, I believe that race impacts all of us…just not everyone realizes it or is ready to realize it. I think…perhaps because I came into believing my own double consciousness at a later time in my life, that things feel more acute to me. And, it’s my personality to speak up and out about things. and to feel things rather intensely. 

It feels lonely though, particularly, because I still struggle with the tension of allyship and family and a history of other things that complicate the familial relationships. 

But yeah, I think understanding how race impacts me and has shaped my childhood has made it even more important for me to speak out for others and other injustices. Personal experience, perhaps mixed with my own unique personality, has made intersectionality with other injustices really important. 

When, if at all, did you begin to identify with the black community?
I think that as I grow (and grew) older, I continue(d) to realize how much my struggles with racism aren’t a lone, solitary story but part of a much broader narrative in a much larger framework. That feels hopeful because there is a solidarity and a community that knows the pain and that have a historical record of resisting. 

When I think about that and lean into my friends whom have resisted, I feel heard and known in ways that I don’t in other spaces. 
Did you feel isolated or lonely growing up? And, if so, how?
I think that as a child, I wouldn’t have told you I felt lonely, per say, because I always was pretty popular and had friends. But, it strikes me as an adult that one way I did feel lonely was that I often experienced a lot of microaggressions and dog whistle comments by the same “friends.” 

You know, if I got upset or something, they would mock me with stereotypical “black” anger by snapping their fingers at me and saying something they thought was “ghetto.” I could never be “reasonably” angry….and that in and of itself had its own personal and mental consequences.

So, I remember, by the time I got to late HS, I just stopped trying to show too much emotion at school…because one if the unfortunate effects is that you start to doubt your own reasonability. And, I know the statistics about black women and mental health, but there usually isn’t space for black women’s anger or feelings…and it feels even more compounded in predominately white spaces….
I remember there was this one guy in Middle School who was a real piece of work, and he would constantly harass me by putting stuff down my pants like pencils and erasers… and just saying really awful sexual stuff to me and like, microaggressive stuff too. I remember reporting him and the Mennonite Administration put him at the front of the bus for a week, and that just made it all the more worse because then I had to walk past him every day…

I remember telling my girlfriends about it and we got him back by coloring these two huge maxi pads with red marker, soaking them in water and then putting them in his brand new basketball sneakers. At the time…that felt so empowering…the solidarity.

 But like, there were the other stuff too. The stuff that you just keep to yourself. You know, there was this one 8th Grade track meet, and I was walking in front of the bleachers and all of these skinny, Christian, white boys started yelling stupid racial stuff at me and spat on me. 

I remember just being humiliated. And, I didn’t tell anyone because I didn’t want to be further embarrassed and I didn’t think anyone would help me….I guess this is the first time I’ve told that story….

Or like, the classmate that lifted up my field hockey skirt because he wanted to see if I had a big butt…because “black girls have big butts…”

There are a lot of stories that I’ve just kept to myself that I guess complicated and compounded the loneliness…because, it’s always like…if I speak up will people believe me? And, what if they accuse me of “playing the race card?” I feel like I often chose silence because I was so afraid of what might happen if I spoke up. Would I be believed? What if I wasn’t? Could I deal with that? What if I had to prove why it was racist? I think what really complicated the matters were some of the worst moments happened in Christian settings and so…like, everyone was already a Jesus follower and that felt trickier.
What, if anything, would you tell someone about your adoption journey?
I think I would tell them that my adoption journey continues to be a journey that shapes my ideology. I don’t think adoption journeys, like most journeys, are linear…I think they all just kind of follow an upward spiral where, at the beginning, things may feel really hard and intense, but that with each upward spiral things feel less painful and more manageable. 
As always, thanks for entering this journey with me. I tried to tell this story in ways that would not infringe on my family’s privacy, so if you are curious about things, please know that I may not be able to answer all of your questions. But also, these stories are also just glimpses of a much larger biography. 
Again, my most sincere thanks to Jasmine and Star whom dared to be vulnerable with me and with you. 
Shalom always,

All the Light Within Part II: Jasmine

Reading Time: 4 minutes

All the Light Within Part II: Jasmine

In the past few years, it has become increasingly important for me to connect with other transracial adoptees. In the wake of reconnecting with my biological mother two years ago, I have found comfort and solace in the shared connection of the transracial adoption experience, and a renewed commitment to amplifying the adoptee voice utilizing my blog platform.

I have dedicated the month of July towards telling transracial adoptee stories through a series entitled: All the Light Within, by featuring 4 different transracial adoptees. If you missed Part I, please click here to access.

If you are an interracial adoptee and would like to be considered for an interview, I would welcome your private message via FB or comments on my blog.

I think one of the best things about telling adoption stories is that ultimately adoption stories are relationship stories. Relationships often include struggle and disappointment, sometimes loneliness and abandonment, but relationships are also miraculous because of how they connect people with other people. I think that transracial adoptions can sometimes provide a particularly important lens when seeking to investigate systems of attachment, childhood development and transracial relationships, and I hope that you feel privileged and encouraged by Jasmine’s openness.  

I still remember the first time I met Jasmine during a college theater activity. Because both of us attended the same small Mennonite college in the middle of rural, tumbleweed Kansas, you can imagine that it wasn’t very racially diverse. I will never forget how her vivacious personality, beautiful smile and infectious belly laugh immediately caught my attention, and I remain grateful for her vulnerability and genuine spirit.

Jasmine is a 25-year-old black woman and currently resides in the Southwest. Because she was unable to Skype, this interview features Jasmine’s written responses to specific questions regarding her adoption.

Born in 1993, Jasmine begins her adoptive story with this memory:

The day I was born, I was placed in a home because my birth mother was incarcerated. I have been with that wonderful family ever since. Barb and Dick Jones then became my legal guardians when I was 5 years old.

According to Bureau of Justice Statisticians, Lauren Glaze and Laura Maruschak, in their study, Parents in Prison and Their Minor Children, the number of children with a mother in prison increased 131 percent between 1991 and midyear 2007..and, children whose parents are involved in the criminal justice system have an above average likelihood of entering foster care.

These statistics are particularly staggering when you begin to consider the demographics which were most affected in the wake of the Crack Epidemic. But it is even more important to remember that these are not just statistics, but people. And, that real people were effected and continue to be effected.

 I invite you to read Jasmine’s story with care and I remain grateful to Jasmine for her vulnerability and openness.

How do you identify racially?

I honestly identify myself as biracial. My birth mother’s mother was white, but my mom had more black on her.

Did you recognize early on that you were different from your adoptive family?

I truly never really felt different from my adoptive family. I consider myself very lucky to have been placed in such a loving and understanding home. The community that I grew up was mostly white and they never treated me any differently.

Did your parents/family discuss your differences with you?

 Yes, very much so, and it helps me love who I am even more.

What values did your parents instill in you?

How to be a hard worker.

What has been the best thing about your adoption?

For me, it would be growing up in a loving, safe home with people who actually cared for me. I can’t even imagine what my life would have been like if I had not been adopted

What, if anything, would you want to tell someone about your adoption journey?

I would tell them if they are thinking about adoption to not hesitate…to just do it…. that they are saving the precious baby.

Did you feel isolated or lonely growing up?

No. I had a pretty good set of friends we are still pretty close today and I truly value their friendships.

Was race an issue for you/your family?

No.

Did you live in a racially dominant area?

Not at all. My younger sister (who was also adopted, but is not my biological sister) and I were pretty much the only black people in our town. There are maybe, maybe 7 total. But our town is also very small.

In your neighborhood, was race an issue?

 If it was, I never once experienced it. But also, we never had a neighborhood.

When did you, if at all, first begin to identify with the black community? (ie: some have said when Trayvon Martin was killed, some have said when they began to make more black friends, etc.,):

Hesston College actually was the first time. And, I am happy I got to experience Hesston. I made a lot of good friends.

Do you feel like race impacts you?

Yes, now that I am grown up and looking for work it is very hard….it seems like no one wants to hire the black woman.

What was your first negative racialized moment?

I honestly cannot remember and maybe that is for the best. I haven’t really had any bad experiences with being black.

When was your first positive racialized moment? (ie: For example, maybe you always loved being biracial, or maybe you did when you began to love your hair…etc.,):

 I think it was when I realized how awesome bright colors looked against my skin.

I love that positive racialized moment statement. And, I love Jasmine’s continued optimism. She faces the world with a sunny disposition, and she continues to inspire me. And, maybe, she also inspired you.

Keep on the lookout for part III of All the Light Within. 

Shalom always,
B