Friday, February 27, 2009

Growing up in the Inner-City

Sarah asked:
"I'm curious if you guys have always lived in the inner city, or if your parents made that decision when they adopted children and what the transition was like?"

My parents have not always lived in the inner-city. They both grew up in smaller towns and then moved to our current city for college. After they got married they stayed in the city, but will describe their world at that time as still being very "white". They went to a predominantly white church, lived in a predominantly white neighborhood etc...
I don't remember anything about that life since things began to change when I was 3 years old and my parents began to adopt.

After my parents made the decision to adopt African American children they knew it wouldn't be fair to continue living such a racially homogeneous lifestyle. They wanted Isaac, Janaya, and later Lacy to grow up around black culture so that they would be able to be a part of it without feeling like an outsider. My parents changed EVERYTHING. They left a church that was filled with people they loved to find a more diverse church. The church we found was incredibly diverse and it was a place where everyone in our family could feel comfortable. There were black families, white families, biracial families, many adoptive families (including African American parents who had adopted--not just white people), Latino families--it was a beautiful blend of just about everybody. It was also only a few blocks away from our new house in the inner-city. We grew up participating in just about everything the church had to offer including gospel choir, summer camps, youth group, Soul Food dinners, music festivals, etc...

The schools we went to were all very diverse (I was always in the minority as a white student), the soccer program we participated in was predominantly Latino, and I've already mentioned Dinomights plenty of times on this blog. Once these things became a lifestyle, my parents no longer had to think: "how am I going to expose my children to their culture this week?". We made natural friendships with people from all sorts of backgrounds and nothing was forced, it was simply a part of our life.

I'm sure it was scary for my parents to make such drastic life changes. I'm sure it was hard to leave a church where they were loved by so many people. I'm sure there were times when they felt awkward or uncomfortable as they navigated a new lifestyle. Yet they did it because they loved their children. They weren't content with the "Well at least they are better off in a white community than in an orphanage" mentality. They wanted the BEST for their kids. They acknowledged that although adoption comes with lots of joy, it is also full of tons of losses for children, and they wanted to minimize those losses by providing their kids with natural bridges to their culture.

Moving to the inner-city certainly didn't solve everything--In my next post I'll talk about some of the challenges my siblings faced being a black kid adopted by white parents in a black community (I'll be asking for some input from my siblings), as well as my experience a white kid with black siblings growing up in a community where there weren't a lot of other white kids around.

Eventually I will write about where we are as a family right now, what's changed, etc...

I have lots to say about this topic :)


Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Star of the Family

Isaac complains about not getting enough air-time on the blog, so this post is dedicated entirely to him!

Isaac has been rehearsing for two plays simultaneously since Christmas break and recently had performances for both. The first was called Rag Time. I don't have first-hand knowledge of how it went because I baby-sat the little kids so that my parents could go, but from what I've heard Isaac and the rest of the cast did an amazing job!

Tonight Isaac performed one of the twenty-one (WOW) performances of The Little Rock Nine that he will be doing until March. The play was about the nine African American students who were the first to integrate Central high school in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957. They were initially prevented from entering the high school by the Arkansas National Guard and a mob of hateful integration protestors. President Eisenhower eventually ordered the 101st Air Division of the United States Army to escort the students to school.
I love how Isaac's involvement in the play gave him an intimate perspective on a such a historic event in our nation's history. Not to mention the singing and acting were INCREDIBLE!

I have to admit however, that my favorite part of the night was watching my Grandpa experience the performance. Since the beginning it has been a rocky road with him in terms of adoption/race in our family and for him to not only watch the play but then approach the actors afterwards to thank them and tell them what a great job they did almost brought me to tears. Theatre is a powerful art form and I could tell the performance really touched my Grandpa. He seemed so proud of his grandson! We all were :)

(The pic on top is of Isaac with some of the cast from the Little Rock Nine and these next few pictures are all from Ragtime that I stole off Isaac's facebook page)

Up Next: A few posts about living in the inner-city in response to Sarah's question :)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Perkins and Transracial Adoption

I had the awesome opportunity of hearing Dr. John Perkins speak on Sunday night. Even though this was the second time I had listened to him speak and have heard him referenced millions of times, I didn't realize just how incredible he was until I did a little research. Dr. John Perkins is a civil rights activist and is a leader in community development across the nation. He is an international speaker, focusing on issues such as racial reconciliation and indigenous leadership development. He has written nine books (Which have been under my nose on my mom's bookshelf for years and I'm just now beginning to read them!) and has served on the Board of Directors for organizations such as World Vision and Prison Fellowship.

When someone asked him during the question and answer time what his thoughts were about white families adopting black children my heart skipped a beat, I sucked in my breath and I anxiously began to anticipate his response. My mind was racing--here was someone with a deep understanding of issues of race, inequality, black identity, and the best ways to strengthen a fact, he is pretty much an expert in those areas. What if he condemns transracial adoption?

His response?

It began with "I believe everyone has the capacity to love". He then commented that assuming a white family is incapable of raising a black child is like saying that he as a black man is incapable of raising a white child--and that was something Perkins would not accept. He said that in some ways it was almost reverse racism. He mentioned how Obama was raised in a white household--and look how he turned out! At the same time Perkins did not embrace the ideology of "Love is enough". He was very clear that white families raising black children are in need of a lot of education.

I thought his response was beautiful. I agree whole-heartedly with both of his main points, that EVERYONE has the capacity to love, but that that love must be accompanied by education and awareness.

Another question asked during the evening that I think is relevant for many adoptive families was:

"What is the best way for people with affluent backgrounds to serve low-income communities?"

The structure of adoption revolves around the under-privileged, poverty stricken, non-affluent families transferring parental rights to affluent families. Of course there are always exceptions, but this is the general "rule". Many AP's are later drawn to respond to the needs of their children's first communities (whether that means Ethiopia or inner-city America) and are unsure how to do it.

Perkins made the point that one of the most powerful things you can do is to "live among them".

Many people do weekend service projects with their church, international week-long missions trips, or make the long commute into the city to volunteer, but while those efforts are valuable in some ways they also contribute to the image of the "white savior" coming in to solve other people's problems (often people of other races) and trying to teach them their "superior" life style. I'm assuming that's not anybody's intention, but it is an unfortunate consequence. Living in the same area tends to level the playing field a little bit. It allows you to build lasting, genuine relationships. I can tell it means something to the kids I work with in Dinomights when they ask me where I live and we find out we are within walking distance of each other. We run in to each other all over the the park, at the corner-store, wherever...Not to mention I think the inner-city is just way more fun than other places :)

If the community you are trying to serve is in Ethiopia for example it is probably not very likely that you are going to live there. In that case I think it is important to be intentional about supporting organizations with Ethiopian leadership rather than American leadership (again, trying to get rid of the "Americans to the Rescue" mentality)

Perkins' main requirements for serving low income communities were:

*Genuine relationships

There is so much more that Perkins covered that I would love to share but I have already written a ton and I feel like people aren't really looking for a five point essay when they visit a blog :) All in all it was a very insightful evening and I left feeling very encouraged!