Category Archives: Am I Doing This Right?

Civil Rights Tour – Day 1: Little Rock, AR

“You can’t fight the revolution in stilettos.”
— Phyllis Brown (sister of Minnijean Brown, one of the Little Rock 9)

Each evening, the team came together to discuss the day’s events and their effect on each of us. We were asked to share the “roses and thorns” of the first day.

Double painting (#2) at the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center in Little Rock, AR.

Double painting (#1) at the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center in Little Rock, AR.

The rose for me was a pair of drawings at the Mosaic Templar Cultural Center. When I first walked in, the painting struck me as being packed with an urgent message. But I couldn’t figure out how to decode it. The head of the museum gave us a tour. Her first stop was this pair of drawings. She gently and expertly helped us to pull the meaning out of our own minds! I’ve been chewing on the wisdom in that artwork all day.

Double painting (#1) at the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center in Little Rock, AR.

Double painting (#2) at the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center in Little Rock, AR.

She had us study the paintings for a little while and look for the differences. The meaning is mostly in the differences. What’s missing in the first painting? Is it missing in the second? How does the missing content line up with the situation we know we are looking at. Are we sure we know what we are looking at?

Due to my passion for the Gye Nyame Adinkra symbol, I noticed that the backgrounds are composed of other Adinkra symbols. With a little research here and here, I figured out that #1 shows the Dwennimmen symbol, or “ram’s horns,” as the background. This symbol represents humility and strength. The background is more faded and washed out in the painting where her identity is that of a slave (painting on the left). Also, the pattern on her dress is prominent when her identity is slave. It displays the Adinkra symbol Bese Saka or “sack of cola nuts.” It symbolizes affluence, abundance, unity. But that pattern is draped over her baby when she is inhumanly prevented from being a mother to her child. Perhaps this lets us know that the baby’s father is the slave master.

The background Adinkra symbols in #2 are Adinkrahene (the 3 circles) and Nyame Biribi Wo Soro. Adinkrahene is the chief of all Adinkra symbols and represents greatness, charisma, and leadership. Nyame Biribi Wo Soro means “God is in the heavens.” It represents hope and is a reminder that “God’s dwelling place is in heaven, where he can listen to all prayers.” Notice that these symbols are not bold and prominent in both pictures, or at the same time. Also, they are not erased in either painting. They are still present, just seemingly farther from reach.

Mr. Brown was volunteering at the Mosaic Templars Community Center.

Mr. Brown was volunteering at the Mosaic Templars Community Center.

One thorn was learning the story of John Carter. It was a horrible, gruesome event. The details are below the warning at the bottom of this post. White perpetrators of crime against black victims are too seldom punished today. What’s worse is that they were never punished for centuries.

Minnijean Brown integrating Central High School in Little Rock, AR, in 1957.

Minnijean Brown integrating Central High School in Little Rock, AR, in 1957.

The other thorn was one that was unique to me. And, in hindsight, I see it more as a rose. After the museum, we had the opportunity to interview, Phyllis Brown, the younger sister of Minnijean Brown. Minnijean was one of the Little Rock 9 (the group of 9 students who met with extreme hatred when they were first to integrate Central High School in 1957). I clumsily asked Ms. Brown what her parents did to help protect the self esteem of their daughters during such a hard time.

IMG_0154

Phyllis Brown, sister of Minnijean Brown (one of the Little Rock 9).

Phyllis Brown, sister of Minnijean Brown (one of the Little Rock 9).

IMG_0156I don’t think I phrased my question well. And Ms. Brown seemed to think I was criticizing her parents handling of event, maybe even that I was blaming them partly for the atrocious violence that ensued in Little Rock. That was definitely not my intention or thought. So, I explained that my son is African American and attends a mostly white school. I think of his situation as a far less severe 2015 version of initial school integration in the 50’s and 60’s. My hope was that she could teach me how to help my son, and other kids in similar circumstances. In hindsight, I get that it was a naive question. And, with the help of one of the leaders, I can see that I was lost in a desperate, unrealistic search for the magical method for protecting my son, and other young boys, from something inevitable: how hard and painful it is to be a black man in America.

Ms. Brown asked why I have an African American child. At first, I assumed that she was scolding me for adopting a black child. Or maybe scolding the black community for allowing the crisis to escalate to a point where something so dire could occur as a black child being adopted into a white family.

Looking at the exchange with racial reconciliation lenses, I can now see that both Ms. Brown and I were re-experiencing the sea of previous personal attacks we had both endured over the years. Though our circumstances were worlds apart, both varieties of criticism resulted in our constructing solid, thick, protective, defensive walls around our hearts. These walls prevented us from really hearing each other. I felt hurt, mad, embarrassed, and basically like I wanted to crawl under a rock. Perhaps Ms. Brown felt hurt as well.

After the event, I made it my business to shake her hand and thank her for her time and honesty. She turned to me, sighed, and said, “You have a big job ahead of you.” I blurted out, “Don’t I know it.” But then I pulled my Gye Nyame Adinkra charm out of my pocket (it means “except God” as in nothing is possible except with God). And I said, “Except God is with us. So, I know that God will see all of us through this.” Then Ms. Brown’s face softened noticeably. It was as if she had discovered that I had my head straight enough to hand my life to God. She seemed comforted to know that the situation was in good hands, God’s hands.

Then she thanked me for adopting and saving a child. It breaks my heart every time somebody tells me that. I still struggle with putting it into words. All I know is that I don’t want anyone to think of my son as a charity project. If people aren’t going to thank a birth mother, I don’t want them to thank me. (I’ll never forget how thrilled I was when one lady told me how lucky I was to get to be Luc’s mom. And even better, she said it right in front of him!)

I summoned all of my courage, and told Ms. Brown with enormous respect that it hurt my heart when people thanked me for being my son’s mom. She listened, and she really heard me, and then she apologized. I told her I didn’t think there was anything to be sorry for, but I wanted to try to communicate with her, even though it’s not a logic that I’ve ever figured out how to verbalize well. And then we hugged. We had connected.

Ms. Brown and I didn’t fully understand each other at first. But I listened intently to what she had to say during our interview with her. Then, she listened to what I had to say as we said good-bye. In the end, we were able to see each other’s perspective a little better. It was a taste of racial reconciliation. It was a taste of the goal.

– – – – – – – – – –
Other notes from the day…

Notes from Ms. Brown:
The Little Rock 9 were NOT chosen, they had volunteered, and they were not from middle class families.
Some were self-employed, some were business owners. Their names were known and they began to lose customers and business. Minnijean’s and Collatta Walls’ fathers stopped getting work.
Newspaper published the names and the addresses of the Little Rock 9 in order to intimidate them into withdrawing.
Phyllis and Minnijean’s parents fully supported them. They thought their girls “could fly.” And they never said no to them. They supported Minnijean when she decided to be a part of integration, and they supported Phyllis when she decided to protect herself from the violence.
Ms. Brown was the first person we heard use the word “terrorism” to describe the treatment of African Americans, especially in the 50’s and 60’s. She mentioned the treatment of victims in Hurricane Katrina as “terrorism at it’s best.”
The kids never came home and told their parents about their experiences, parents could only learn of what happened if they saw it firsthand
IMPORTANT! Toward the end of our interview, the white owner of the restaurant asked our white leader (we had two leaders, one white, one black) what we were talking about. All the white people were excited that he was interested. All the black people were terrified that he was going to call some friends to follow us and punish us. The trauma of the terrorism is so alive today. Ms. Brown was visibly shaken. It took her into a flashback state.
Books:
Dog Whistle Politics (politicians use language to demean and identify: “thugs,” “riots,” “violence,” “looters”
Without Sanctuary (pictorial of lynchings)
The Untold Story of Minnijean Brown (documentary)
The New Jim Crow (speaks of the 3 Strikes law as punitive and aligned with slave owner mentality)
The Half That’s Never Been Told
Complicity
Just Mercy by Brian Stevenson (he also did an 18 min. TED talk) (represents minors around the country who are being tried as adults; recalculating actual lynching numbers and exposing that lynching happened outside of the South as well
Devil in a Grove (book about Thurgood Marshall)

WARNING: This story is very graphic and may not be appropriate for children or even some adults. But, unfortunately, it is completely true.
A man who was volunteering at the museum told us “the real story” behind John Carter, a black man who was falsely accused of a crime in 1927. Earlier in the day, a different black man who had been falsely accused of murdering two white women, had been taken into police custody before the gathered crowd could lynch him. As the mob made its way back from the jail, a white woman and her child parked their horse and cart on 9th Street. Just as they stepped off the cart, their horse got spooked, and sprinted down the street with the cart. John Carter jumped into the cart and was able to stop the horse. Unfortunately, the crowd arrived on the scene and decided that he had tried to steal the cart. As Mr. Carter’s “victim” tried to explain that he was helping her and begged the mob to stop, he was beaten severely. Next, the mob gathered wood and built a bonfire. After he was burned, John Carter’s body was tied to the back of the cart and dragged up and down 9th Street repeatedly. Finally, his body was hung from a light pole where some in the crowd riddled it with bullets. No one was arrested. Mr. Carter was 38.

Fellowship Monrovia Civil Rights Tour 2015

Fellowship Monrovia Civil Rights Tour 2015 in front of the Martin Luther King, Jr Memorial.

Fellowship Monrovia Civil Rights Tour 2015 in front of the Martin Luther King, Jr Memorial.

My church, Fellowship Monrovia, has decided to create a center for racial reconciliation. Amazing! But wait, what does that mean? What does that look like? How is that done? What are the steps?

We have no idea. But step 1 was to assemble a team of 12 and send us to the Southeast to experience the culture and ask questions of the people. We had the life-changing opportunity to learn from the very people who were the change in the Civil Rights Movement of the 50’s and 60’s.

FAQs:
Q: How was the trip?
A: Indescribable. Powerful.
Q: Was it fun?
A: Um. No.
Q: Where did you go?
A: Little Rock, AR; Memphis, TN; Jackson, MS; Selma and Birmingham, AL; and Washington D.C.
Q: What did you learn?
A: I’m glad you asked! I’m going to post some notes and thoughts over the next few days. Or maybe weeks. It’s hard to process everything we experienced. But I’m going to try.

My Son Thinks I Stole Him

Okay, so my son was asked to work on an autobiography project recently. It brought up a hurricane of memories, feelings, anxieties, sadness, questions, etc. around being adopted.

Last night, I snuggled him in his bed and asked him about the friends he has confided in about being adopted. I wanted to know what they said or did that helped him to trust them. And I’d like to try to be more like them in that way. One thing I noticed is that he found friends who have also been through a life-tragedy that they keep inside. Another common thread was their enthusiasm for adoption. And finally, their encouragement that things would turn out ok.

Then, he talked about his fear that I would be mad or sad (or both) upon hearing what was going on inside his head. He referenced a time when he told me that he wished I had the same skin color as him. He said I got mad at him.

In my head, I am pleased that he wishes I were black. The books and experts warned that all interracially adopted children wish they looked like their parents. I knew it was coming. I was dreading what was promised to me by those sources: my son would inevitably wish he were white. But he didn’t, he wished I were black. I take that to mean that he is glad to be black. I hope. But, this is where I made my first blunder.

I regret contradicting him and telling him that I didn’t get mad. The point is that he felt like I was mad, and that’s all that matters. I wish that I had instead asked what I had done to give him the impression that I was mad. Someone at an improv show once explained that comedy and improv are about saying “yes” to your partner. You can never say “no.” I need to do that for Luc when he shares his thoughts. I have to find a way to always say “yes,” and to always focus on learning from him.

His latest belief is that we stole him, and since he couldn’t talk, he couldn’t object. He struggles to understand and believe that his birth mother had to give him up for adoption, especially since she kept his three bio-siblings. To be honest, nobody warned me about this one. I’ve gotten nasty comments from various African American adults over the years, but I didn’t think Luc would buy into that idea.

In the end, I told him about Dixie and John Bickel (God’s Littlest Angels, Haiti). They are an incredible American couple who went to Haiti to start a baby hospital. I know that she works tirelessly to help Haitian parents find resources and work in order to be able to provide for their children, and keep them at home. She only accepts children for adoption if every other possibility has been exhausted.

I don’t know any details behind the decision for Luc to be adopted. But, as I told him, I trust Dixie and I trust Mama C (our name for Luc’s birth mom). If I didn’t trust them, or if they had found a way for Mama C to be able to care for Luc, I would have absolutely supported it. Because I love Luc so much that I would have wanted him to be able to stay with his biological mother if at all possible. But, again, I trust Mama C and I trust Dixie.

Adoption never comes with out a huge price. The loss is incomprehensible to anyone who doesn’t actually experience it. Even to me. I feel the loss more than a parent with no adoption experience, but I can only guess about the pain Luc, Mama C, and Luc’s bio siblings endure. I wish I could fix it.

Another part of adoption is the need to accept was is. We don’t have to like it. We don’t have to fully understand it. But we must not waste resources wishing or, worse, trying to change what is. Luc wishes he could live with his birth mother. He thinks that he loves her more than he loves me. And yet, he loves Reed and me and knows that we are his parents on that deep take-it-for-granted level, like how we think of oxygen and gravity.

And I wish that I could make this okay for him. I wish I could say or do something that would take away the daily heartache for Mama C. And I don’t understand why her biggest, life-altering loss is my biggest, life-altering joy. And I don’t know how to feel about that.

But, it is.

Of course I am sad for his confusion, but I think that the messiness is healthy. It indicates that he is already working through the gigantic mountain of issues that come with being adopted. It’s not pleasant for him, but it will make him stronger, and hopefully healthier.

For now, all I can do is show unwavering support for my son.

Am I doing this right??


P.S. For the record, our adoption is 150% legal. At no time was there ever anything but transparent, complicit obedience of the law (both letter and spirit).

Autobiography School Projects Are a No-No

Luc was asked to write an autobiography in class. I’ve been really really really loudly communicative and clear with all of his teachers that family tree projects and autobiographies are extremely difficult for adopted kids. So, I’m a little annoyed that this project proceeded.

When I talked to the teacher and the head of the lower school, the teacher said that Luc’s first sentence was something like “I was born in Haiti, and brought to this beautiful land…” They thought this indicated that Luc was in a good place with it. Wrong!! That is Luc overcompensating for feeling boxed into a corner and told to write about his deepest tragedy.

It has brought up loads of feelings and issues and sadness and fear and anger and etc. I didn’t really feel like they believed me when I told them this. It’s hard for people to understand unless they are adoptive parents with lots of research under their belt. They have to try to trust me.

A friend just called and said her son found Luc crying at recess. Luc opened up about being adopted from Haiti and shared a lot of his story with his friend. The child wanted to help Luc and told him it would be okay. But Luc asked how he could know that when he doesn’t know what it’s like to be adopted and he has parents who look like him.

The conversation opened the friend’s eyes and his Mom’s eyes to see that Luc has to wrestle with enormous issues every day that the rest of us know nothing about. It’s my job to fight for him to be able to do that on his terms, in his way, in his time. And I hope I get it right.

He’s such an amazing, strong, brave kid. What a blessing. I’m so thankful to God every day that I get to be his mom.

The Memphis 13

I found a documentary called “The Memphis 13” by a University of Memphis professor. My FM Civil Rights Tour 2015 “Memphis Partner”* and I watched it a couple of times and contacted the professor. It looks like we are going to be able to interview him and some of the Memphis 13 while in Memphis on the 29th!

In 1961, there were only 13 families in Memphis willing to send their children into the lions’ den of early school integration. The students were first graders.

My partner and I are in the process of assembling a list of questions. We are considering contacting one of the schools where integration initially occurred in Memphis about meeting there. And maybe we can talk to some current students and faculty?

I’m especially excited to be a part of this since I feel like I am putting my son through the 2015 version of it. Luc never gets spit upon, but there is a different form of hardship. I believe the 60’s were more dangerous physically, but I think life is more emotionally dangerous now. Maybe just in a different way. The 60’s were obviously emotionally dangerous as well. But there is something about an invisible, undefinable enemy that is incredibly insidious. (And example: good, kind, well intentioned people who have been unwittingly brainwashed by the media (only black men commit crimes each night? according to the local news, yes) to assume a black boy is a trouble maker.)

I will post the questions we have come up with so far in a little bit.

*We have been assigned a partner and a city. My partner and I got Memphis. We are responsible for setting up the entire day in Memphis: museums, sites, interviews, even lunch! There are 12 of us in the group. We will visit 5 cities in 6 days. LA -> Little Rock, AK -> Memphis, TN -> Jackson, MS -> Montgomery/Selma/Birmingham, AL -> D.C. (but flying into Baltimore, where a black man recently died in police custody from brutality)

Chattanooga

My husband’s brother married an amazing, wonderful woman this past weekend. The wedding was in Flintstone, GA. We all stayed in a hotel in Chattanooga, TN. The day before the wedding, the family went out to a casual lunch. My brother-in-law and my husband (the best man) had some errands to run, and so my father-in-law, my son and I walked from the lunch spot to the hotel by ourselves.

A 6ish short, skinny, African American woman approached me and said, “Excuse me, may I ask you a question?” I paused. She proceeded, “I don’t mean no disrespect but–”

Me: “Then don’t finish that sentence. We are done. Let’s end this.”

But she kept talking anyway. Asking me what gave me the right and on and on. I talked over her in the unlikely hope that Luc would not be able to figure out what she was saying. She followed us and kept hollering at us. I finally got loud and started yelling, “Get away from me! Stop following me!”

And not one person around us helped.

She followed us for almost two blocks. She crossed the street with us. She told me she was calling the police, and then she started telling Luc that she would help him find his parents. “Where are your parents, little boy? I’ll help you find them.”

It was so bad that I called 9-1-1 and begged them to send some help as quickly as possible, “She won’t go away. She won’t stop following us! Make her go away!” I was sobbing and positioning unhelpful cowardly bystanders between Luc and her. Finally, I ran into our hotel crying, with my phone at my ear, pulling Luc behind me, “Where is your security?! I need security!!”

The desk clerk replied, “Are you a guest here?”

Really? Really?! If I hadn’t been a guest you would have kicked a mother and her seven year old son out? Or refused to help?

Anyway, the manager came out quickly (I was making a big scene) and pulled us into her office and out of sight. I sobbed and sobbed. I turned back to my phone and said, “If the police are on their way, I need to go comfort my son. I need to make sure he’s ok.” So I got off the phone and tried to help my poor traumatized son.

He was so upset by her asking where his parents were! He was so upset! It was horrendous.

I decided not to press charges and have her arrested because 1. I couldn’t take time to go back to Chattanooga for the court hearing, and 2. what would messing up her life by having her arrested do to help? But, the police man went out looking for her to give her a warning anyway.

In the end, he managed to find her and evidently read her the riot act. He hollered at her and told her that she would be in big big trouble if he got another complaint about her harassing us again. He said he could smell alcohol. He told her he didn’t even want to see her on the same side of the street as our hotel.

I still don’t know what to think of the whole event. It still upsets me deeply. But, there it is.

In our search for a mostly black baseball team for Luc, we joined the Pasadena Pony League. Luc played with this organization last year and it was pretty diverse and had several black kids. This year it is mostly Latino and that has been a huge treat! It woke us up to the fact that we have been so focused on the black/white race issue that we neglected to seek out Latino friends. What a loss!

We asked the team if they would like to have a party at our house in the hopes of getting to know everyone better. They said yes! Then the suggestions started coming in for a pot luck (yes!), carne asada (yay!), and a piñata! The opportunity to get to know everyone better is fantastic, and they are going to bring their culture into our home! I’m so excited!!

This group has turned out to be one of the most exceptional, kind, caring, family oriented group of parents I have had the privilege of knowing. One kid gets to have his extended family at every game. I envy him a little. He has uncles, aunties, grand parents at every game. They are so much fun. His abuela hollers when he swings at high pitches: “Oh mijo! It’s not a piñata!”

So, today is the day, and they will be here at noon. And I have a lot of prep work.

But I also want to get my notes and posts up about the Civil Rights tour experience so that I don’t lose them.

Catch Up

I should have been writing about his experience all along. But I kept psyching myself out. I kept thinking I had to wait to write until I had lots of time, energy and inspiration. I felt I had to write genius posts each day. But I realize now that I just need to share often and honestly. The rest will have to sort itself out. Things are moving too quickly for pauses.

So, I am writing a bunch of stuff this morning and chopping it into sections. Hopefully that will work and be followable.

FM Civil Rights Tour 2015

Someone from my church, Fellowship Monrovia, approached me a few weeks ago and asked if I would be interested in joining a small group of adults on a Civil Rights tour. I had heard about this trip from the two previous years when she took teenage students. I prayed and prayed and worked hard not to obsess about finding a way to insert myself. My husband told me not to frighten the students. And suddenly, just like that, I had been invited!!

I cannot express how surprised, honored, humbled, excited, honored, honored, and honored I feel to have been invited to be a part of this. What’s even more humbling is that the intention of the church with this trip is to invest in leadership that will spearhead the development of a racial reconciliation program/ministry (not sure what the right word will be until we create it).

The week before, I had approached the head of my son’s mostly white school to talk about their diversity efforts. From what I have observed in several different top private schools in the greater LA area, Chandler has been slower, but more effective in their efforts to increase diversity. When we interviewed at other schools, we asked, “How are we going to make sure our son will feel comfortable here since he is a dark skinned black child and the school is predominantly white?” The replies that came back were varied:

  • “We have affinity groups. Here is how it works…”
  • “There will be other black children in the class. Right now we have 2 black children and we put them in the same classroom.”
  • “I don’t see why that should be an issue.”
  • “The students have ‘buddies’ and we will make sure Luc has an African American buddy. But what do you think we should do?” This came from the head of Chandler. And I was immediately in love.

When touring schools, I found that the schools that my African American friends loved and sent their kids to made me nervous. I saw things at those schools that made me unwilling to send my son there. One of them even assumed that my son would be a trouble maker!!

Anyway, Chandler has been remarkably receptive to my requests for conversations. But! The next issue is that I have no idea what needs to change. If everyone in the U.S. summoned the courage to face the brutal truth, we would realize that none of us knows what to do next. Something needs to change in our society, but what is the root? And how do we change it? Nobody really knows yet. And we won’t know for sure until we are in the “promised land” looking back and examining the past.

Enter the FM Civil Rights Tour of 2015. Since receiving the invitation, I have watched every documentary, iTunes University, video, You Tube, etc I could get my hands on. And I’m learning. I’m learning.