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.

Fear is Not a Stop Sign. It’s an Invitation.

“… (Peter) fell into a trance. He saw the skies open up. Something that looked like a huge blanket lowered by ropes at its four corners settled on the ground. Every kind of animal and reptile and bird you could think of was on it. Then a voice came: ‘Go to it, Peter — kill and eat.’ Peter said, ‘Oh no, Lord. I’ve never so much as tasted food that was not kosher.’ the voice came a second time: ‘If God says it’s okay, it’s okay.’ This happened three times, and then the blanket was pulled back up into the skies.” –Acts 10:9-16 (MSG)

Then Peter wakes up to a man knocking on his door. He is lead by God through a servant to Cornelius, the captain of the Italian Guard stationed in Caesarea.

“Peter addressed them, ‘You know, I’m sure, that this is highly irregular. Jews don’t do this — visit and relax with people of another race. But God has shown me that no race is better than any other…” –Acts 10:27-29ish (MSG)

That dream in the earlier verses was what showed him this truth. Racism comes and persists largely through fear. And…

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” — 1 John 4:18

“‘For I know the plans I have for you’ declares the Lord, ‘Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” –Jeremiah 29:11

God does not want us to abandon fear for God’s health. And God doesn’t want us to embrace “other” people and unfamiliar cultures for God’s benefit. When we do these things, we live richer fuller lives.

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.

Daily Dictionary – “abash”

DEFINE IT!
“embarrass” (Merriam-Webster Children’s Dictionary)

USE IT IN A SENTENCE!
While I thought my quip inventive at first, I grew abashed by the offended silence that followed. I mentally noted that SIDS jokes in front of new mothers are a no-go.

DRAW A PICTURE OF IT!

This lady isn't bashful, she feels abashed.

This lady isn’t bashful, she feels abashed.