I remember being a small child and sitting in front of my television watching the African American couple Gordon and Susan on Sesame Street become adoptive parents to baby Miles. In the shows leading up to adopting Miles, the viewers were educated on the adoption process. I was filled with curiosity and wanted to know more and more about adoption. As a child, I did not realize that what Sesame Street was doing was revolutionary. In a world of the media showing many examples of transracial adoption with white parents adopting children of color, they gave us the example of a woman of color adopting a child.
On the days that my husband and I are sitting on the couch, buried behind laptops and these days adding a cell phone to insert pictures, it is adoption-related. We just knew that we were going to be adopting a child and were very excited about it. But, when we started this rhythm in our life in October of 2015, we did not know that we would be entering into such an exclusive community full of different rules and language, with spurts of diversity in the media. I remembered being shocked that support and visuals of African American women in the media were limited. I was shocked because of the foundation set with Sesame Street with Gordon and Susan.
During my summer off from school, I took some time to research various platforms to find a wealth of information that could help me through my transcultural adoption. I was grateful when I connected with different groups through a group of ladies that I met on Facebook. First, these women exposed me to various historical facts about adoption among African Americans and multiple resources with women of color that truly helped me through the past five years of my adoption journey. Secondly, these women were educated in adoption laws and practices that hindered and benefited adoption among African Americans over the years. I’ve felt well supported through the past five years of my adoption journey through these resources.
History of Adoption in the African American Community
Adoption is not a new concept in the African American community. I learned this one day during a tour in my county outside of Washington D.C. A part of the Underground Railroad runs five minutes away from my house in the state of Maryland. My county has scheduled tours that go through the property owned by the Quakers that would help slaves go through the woods to freedom in the North. While hiking through the woods and going through this sacred place, our guide mentioned Harriet Tubman. History tells us Harriet Tubman was one of the leaders in the Underground Railroad. It was on that land; we learned that not only did she contribute towards the Underground Railroad, she was also an adoptive mother. In 1874, Harriet Tubman and her husband were able to adopt Gertie Davis. The facts of Harriet Tubman’s adoption story were not in the history books, but the guide said that it was not uncommon for African Americans to adopt children throughout history. Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., writes in her article “Dear Black People: Adoption is a Great Option” that the informal practice of “adopting” children began in the United States during the times of slavery. Slaves were sold and traded, leaving families apart from one other. The children left behind needed care. Thus others would adopt and take the children in, making them part of their homes and caring for them. There is a history of bringing children into homes and making them a part of their community.
Kinship Care and the African American Community
According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, kinship care is placement with relatives or kin. It is often the first option considered by foster care workers when children cannot remain in their parent’s home for some time. Kinship families often have different needs and face other challenges than families who adopt children unrelated to them. The issue of the stigma that African American families are not interested in adoption continues until today. Adoption through kinship care is the story of many writers and famous African Americans throughout history. In her memoir Motherhood So White, Nefertiti Austin described life with her grandparents and shared that it was common for African Americans to take in other relatives and not be a legal adoption. In I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou speaks about her and her brother going to live with her grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas because her grandmother was helping out her mother. In our family, we can confirm that informational kinship care happens. My husband’s cousin’s arrangement in the African American community is not uncommon and is starting to change in legality.
Despite so many informational adoptions, there are stories of famous African Americans who did go through the foster care system. For example, famous poet Langston Hughes went to live with his grandmother by his mother. After his grandmother died, he was in foster care until he was able to rejoin his mother. In the present day, I have very dear friends who adopted their nieces, nephews, and siblings. The foster care system works very hard to reunite children with their family members. Some of my friends were recruited by other family members to adopt their child relatives. My friends who adopted through kinship care found support with adoption counseling through the Department of Social Service agency in their area.
Challenging the then-popular notion that African American families were not interested in adoption, Mrs. Rachel Robinson, wife of the famous baseball player Jackie Robinson, played a crucial role in recruiting African American families in New York City. As the movement gained momentum, more illustrious Americans joined the cause to recruit more African American adoptive parents. These women who helped recruit included Ruth Harris, the wife of a political scientist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Ralph Bunche; Marian Anderson, a celebrated American singer; and Willetta S. Mickey, the wife of Civil Rights pioneer Hubert Delaney. I completely understand why they were so active in recruiting African American families for legal adoption.
My Journey for Community
When we started our adoption journey, we had a cohort of families in the community, but I was the only woman of color. I was startled by the ignorance in a conversation about African American hair. I sent a letter to the social workers in our agency informing them about the conversation. I thought that there should be sensitivity training for the families. This conversation came from a place of ignorance and not understanding culture. Is it unacceptable for me as a woman of color to walk out of the door with her son’s hair undone? Yes. The rules apply to everyone. Trust and believe that I would get looks if my son did not have a proper haircut. Instead of wanting to adapt a bit to the rules, there was a conversation about changing the rules, not truly understanding the historical nature of the hair conversation. When you are walking through an adoption journey, the last thing you want to do is constantly explain yourself culturally and figure out paperwork. I eventually found a Facebook group of African American women that I enjoy sharing stories and advice for adopted children of color. Also, it is nice not to have to explain myself as much when I face a microaggression in my journey with being an African American woman and an adoptive mom.
African American Women in the Transracial Adoption Community
Hey TRA (Hey Transracial Adoptee) with Hannah Matthews: Hannah Matthews is a transracial adoptee with an educational platform that empowers transracial adoptees and Black and Indigenous peoples to navigate racial differences. Before she started this platform, she was a teacher in Philadelphia. Matthews is excellent at combining her experience of being a teacher in Philadelphia and a transracial adoptee. I’ve used many of her tips to navigate relationships with other races and cultures, and I find them very helpful.
Raising Cultures: This is the blended family of Richardro Baldwin and his wife, Keia Jones-Baldwin. Keia came into the marriage with her daughter Zariyah. Zariyah begged for the couple to have children. They attempted to grow their family naturally and faced miscarriages and infertility. They decided to explore foster care and became foster parents. They fostered six children before adopting two kids; a biracial boy named Ayden and a blonde-haired, blue-eyed boy named Princeton. They also have guardianship of their daughter Karleigh, who is also biracial.
While the family attraction behind the site also includes Keia’s mother and other family members in their “cyber family.” Keia and Richardro discuss their issues with being an African American family and raising a white son. Keia mentions the many times that she is questioned about her son in public. While my son is African, Keia is excellent at discussing the ins and outs of being an African American in the foster care and adoption communities. They are such a sweet family to watch online, and I love their dynamic with the “cyber family.”
Highlighting My Favorite Women of Color in the Adoption Community
FAB (Fabulous Adoptive Black) Moms: The purpose of FAB moms is to create a community of African American adoptive mothers who share connections through adoption. Christine Ballard is the founder and leader of FAB moms. By trade, Christine Ballard is a psychologist, and There are FAB moms in every area of the United States for connections. The vision is that the platform will be a safe place where African American adoptive moms can share their various beliefs and experiences.
FAB Moms was born out of a need to support Black adoption and mothers of adoptive children. Resources will be available to women considering adoption, those post-placement, and mothers of adult adoptees. In addition, the FAB has a weekend-long event that brings FAB Moms across the country to share their experiences and build sisterhood.
Black to the Beginning Podcast with Dr. Samantha Coleman and Sandria Washington: I genuinely enjoy listening to Dr. Sam and Sandria on my walks to the park. They are friends who discovered as adults that they are adoptees. Both women learned that discussing adoption in the African American community is common. Coleman and Washington place Black families at the center of the conversation of their podcast. I feel that the conversations they have are rich and encouraging to me as an adoptive African American mom.
From slavery until the present day, adoption has evolved for those in the African American community. As an African American in the adoption community, I’m inspired by the people who came before me. Due to these platforms, I am very optimistic about the awareness of African Americans adopting.
I genuinely believe in the evolution of the adoption community. The adoption community in the media is changing these resources for other families of color in the adoption community. They are giving others a fresh face and perspective in the adoption community. I know that I appreciate their brave thoughts and thoughts.Considering adoption? Let us help you on your journey to creating your forever family. Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98.
Deirdre Parker is an early childhood educator in Washington DC. She proudly hails from Baltimore, MD where she received her BA in liberal studies from Notre Dame of Maryland University. She continued afterward to receive her BS in Music Therapy from Texas Woman’s University and MS in Early Childhood Education from Boston University Wheelock College of Education and Human Development. She entered the adoption community with the adoption of her son from South Africa. When she is not at school teaching her “babies” and mentoring new early childhood educators; she is traveling, reading, writing, playing music, following politics, hiking, attending church, and cheering on the Ravens with her intelligent husband and her extremely bright 4-year-old little boy.