I returned yesterday after three days of intellectual high from being amid amazing people. This afternoon after I finally managed to get an hour to myself I realized while I have been sharing snippets from the trip on my various social media sites, I haven’t really sat down to process the many things that the retreat was. So, here goes.
- Have you ever thought, “I/We should adopt” or “Someday I will adopt” or “I wish I could something to change one person’s life” Each year around Thanksgiving or the Holidays, Saathi and I talk about which charity to donate to. We have a small list and the only thing that changes is the amount that goes to each. Often, I feel compelled to do more than just donate money. Through the past few days, listening to Susan Silverman talk about Second Nurture’s mission (Every Child Deserves A Family And A Community), I think I may have found something I can do. The premise behind this retreat was to bring a wide variety of people connected to adoption to brainstorm ways to better address the needs of children waiting in foster care. This is not to reinvent the wheel. We have agencies and powerhouses like Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption and Annie E. Casey Foundation doing amazing work. This is about how to strategically connect those resources to people thinking about, wanting to explore adoption from foster care and be that village that will help them raise this child. This starts from and continues on post placement. In any case, this is just the beginning and I am beyond humbled and gratified to have been part of that table.
- Two people who attended commanded most of my attention. Rhonda M Roorda and Denene Millner, two powerful, outspoken black women, adoptees and a powerhouse of ideas and information. Most conversations I have been part of have featured mostly white adoptive mothers. I follow and listen to many PoC Adoptee voices but have never been in the presence of one. Watching Rhonda and Denene own their position and their lived experience was empowering and uplifting. During the course of the conversation, Denene brought up the point that we need PoC at the table where decision making occurs. We need them at the tables where policy decisions happen. We need them where the purse strings are held. Only then will we see a true change in the adoption space. The other thing Rhonda brought up that resonated was that your child of color cannot be your first friend of color. Your child needs to see their race and heritage reflected in the people of power in your lives. Your doctor, your lawyer, your dentist, your investment advisor: these are the people who will serve as role models in your life. Make sure that diversity is reflected in your active, lived lives.
- Of the adoptees who were present, there was one whose words made me pause and rethink all that I do with the intention of keeping the adoption conversation going on at home. In a session that was each of us sharing what we felt was something that needed to be said, she talked about how adoption was just one facet of her existence, not her entire existence. She said she hated that the world decried that the “adoptee” label was the one she should sport as the first. As much as her mother wanted her to be immersed in her birth culture, she said she felt no affinity, no curiosity and no wish to be part of that community. Talking to her made me realize that each adoptee walks a different path. I should let my children take the lead on what they want for them. While the doors to the conversation on adoption have to be open, they do not have to be the only ones we are looking at. It was an awakening moment for me.
- Rob Geen, the director of Policy Reform at the Annie E. Casey Foundation was a strident voice in that room. He argued for all things adoption to be child-centered. Most of all, he brought with him years of experience in research and being part of the policymaking world. He quipped that he was a “recovering researcher” and that he finally found that his voice was much needed for policy making. My interactions with him made me leave thinking much about how just working at making lives better is not enough, we need people who are informed and aware in places of power, making decisions that trickle down from the top. Volunteering is great but activism is needed.
- Mia Padwa an adoption social worker was a quiet but powerful voice in that room. Something she said stuck and it is something I will be following. I use the term biological to distinguish my last child from the first two. She said all children are biological, what differs is how children join your family. They join either by birth or by adoption. It made a lot of sense to me and also brought home how important language is in expressing how I speak of my family.
- Pete and Dan, a gay couple who expanded their family through adoption remarked during dinner that when Susan reached out to them, they thought they had not much to offer in the presence of heavyweights in adoption. What they said is exactly what I thought for myself. I felt overwhelmed by the people and their collective experience. Watching Pete and Dan share their experience and weigh in during each brainstorming session, I realized that each of those voices is needed and equally important. In seeing their value, I saw mine. What matters is our experience and our willingness to share that experience for the greater good. Each of us matter.
- David Brown, the creator of the Harmony Project in Columbus was another voice that impacted me. He is soft-spoken, showing by action how to make a difference in this life. We were invited to the rehearsal of the Harmony Project choir. Watching him on stage connecting with every person seated was an incredible experience. Some people change the world by just their presence and he was one. I highly encourage those of you reading to check out the Harmony Project page and see for yourself what he does.
- Wille Garson, a parent through foster adoption made his points with his characteristic acerbic wit. Mostly, I was touched by how he was using his platform to make a difference.
- Jan Katzew a professor at the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati said something over the course of a conversation after lunch that resonated very much with me. He said, paraphrasing here “Love is knowing you have tremendous power over someone and never using that power against them”. This came up as part of a discussion on children and parents in adoption and how the use of the terms real parent/real child can cut a person to the core. An adoptee and an adoptive parent himself, conversations with him were rife with lessons I can apply to my life.
There are other moments that will come to me as I continue processing my experience but I have to cap this by saying Susan Silverman is yet another person using her platform to bring change and I really, really hope Second Nurture becomes a force to reckon with.