Over the past five years, I've spoken to hundreds of folks about foster-care and adoption all over the United States. I've managed a caseload of prospective families, met with individuals in-person, via Skype, dined with curious citizens, but I'd never been in a room of black prospective foster-parents who were eager to discuss the disproportionality of black kids in foster-care and the lack of licensed black homes. Such was the case on Saturday morning for a groundbreaking event hosted by the Northwest African-American Museum and Amara.
While aware of statistics pointing to black families choosing to informally adopt members of their extended family, I was curious to learn what Seattle's black community thought about black kids who were not informally taken in by any extended family members. What did they think about the rate at which those kiddos are being placed with white families? I wondered what thoughts they had about the formation of trans-racial families and the subsequent gentrification of what were our predominantly black neighborhoods. I braced myself for tense conversations, and prepared my ears to hear terms such as "stealing," or "white-saviorism." I was also prepared for the invariable; "I just don't think my heart could handle being a foster-parent," or "how do we get a young child who hasn't had very much trauma?" I was ready to employ calming techniques in order to appropriately respond to questions in productive and informative ways. To my utter amazement, these questions and sentiments never came.
Instead, folks wiped tears from their eyes after viewing a few clips from Closure, then the audience sat with rapt attention listening to the panelists share personal experiences as foster-parents and child welfare professionals. When the floor opened up for questions, I took a deep breath in anticipation of the questions I'd heard so many times before, but was instead met with the question "what happens to our children when they age out of the system?" Another person waved their hand stating "I'm old, and am not able to get my house licensed to house our kids, but I can be someones auntie!" Small group discussions formed all around the room, engaging in brainstorming sessions around ways to care for our black kids in the community who do not have a permanent family.
As the small groups conversed, I took a pulse of my heart-rate and my body. I rifled through the rolodex of emotions typically felt during my public speaking engagements to try to assign a label to my feelings. Eventually, I realized that this event was unlike the others that I'd been a part of, and thus none of my usual emotions accurately reflected that moment. I only knew for certain that this space felt safe, warm and inviting. Evidence of my comfort came as I found myself disclosing that I was mortified that my mom told my birthmom that I'd seen The Sound of Music hundreds of times (to which my birthmother replied "I've never seen it!"). While overwhelmed to be in the presence of my birthmother for the first time in my life, I was silently screaming; "MOM! Why would you share such a white thing with my black birthmom!?!" A couple members of the audience approached me afterwards singing "The hills are alive!" and confessing that they, too, enjoyed that movie, but didn't want others to know, out of fear of not being black enough. What a relief!
Historically, black folks haven't had the privilege of self-sufficiency, and have had to rely on each other in order to remain - characteristics like being self-sacrificing, dependable, generous, and helpful to others are of the utmost importance importance, slightly resembling a collectivist culture. Individualistic cultures tend to focus inward and value independence, and self-reliance. In fact, depending on others might be viewed as shameful. The stark contrast between collectivism (let's do what's best for society!) vs, individualism (doing what's best for me) with regards to foster-parenting in these communities is something for which I'm continuing to process.
Due to high demand, another similar event is already being planned by Amara!