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Archive for the ‘Adoption blogs’ Category

t or fThe messages that are intended aren’t always the messages that are received.  Below I have complied 5 myths followed by the truths and the messages these myths send.

1) MYTH:  Acknowledging race conflicts with the message we as a transracial family want to send to our transracial adoptee.  Race doesn’t matter to us.

TRUTH:  Acknowledging the obvious differences and talking about them helps prove that it doesn’t matter to you.  Ignoring the obvious difference makes the transracial adoptee  question just how much race matters.     To which  some will  conclude race matters too much because no one is willing to tackle it or explain it.  Therefore, race should only be seen and not  heard.  As a child of color, should I too only be seen and not heard?

2)  MYTH:  When our transracial adoptee is ready to talk about race and adoption HE/SHE will bring it up.

TRUTH:   The transracial adoptee will not bring up race or adoption because your silence about these subjects doesn’t give them permission to talk about them.

3)  MYTH:  Talking about a child’s painful past will only cause the pain to grow and multiply.

TRUTH:  Pain operates the opposite of vegetation.   You can’t choke out pain by ignoring it  or starving it of attention.  Pain grows from lack of attention NOT vice versa.

4)  MYTH:  Love is divisible.  If we open up our family to birth parents it will divide our adoptive child’s love in half.

TRUTH:  Honoring, respecting, and loving birthparents teaches the adoptee how to honor, respect and love adoptive parents.  LOVE MULTIPLIES!

5) MYTH:  Learning, studying and researching how I am affected by adoption, as an adoptee, robs me of joy.

TRUTH:  Joy comes from understanding.

Be conscious of the messages you want to send and be proactive to make sure what you are intending is actually what your children are receiving.

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Recently I was contacted through my blog by Bryan Tucker.  Bryan is the director of the documentary film, Closure.  He simply asked if I would be willing to view the doc and do a review.  I had heard about the movie and have been meaning to check it out but just hadn’t had the opportunity.  I agreed to do so and below is more my response to the film than it is a review.  For those that don’t know, Closure is the documentary about a transracial adoptee, Angela Burt-Tucker, who searches for her birth family. For information on how to purchase a copy just click on the link closuredocumentary.com 

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I cried more for Angela’s searching and reunion experience than I did my own.  I sat in my quiet office with the door closed, tears racing down my cheeks, my nose running as if it was late for a train, and I wept.  The connection that I never got with my search was there for hers.  While watching her search I realized that often when you are the searcher, so much energy is expended in the chase.  The focus becomes on the process instead of the product.  I saw that focus in Angela.  She was stoic and strong for most of the movie putting process before product and I saw myself in her.   All throughout the movie I wondered if Angela heard and understood the weight of what her adoptive parents said or if she caught what Bryan, her husband, the director captured in a shot. I realized my need to pause the film for Angela was really my need to pause the film for myself, to understand and realize so much about this adoption journey.  My concern became so much about what Angela was missing because it was what I missed during my process.

Interestingly, the movie called Closure brought me healing and closure.  It gave me the opportunity to mourn the fact that my mother and I never met.  It gave me permission to grieve the loss of a connection I never made.  It allowed me the time to fantasize about meeting my biological father and his family and I needed that.  This was my adoptee response and I enjoyed it and appreciated Angela’s courage in sharing her search.

The adoption trainer in me wanted to also keep pausing the film.  I wanted to point out to the adoptive families how important the search can be to an adoptee. I thought Bryan did an amazing job of verbalizing his journey and growing understanding of the search as he watched his wife walk this path.  I was struck by Bryan’s understanding and his humility to admit at times he didn’t know certain things yet he showed his desire to understand more. I wanted to highlight and underline when Angela’s mother shared that initially she was reluctant about the search but then confessed, “I realized that it wasn’t going to change my status of being her mom if she found her birth mother.” WOW!  I wanted her to say that over and over so the adoptive parents could hear it clearly.  IT DOESN’T CHANGE YOUR STATUS!  As a trainer I would love to create a workshop around this film.  This is a movie ALL adoptive parents and professionals should see to help address the many issues that come with adoption and searching.

I appreciated the humans that showed up behind the scary names of “birth mother and father.”  So much concentration is often directed towards the past sins and mistakes of birth parents that we forget there are people behind those terms.   I appreciated that the portrayal of Angela’s black relatives was real and common and calm and enlightening.  As a person of color, I am sensitive to that and I found them to be engaging, wise, caring, and welcoming.  I was thankful for that.

The transracial adoptee in me had to keep telling myself initially this is not a documentary on transracial adoption.  I think it is important to understand that going in.  This is a documentary on an adoptee’s journey to find her birth family.  Oh and by the way she happens to be a transracial adoptee.    Although race is a big part of life as a transracial adoptee we have other powerful stories that can be told and this is one worth hearing.

Towards the end of the movie…it happened.  I saw Angela crying and I was relieved.  Finally, the product was trumping the process and that made me smile.

The wonderful thing is that through our experiences others learn and grow and identify.  So often I am the one sharing experiences so others can grow.  Closure allowed me an hour and 16 minutes to grow and learn and identify. The movie showed the pain, the fear, the ups, the downs, the expected and the unexpected and it showed everything that searching is. It was through Angela’s story that I understood my own story, my adoptive parent’s story, and my birth parent’s story on a deeper level which created some closure for me.

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In grade school the premier sport was basketball.   In fifth grade, although I didn’t like basketball, there was no question I was going to try out for the team and so did every other male in my class;  to not be on the team was social suicide.  My basketball skills were left on the assembly line floor when I was created, but I could run,  push myself off the floor(most would say jump but the lack of vertical lift I got didn’t meet the definition of jump) and dribble a basketball so I made the team.  And so did anyone who showed up for practice.  I played 5th through 8th grade and cherished my spot on the team.  As a TRA (transracial adoptee) my hidden fears of rejection sat on my shoulder like a pirate’s parrot, always squawking in my ear.  I especially desired to fit in here because the school I went to was predominately black and I wanted to be recognized as simply one of the group.    Fitting in was paramount and the basketball team was my vehicle to fitting in and it gave me a peace I can’t describe.

Friday nights were electric!  It was game night and I loved pulling on the blue and gold uniform and lacing up my all leather Pro-Keds.  Money was never in abundance in our house , so the purchase of leather shoes to play basketball was monumental.  The day I got to abandon my red Beta Bullets(remember our colors were blue and gold,) which were a cheap version of the Converse All-Stars, was an historic day in my life.   Converse All-Stars were about $5.00 in the 70’s, so to be any cheaper ,my mother would have to have gotten paid by the store to take the Beta Bullets off the shelves.   Throwing the ripped red canvas Beta Bullets in the trash was a celebrated event but that was only done after a few more months of wearing them as my “play shoes.” I was only able to wear my “play shoes” after I put the allotted time in each day wearing my orthopedic shoes that were designed to cure my flat feet.  The amazing thing with those shoes was how the salesman convinced my mother that not only did my brothers have flat feet but I somehow “inherited” their flat feet through simply living in the same house!  Mom, I WAS ADOPTED how could I have inherited their flat feet? Those orthopedic shoes and their offensively high price tag was the reason it took so long to get matching basketball shoes.

We would start each game as if we were a professional team.  The whole team would line up shortest to tallest in the locker room.  Finally, my lack of height came with a perk!  I stood at the front of the line and the coach would hand me the ball.  It was my job to lead the team in to the gym, make a lap around the gym, and then make a layup.  It was the closest thing to being a rock star that I had ever experienced.

I spent most of the game watching my teammates beat up on the smaller, rural, mostly all white teams we played.  It was our starter’s job to go out and put a hurting on the other team so my friends  and I could come in when the game was out of reach.  One game the coach decided to stray away from this strategy. At the end of the first quarter we were winning 34-0.  He called for me and 4 others whose ability was close to mine—nonexistent, to start the second quarter.  At the end of the second quarter the score was 34-32.  Coach never tried that strategy again and I was okay with that.

My eight grade year I was still watching mostly from the bench, but still on the  team and happy.  One of the perks of being on the 7th and 8th grade team was the end of year tournament held at a local high school.  The opportunity to play on a big high school floor was like playing at Madison Square Garden.  There was a limit to the number of people the coach could take to the tournament but traditionally the 8th graders took priority over the 7th graders.   This way everyone would have a chance to experience this opportunity.  My 8th grade year the coach posted on the bulletin board in the hallway of the school the names of the players going to the tournament.  I ran to see who was going and my eyes ran up and down the list several times and each time my eyes failed to locate my name.  I did notice name after name of 7th graders that were on the list but mine was not among those going.  I was more embarrassed than anything.  I wasn’t too disappointed because I could sit at home instead of on the bench and if I have to sit I’d rather do it home.  Two other 8th graders didn’t make the team.  My friends Mark and John would also be sitting at home.  Mark was the one and only TRA I knew growing up and John was the only other biracial kid on the team.  At 13 years old I never made the connection between the 3 left out, but Mom did.

The day after the traveling team was announced, Mom made a special trip to school without me know it.  As we all sat down for dinner, one of my classmates called on the phone.  I grabbed the phone and my excited friend shouted in my ear, “Kev, man your Mom came up to the school and cussed the coach out!!!!  You should have been there it was GREAT!”

“She did what?” I said, as I looked at my Mom across the table.  The look on her face told me she did what my friend said she did and I shocked.  My Mom was very aware of the prejudices we as a family faced at times when I had no clue.  The commonalities between the 3 cut kids screamed something wasn’t right.  She had developed her BS thermometer so when things didn’t sound right the alarms went off in her head.  We experienced a similar prejudice when I was in second grade from a black teacher who openly disapproved of white families adopting black children.  The teacher found an unjustified reason to spank me in class and the next day I was in another class after Mom showed up at the school cussing someone else out.  In both situations, I was oblivious to what was going on around me but Mom was tuned in and growled at those who were behind the offense.

I hung the phone up and Mom confessed to what she did earlier in the day.  I was embarrassed and proud of Mom at the same time.   It’s an unwritten rule in sports that you don’t speak out against the coach and you especially don’t have your Mom do it.  The coach never conceded and  I didn’t get to go to the tournament and I was relieved.  Being put back on the team because my Mom complained would have been tough to recover from, but Mom became an icon among my friends.  She was the dragon slayer and it was great to know I lived with someone who would slay a dragon on my behalf.

I am often asked how parents should respond to incidents like this.  Below are a few tips

1)      Be an advocate for your child.  If you see something not right or your child brings something to you address it. This will be tough for some because many will rationalize why this isn’t racially motivated and talk themselves out of addressing it.

2)      Explain to your child in a calm manner what happened in an age-appropriate way.  The emotion that comes with racism can often make you want to yell and scream.  Do that away from your child or it will translate to them that you’re yelling at them or it’s their fault.

3)      Include your child in the process of addressing it.  While the Momma Bear in you will make you want to attack, take a breath.  Sit down and talk to your child and ask what they would like to see happen.

4)       Don’t lead with racism.  The moment you scream racism is the moment the offender shuts you off.

5)      Take credit for what you do.  Once it is address explain to your child what was done and how the situation will be resolved.

Now go be Dragon Slayers on behalf of your children!

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She walked out of her home exhausted and frustrated because she felt like no one really understood her. She lived at home with her father and three brothers and there were times when she felt like they spoke different languages and were birthed on different planets. She walked down her Mayberry-like street that was filled with activity. The group of kids who were playing street hockey were all boys. The group renovating the home next door were all man. But this was what she was used to experiencing. It was rare for her to see another female and she couldn’t recall how long it has been since since the last sighting.

She attends the neighborhood school and all of her classmates and teachers are all male. She heard about a family that had a girl who once attended the school but they moved away long before she got there. She gets along well with the boys in school but when they make fun of her for being a girl or say horrible things about girls she has learned to play along; because this is how you get along. Being the object of the jokes is much better than being ignored and cast off. She slowly begins to believe the stereotypes and demeaning things she is told about women.

The church they attend matches her neighborhood and school. She is the only female sitting in the pews listening to sermons that are designed and written for men because women rarely come to her church. She has learned to accept that the male point of view is the norm and there is not much room for her voice. She has approached her father about issues that would be considered female issues but her father doesn’t want to talk about them. Talking about her differences will only make her feel worse and it will only make her feel even more different. At least, that’s what her father thinks. So her voice fades and quietly disappears. She has also tried to talk about the mother she never knew but her father doesn’t see the need to talk about this painful topic, so they don’t. His unwillingness to talk about it has taught her this is a subject that should not discussed. Those types of conversations are confined to her head and never go away.

The only representation of women she ever sees is on TV. The women on TV become her definition of what it means to be female. She begins to measure herself against the one dimensional characters she sees on TV and falls short. She can’t compete with women with makeup artists, trainers, and coaches and her self esteem dips dangerously low. All this combines with the hormones that accompany a girl of her age and creates a struggle within her. She searches to find a place to exhale; a place to be understood. She has so many questions and no one around her who shares a similar life experience.

She moves through life accepting this is how things are and she pushes down anything female. She graduates from high school and goes to a large university. The moment she steps on campus she is in awe of what she sees. There are women walking around campus, teaching classes, working in the library, coaching teams, and she is excited and terrified at the same time. She doesn’t know how to talk to other women because she has never done it before. She wonders if she will be accepted in with the woman that surround her. She wonders why this demographic was kept from her. Why did she struggle as the only one when there are so many women present outside of her community? Her struggles continue because she can’t seem to fit in–anywhere. The way women interact and even talk is foreign to her. It is like she is in an unfamiliar country where she doesn’t know the language, beliefs or cultural do’s and don’ts. Simply put; She is ignorant to the ways of women. She is seen as odd and this circle of interaction is closed to her.

On her first break from college she goes home to her all male town and home. She sits across from her father at the dinner table and asks why she never had contact with other women like her. Her father states it didn’t occur to him that that was important to her. As long as he was raising a child in a positive way he didn’t think much else was needed. Besides, she never asked to have contact with other women so how was he supposed to know. If she had requested it; showed that she wanted that, he would have provided it for her.

Love and anger wrestle in her chest and she doesn’t know how to feel. She loves her father but is frustrated that he doesn’t understand her. She feels she is being blamed because she didn’t take the initiative but she didn’t know what she didn’t know. Her frustration grows and she can feel her blood simmering moving closer and closer to a boil and then….

Her mother shakes her to wake her up. It was just a strange dream. She chuckles to herself at the absurdity of such a town and is relieved she nor any one else has to live life as she did in her dream.

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I sat across the conference table facing a mother whose pain gushed out of her and ran down her cheeks. Today was the day she was supposed to agree to terminate her parental rights and consent to having her child placed for adoption.

My job, as a CASA volunteer (Court Appointed Special Advocate) is to review cases where children are removed from their home and placed in foster care. I have been tasked to speak on behalf of the children and report back to the court what course of action is in the best interest of the child. Part of that job includes days like this where tough life collides with tough life-altering decisions.

As the mother sobbed I could see her mind wrestling with her heart. Her mind knew the answer but her heart wouldn’t allow her mouth to say what, in this case, was the right thing to do. To come to this conclusion as parent; to admit that your child is better off in someone else’s care is about six football fields beyond my comprehension. At this meeting this mother was realizing that what she had agreed to prior to the meeting was much harder to force out of her mouth; saying it meant it was official and permanent.

At different intervals during this painful process, I glanced at the mother and saw what HEARTBROKEN looked like and that image was speaking to my heart. This is the picture of adoption that is often deleted and replaced with a drug-addicted, promiscuous, immature girl whose party life takes priority over the inconvenient result of a good night of partying. In this broken mother, I saw my own birth mother and wondered if her struggle to terminate her parental rights was as hard as the struggle I was witnessing across the faux wooden table. I also wondered if I was tracing the flight-path of Icarus; an adoptee with a back stage pass to relinquishment could be dangerous. There were several moments where I felt my adoptee heart was diving and swooping too close to the sun. There were several times my emotions wanted to detach and run out of the room seeking shelter in some mindless activity far away from the sensitive nerve endings that were exposed during this too-real, too close to home exchange.

But…I have come to learn in this fascinating journey that it is right here in the eye of this hurricane where I find answers about myself. That statement may sound as if I am a voyeur to this process, but that was not why I agreed to advocate for children as a CASA. But…it is here where I find answers about this emotion-filled A-bomb called adoption, and it is here where I can glimpse shadows of my own birth mother and gain insight in to her experience.

The meeting with the heartbroken mother ended with her unable to say or consent to terminating her rights. Her heart and mind stood in opposite corners of her skull; both refusing to surrender and I understood in a more intimate way than I had before the anatomy of such a profound decision.

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Part of the residue that attaches itself to an adoptee as a by-product of the rejection issues we often face is the need to be liked and accepted.  Looking back at my life as an adolescent,  I can zoom in with laser point accuracy at the many times I did things purposely to fit in or be liked.  Recently, I have come to the realization that I spent a large amount of my time and energy in school being very intentional.  There was a strategy to a lot of what I did and said.  The end-game was to fit in–at all costs.  The attention I got from that, as I have said, help quiet the voices in my head that said I wasn’t good enough. The practices I perfected in adolescence would stay with me for the majority of my life.

The luxury of having a job now where I analyze my life is that the more I learn the more I can apply to my life and intimately see how my life was affected by things like this.  When I speak to a group of professionals and talk about how I processed this rejection, I often see head after head nodding in agreement.  It is understood in the professional world of adoption the affect that that initial rejection has on adoptees and how we often will look for attention to silence that rejection.

This need for attention can manifest itself in relationships particularly and can result in an adoptee picking a mate solely on the fact that that person gave us attention.  It doesn’t matter that the attention is attached to a broken person.  It doesn’t matter that the cost we pay for attention is paid for in mistreatment.

Shortly after graduating from college, I moved back to Detroit and began dating a woman who was verbally abusive.  When we went out and I took a wrong turn I was chastised for my dumb decision to turn left instead of right.  If we were walking in a parking lot and I wasn’t walking on the right side of her, to create a human shield between her and the cars traveling down the aisle-way, I was reminded of how less-than-smart and insensitive I was. She was giving volume to the voices in my head which said the same things.   HER friends would often remind me that I was too good for her but I couldn’t see it.  The attention that I inhaled blinded me from the obvious.

There was one incident in particular that summed up the relationship and what it was doing to me.

One night I was supposed to pick her up from her Christian roller-skating night.  I retired from roller skating in grade school so I didn’t see the need to go with her.  I was late in picking her up by 5 minutes and instead she choose to go home with a male friend.  I was panicked when I searched the rink and she was not there. I sped home to her house to catch her getting out of a white vehicle driven by a man.  She turned around to see me  as I pulled in her drive way.  She acknowledged she saw me  by turning around and going inside.  When I came to the door she refused to answer it.

I left her house and began my 30 minute trek home.   As I passed a white vehicle on my way home, not far from her house,  the man in the white vehicle motioned for me to pull over.  I agreed and pulled over into a nearby gas station parking lot.  He motioned for me to come in to his vehicle.  I did assuming he wanted to straighten out what has just happened.  As I sat in the passenger seat,  he simply asked what I was doing that night.  I began to explain why I was late.  He then continued and ignoring what I just said.  “So you want to do something now?”

Being so punch-drunk from this relationship, I abandoned all rational thought up until this point.  Quickly, my senses came screaming back to me.  My route home was to take 7 mile Road home from Detroit’s East side which passed by a string of gay bars.  Right in front of a very popular gay bar is where I was motioned to pull over.  This was a different white car, and different driver than who I assumed it was.    My mind was now piecing all the facts together at the speed of light and I now clearly understood where I was, why I was there, and what this man wanted.  The presence of me sitting in the front seat of this strange man’s car became abundantly, and painfully clear.

My mind screamed,  “Prove you are heterosexual!”  But I wasn’t sure how to do that. I just began to ramble.   The only thing I remember is every other word I said was “girlfriend.”  My response to his question was something like,  “My girlfriend…just left my girlfriend’s house… my girlfriend, SHE’S mad at me…my girlfriend… gotta go call my GIRLFRIEND!”

I reached for the car door, pulled the handle and vaporized.  I was back in my car and speeding down 7 mile before he could unravel the nonsense that I spitted out.

The next morning,  I picked up the Detroit Free Press trying to do something to distract my mind from the incidents of the night before.  The first story I came to was about a man who was raping other men at gun point in the Detroit area.   I placed the paper down and just sat in the soft chair in the living room staring straight ahead at what could have happened.

This story made my life’s most embarrassing moments and fortunately didn’t make the Sunday morning news.  It speaks a lot to how mentally fried I was from this relationship.  It truly hindered my ability to think straight and the cost could have been much more.

Shortly after that and after a few more clashes with the unreasonable, and then the opportunity to date someone who wasn’t abusive, I had enough courage to just walk away from this dysfunctional relationship.  But during that time I was seriously considering marrying this woman and we would have been miserable.  I came dangerously close to just settling for someone because she gave me attention and the payment in the form of pride and respect was something I was willing to endorse.

Children of alcoholics are more likely to grow up to be alcoholics than those whose parent’s aren’t alcoholics.  This doesn’t mean that children who come from non-alcoholic homes will never become alcoholics.

I understand that some non-adopted children have relationship issues.  I understand  some non-adopted children just want to fit it and crave attention.  My point is that with adoption can come with  predictable residue that if understood can be addressed.  It comes with its own laser pointer pointing you to things you might want to watch out for so you can prepare and possibly avoid.

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Coming Soon:    Predictable Residue Part II– My next post will address this issue as it manifests itself in the business world particularly with adoptees who serve or are asked to serve  in the adoption community.

 

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My Journey To Me

Two years ago at the same desk I sit now I began this blog with the purpose of creating a space for me to exhaust some creative energy.  It was a way to bleed from my system these unusual and imaginative thoughts and pictures I had trapped somewhere inside my skull.  So initially I wrote about writing, and Michael Jackson, and my family, and me.

Slowly the focus organically changed and easily flowed in to more and more posts about adoption and what it means to me to be adopted.  As my writing changed so did my passion.  The passion I had about writing transformed into a passion about adoption which came through my writing.  My thoughts became more focused, more precise, and the inspiration to write always circled back and around to adoption.  The more I wrote about adoption the more I had to get involved and study adoption.  This led to me changing the focus of my book Growing Up Black In White. Initially, it started out about growing up from a young boys point of view very much like Christmas Story or The Sandlot, to a story about this adopted kid and what it was like to grow up adopted and different.

Many times I would joke as I began to speak about my adoption experience, that this was great therapy for me to be able to talk about adoption and me in a way I never had before.  As I spoke early on it was mostly about my experiences.  It was me telling my story about growing up adopted, growing up black in a white house, in a  white community, and in a white world.

I continued to read and learn more.  I began to hear people talk about what was never talked about when I was growing up.  Small thought-grenades would explode in my head as I learned about attachment, rejection, and the quiet collateral damage that comes with adoption.  As the new knowledge came in I would measure it against my life, my thoughts, and my feelings and on these digital pages I shared me and this new awakening.

In this new awakening with new eyes, I often look back at past thoughts or writings and have to admit I may not now agree with certain things at certain stages but that is an exciting way to measure growth.  My view has and will continue to change as I express my view through my thoughts. Sometimes my thoughts and my expression of them make some readers uncomfortable because adoption isn’t getting painted with warm Kum By Ya colors.  I’ve been challenged because some think I concentrate on the darker side of adoption at times and I can’t argue against that.  There are days when my response to this deeply emotional journey isn’t butterflies and puppies.  Some days it’s ravenous hawks and junk yard dogs but that doesn’t mean I hate the butterfly and puppy days.

In my evolution as an adoptee and writer I enjoy my new found freedom to question many of  the assumptions about adoption that I have had and heard.  I enjoy the freedom that gives me the right to be the angry adoptee this week and the grateful adoptee next week.  I enjoy the freedom that allows me to be angry, grateful and contemplative.  This freedom comes from learning and understanding and working through learning and understanding that this journey at 44 years and counting is not close to being completed.  Each step I take is exciting and interesting and difficult and scary but the learning is empowering.  Because the more I learn and apply to me brings me closer to destination me:  a destination that is fluid and no longer static.

This journey is an amazing one and I enjoy those who challenge as well as those who encourage because each moves me along this winding road.  I welcome any and all travelers to watch as I chronicle, laugh, scream, rage, shout, chuckle, ponder, trip and recover, sprint, walk, and stroll to a better understanding of myself.

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   AUGUST & SEPTEMBER SPECIAL

Any one who purchases a copy of my book, Growing Up Black In White, from this website before October 1st, 2011 will get a FREE download of my 90 minute webinar ,  The Transcultural 10:  The 10 essentials for transcultural adoption.

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