Nurturing the third eye

This past weekend, “Rachel” opened at Portland Stage. Set in the 1920s, the play explores racism, colorism, and the effects of the two on the black psyche. I am blessed to be a part of the production. Rachel has an all-Black, intergenerational cast with several kids aged about 6-10. We call them thelittles,” and they just about burst my heart. A few of them are adoptees, and being one myself, I confess they have a special place in my heart. Working with them is a reminder that children are incredible teachers.

The littles came to rehearsal this week with stories about Martin Luther King Jr. and how he cured racism, having just learned about him in school. This week, of course. The littles want to tell me about his dream, saying “It’s a good thing that we don’t live when this play was set, because then we would have people who hate us and want to hurt us because of how we look.

I take a pause, and then a breath, before telling them gently but firmly that things arent much different today. I watch light fade slowly in their eyes as pieces from family, friends, and bits of news clicks together. Air slips from their previously proud chests. I can see in their eyes that my words have just taken some of their hope.

I want to tell them that yes, MLK was a great man, but he wasn’t the end-all. Crave to explain to them that whiteness propped him up after they murdered him and his dream. That yes, he had a dream, but the nation wasn’t ready, that Martin wasn’t the only one who dreamed of freedom. Wasn’t the only one with fire burning in his chest and wind filling his lungs. I want to tell them about Assata and Stokely and Malcom and Angela.

I want to tell them that we need to devour our history before it is taken from our hands and our mouths; peeled from our lips, as it was done before. As people will try to do again. I want to tell the littles that they can add their names to the history books which we will write and rewrite to include us. Include our truth. Undiluted. Free of whitewashing and white history. I want to tell them it is OK to be mad. To be sad. To be filled with confusion and rage.

I hand one of the littles a comic book I found in a booth at AfroPunk. The story is about a kid who discovers she has psychic and empathetic powers, with an abilities related to chakras and auras. The kid has an older brother who skeptically follows her through the journey. The little wants to know if the brother gets powers too, and I wonder if he is thinking about his younger sister and himself. Wonder if he sees his sister as a superhero. I wonder if he sees himself.

He asks me if I think the third eye is real. I tell him, “Yes, I am trying to activate it.” He nods, then tells me about his friend that he watches Naruto (a Japanese manga series about a young ninja on the quest for belonging). He tells me his friend liked to bring a demon into their third eye then activate it, like on the TV show. Then he told me his friend later realized how foolish that was. They said it didn’t feel good bringing in the demons energy. I said “That’s good. We don’t want to welcome in that negative energy, do we?” He shook his head emphatically “Oh, no!”

Conversations like these show me kids have the basic tools for understanding this world we live in. They don’t need to be spoon-fed stories about Martin and his shiny dream. Kids can be told about the world they live in, in terms they can understand. Living in silos of whiteness, it is easy for us to forget that we are not alone in our blackness. Whiteness creates walls to keep us away from each other and afraid. Whiteness rewrites our history and serves it back to us once per annum, requesting us to be grateful, while shouting “reverse racism” and “Why is there no white history month?!” Kids need to be armed and ready for the world of whiteness that awaits them, gearing up to break them down. Today’s children are going to save the world. In order to do that, they need to be prepared, with spirits intact, and curious. Kids need to believe they are magic and to learn their history. In doing so, they will have acquired the tools to call on their ancestors and love themselves now, so as life rolls on they’ve nowhere to go but up and out, and soar beyond the stars.


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Adoptees adopting themselves

Family is a word on everyone’s tongue. It is no doubt that family can be a difficult thing across the board.  For some of us though, it tends to be more complicated. I am teaching myself how to cry. How to really let out the grief that has lived in my body since time before remembering. Last week, I found myself on a sidewalk crouched in the fetal position, weeping. It was in that moment which I realized with a profound certainty that there are people on this planet who belong to me.

I have found my birth mother and I am filled with fear and confusion with no clear end in sight. And I couldn’t be happier. Despite the questions. Despite the emotions which are clogged in my body. I had given my mother up for dead. Maybe it was the fatalist in me. Maybe it was the realist. Or maybe it was me trying to reconcile my place in the world, and understand that I may never know my origins. Not truly.

I’m clicking my heart back into place. I’ve found my birth mother. I’ve heard her voice. I know there is someone in this world who belongs to me. Who I belong to. I love her, and I barely know her; nevertheless, I’ve loved her all my life. She is a constant steady flame burning in the center of me, guiding my way and lighting my path in even the darkest of times. Before now, loving her was complex. Truth be told, it still is. The difference now is that I know she exists.

I’m on a quest to reclaim my narrative. Twice robbed of my history—first when my ancestors were enslaved and shipped here, and again when I was shipped up here and then cut off from my birth mother. As a child, I had no say. Despite wanting desperately to meet my mother. See her in more than just a photograph.

This is the hardest piece I’ve ever written, and I don’t even know what it’s about. I feel compelled to write it down. Perhaps it’s because I know that many of the people who will read these words will hold a small dark child in their arms. Maybe it’s because I want them to know what it is to be a transracial adoptee in a white state. To have to adapt perceptions and stop looking for oneself in the face of those who love them. To understand the deep need which sits at the base of their being. A deep throbbing wound waiting to be filled by someone who looks like them. Sounds like them. Feels like them.  Last week, I heard my birth mother’s voice and I finally, finally, finally, felt kinship.

My story is unfinished one, scattered and uncertain. Until now it has been filled with the struggle of a child brought into a family who did not truly understand the magnitude of what it means to adopt a Black child. A family who felt an occasional Black babysitter, Black baby doll, kwanza ball would make up for the deficit of being without one’s history.

I know that there are children in this state who feel alone right now. Who are wondering where they come from. Who are sitting around their kitchen tables staring at faces which are paler and stranger than their own. There are children who have a deep and unquenchable longing to connect with someone who shares their blood, shares their face. Beautiful dark children who long to understand where they come from and to hear their own voice reflected to them.

I am writing this because I need adoptive parents to do better. I need adoptive parents to understand the importance of origin. Don’t buy into a color-blind love. It doesn’t exist. Not really.  If you are a white parent who has taken a Black child into your home, I need you to talk to them. Often. I need you to press them when they tell you that nothing is wrong. I need you to listen to their silences. To try to understand their grief. I need you to understand that to be given up is to inflict a wound so deep that it penetrates everything. I need you to understand that an adoptive child constantly questions their intrinsic self-worth. I need adoptive parents to understand that terror of rejection lives at the heart of that wound. As a child, I remember being constantly fearful that I would be given away. Given back after being found wanting. Being found ungrateful.

What I mean to say is, you cannot take a small dark child into your home, remove them from their blood, then expect them to naturally thrive. Expect them to forget. This shit is deep. It may be instinct to boil this down to my own sad experience. To reduce my story to an isolated incident. An unfortunate case of an adoption turned foul.

The thing is, my journey began with the best, if not hazy of intentions. I have deep love for my family. And begrudging though it may be, after a childhood demanding my gratitude, I have come to make some concessions. I’m not grateful for my adoption; I’m not there yet and may never be, but I am grateful for my life path, because I am proud of where I landed. I am proud of where I have carried myself on spirit, at times kicking and screaming. In this, my 28th year, I have given birth to myself. I am grateful that I had the strength and the faith to reach across my fear and find the woman who created me.

My birth mother was my first heartbeat. My first breath. My first love and my first question. After years of coming up short, I am now on a path to discovering answers to my own whispered questions. Finally, I will have more than a box of birth records and cards and photographs get me through; to connect me to where I come from. I have adopted myself. Adoption is deep. Adoption is painful. And some adoptees never can give birth to themselves.

If I can have only one wish for adopted babies, specifically, transracial adoptees, then I will break it into two parts, and in no particular order:

I wish that transracial adoptees are placed with adoptive parents who strive every day to understand the complexities of adoption. I wish that they recognize and address the significance of loving a child who lives in a home which does not reflect them. In a country which does not value them, and in a world which does not love them. This is my wish, and I pray to whoever is listening, that it come true.


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Stop shrinking us

I was brought to Maine to live a better life. Better than what, I’ll never know. I have many feelings about that. My mother gave me away so that I might live up here, among the trees and the ocean and the nice white folk. I am meant to be grateful. I gathered this from spending my childhood being told that I was ungrateful. As though I had a say in being born.

When I was in kindergarten kids used to tell me: I was Black. I knew my colors quite well (having had the opportunity to acquaint myself with all 98 Crayola crayon colors in the crayon box). I was very confident that my skin was brown and not black. I decided to do a demonstration. Pulling a black crayon and a brown crayon from the 98-color Crayola crayon box, I held each up to my skin. I would ask my classmates which color best matched my skin? They would point. I would then ask them to read the color of the crayon. Guess which one matched best? They still told me I was Black.

Most days it feels like I’m drowning. Hands pulling me under, bodies weighing me down.  Growing up in Maine does that to a person. Excuse me, growing up Black in Maine does that to a person. It shrinks us. Makes us smaller, more compact. Easier to move and use and throw away.

I am from a small town. Thirty minutes north of where I live now. A town of subtle racism.

You know I used to argue with people about the color of my eyes? My eyes which I stared at each morning, and again each night. I memorized the shades in them, the size of my pupils as they dilated. People said they were black. My hair too. I studied each strand and was certain, they were brown. I told people as much. People being classmates, friends, family. All white. All so sure I was black to the core. I suppose they were right.

In middle school I was finally able to get extensions in my hair. I was so excited. Finally, my hair (which I had no idea how to manage, and my white mother even less so) would be beautiful. Finally, I would be beautiful. My braided bliss endured for the car ride home. After that, my brothers laughed and called it horsehair. They took that taunt to bus and it followed me through to high school.

I played the violin and piano, sang, did drama, competed in track and field. I listened to Whitney Houston, Amy Grant, Jewel, Usher, and American Idol covers. I watched Star Trek Voyager, The Lost World, Sister Act (I & II). I was not allowed to listen to rap music or watch R-rated movies. I was raised by a white family, in a white town, in a white state.

Because of these things, my white friends (my only friends) called me an Oreo. Said they were blacker than me. Like they were the ones who were called a ‘nigger’ on a school playground at the age of seven, by a white boy with a knife. Like they were the ones who stared at themselves in the mirror, day after day, hearing voices deny the truth their eyes could see; trying to find the black in their brown.

Like they were the ones who lived in a house where everyone looked the same, except for them. Went to school every day taught by people who did not look like them. Had to learn that the only thing worth knowing about people whose skin is dark, is that we were were enslaved. Robbed. Slaughtered.

Look. I love my Black. I have always loved it. I just didn’t know it until now. Wasn’t allowed to know it until now. When I gave myself permission. Growing up, I let people shrink me. Allowed them to define what my blackness was. Gave them permission to judge what I am worth. We live in a world that is burning. In a state which is continually shrinking its brightest stars.

I met a kid last night. Their hair was kinky and curly and beautiful. They told me ‘I like your hair!’ I said, ‘Thanks! I like yours too!’ Then they said, ‘Thanks! It’s really curly. But if I put it in a bun before I go to bed it’s straight.’

It wasn’t until later that their meaning sank in. I love my Black. I want our kids to love theirs too. Please, stop shrinking us.


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