Sharp Edges of Exclusion that Come with Adoption, Family Separation and Differences of Race

by TRJ Executive Director, April Dinwoodie

“Where is she from?”

“Does she look like her dad?”

“Do you know who her real parents are?” 

These and other questions came hard and fast at my mom and me when we were out in a world that wants us to match and did not understand the realities of adoption, family separation, and the impact of trauma that comes with both.  

As a kid, I never quite understood why folks were so interested in my family, why my mom would get kind of mad when these things would happen, and why I felt so weird when it did. Why did anyone care what we looked like, why I was brown, or how we came together as a family?  Also, what were “real parents” anyway?  None of it made sense and over time, unwanted attention based on how I looked and where I “fit” within the family that surrounded me was constant. In a majority white community where families matched, I was singled out and often wondered if I belonged anywhere.  

In addition to the comments about how our family looked there were comments about how lucky I was or how lucky our family was.  Lucky? Why was I lucky to have what everyone else had, a family?  It did not make sense and it made me feel uncomfortable.  We rarely unpacked these things as a family so I was left to wonder why my family was so different, why I was different and why I should feel the least bit lucky about any of it?  

Sitting next to all of this were my complex feelings of sadness and confusion about my family of origin and looking so different from the people around me.  While I truly loved my family and  these feelings were not all-consuming, they were serious distractions as I navigated the world.  I simply wanted to fit in, to be like everyone else and to feel like I belonged.  

There was no bright or easy path to true belonging because those closest to me did not realize the weight of my reality and most others were too busy expecting me to be grateful.  I needed a community like TRJ to help my parents know and do better and I needed to be around other children and families.  

This year TRJ’s camp theme centers on inclusivity and belonging.  As always, we will create space for deep learning and development as well as moments for joy and community.   Together, we will work to soften the sharp edges of exclusion that come with adoption, family separation and differences of race.  Together, we will co-created the brightest path to belonging for the children entrusted to you through adoption.  

This post is from our March, 2024, newsletter. If you would like to get our newsletter in your inbox each month, as well as information about our annual Transracial Journeys Family Camp and our monthly Zoom call to provide support for our transracial adoption parents please subscribe.


Book Corner – March 2024

Reviewed by Kristen Perry, TRJ Parent

In the Key of Us

By Mariama Lockington

Not only is In the Key of Us by Mariama Lockington written by a transracial adoptee, but it also is a Stonewall Honor Book for LGBTQ+ books. Thus, it has the power to speak to many identities represented within our families and communities. The story is told through the alternating perspectives of Andi and Zora, the only two Black girls at a prestigious, nearly all-white music camp. Andi is struggling with the death of her mother, which is affecting her ability to play the trumpet. Zora is buckling under the pressure of her parents who expect her to be a flute prodigy, when what she really wants is to be a dancer. Over the course of the summer, the girls experience many challenges and ultimately discover the power of their relationship.

In the Key of Us is a wonderful exploration of first love, an ode to the arts, and a powerful statement about discovering your true self. Although transracial adoption is not the focus of this book in the way that it is in Lockington’s first book (For Black Girls Like Me), there are many relevant themes such as loss of first family/family of origin and being the only Black person in a sea of whiteness. Although the book is advertised for ages 10-14, I believe that teens and adults will also enjoy the book and find it meaningful – I know I did!

 

Discussion Questions:  The following questions will help you and your family open up important conversations about experiences of adoption, identity, and differences of race. Before you engage in these discussions be sure you have grounded yourself in the questions and are ready to both listen to the experiences of the children and youth you are engaging, and to share your thoughts and feelings and model conversational openness. Also, if children and young people do not want to engage in the conversation at any particular time, you can always spend some time in reflection on these questions so when the opportunity is right, you’ll be ready.      

  • Andi and Zora are the only two Black girls at the Harmony Music camp, which comes with a lot of challenges. Can you identify with some of the challenges they face?  How do they support each other? Do you have friends that support you when things are challenging? ?
  • Zora is passionate about dance, which historically has excluded many Black dancers, and finding a Black dancer as a role-model is life-changing for her. What are your passions or interests? Who can we look to as role models related to these interests?
  • In the Key of Us provides a great representation of intersectionality, particularly identities related to race and sexual orientation. What identities are important to you, and how do your identities intersect in unique ways? How are your identities perceived in the world, and in what ways might they represent challenges or privileges?

Book Recommendations for Families Created in Transracial Adoption

Kristen Perry is a TRJ parent and a professor of literacy education, specializing in family and community literacy. She and Mariama Lockington are colleagues in the University of Kentucky’s College of Education. Learn more about Mariama and connect with her on her website: https://mariamajlockington.com/ 


Preparation: Transracial Adoption: Be Ready!

Have you had strangers ask inappropriate questions of you and your family?

“Is she/he/them yours?”

“Where are they from?” -

“Your child is SO lucky”.

These invasive questions are part of being a family that does not match and where differences of race are obvious to the world around you. It is important to be prepared for these intrusions.

March Pro-Tip to Foster Conversations About Transracial Adoptions

At Transracial Journeys we send our families conversation cues each month, from our Transracial Journeys card deck, given to all our families at Family Camp. The card deck contains three cards for each month, designed for the children to ask their parents. Below are the questions for March. Before letting your child get started, prepare by reading the parent pro-tip, from the Parent Guide, each month.

March Pro-Tip for Parents: Make sure you have thought about specific times when moments of intrusion or inquiry have happened to your family. Think about the conversations you have had with friends and extended family when they were reflecting on how they feel or think you and your children should feel about adoption. These are intricate and complicated realities and thinking about them and talking about them will help ease what often lives under the surface.

CARD ONE: IDENTITY
• Do you feel lucky to be my parent?
• Do you think I should feel lucky to be your child?

CARD TWO: RELATIONSHIPS
• How do you explain our family to friends and family? How about to strangers that ask about us?

CARD THREE: EMBRACING AND FACING DIFFERENCES OF RACE AND CULTURE
• What are some unlucky things about adoption?

This post is from our March, 2024 e-newsletter.  Pictures on the website are from Family Camp. If you would like to get our newsletter in your inbox each month, with Family Camp updates, please subscribe.  You will get invitations to our Parent Meet-Up each month, a virtual meeting to act as a transracial adoption support group - sharing issues, ideas and strategies for creating a culture of communication and curiosity in your home, as well as monthly card prompt to keep the conversations about race, adoption, family, love and relationships front and center all year long.  And lastly, you'll always be made aware of important dates for our main event;  Transracial Journeys Family Camp!


Audre Lorde: A Woman Who Brought Intersectionality to the Forefront

By Becca Howe, TRJ Parent

Audre Lorde was a Black poet, essayist, and activist, whose work is celebrated for its honesty, raw emotion, and powerful imagery. She has had a profound impact on literature, feminism and resilience, especially her consistent emphasis on the importance of recognizing the interconnected nature of different forms of oppression, such as racism, sexism, homophobia, and classism. Known now as intersectionality, Lorde’s insights have had a profound impact on contemporary discussions of social justice and activism.

Lorde was born on February 18, 1934, in New York City, and was legally blind from birth. She did not speak until she learned to read at age four. She grew up in Harlem, known for its rich cultural history and vibrant community, which played a significant role in shaping Lorde’s identity and worldview, as it was a center of African American culture and activism during her formative years. 

Through her work, Lorde gave voice to the experiences of marginalized individuals, and she often explored themes of disability and self-acceptance. She challenged dominant narratives and advocated for social change. Lorde was known for her warmth, empathy and ability to connect with others. She was a mentor and inspiration to many, especially within the LGBTQ+ and feminist communities.

A quote from her essay, “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action,” expresses a contemporary theme that many people today are unpacking in their own lives: “Your silence will not protect you.” This powerful statement encapsulates Lorde’s belief in the importance of speaking out against injustice and oppression. She emphasized the need for marginalized individuals to use their voices to challenge systems of power and advocate for change, even in the face of resistance or fear.

In 1978, Lorde spoke at the National Women’s Conference in Houston, Texas. Her powerful speech titled, “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House,” became one of her most famous and influential works. In this speech, Lorde addressed issues of racism, sexism, homophobia, and classism within the feminist movement, calling for greater inclusivity and solidarity among women of different backgrounds. Her speech challenged the predominantly white and middle-class feminist movement to recognize and address the intersecting oppressions faced by women of color, LGBTQ+ individuals and other marginalized groups. Lorde’s contribution to the conference marked a pivotal moment in the feminist movement, sparking important conversations about diversity, intersectionality, and social justice that continue to resonate today.


Continued Reflection: What Love Means with Racial Identity as a Central Element

by TRJ Executive Director, April Dinwoodie

As a kid I remember hugging my dolls, my dog, and my books.  These were the things that I loved and I held them close at heart.  I had lots of dolls but there was one that my mom made for me it was brown like me and had coarse hair made of yarn that looked and felt like mine.  I loved this doll so much. The arms and legs moved and she was soft yet durable.  I loved on that doll so much, eventually part of her hair fell out.   Even then, bald patch and all, I loved her.

Growing up on a farm, there were lots of animals around but our dog Monique was my sister and my favorite.  She was a poodle.  She was black and she was a complete love.  She would be the one in our room during thunderstorms and we’d hold her tight as we waited for the storm to pass.

My books were another prized possession that I loved and held very close. Specifically, this set of hardcovered Disney books that I read over and over, I would literally hug them and hold them close to my chest.  I would get lost in these classic fairytales and at the same time, find myself in the family disruption and conflict.  The eventual happy endings gave me hope. 

Confusion of Love and My Family of Origin

With the love from my adoptive family and others around me, I understood that loving people and things meant you held them, you kept them close, and you looked after them.  Imagine my confusion when my adoptive parents explained adoption and my separation from my family of origin as something related to love. 

The mother I grew inside of loved me so much she gave me to another mother, father, and family to love.  It did not make any sense.  I was confused and was not even sure what questions to ask.  There wasn’t any additional conversation and so I wondered about this love thing.  Could I really be loved and left?  Does everyone that loves you eventually leave?   

This foundational complexity was intertwined with the reality that I was a different race than the family that surrounded me.  Yet another topic that did not get enough discussion and with this, my very specific needs that were different than my siblings were not met.

Love and Racial Identity

It’s been a long time since I was that little girl holding tight to her books and dolls.  I’ve had to wrestle with lots of elements of love and racial identity, focus on healing, and find my place of self -love and wholeness on my terms.  Today, I can clearly articulate the things I needed then that would have elevated the realities of love and racial identity in the context of adoption.  As I look back, I can see that many of the transactional elements of love were there but some of the transformational elements were not. 

There was love around me but not enough comfort and conversation surrounding the realities of our multiracial family that was connected because of loss of another family.  My parents did not lead the way forward into the harder parts of our coming together as a family.  There was an avoidance of family of origin altogether. And even though my mother knew that having a brown baby doll mattered, there was a color-evasiveness that left me unprotected in the majority white environment. 

This month, as you elevate even more celebration and honoring of Black history than you do all year long, remember that deeply loving the child entrusted to you through adoption requires your continued reflection on what love means with racial identity as a central element.   Be sure to lean into the conversation cards this month.  Even if you have to sit quietly alone and hold the questions close, do that in earnest.  Keep coming back to these foundation elements even if you think you’ve got this, bring in that higher love!  You’ve got this and I love you! 

This post is from our February, 2024, newsletter. If you would like to get our newsletter in your inbox each month, as well as information about our annual Transracial Journeys Family Camp and our monthly Zoom call to provide support for our transracial adoption parents please subscribe.


The New Brownies’ Book: W.E.B DuBois, Karida L. Brown, and Charly Palmer

Book Corner:

The New Brownies' Book
A Love Letter to Black Families

From Chronicle Books

Inspired by the groundbreaking work of W. E. B. DuBois, this beautiful collection brings together an outstanding roster of Black creative voices to honor and celebrate Black excellence.

The New Brownies' Book reimagines the very first publication created for African American children in 1920 as a must-have anthology for a new generation. Expanding on the mission of the original periodical to inspire the hearts and minds of Black children across the country, esteemed scholar Karida L. Brown and award-winning artist Charly Palmer have gathered the work of more than fifty contemporary Black artists and writers. The result is a book bursting with essays, poems, photographs, paintings, and short stories reflecting on the joy and depth of the Black experience-an immersive treasure trove that reminds readers of all ages that Black is brilliant, beautiful, and bold.

IMPORTANT HISTORICAL LEGACY: In 1920, W. E. B. Du Bois and the founders of the NAACP published The Brownies' Book: A Monthly Magazine for Children of the Sun, which included art, stories, letters, and activities to inspire children, share Black history, and celebrate their identities. As the first periodical for African American youth, this was an important work in the history of children's literature. The New Brownies' Book revives its mission to inspire the young readers of today.

Black Excellence

INCREDIBLE CONTRIBUTORS: This book features the work of talented and exciting Black creators, including playwright and poet Ntozake Shange, writer and editor Damon Young, Def Poetry Jam co-creator and painter Danny Simmons, sociologist and educator Dr. Bertice Berry, children's book illustrator James E. Ransome, muralist Fabian Williams, collage artist Marryam Moma, and many more.

BEAUTIFUL KEEPSAKE: This collection presents a celebratory array of artwork, from detailed paintings and drawings to photographs and collages. It includes stories meant to be shared by children and adults, offering a way for all families-especially Black families-to connect across generations through the power of literature. With its meaningful content and deluxe packaging, this hardcover volume makes a thoughtful gift for new parents, grandparents, or inquisitive readers of all ages.

Karida L. Brown and Charly Palmer

Note to TRJ Parents:

This beautiful book is packed with content that will inspire joy, evoke sadness, and demand reflection.  Before diving in with children and young people, be sure to read through some of the essays, poetry, and articles.  In the center of the book is a graphic essay entitled “I Don’t Want to be Black” -  story and art by KEEF Cross and written by Shannon Byrd.  It’s a very relevant commentary on how some Black children wish they were not Black because of how they are treated.  Please be sure to read this one and process before you read with children.   Not every Black child might wish they were not Black but some may and voice that and some may and not. This essay can be a good starting place to explore the topic when you are ready.  


Celebrating a Decade of Dedication: Honoring Avril McInally’s Inspiring Journey with TRJ

by TRJ Executive Director, April Dinwoodie

Honoring Avril McInally

A decade ago, Transracial Journeys (TRJ) was graced by the presence of an exceptional individual, Avril McInally. Her relationship with TRJ has been nothing short of transformative, not only for her family but for our extended family of adoption. As Avril takes her leave from the TRJ Board of Directors, her commitment and contributions will always be remembered.

Avril's journey began when she and her daughter Mary attended their first camp, in northern Pennsylvania. Inspired by their initial camp experience, Avril and Mary became dedicated volunteers, and Mary evolved into a counselor-in-training and Co-Director of Children’s Programming. Avril's other daughter, Maggie, also joined as a camp counselor, solidifying their family's bond through TRJ's unique experiences.

The McInally connection to TRJ has fortified their multiracial family formed through adoption. Through TRJ, they have delved into discussions about adoption, race, racism, family, and trauma. Avril acknowledges the pivotal role that TRJ has played in helping her balance these complex issues. The organization has provided them with a platform to explore and commit to these important matters, fostering a sense of security and solidarity among them.

Avril has witnessed firsthand the transformative impact of TRJ on its counselors, who found a sense of community among their peers. She encourages families with teenage children to consider becoming counselors-in-training, emphasizing the privilege she has experienced in watching counselors she has known since childhood blossom into inspiring leaders.

Avril's journey with TRJ took another significant turn when she joined the board and later became an officer. As the board secretary, she dedicated herself to various tasks, from recording meeting minutes to fundraising, building connections, and helping to organize annual camps. Her contributions extended to creating content for the monthly newsletter and curating an annual bibliography of essential books for families.

While Avril recently retired from her lifelong career as a public librarian and embarked on her small business venture, an exciting opportunity emerged. She was invited to write music for an independent film. Despite her deep sense of honor and curiosity, Avril realized that she couldn't fully commit to the project without relinquishing another responsibility. With a heavy heart, she made the difficult decision to tender her resignation from the TRJ board.

As Avril McInally steps away from her role as board secretary at TRJ, her spirit continues to resonate. Her camaraderie and unwavering dedication have left an indelible mark, and her hope for TRJ's continued growth and success remains. Avril's journey with TRJ serves as an inspiration to all, a testament to the transformative power of commitment and community. Thank you, Avril for the decade of dedication to TRJ. We are deeply grateful and we look forward to our continued connection.


February. Transforming: Bring a Higher Love

At the intersection of St. Valentine’s Day and Black History Month, this short month brings so many foundational elements of identity, relationships, and differences for families to explore. Love is a vital ingredient for all families but adoption and difference of race make it imperative the love moves beyond the transactional and into the transformational.

February Pro-Tip to Foster Conversations About Transracial Adoptions

Transracial Journeys invites your family to experience the calendar in a whole new way. With the help of the June-in- April Calendar Conversation Cards, each month your family is invited to use the cards as a tool for more regular and intentional conversations about identity, family relationships, and differences of race and culture.

Each month has four cards with conversation starters. The prompts and questions are designed to spark reflection and ongoing dialogue within your family as well as with extended family and friends. There is no prescriptive way to use the cards, sometimes parents or grown-ups can take the lead and ask the questions and other times, children can go first.

February Pro-Tip for Parents: 

• Explore the calendar conversation cards on your own and think about the prompts/questions - maybe even write a few things down that come up.
• Have conversations with other trusted grown-ups first and anticipate any questions that may come from the children/ young people.
• Be sure you are centered and ready before diving into the conversations.
• If you already have these kinds of conversations with your children, challenge yourself to take it to the next level.
• Explain to children their role and how they will be able to ask questions to you as their parent/caregiver.
• Keep the cards handy so you can use them any time. Consider setting them near the family dinner table or place where you gather as a family.
• Challenge yourself and also give yourself grace - these conversations are necessary and can be difficult.

CARD ONE: IDENTITY

• What is one thing you love about yourself?
• What is one thing you love about me?
• What is one thing you love about someone else in our family?

CARD TWO: RELATIONSHIPS

• Who was the first person you loved?
• Do you think it can be hard to love people sometimes?

CARD THREE: EMBRACING AND FACING DIFFERENCES OF RACE AND CULTURE
• What makes us different?
• What makes us similar?
• What are some new ways we can honor and celebrate Black Excellence, Joy and Resilience?

This post is from our February, 2024, email newsletter. If you would like to get our newsletter in your inbox each month, please subscribe.  You will get invitations to our Parent Meet-Up each month, a virtual meeting to act as a transracial adoption support group - sharing issues, ideas and strategies for creating a culture of communication and curiosity in your home, as well as monthly card prompt to keep the conversations about race, adoption, family, love and relationships front and center all year long.  And lastly, you'll always be made aware of important dates for Transracial Journeys Family Camp.


Reflections: Entry Point for Living Fully with Authenticity and Purpose as an Adoptive Family

by TRJ Executive Director, April Dinwoodie

As I reflect on my younger years as a transracially adopted person, I am filled with so many wonderful childhood memories with my sister, brothers, my parents and extended family. I am also filled with the memories of feeling isolated with my feelings and thoughts about adoption and differences of race.

My parents, busy as they were looking after us, were not in tune, and rhythm with some of the needs that I had as a Black/biracial transracially adopted person. We didn’t talk enough about the realities of separation from family of origin or differences of race, and I was left to navigate these big real realities mostly on my own.

Conversations: An Entry Point for Living Fully with Authenticity and Purpose

Today, I can confidently say that the entry point for living fully with authenticity and purpose as an adoptive family where difference of race is present, is grounding conversation that is ongoing and ever present in your daily life.

Adoption is both a journey rooted in love, and it’s also a path intertwined with unique challenges, especially when it involves racial differences. It’s crucial to recognize that adoption doesn’t just create your family; it weaves together origins, cultures, and backgrounds that may be vastly different.

Encouraging an Environment of Discussion

Start by encouraging an environment where questions and discussions about adoption and race are welcomed and encouraged. It’s important for children to feel safe in expressing their feelings and curiosities. This always starts with you.  So often, I hear parents say – “my child never asks me questions” or “they never really want to talk about adoption or our differences”.  Almost always the questions are there but the space to explore them is not. 

Getting more into the flow of ongoing conversation requires commitment from parents and caregivers as well as resources to support the effort.   Use books, movies, and cultural events as tools to celebrate your child’s heritage and your family’s multiculturalism. This not only helps them connect with their roots but also aids the whole family in understanding and appreciating culture, ethnicity and heritage more holistically.  Check out our book corner and conversation cards as you continually add to your tool kit. 

Connecting With Other Adoptive Families

Another way to scaffold your family is to connect with other adoptive families, especially those with similar dynamics. Sharing experiences and insights can be invaluable for both parents and children.  Transracial Journeys is excited to remind parents of a partnership that began in October 2023 with Adoption Network Cleveland to bring our parents the  Transracial Adoptive Parent Support Group. Join us Thursday, January 18, 2024 7:00pm-8:00pm and third Thursdays of each month.  Registration details can be found on the Adoption Network Cleveland website.

And finally, do not be ashamed or afraid to seek professional guidance from counselors or therapists, particularly those who specialize in adoption and multicultural families. They can provide strategies and support for navigating complex emotions and situations.  Here is a state by state directory of mental health professionals who identify as adoptees and work with adoptees /adoptive families in a variety of public and private settings. This list was curated by Dr. Chaitra Wirta-Leiker and I encourage you to visit her website to learn more. 

Remember, these conversations are not a one-time event but an ongoing dialogue that evolves as your child grows. It’s about building a foundation of trust, understanding, and respect for your child’s unique identity and your families unique reality. 

This post is from our January, 2024, newsletter. If you would like to get our newsletter in your inbox each month, as well as information about our annual Transracial Journeys Family Camp and our monthly Zoom call to provide support for our transracial adoption parents please subscribe.


Book Corner – January 2024

This month we are highlighting "Adoptees Like Me" Books, a special series from Dr. Chaitra Wirta-Leiker.  These illustrated children’s books are for elementary readers, and include Marie Discovers Her Superpowers  (2022) and Casey Conquers Bedtime (2023).

Dr. Wirta-Leiker is an adoptee, adoptive parent, and psychologist. She is a consultant for The Adoptee Mentoring Society and a contributor to I AM ADOPTEE, where she serves on their subsidized mental health program review board. She also served on the Adoptee Advisory Board for Heritage Camps for Adoptive Families and the steering committee for the Society of Adoption Professionals of Color in Adoption. You can find her series here

Marie Discovers Her Superpowers
Casey Conquers Bedtime

Book Recommendations for Families Created in Transracial Adoption

The Book Corner is a regular feature in our Transracial Journeys monthly newsletters. If you would like to receive monthly book recommendations via email, please subscribe.