Black Excellence – Isaac Etter

By Becca Howe, TRJ Parent
Isaac Etter, transracial adoptee

This month we are combining our Black Excellence and Book Corner featuring Isaac Etter.  Isaac is a transracially adopted person and a social entrepreneur who founded Identity, a startup focused on helping adoptive and foster families thrive. At Identity, Isaac is working on re-imagining post-placement support for adoptive and foster families. He uses his story and deep passion for adoption and foster care education to bring relevant, quality, and diverse resources to adoptive and foster parents.

Isaac utilizes his experience of being adopted to curate deep conversations about race, identity, and adoption. With his unique insight, Isaac facilitates impactful discussions about adoption's impact on children and how parents can support their children in navigating identity and racial identity development. He specializes in helping child welfare professionals and parents understand the unique challenges and joys involved in transracial adoption and fostering.

A Practical Guide: Transracial Adoption.

As a special offer to the TRJ community, Issac has created a special offer - $17.75 for his Identity guide, A Practical Guide: Transracial Adoption. Now including two bonus chapters! One written by Julie Etter, adoptive mother, and an extended Q&A chapter.

Currently Isaac is working on releasing an update of his Black Hair Care guide to include QR links to explanations of tools, products, and also walkthroughs. Learn more about Issac and his work here and listen to monthly podcast episodes of Inside Transracial Adoption with his mom. Link:

Book Corner – Brooke Randolph: It’s Not About You

Understanding Adoptee Search, Reunion, & Open Adoption

It’s Not About You: Understanding Adoptee Search, Reunion, & Open Adoption is a book written for adoptive and birth parents and their therapists. After repetitive conversations with adopted persons (and sometimes their parents) about reactions to their search and reunion, Brooke knew adoptive and parents of origin needed a book on the topic.  

Brooke is a therapist, author, speaker, trainer and an adoptive parent who enjoys sharing with groups of all sizes whether that is in person or online. Both therapeutically and personally, she is committed to never stop learning and growing. Primary specialties for Brooke include adoption competent therapy, Brainspotting, relationship building, and developmental trauma. Brooke is a certified Imago Relationship Therapist, a Certified Brainspotting Trainer & Consultant, and coordinator for the groups Brainspotting Indy and Brainspotting with Adoption.

This year, we are thrilled to have Brooke joining us at camp to help bring to life parent work sessions  centered on creating a brighter path to inclusivity for transracially adopted persons as well as the extended family.

Black Excellence: Michael Franti

By Becca Howe, TRJ Parent


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Michael Franti is an American singer-songwriter, poet, activist and documentarian known for his socially conscious music. His work spans several genres including hip hop, reggae, jazz, folk and rock. Franti was born in Oakland, California, in 1966, the biological son of Mary Lofy and Thomas Hopkins. He was adopted shortly after birth by white parents Carole Wisti and Charles Franti, who had four other children—one adopted and three biological—and raised their children in the diverse and multi-cultural Oakland, California.

Franti talks openly about his adoption, and says that the experience has profoundly influenced his understanding of identity, belonging and social justice. Growing up bi-racial in a predominantly white family challenged his sense of identity, and fostered a deep sense of empathy and awareness for racial and cultural issues.

You may know Franti from his 2008 single, “Say Hey (I Love You)” which became a major hit and showcased his ability to create infectious, uplifting music. He produced and directed the film, “I Know I’m Not Alone,” which documented his travels through war-torn regions and the power of music to heal.

Franti met his biological father for the first time when he was 22 years old, and says about his biological father that he was wicked smart, and was the first African American researcher in the lab that developed the birth control pill. He remembers his first father as being socially awkward and not always emotionally present. He didn’t get to have his biological father with him on a daily basis growing up like he did with his adoptive father, but Franti says he feels his biological father inside, and has developed an understanding that in this way he has always had his father with him.

Franti is known for his warm and engaged stage presence and has dedicated his life to promoting messages of unity, positivity and generosity. In interviews he has spoken about the positive and supportive environment his adoptive parents provided and the importance of acceptance and love at home, which is reflected in his art.

Black Excellence: Viola Davis

By Becca Howe, TRJ Parent

Viola Davis is a highly acclaimed American actress known for her powerful performances on stage and screen. She was born on August 11, 1965, in St. Matthews, South Carolina.

She is known for her impactful roles in movies like “Doubt” in 2008, “The Help” in 2011, “Fences” in 2016, and “Windows” in 2018. She is also a trailblazer in the entertainment industry for being vocal about addressing issues related to racism, gender inequality and representation in Hollywood. Davis has used her platform to emphasize the importance of telling stories from historically ignored, erased or tokenized communities. She has highlighted the importance of creating opportunities for actors and filmmakers from marginalized communities to share their stories and be seen on screen. She is an outspoken supporter of the Black Lives Matter Movement and the need to end police brutality. She is a strong supporter of arts education programs, and believes in the transformative power of the arts.

Viola Davis FamilyViola Davis and her husband, Julius Tennon, adopted her daughter, Genesis Tennon, in 2011, and has been open about her experiences as a mother and the joys and challenges of parenthood.

Davis has spoken about the significance of raising Genesis with a deep understanding of her heritage and roots, acknowledging the importance of cultural pride and self-acceptance.

She wrote the book, “Corduroy Takes a Bow,” a picture book illustrated by Jody Wheeler. The story follows Corduroy the bear and his friends as they find the excitement, magic and friendship in theater.

Learn more:

Viola Davis: “My Entire Life Has Been a Protest”

Photo Credits:
Viola Davis
Dario Calmese

Black Excellence: Austin Channing Brown

By Becca Howe, TRJ Parent

“The work of anti-racism is the work of becoming a better human to other humans. We are saying: I think you have capacity to be a better human, would you accept that invitation? And I can’t tell you how often the response is, ‘But I would rather just be nice and polite if that’s okay.’”

-Austin Channing Brown, from an interview with Brene Brown, 2020


Photos: credit Austin Channing Brown

Austin Channing Brown is a prominent voice in the world of anti-racism and justice work. Brown challenges societal norms and sheds light on the complexities of navigating race in America. She gives practical insight into breaking down how we go about doing anti-racism work in our own lives without putting the burden of white education onto black people.

As a speaker and advocate, Brown travels extensively, engaging audiences with her compelling storytelling and thought-provoking insights. Through her work, she emphasizes the importance of confronting uncomfortable truths about race and privilege, fostering authentic dialogue, and actively pursuing equity and justice. Brown's approach is both empowering and compassionate, encouraging individuals and organizations to confront bias and work towards meaningful change. 

Photos: credit Austin Channing Brown

Her acclaimed book, "I'm Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness," offers a poignant narrative of her own journey as a black woman, grappling with identity, belonging and systemic racism. 

Austin Channing Brown is involved in various initiatives aimed at promoting diversity and inclusion in workplaces, schools and communities. Her work serves to inspire introspection and action, challenging individuals and institutions to dismantle systems of oppression and cultivate environments where all people are valued and respected. 

Austin Channing Brown's impact resonates far beyond her written words, inspiring countless individuals to embark on their own journeys towards understanding and dismantling racism.

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.

Black Excellence: Taraji P. Henson – Actress

By April Dinwoodie, TRJ's Executive Director

Taraji P. Henson began her professional acting career in the late 90’s after graduating from HBCU, Howard University. For nearly three decades she has lite up our screens with her talent and grace. She has won a Golden Globe Award as well as being nominated for an Academy Award and four Primetime Emmy Awards.

Taraji made her film debut in the crime film Streetwise (1998), gained recognition for her role in Hustle & Flow (2005). For her role in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button she earned her a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. In 2016, she portrayed mathematician Katherine Johnson in Hidden Figures. She has also acted in Baby Boy (2001), The Karate Kid (2010), Think Like a Man (2012), Acrimony (2018), What Men Want (2019), and The Best of Enemies (2019). Henson has also been prolific in television acting. From 2011 to 2013, she co-starred as Joss Carter in the CBS drama series Person of Interest. From 2015 to 2020, she starred as Cookie Lyon in the Fox drama series Empire, for which she won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Television Series Drama and was nominated for Primetime Emmy Awards in 2015 and 2016. Her other Emmy-nominated roles were for the Lifetime movie Taken from Me: The Tiffany Rubin Story (2011) and for her guest role in the ABC sitcom Abbott Elementary (2023). In 2016, Time named Henson one of the 100 most influential people in the world. Later that year, she released a New York Times best-selling autobiography titled Around the Way Girl. In 2019, she received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Most recently, Taraji stars in the Color Purple playing Shug Avery, the beautiful, vivacious, and flamboyant blues singer. For this role, Henson adds singer to her list of gifts and talents she shares with the world. During the media interviews for the film, Henson has been vocal about the heavy lift that professional Black women have in Hollywood (and generally) and the inequities in pay they face. “I’m just tired of working so hard, being gracious at what I do, getting paid a fraction of the cost,” Henson told Gayle King on December 19. “I’m tired of hearing my sisters say the same thing over and over. You get tired. I hear people go, ‘You work a lot.’ I have to.”

The beauty, strength and grace from Taraji P. Henson is Black excellence personified and there are so many reasons to hold her up as an example for us all.

Black Excellence: Jason Reynolds

By TRJ Parent Rebecca Howerd

Jason Reynolds is a highly acclaimed and influential author known for his impactful contributions to contemporary literature, particularly for youth, as well as his activism and his approachability and service to kids and young adults. Born in 1983 outside Washington, D.C., Reynolds has risen to prominence for his ability to authentically capture the experiences of Black youth in America while dismantling stereotypes and creating empathy and positive self- and societal perceptions of Blackness.

Reynolds started writing poetry when he was nine years old, inspired by Queen Latifa’s third album, Black Reign. Rap would continue to be his primary form of literary inspiration, because at the time there weren’t books about contemporary black youth experience, and for Reynolds, Rap gave him a sense of existence: “Rap music . . . let me know that who I already was was good enough.”

Reynold’s books, often written in verse, create a sense of connection and empowerment by portraying relatable characters living ordinary lives and facing issues that Black youth often grapple with and don’t often seen portrayed in “classic” literature.

Reynolds has actively advocated for increased diversity in literature and has been vocal about the need for more inclusive narratives. He emphasizes the importance of having stories that reflect the richness and diversity of the Black experience and has worked to promote literacy, frequently engaging with young readers through school visits, speaking engagements and initiatives to make literature more accessible.

For more on this phenomenal game-changer, listen to his interview with Trevor Noah here:

Black Excellence: Marcus Samuelsson

By TRJ Parent Rebecca Howerd

Marcus Samuelsson is a renowned chef, restaurateur, and author who has made a significant impact on the culinary world. Born in Ethiopia in 1971, he and his sister were adopted and raised in Sweden by parents who taught him confidence and humility. Samuelsson's empowering perspective on the power of blackness has given him the motivation and strength to stand out among his peers, while his multicultural background has been a driving force behind his innovative and diverse approach to food.

After honing his skills in several European restaurants, Samuelsson moved to the United States, where he gained prominence and has become widely recognized for his commitment to celebrating the rich tapestry of flavors and culinary traditions from around the world, blending his African, Swedish, and American influences into his cooking.

Samuelsson is a prolific author of books including a memoir, "Yes, Chef," which chronicles his journey from losing his mother to a tuberculosis epidemic that swept their village to becoming a celebrated chef and TV personality in the United States. As a Black chef in a predominantly White culinary industry, he has confronted challenges related to racism and discrimination, and he has used his platform to address these issues. Samuelsson has spoken about the disparities in opportunities and recognition that Black chefs and culinary professionals face, and throughout his career Samuelsson has worked to create opportunities for underrepresented groups in the culinary world.

Samuelsson uses food as a way to bridge cultural gaps and challenge stereotypes, and believes that his passion for cooking and the respect for hard work his parents taught him have helped him rise above the insecurities that can come from navigating life as a transracially adopted, Black, African immigrant.

By openly addressing racism, celebrating diversity, and advocating for change, Marcus Samuelsson has not only become a respected and influential chef but also a role model for those who aspire to overcome obstacles and contribute to a more inclusive and equitable world.

Learn more:

Watch Marcus Samuelsson speak with April and friend Louis Johnson in this powerful interview: Talking Adoption, Identity, and Family with Chef Marcus Samuelsson and guest-host Louis Johnson Jr.

Black Excellence: Eartha Kitt

By TRJ Parent Rebecca Howerd

Eartha Kitt is known for popularizing the iconic Christmas song, “Santa Baby,” as well as her role as Catwoman in the 1960s tv show, Batman. But she was so much more. Her career spanned almost 70 years, and most of those were during a time when racism and sexism created insurmountable obstacles for any Black and Native American woman pursuing a career of any kind.

Born in 1927 in South Carolina. Her mother was a Black and Cherokee sharecropper and her father, the white son of the plantation owner, did not seek a consensual relationship with her mother. Kitt picked cotton before moving to Harlem when she was 16, where she became a dancer and toured with the Katherine Dunham Company for five years.

Eartha Kitt wore a literal mask in her role as Catwoman, but how many other invisible masks did she wear in her life? Code switching is a form of masking that many find helpful while navigating workplaces and social gatherings where respectability politics control whether or not you will encounter discrimination.

Kitt went on to perform on Broadway, become a popular singer and recording artist, be nominated for two Tony Awards, write three autobiographies, and was an actor and voice actor in film and tv right up until just before her death in 2008. It’s impossible to endure the rejection (perceived or real) of a parent, the violence and discrimination caused by racism and sexism, and grow as a creative public figure without hiding parts of yourself nearly constantly in some way. But Eartha Kitt also generously took her masks off in order to advocate for marginalized groups, despite intense political and economic consequences. Most notable are her ongoing public support of the LGBTQ+ community as well as the time when she spoke against the Vietnam War at a White House luncheon in 1968. These remarks effectively ended her career in the United States for ten years, during which time her LGBT supporters kept her name alive.

Kitt performed in numerous nightclubs and was active in Civil Rights communities throughout her life. Eartha Kitt was a strong, independent artist unwilling to let discrimination dictate how far she could go.

Each person in the transracial adoption community has potentially many intersections of identity to navigate in a world that often does not honor all of them at once, and at times none at all. When is it good to have a mask on and use it as a tool? For preserving energy, for protection or for art or even just for fun?

Learn more:
When Eartha Kitt Condemned Poverty and War at the White House
1982 Documentary: All By Myself, The Eartha Kitt Story
NYT Obituary: Eartha Kitt, A Seducer of Audiences, Dies at 81


Black Excellence: Sharon G. Flake

Sharon Flake b. 1955 in Philadelphia, PA

Award-winning author, Sharon Flake didn’t get her start as a writer. After graduating from the University of Pittsburgh with a BA in English, she went to work for several years in foster care as a house parent. She later went to work in the public relations department at the University of Pittsburgh Press followed by a directorship in the public relations department for the University of Pittsburgh’s business school.

As a student and later in her career, Ms. Flake coped with apprehension related to her writing (spelling and grammar) but she persevered and wrote articles and stories which she submitted to publishers. These attempts were mostly rejected until after fifteen years of working to be printed or published, Ms. Flake’s first book “The Skin I’m In” was picked from a “slush” pile of manuscripts by Andrea Davis Pinkney. This book went on to win the Coretta Scott King Award, YWCA racial justice award and many, many more accolades.

On her website, Ms. Flake writes:

"I am so much like many of my readers. I grew up insecure; not very confident. Yet here I am, one of the top authors for young people in the world.

I write about everyday, average teens who are loved and cheered on by readers on six continents. My characters fall down, get up and learn life lessons that help readers believe they too can achieve anything; make it through any storm. Quirky. Honest. Open.. Vulnerable. My characters get young people of all backgrounds reading as never before."

Ms. Flake has authored several books with two more on the way.