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


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Michael Franti (@michaelfranti)

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: 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.

Travels with the Tax Preparer

by Avril McInally

It’s summer and April 15 is well behind us. It’s a blip on the deadline radar, a distant memory (the more distant, the better). So, why am I talking about  taxes and my tax preparer in a transracial adoption newsletter? Read on to find out.

Once upon a time, I needed an expert to help me navigate a tricky situation with my local tax authority. After asking my friends for CPA and tax professional referrals, I ended up in Mr. D’s office on the near East Side. There, I was greeted by Mr. D’s second-in-command, Ms. B. While waiting for my appointment, I soon came to see Ms. B’s management of the office. For all she did, it seemed to me that she must have had eyes in the back of her head, two brains and perhaps, three hearts! She sat at the helm of a smoothly run, busy operation. In awe of Ms. B, I soon forgot the trouble that had landed me in her domain.

After a while, I was seen by Mr. D. He promptly took care of my tricky situation and earned not only my undying appreciation but my eternal patronage. For the next several years close to tax time, I spent a few hours in his office. It was really supposed to be a one hour appointment, but I didn’t just get my taxes prepared on these visits. At these annual appointments, I listened to Michael (for Mr. D soon became Michael) relay his experiences as a Black man, husband, father, businessman and community member. I listened intently to Michael, not just for me but also for my Black daughter. He straight up told me that it was important I knew how to raise a Black child and I was thankful for his honesty and in sharing parts of his community and culture experience with me.

One day, while sitting in his office, he asked if me and my daughters had any vacations planned that year. I said yes. We were planning on driving to Chincoteague Island to see the wild ponies. He then went on to talk about what it had been like for him driving to the South as a Black man and as a Black father with his wife and children in the car. He taught me to be more careful and alert driving (sometimes rurally) through Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia.

Every year I had my appointment with Michael, he offered something significant to me as a parent of a Black daughter. He reminded me often that I had a member of his community and extended family in my care, and that it was my privilege to take good care of her. But he didn’t just leave the conversation there, he went on and “filled me in” with personal stories from his own parenting journey.

After several years of working with Michael, he became gravely ill and passed on. I visited him in his decline and often thought of all of the Going Home pamphlets he had lovingly shared with me of his former clients. Soon, Michael had his own Going Home.

Ms. B ended up obtaining the credentials needed to run her own tax preparer business and now, my daughters and I visit her to have our taxes done every year. She’s got a framed picture of Michael in her office. We always talk about him and his legacy. Sometimes, we sit in her office waiting for our appointments rubbing elbows with women construction workers, salon workers and more. Now, my children have grown to cultivate their own relationships with Ms. B. They know that not only will they have their taxes prepared, but while doing so, they’ll get to support someone who is not only part of their community of Blackness and womanhood but also of humanity.

Happy trails, safe travels, take help where you can get it and be alert on your journey!

This post is from our July, 2023, 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.

Black Excellence: Victor Hugo Green

Victor Hugo Green and The Travelers’ Green Book

“There will be a day sometime in the near future when this guide will not have to be published. That is when we as a race will have equal opportunities and privileges in the United States. It will be a great day for us to suspend this publication for then we can go wherever we please, and without embarrassment.”

Born in Manhattan, New York City in 1892, Victor Hugo Green grew up to become a postal carrier with the U.S. postal service. He married Alma Duke, a woman from Richmond, Virginia, and they settled in Harlem at the same time the Harlem Renaissance was blossoming.

Mr. Green had spent most of his life in Hackensack, NJ and in New York City, but after his marriage, he began to travel to Richmond with his wife. He then realized the need to find safe places to stay, eat, use the toilet and put gas in his car while on his travels, and he realized a lot of other people had this same need too. It was then, he had the idea of creating a small guidebook to not only support Black-owned businesses, but also to support the safety of Black travelers and holiday-goers in the United States.

“He found a model for his publication in the guides for Jewish travelers that appeared in Jewish newspapers.” His first installation of the “Green Book” appeared as “The Negro Motorist Green Book” in 1936. The first edition was a small, 15-page booklet which listed businesses that were Black-owned and/or friendly to Black travelers and diners. It included places to stay and places to eat. “By the early 1940s, thousands of establishments nationwide - identified as either black-owned or verified to be non-discriminatory - were listed in the Green Book.”

Over the years, the guide grew to cover much more territory in the United States as well as as places in Canada and Europe. Using the nationwide help of fellow postal carriers, he used their input to expand and promote safe travel for Black people in the Jim Crow era.

“By the early 1940s, thousands of establishments nationwide - identified as either black-owned or verified to be non-discriminatory - were listed in the Green Book.” Although the guide ceased publication during WWII, it was re-started and eventually grew to have a print run of 15,000 copies per year. Mr. Green died in 1960, but his wife continued as editor publishing the guide until its cessation in 1966.

You can watch a short video about the impact of The Green Book and some of the experiences of Black travelers in the 20th century here: The real story of the Green Book.

Black Excellence: James Weldon Johnson

A predominant figure of the Harlem Renaissance, James Weldon Johnson was born on June 17, 1871 to a middle class, African American family in the progressive city of Jacksonville, Florida.

One of his most famous writings is the lyric to the song “Lift Every Voice and Sing” which he wrote in 1900 to commemorate President Lincoln’s birthday. In 1919, the NAACP claimed this song as the Negro national anthem. Now considered the Black National Anthem, it was initially written as a poem. When put to music by his brother John Rosamond Johnson, it became the hymn we now know it by today. Recently, the hymn was sung for the first time at a Superbowl (February, 2023) by African American performer Sheryl Lee Ralph.

Over the course of his life, Johnson accumulated many achievements as an author (The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man), a statesman in international politics, a leader in the ranks of the NAACP, as the first African American professor at NYU, as the first Black lawyer admitted to the Florida state bar after the Reconstruction era and as a lifelong advocate for civil rights.

He tragically died in a railroad accident in 1938 while on vacation in Maine. He is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.

Lift Every Voice and Sing Lyrics

Black Excellence – Kiese Laymon

Considered to have written one of the best 50 memoirs of the past 50 years by the New York Times, Kiese Laymon is an American author who is currently on the faculty at Rice University His memoir, “Heavy”, has received multiple accolades and awards including the 2019 Andrew Carnegie Award for Excellence. The autobiography is about growing up Black, bookish and overweight in an abusive home in Jackson, Mississippi.

Why write about Laymon for January’s Black Excellence? Well, last year, “Heavy” was chosen as one of the “15 Books to Read During Black History Month and Beyond” by the Innocence Project. To commemorate Black History Month this year, consider reading Laymon’s book.

Currently teaching at Rice University as the Libbie Shearn Moody Professor of Creative Writing and English, Professor Laymon also works with and founded the Catherine Coleman Literary Arts and Justice Initiative which promotes reading and writing with children in Mississippi.

Black Excellence: Serena Williams

Uppermost in the news today regarding tennis star, Serena Williams, is her very recent retirement from the sport. Over the course of her career, she has won 21 Grand Slams but now, she’s leaving her tennis career with plans to grow her family. “If I have to choose between building my tennis resume and building my family, I choose the latter.”


In a recent interview with Selena Gomes on her new website for mental health awareness, acceptance and support, Wondermind, Serena stated that you have to “put yourself first mentally”.

She detailed that for her, "mental fitness" is learning how to "shut down," and she said: "I have serious boundaries, and I don't let anyone cross those boundaries."

Related Posts:

Venus and Serena Williams – Black Excellence

Reveal: The Masks We See and Those We Don’t

Book Corner – Mental Health Month