I grew up in the Maryland and Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC. I was blessed to attend school with kids of several races. Unlike my husband, who spent his school-age years in Alabama where “coloreds” had their own water fountains and were forbidden to be out on the streets after dark, my parents welcomed people of any race into our hearts and home. Mom in particular taught me by her example to treat everyone with warmth and respect, and I remember hearing her angrily chide relatives who used racial slurs around us kids.
In 1994 the Lord surprised our family with a beautiful bi-racial baby girl through adoption. When we met her teenaged birth mother and asked about her plans, she said, “Well, no one’s gonna want a black and white baby.” Folks, this wasn’t the 1960’s in the deep south. This was the mid 90’s just south of Washington, DC. She was grateful to hear she was wrong and that we would be happy to take her baby. A few months later we were blessed to be there the day she gave birth to our daughter and to bring her home to six eager brothers and sisters.
A year later we were vacationing on Cape Cod and showed up at a large pond with a lovely beach with our seven children. As we started to lay out chairs and toys and blankets our barely walking baby began interacting with a little girl nearby. Within minutes the parents of the cute caucasian toddler began gathering their belongings. We assumed they were leaving but then noticed they were simply moving farther down the beach. A Jamaican man with whom I was interacting noticed and asked how I was doing.
“I’m shocked,” I said.
“Don’t be. Get used to it,” he responded.
The next day we were in a restaurant when I noticed a woman and her husband looking at our family. The looks turned to stares, then to the husband turning to look over his shoulder at our brood. After several return looks something rose in my heart. I quietly left my seat with Benny and the kids to approach the couple.
“I noticed you staring at our family and wondered if you have any questions. If so, I would be glad to answer them,” I offered.
“Hmph…we weren’t staring,” the woman responded.
“Well, maybe I misunderstood, but if you have any questions don’t hesitate to ask,” I said as I made my way to the restroom to deal with the tears I didn’t want my kids to see.
I’m grateful that Martin Luther King, Jr had a dream. But those early months and years of having a bi-racial daughter taught me that the dream still remains only a dream for many. For the first time I saw and felt the piercing arrows of racism in mild but nevertheless painful forms. And I was reminded of the help we received from God and others to confront previously unknown seeds of racism in Benny’s and my own proud hearts during the months leading up to the adoption when our motives were duly questioned and explored. I thank God for the friends — both black and white — who helped us uncover stuff in our hearts that continues to serve us to this day. Dr. King’s dream inspired an elementary aged little girl years before that summer in Cape Cod. And his dream continues to challenge me today.
Last week Benny was driving with several of our grandchildren and mentioned there would be no school today. They were thrilled — but then didn’t know who Dr. King was and why his birthday is a holiday. Papa decided it was time to tell our grandchildren about a dream, so tonight we’ll go from house to house gathering them for time with Papa and Granma to hear about racism and the civil rights movement and why Papa teared up in the van when he started telling them about the dream.
We’re praying they’ll begin to dream, too.