Last week, I joined the national conversation and wrote about my perspective as the white father of a black son. This week, I have invited my wife, Julie, to share her perspective. While I think she is the best wife and mother, I also believe that she has a unique viewpoint and I find her writing to be important, heartfelt and honest. Today happens to be her birthday, Happy Birthday Julie! I’m so thankful for her wisdom, for the way God has knit her together and for the love that she brings to me and to our children.
I was sitting on a bench in South Carolina. Two little black boys were making my daughter and I roses out of sawgrass. It was at that moment that God opened my eyes and my heart and I knew: I could love these boys.
A few months earlier, Greg had shared with me that he believed God told him that he and I were to adopt a little black boy from Detroit. I had my doubts. But, as God’s plans have a way of becoming reality, Elijah John came into our home and our hearts.
His mother (the mom who loved him first) surrendered him to us because she wanted him to have more than she was able to give him. Her love was selfless. Her heart was pure. She was brave. Did she choose us because we were white and would be able to give him a better life? Were we, in fact, able to give him a better life just because we were white? Because we were white, did that mean we had resources and opportunities that she never had? It made me feel guilty. It made me feel sad. It made me grieve for the history of America…for the wrongs that whites committed against blacks. It became my deepest desire to give this boy every opportunity because he was now my son – and because the mom that loved him first entrusted him to me.
It all started happening at once, really. At first, I think I sought out black people to help Elijah – to make sure he had a connection with his culture- so that he knew he wasn’t the only black boy in the world. Not an easy task. I signed him up for stuff that I thought would be good for him, or that I assumed he would be good at. You know: drum lessons (“Drum Line” is a great movie), basketball camp (where he was the only kid who threw the ball to make a basket like a grandma would), football camp at the Football Hall of Fame (because I was sure he would be drafted). Ok. So, the learning curve was steep. Believe me.
In the beginning, we did get plenty of stares and it made me uncomfortable. It really didn’t matter where we were: downtown Canton, Bluffton (South Carolina), Alliance, church festivals, McDonald’s, the mall. But, specifically, anywhere down South was pretty challenging. Racism is still very real there. Old black ladies would come up to me and ask, “Is this your boy?”. My initial response was always to build a bridge…to be kind and respectful. FYI: black women don’t put their children up for adoption very often. But, these old ladies, they knew the situation. They knew the struggles. They had lived in segregation. They wanted to know how I got this little black boy. So, we’d talk and I always told them that Elijah’s birth mom asked me to take care of him. And that’s what they appreciated. They could see that I love him. And they usually blessed me when they walked away.
As the years have gone by, I’ve realized that I really love the black community. When I open my life to the black people I encounter, a path clears. And I take EVERY step down that road when I see it. EVERY STEP. I find myself seeking out friendships with black people and looking for opportunities to serve my black brothers and sisters.
This is what God does:
This past week, we were on vacation in Myrtle Beach. While at the pool, the black lady next to me forgot sunscreen for herself and her son. I gave her mine to keep. Not a big deal. When driving to the convention center, a young black girl and her friend got in a car accident. I parked my car and got out to hug them and talk to them. After vacation, on our return trip to Ohio, we stopped to visit Greg’s sister in North Carolina. We took the kids to see a movie. There happened to be two empty seats next to my daughter and I. I offered the seats to a black lady and her daughter so they didn’t have to sit in the front row and crane their necks. All that happened in one week: Opportunities to be kind, to share concern, to give.
I didn’t have any black friends growing up. Our paths just didn’t cross. But now, I do have black friends. Sometimes I’m intentional about making these friendships and sometimes it just happens. These friends of mine – Krysta, Big Mike, B-Tal, Elec, Cora, Rose, Melissa, Edino, Taja, Miah, Bakari, Godfrey, James, Nicole, Marques, Corey, CJ. – we do what friends do: we laugh together, we hug and share meals and hang. We encourage each other. We pray for each other. We help each other out. I thank God for them. And honestly, all of this racial tension in our country really messes with my life – with my relationships – with these bridges my friends and I have built. It makes me mad.
I don’t want my son to hate white people. I don’t want him to hate his family. I don’t want him to hate me. I do want him to hate injustice. I want him to hate hopelessness. And I want him to hate atrocities committed at the hands of evil men.
I cried when Barack Obama was elected president. I truly did. I held my sweet little baby boy in my arms and told him that it was a new day. I believed it was a new day for our country. A new season of promise. I loved how far we had come. And then, like a movie in slow motion, I watched Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice and Freddie Gray and Michael Brown and Alton Sterling, and so many others, have their lives cut short -and I knew we hadn’t really come that far.
One of my favorite songs is from the 60’s. “What the World Needs Now is Love”. This is a bit of what is says,
“What the world needs now is love, sweet love
It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of
What the world needs now is love, sweet love
No not just for one but for everyone”
As for me, because of my son, because of my friends, because of the love that Jesus teaches, I will #bethechange. I encourage you and ask you to do the same. It’s way past time.