This piece was first recorded for an online gathering of worship with Good Shepherd Lancaster on May 9, 2021. You can watch the video of the reflection alone here.
I met my children when they were just over two years old when I spent the summer abroad in Sierra Leone in West Africa on a Peace and Justice internship with a children’s home there. I was 20, still in college, and very recently engaged. When I went, I had no intention of becoming a mom at that time, but that’s what happened.
My daughter Alice came to the children’s home a day or two after I first arrived. She was very small and very sick but remained alert and feisty. My daughter Jessica had been at the children’s home for a couple of years, arriving only a few weeks after she was born. Ever since I knew her she has had these deep, expressive eyes that you can just get lost in. I spent the next four years splitting my time between my family in the United States and my family in Sierra Leone until Alice’s adoption was finalized, and a few years later, Jessica’s was too. They came to live with me and my spouse in the United States.
Becoming a mother to my children is the best thing in my life. And I wish it had never happened. A lot of times, especially in the case of transracial adoption, people look at our family and say things that I know are well-intentioned but steeped in ignorance or even white supremacy and saviorism. They will say things like, “Your children are so lucky.” Or thank us for adopting them, or call it God’s plan. My children are not lucky. Or at least they aren’t lucky because I am their mom. And the trauma and loss that they experienced on their journey to becoming a part of my family was never God’s plan.
Parenting in general is difficult. It is so hard in this broken world to give our children the things that they need and deserve. Add in the layer of trauma and loss in adoption, and things get more complicated. Add in transracial and international adoption, there are just more and more considerations (as well as gifts). Sometimes people say things like, “The most important thing is that they are loved.” But love is not merely superficial or sentimental. Love requires sacrifice and intentional action.
For our family, love means that we make certain commitments about where we will live and the places we spend time based on the importance of racial representation and racial mirrors in their racial development. It means we don’t choose school districts or doctors or acrobatics programs without first considering the racial demographics and cultural competency of people involved. My children don’t have the benefit of looking into the faces of their parents every day and seeing their own faces reflected back, so in order to love them well, we are conscious of the media they consume, the mentors placed in their lives, the events we attend. We make an extra effort to connect them both to their identity as Sierra Leoneans and to their identity as Black Americans living in the United States. This shows up in the food we cook, the festivals we attend, the holidays we celebrate, the art on our walls. Supporting their connection to their culture and community is essential to loving them.
Loving our Black children – now teenagers – also means that we are deeply invested in their liberation. For years we have taken to the streets demanding their safety and freedom, organized and educated in our communities, and lobbied in halls of power to build the future that they need and deserve. And we don’t keep people in our inner circle who don’t fight for these things too.
And so I cannot close out this Mother’s Day reflection without sharing this. As a parent of Black teenagers I spend every day afraid for them, a fraction of the same kinds of fears that Black mothers have had in this country for hundreds of years. I can’t help today but to think about Lezley McSpadden, the mother of Michael Brown, or Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, or Samaria Rice, Tamir’s mom, or Renisha’s mother Monica McBride, or the millions of Black mamas whose names I don’t know, who have had their beloved children sacrificed upon the altar of white supremacy.
So to the other mamas listening, especially white mamas – I need you. I need you to dedicate your life to building a world where all of our children are safe and free. I need those of you who are raising white children to invest just as much – if not more – time, money, energy, and considerations into raising children who will see their own stake in the liberation of all people and do what it takes to dismantle white supremacy. I need to not be alone as I lie awake at night, afraid for them. I need you to put your wallet and your body in the way of anti-Black violence as if these precious babies were your own children. I need you to feel like this is your responsibility, as much as it is mine. Because, as the saying goes, especially for Christians: there is no such thing as other people’s children.