Reflecting on 50 Years of Racial Progress and My Story

50 years.

In the grand scheme of things, this is an incredibly short period of time. It’s truly difficult for me to wrap my head around the fact that just 50 short years ago, my mother and father lived in a society that had racism woven into its very fabric and into our very hearts.

It was just 50 years ago today that Martin Luther King Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC and spoke words that would be seared into the consciousness of humanity forever. Words that, as I read them today, stir something deep inside of me. Force me to recon with reality and ask hard questions.

Words like: “… for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.” – MLK

I often wonder where I would have stood 50 years ago.

I’m a southern guy. I was born and raised in the same small Texas town that my parents and their parents and their parent’s parents grew up in. A heritage that had been built for a century of mainly good hard working, church-going people that trained their kids to do the same. Our town didn’t have a single person of color as a resident for years. Although this is not necessarily evidence that everyone that lived their was seething with racial bigotry, it is still a fact that is difficult to swallow.

I wonder if this white boy, from an all white town in the south, would have even considered the fact that perhaps this black preacher on TV was speaking truth. Perhaps, just maybe, there was something off in our hearts that made us just go along with the norm of considering people of a different skin color than us inferior. Would the social pressure around me have just lulled me into a complacent attitude that said, “It’s just not that big of a deal… I shouldn’t ruffle feathers”?

So, that’s where I come from.

As everyone spends today reflecting back on the past 50 years of racial progress in our society, I look at my own heritage and history. Just 50 years after Dr. King stood in front of America and spoke words that may have caused people in my family to scoff or think that this just wasn’t the best direction for things at the time… I look at my sons.

brownwhite I have living, breathing proof that at least some things in our society have changed.

I’m sure that in August of 1963 that my grandparents would have never in a million years thought that one of their grandchildren would be an African American. As kids at the time, my parents could have probably never have imagined in their lifetime that their son could have a transracial family, in the south, and live to write about it online for anyone to read.

I get thick tears in the corners of my eyes when I think about the fact that our two sons (brown and white) literally join hands each day and run around our house. The dream… alive and well in our very home.

But, it even weighs heavier on me when I am able to see my grandparents, who were white adults living in the deep south in the 60’s, sit with my boy in their lap and treat him as an equal in our family.

Only by the grace of God.

I don’t intend to insinuate that we’re living in race-free paradise here in America. It’s far from it. I absolutely believe that Americans are still judged by the color of their skin before the content of their character can ever be discovered. Every. Single. Day. I believe that my brown son faces more of a challenge in our society than my white son will ever be able to grasp… simply because of the color of his skin. It’s true. We see it with our own eyes.

But, I also live in hope that God will continue to rid of hearts of the seeds of racism that spout up into the way we interact with one another. I believe that it’s happening. I believe that it can happen.

Today, I’m overwhelmingly grateful for thousands of people 50 years ago that took a stand for what was, without a doubt, the right thing to stand for.

Your legacy lives on. It was worth the trip to the Capitol that hot day in August. Thank you.

The First Day | Remembered

On this day in recent history (last year) we opened our front door to meet a little brown boy wearing a big, blue, dirty Gap winter coat, bright yellow t-shirt with the name of his pre-school plastered across it, and a recently acquired pair of hand-me-down tennis shoes from the CPS office he had spent the afternoon inhabiting.

The moments leading up to that car pulling in our driveway could be described as uncertain and scared on our behalf. Sara sat on our couch with a look on her face that said, “Ryan, you really don’t know what we’re getting into, do you?”. She was skeptical, nervous, worried, and flat out tired from a full day of working with teenagers that didn’t know how to show respect to an adult. I, on the other hand, wouldn’t be able to sit down if I had to. I paced our living room, glancing every 5 seconds or so out the front window to see if that car had arrived yet. We had no idea how this process would go down… what this child would be like, look like, feel like.

The car arrived… we looked at each other and debated if we should go meet them in the driveway or wait for the doorbell to ring. I’m pretty sure we debated long enough for them to get out of the car and begin making their way up our sidewalk before we opened the door and met them on the porch.

There he was… this miniature person… scared out of his mind… hiding behind the only constant he had during this crazy day that he had experienced. It was the case worker that pulled him out of school early.

She looked up at us with a gentle smile and informed us that he is really shy and had only said a handful of words to her throughout their day together.

He walked slowly through our front door… clinging to the caseworker’s leg. CPS had given him a few little cars to bring along and a black and orange blanket that had been handmade and donated to the system… some things for him to hold on to as his own. She also slipped us a small grocery bag with a pair of sock, undies, and an extra change of clothes… but, that was it.

There wasn’t much time for introductions… we quickly gathered around the living room and started to sign papers. It was probably at that point that Sara and I realized (but didn’t let on) that we had no clue what we were doing. We were signing papers… that’s something that adults with responsibility do. We were signing papers in order for this lady to be able to walk out our front doorwithout this child she brought in.

Meanwhile… this little guy had found a safe haven under the coffee table that all the signing was taking place on. He hid… clinging to the blanket and toys that he brought. He laid there and cried. As we tried to listen to the important things being discussed about the papers, we both were having to surpress the lumps in our throat that were being sent up to remind us that there was a real child under our coffee table with tears running down his cheeks. In a matter of minutes, it would be our responsibility to help that child make sense of everything that happened in the last 24 hours.

Within about 30 minutes, it was just the 3 of us. All the caseworkers had said their goodbyes and wished us luck. We had shown him his new room… pulled out our limited number of toys to try to entice him… but, our tokens were beginning to run out. Luckily, it was about to be dinner time and the only thing we could think of to take his mind off of things was to bring him to Gattitown.

Bear in mind… at this point Sara and I had yet to hear his voice. The only noises we knew from this little child were wimpers. At some point in the getting ready to go process, a word was released. I was so excited to hear his little country-ghetto voice appear.

And so we set out… placing a child for the first time in the newly bought booster seat that would now grace the back seat of the car that had seen me through college. This marked a new season in our life.

Looking back on that night is difficult for us. It’s difficult to remember the pain that such a small child felt. It is still incredibly hard for us to understand what it must have felt like to be picked up from school and driven in a car for an hour and a half to a cold, bright, florescent-lit office to sit for the remainder of the afternoon… and then to be dropped off in a home with two white people. No goodbye to the family that you had spent the last 5.5 years with… not even an explanation of why this all occurred.

Every few months, we are reminded of that afternoon when we dig to the bottom of his t-shirt drawer and find that worn down yellow t-shirt with the name of his hometown written on the front. It’s way too small for him to ever wear again. But, it won’t be thrown away. In between those faded threads are the only parts of his early life that he still has.

We hate that even still… as incredibly far as we’ve come with him… with the completely different child that resides in our home today… even still when the caseworkers drop by for a monthly visit, the fear in him shows its ugly face once more. The memories associated with caseworkers unravelling normal. We hurt for him. We pray that one day his life will feel secure and he will know that there will be no more unravelling in this home.

So, here we are… one year later. As this day approached, Sara and I went back and forth on whether this day should be celebrated or even talked about at all. We celebrate the fact that this blessing was sent to us one year ago. We celebrate the incredible progress he has made in this past year. But, we have decided that the celebration will be between mom and dad. To expect him to celebrate such a horrific day would be cruel and unusual.

We look forward to being able to celebrate a different day very soon… the day when his adoption becomes final and his name reflects ours. We pray that day will be one filled with amazing memories that we can all look back on and truly celebrate.