Mother LoveBy Starla Muhammad and Charlene Muhammad Final Call Staffers | Last updated: May 15, 2014 - 12:02:46 PM
Uncompromising devotion: Black women offer love, fulfill a major need through adoption
This is part one of a two part series on Black women, their capacity to love and nurture children through formal and informal adoption, challenges facing Black children in the foster care system and the critical need for the Black community to foster, adopt and take care of Black children.
A hard-working and driven business woman, Chicago native Bercola Kamaliyah seemingly had it all including a successful career in banking and the upward mobility that came along with it. That was until a realization struck her at the unlikeliest of places; her niece’s dance recital.
“As a career person, a person that pretty much had everything but (I) just didn’t understand that there still was a void. By attending that ballet recital and to see those parents and the love from their children and just to see that I was like, man! This is what I was missing.”
That was in 2009. Today, Ms. Kamaliyah is basking in the glow of a career change, she is now an educator, but more importantly to her, she is mother of Adrianna and Khaliq, her children via adoption.
Ms. Kamaliyah admits, prior to that fateful recital, she did not think about having children because she was single, happy and into her career.
“Now, don’t get me wrong I was very happy. I didn’t mind keeping someone’s child or my niece and nephew and to send them back home. But to realize that was the void that I was missing, that made the completion for me,” Ms. Kamaliyah told The Final Call.
The pull of motherhood intensified after she took in the daughter of a woman who had fallen ill.
Ms. Kamaliyah took in the woman’s six-year-old daughter and it changed her.
“I realized that I had tapped into something totally different, a side of me to care for someone else outside of myself. I liked the warm feeling of that.”
Black women stepping up to care for, take in or raise the children of friends, family or even complete strangers is nothing new. They have demonstrated time and time again, a God-given capacity to love, cultivate and rear offspring, whether biologically theirs or not.
More than 100,000 Black children are in foster care across the United States. For many the capacity of the Black woman to nurture has enabled them to either come out of the system or avoid it altogether and grow up in stable, loving homes through formal or informal adoptions.
Black women who adopt are single with no children, married with children, or single mothers. But these women’s efforts have been critical for the longevity of the race, say advocates like Dr. Sandra Cox, executive director of the Coalition of Mental Health, Los Angeles.
But what hasn’t been normal is the rising tide of Black children needing homes over the last two decades due to the great challenge of so-called crack babies, Dr. Cox said.
The crisis has had an impact on the family of Diana Brooks, a 62-year-old Northern California mother of two boys, who also raised her two nieces. She took the girls in when they were three and six months old. They’re now 30 and 28. Her sons are 44 and 38.
Their parents, Ms. Brooks’ youngest brother and his girlfriend, at the time in their early 20s, had been struck by the crack cocaine drug epidemic as it began ravaging the Black community in the 1980s. The children lived with Ms. Brooks’ parents initially, and then moved to her home.
“At that time, I really didn’t give it any thought because I know they needed me,” Ms. Brooks recalled. “When they called and told me that they needed a home to stay in, I just took them. They were family and I just felt I should do it,” she continued.
Removing the children from an unstable and abusive environment to one of stability and love was not a difficult decision notes, Ms. Evangelista, an attorney.
There was no thinking what must be done; the choice to adopt was already made before it even legally happened she explains.
“From that moment our whole world shifted in taking care of my nephew and his three sisters including my 10-month-old biological daughter,” Ms. Evangelista told The Final Call.
There were plenty of challenges along the way including some emotional issues resulting from the loss of her children’s biological mother that manifested in a variety of ways.
“It was important for us that they receive counseling and a tremendous amount of love and support. Also, soon after they were in our custody I became pregnant with my second biological child. It was a lot of stress on me and my husband, physically, mentally, emotionally and financially. We were newlyweds and new parents. Our life as we knew it was non-existing,” said Ms. Evangelista. But she and her husband did not have time to “mope or be ungrateful,” she continued.
“We immediately went to work giving all of our children a sense of stability. Allah (God) blessed us in a matter of weeks to go from a two bedroom apartment to a house. From a 5 passenger vehicle to a vehicle that seats eight.”
She said she never knew she had the capacity to love and give as much as she has given.
“This has changed my heart to love more, and to trust that if I do the will of Allah that surely Allah will not make loving my children a difficult task,” said Ms. Evangelista.
Leonard Dunston is president emeritus of the National Association of Black Social Workers and convener of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century’s Black Family Summit, which grew out of the Millions More Movement. He is not sure when “formal” Black adoptions officially began. His earliest recollection of people having to go to through the Department of Family Services (DFS) to adopt Black children is in the 1960s.
“Traditionally, informal adoptions were the way in which we took care of our family members irrespective of who they were and no one was ever considered without a family in our communities up until I guess the late ’50s and early ’60s,” said Mr. Dunston.
He feels today is a much more challenging time for Black women in adoption than any other time in recent history, partly because of the fragmentation of Black communities. He remembers his southern upbringing where communities were whole. Blacks had not gone out to suburbs, so their support networks of community professionals, business people and educators for instance, were much more prevalent, he said.
Black families taking in children is a tradition that does continue today.
Dora Bob is the mother of Charlene Muhammad, national correspondent for The Final Call and co-writer of this article. Ms. Bob, 80, raised her twin granddaughters Kennady and Kendall Bob after their mother Vanessa died.
“I don’t feel I did anything spectacular. It was nothing to praise, because it was just the obvious, natural thing to do,” said Ms. Bob. She had reared her own seven children and one nephew. All of them were already on their own when she took in her twin granddaughters at six-years-old.
Ms. Bob said her only challenges were getting them up, dressed and taking them to school. “That was something I had to do all over again, from elementary to middle to high school. That was something different because I had raised all my children,” she said.
While that may have tied her down, it was all in a good way because it was love, she said. Her granddaughters just returned in May from a semester of study abroad in London and their quest for education makes her very proud, as she always is, she added.
Jennifer A. Muhammad and her husband of 22 years who reside in Tempe, Arizona are parents of three adult children, two are adopted. Katrina Small and her husband of 30-years had two adult sons when they became foster parents and eventually adopted Conrad who was born with medical issues who is now 13. Both women were motivated by compassion and love for children they did not physically give birth to but who are their children nonetheless.
Wanda Muhammad and her husband Richard already had six older children, all teenagers and young adults when they became guardians for Yusaf, 4 and Khalid, 9. Though they had been both boys’ godparents since they were born, they soon became much more.
In 2010 the couple became non-relative caregivers when the children were taken from their birth mother amid abuse allegations and struggles with mental illness. They adopted Khalid in November 2013 on National Adoption Day and his brother the following month.
When none of the boys’ blood relatives could qualify to get them out of foster care, Wanda Muhammad and her husband stepped up.
“Of course we were like, we can’t leave these babies in the system like that,” Mrs. Muhammad told The Final Call. Because the couple had not been foster parents, the process of adopting the boys was a long, arduous and frustrating one, but well worth it she said.
In the meantime, the boys’ biological mother became pregnant with a third child. But Mr. and Mrs. Muhammad, already stretched thin with two young boys, could not take in the baby. However, another couple who attend the same mosque, Ali and Tonya Muhammad, stepped up and adopted the newborn. All three siblings are growing up together.
“When it came to adopting them it was not a second thought to do so,” said Wanda Muhammad, even though their youngest was almost 18.
“To start all over again, yes that was going through my mind but the purpose; it was the matter of the love, the unconditional love and then watching how I went through the system with them. Oh my God, I just was like; we’ve got to get our babies out of this system,” she said.
Mr. Dunston challenged Blacks with means to “step” up when it comes to providing a home for Black children.
“We must step up in ways that we have not stepped up in the past. Our children are at a very critical point in their lives where they need caring adults to come forth and say that I’m willing and I’m able,” he told The Final Call.
“It’s a moral obligation on behalf of African people who have the wherewithal to step forward and provide loving and caring and supportive homes for our children who are in need of those services.”