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Black families needed

Lifestyle | Suspicious of the 'system,' many African-American couples are missing an opportunity to help children in need

Issue: "Medical care circus," Feb. 25, 2012

Darlene and Reginald Knight had one son. They wanted more children. Darlene was unable to conceive. They considered adoption, but knew no one in their African-American community who had adopted. Costs seemed daunting.

Then they realized through Bethany Christian Services and the Georgia foster care system that many black children needed homes. Their initial reluctance melted away. Recalling his own fatherless childhood in downtown Atlanta, Reginald says his "heart began to be right. I got on board when I saw the need."

The hard truth is: More black children need a home, yet they are less likely than other racial and ethnic groups to be adopted by families of any race-especially by black families. In 2010, Bethany Christian Services made 1,950 placements, but not more than one out of 20 adopting families was African-American. Bethany's Columbia, S.C., office currently has 34 active prospective adoptive families in the Domestic Infant Adoption Program, but only one is black.

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Many black families are suspicious of a "system" they perceive as responsible for putting black kids in foster care in the first place. Some resent the scrutiny they must undergo to be approved for adoption. Even the fees involved in the adoption process can be interpreted as "buying babies."

Change is possible. In Charlotte 16 years ago, Ruth Amerson started a nonprofit adoption group, Another Choice for Black Families. She says, "I don't have to convince African-Americans of the rightness of adoption-just make them aware."

In Michigan, Kim Offutt makes African-Americans aware through Project Open Arms. She says agencies and advocates need to ramp up recruitment efforts to reduce numbers of waiting black children. She believes more education will help black families understand the detailed adoption process and the financial options.

In Aurora, Colo., Robert Gelinas pastors Colorado Community Church, a mixed-race, interdenominational church. In 2005 he founded Project 1:27, an adoption initiative to equip, train, and support Christians to adopt from foster care. That project has led to almost 200 adoptions. Gelinas and his wife had one child and then adopted three through the Colorado foster care system and two more from Ethiopia.

To encourage more African-Americans to adopt, Bethany Christian Services enlisted the help of two prominent black men-and their wives-to promote adoption to African-American communities: Joseph Simmons (aka Reverend Run) and former NFL Coach Tony Dungy.

Simmons, a founding member of hip-hop group Run-D.M.C.-his family was the subject of the MTV reality show "Run's House"-tells black families interested in adoption: "People are selfish. We don't think about adoption. But adopting is giving of yourself." He and his wife have three children born to them and adopted in 2007 an African-American baby girl.

Dungy and his wife learned of adoption through their church, which many say is one of the most effective avenues for African-American adoption education. "Adoption for us became an act of obedience. It's a vivid reminder of what God has done for us-adopting us into His kingdom," Dungy says. The Dungys added four adopted children to their family of three.

Since the door opened for Reginald and Darlene Knight to adopt a sibling group, the couple is motivated to educate their African-American community. They were interviewed on a black praise radio station and speak openly to friends and families about their adoption experience. They plan to adopt at least one more.

"There are so many black children in our own country that need adopting," Reginald says. "It's time to help out."

-Deena Bouknight is a South Carolina journalist

Me, myself, and I

The way a person writes can reveal his psychological state. That's according to research by University of Texas professor James Pennebaker. He writes in the Harvard Business Review about a computer program that counts and categorizes words into function words (pronouns, articles, conjunctions, etc.) and content words (nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs that convey meaning). Using the program he analyzed 400,000 texts including college essays, text messages, transcripts from press conferences, and chat room conversations.

Some findings were surprising: "When we analyzed poems by writers who committed suicide versus poems by those who didn't, we thought we'd find more dark and negative content words in the suicides' poetry. We didn't-but we did discover significant differences in the frequency of words like 'I.'"

Pennebaker explained, "Pronouns tell us where people focus their attention. If someone uses the pronoun 'I,' it's a sign of self-focus. Say someone asks 'What's the weather outside?' You could answer 'It's hot' or 'I think it's hot.' The 'I think' may seem insignificant, but it's quite meaningful. It shows you're more focused on yourself. Depressed people use the word 'I' much more often than emotionally stable people. People who are lower in status use 'I' much more frequently."

-Susan Olasky

Envelope code

Before Valentine's Day an article on the website Poemas del Río Wang (riowang.blogspot.com/2011/12/language-of-stamps.html) explained that letters used to show love not only through words but stamps. A facsimile of an article from an 1890 Hungarian newspaper explains stamp language: "If the stamp stands upright in the upper right corner of the card or envelope, it means: I wish your friendship. Top right, across: Do you love me? Top right, upside down: Don't write me any more. ... Top left, across: My heart belongs to someone else. Top left, upright: I love you." The article describes how the code spread, with facsimiles of postcards in different languages.

-Susan Olasky

Deena C. Bouknight
Deena C. Bouknight

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