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John and Lisa Webster first heard of EVOLVE Family Services after the birth of their biological daughter Addison, and right around the time of the merger of Crossroads Adoption Services and HOPE Adoption & Family Services into EVOLVE Family Services. They were struggling to have a second child and started looking at adoption. John and Lisa knew a former client of HOPE and decided to attend an adoption information session at EVOLVE. From that first session, their nerves surrounding adoption started to settle, and they started their adoption journey with EVOLVE Family Services.
EVOLVE helped John and Lisa complete a home study and they were matched with their son Parker in 2016. EVOLVE helped provide the post-adoption support the Websters needed, and ultimately connected them with a great resource: EVOLVE’s UMOJA MN – a Black Heritage camp created to empower adoptive, kinship, and foster families who are parenting African American children.
Minnesota has significant racial disparities in its child welfare system. Black children, and those identifying as two or more races, experience out-of-home care at a rate of approximately three to five times that of white youth. EVOLVE has always held a strong value on education and worked to prepare families for the unique experience of parenting across cultures and many types of diversity. Sadly, many foster and adoptive parents across the state and country are often inadequately prepared for the experience of parenting an African American child.
In responding to this need, EVOLVE launched UMOJA MN, a Black Heritage camp, in 2016 to connect and empower black youth, encourage community and belonging, and support adoptive, foster, and kinship families. This was expanded with the support of the Minnesota Department of Human Services in 2018, to provide our weekend-long camps three times per year, providing families with adult learning opportunities, child and youth programming, and large group cultural celebrations. Any adoptive or foster family from any agency or county in Minnesota can register to attend the camps. We are able to provide full, entire-family scholarships to families of children who are presently in or who have been adopted through the Minnesota foster care system to attend at no charge.
In EVOLVE’s education courses and diversity training, it was emphasized that John and Lisa would need to make a conscious effort to surround Parker with Black culture and heritage, along with creating support systems for their own family. Lisa noted that from a very early age Parker was excited to see people with the same skin color as him. The Websters received an email invitation to the 2017 June UMOJA MN Camp and decided to attend their first Black heritage camp.
John and Lisa described how different UMOJA MN felt from other events because it was supportive of their whole family in a multitude of ways and comforting for them to share and compare stories and experiences with other families. Lisa also noted that it felt good to be “surrounded by and interacting with families that looked similar to ours.”
UMOJA MN felt not only supportive but safe to the Webster family. It was a place they could ask questions without judgment and receive the tools needed to be comfortable carrying on the conversation outside of UMOJA.
UMOJA MN camps provided the ability to build relationships and connect with other families, and learn from their experiences.
Thoughtfully selected public speakers and performers helped provide insight into black heritage, foster care, and adoption. Vendors helped connect families with resources they hadn’t been able to find themselves.
Without these tools, conversations and putting yourself outside of your comfort zone, “you really don’t know what you don’t know” as Lisa put it.
The Websters felt UMOJA MN was a good experience for their biological daughter, Addison, as well. They were able to introduce her to families that looked like her own and explain that Parker’s life would look different from hers even if they grew up together in the same house.
When asked for their piece of advice to parents at the beginning of the transracial adoption process, the Websters gave many answers:
- Adoption has a lot more layers than you can imagine
- Your process will be unlike anyone else’s
- An open relationship with your child’s biological parents will benefit your child and you
- Be prepared that it will be an exciting and happy time, but also a time of loss
- Trust in yourself
- Look/ask for help
- Keep your conversations open, and let your guard down
- Sit with things for a while before you react
- Words affect people differently
- It’s okay to have tough conversations
- You’re doing fine
- You owe it to your child to seek out resources and engage in the community
John and Lisa strongly encourage other interracial adoptive, foster care and relative-kin families to participate in UMOJA MN because it not only gave them resources and knowledge of black history and culture to help empower their son Parker, it also helped them create their own support network and community as they continue their journey.