What was it like for you to have to go up against children's services like this? What effects did the experience have on your life and immediate family?
This was the most debilitating situation I have ever faced. Knowing that I had to fight this fight in a small and I will say, racist town. My brother and I were often the only black people in the court room. The attorneys were against us... even our own attorneys. A lot of people don’t realize how connected so much is. The Guardian Ad Litem assigned to Emily flat out laughed in my brother attorneys face when he learned of his evidence and asked “So, why are you entering this?” and my brother's attorney responded “Well, it’s fair." Then the guardian for Emily laughed and said “Oh, we don’t do fair.” I watched this with my own eyes and heard this with my own ears. When I mentioned this to the attorney, that I heard this, he apologized to me. When I asked why did he not make this known to the judge he then told me it was not enough information to say that the Guardian Ad Litem could not make proper judgment in the situation￼. How does that add up?
I was a mother of 4, then 5 throughout this and I have never feared for the welfare of my children so much. I felt like at any moment no matter how loving I was as a parent my children could be taken. I just all of a sudden had this fear, I still do.
We lost so much fighting in court and it cost us thousands that we did not have. We had a small family business in HVAC, and I was the office. Each time I flew to NC we needed a nanny, travel expenses and we lost time at the business. Because this is a small business the cost of advertising plays a big role, especially pay per call services. On one trip, we lost $15,000 of leads in one day (hottest day of the year and we were not available because of court) and had to pay for those leads. Our business never recovered from that.
My marriage suffered so much that I am now 1 year into my divorce. And the strain that this put on the relationship of my brother and myself is one I will never forgive DCF for. My entire life changed. We even relocated homes, a $1,200 cost, because we had a pool that wasn’t going to be approved for Emily. The very pool my children learned to swim in. Ironically we learned Emily took swim lessons at a local YMCA and felt like it was a huge bummer because our kids did the same but in the safety and cleanliness of our home.
Our children are the most confused because it’s just not something you can explain. I suffered from extreme sadness, depression even. It’s like having a missing person but they’re not. Like they made her dead to us but we knew she was alive. It’s unnerving especially when it’s not your fault. This is a case that should have never happened, remember that. My brother had a home approved by August 2016, yet here we are in 2020. Still fighting.
As a Black woman, can you explain why it is so important and beneficial for Emily to be raised within the Black community?
I’ll start by saying, Emily’s foster parents told the courts they took an African American hair care class so they had enough background on culture. Then they took the stand and said that I change my hair so much that Emily might not recognize me (I was bald at that hearing). Imagine the way I felt. Attacked at the core. I have been styling hair since a preteen and even attended Paul Mitchell Cosmetology school. My hair is a part of my self expression and culture and it’s always well kept. I didn’t understand why they said that but I knew they’d struggle with Emily and her identity as a Black woman. Our father is actually from Guyana so for us our Black has a different culture to it here in America and we are PROUD of that! In court her foster parents when asked about her heritage said that they heard Emily “may be a little Caribbean in there.”
How disrespectful! Then her appointed Guardian Ad Litem says well don’t they speak English there... I kid you not, I was horrified. The beauty about my family is we are not only a Black family but also a diverse Black family; all of my children and all of my brother's children just so happen to be biracial just as Emily is. So not only was Emily coming to a family (our home) with a strong Black identity but there were several kids who already identified with her as a biracial child￼. She was coming to a family of Black people who know the history of her mother and father.
We are more than a black family we are HUMANS who love. And we kept trying to explain that. I also felt it was important for Emily because she was rejected by her mother because of her skin color at birth. Being with us was a way for her to know hey, at least someone loves me, no matter what I look like. She wasn’t a reject. Her foster parents made a post one day on FB saying Emily was asking why was her skin brown. And her foster parents responded with that they wished their skin was brown like hers rather than explaining that her father was a Black man.
I read that post on Facebook and just knew this wasn’t going to be okay for my niece in the long run. ￼I have read another post and the foster parents didn’t know where to find Black dolls for Emily which I felt was a little bit odd because these things are not hard to find and it shouldn’t become a learning lesson for you with Emily because that’s not fair for her, had she been placed with us that would not even have been a situation for her￼. With us she wouldn’t feel like a learning experiment but just a part of life. We could have helped her better too with the identity crisis that can come with adoption.
*As a white Mama to Black children, it would be easy for me to get defensive about Shavvonda's take on transracial adoption, but the fact is SHE'S ABSOLUTELY RIGHT! As a white mama, there are things that I will never be able to offer my children. My children will always be missing out in some way by having me as a Mama instead of a same race parent. They didn't have another option, but Emily did. Emily DOES.
Real talk: if you could speak with foster parents whose foster child might be going to live with extended family members, what would you want them to know?
Hey, it’s okay. You signed up to protect a child while in need and you’ve done just that. You’ve left your mark and you shouldn’t worry. This position isn’t about control but about helping guide them to the next step. I know it's hard, but another child may need you soon. That’s why we foster. Sometimes it is short sometimes it’s longer, but when it’s time to let them go you must. Not every kid is lucky enough to have family come for them, that's what a lot of them pray for. Be happy that this one did!
What special times/memories has Emily missed out on due to the foster parents not being supportive of her being in contact with her family?
My daughter Annor is six years old her birthday is in September. She has had 4 birthdays since this started. Every year until this recent year she’s said me “Mommy, Emily’s coming to my birthday” with the hope of a 3, 4, and 5 year old...this year she just didn’t ask.
Each year we’ve gone to Disneyland and hoped to bring Emily. We shared this with the foster family, to their disinterest. We’ve traveled to the Golden Gate bridge, gone to New York City and did so many more things in between as a family. In a great twist of fate we actually had an older cousin who was placed in foster care as a child but found our family through ancestry.com reunite this year!
This summer a huge family reunion was had at Emily’s paternal grandmother's house with family from all over. She was absent￼ and missed seeing the seeds that she was planted from.
I always wanted to take her to the American Girl Doll store. I still plan to take her with her sisters and my daughters because she missed the first trip.
*So many memories that this baby girl can never get back. For her foster parents to close that door for her...the epitome of selfishness.
If you could say anything to your niece right now, what would it be?
Emily, I told you we’d never give up.
Baby girl, I told you you’d see us again! We love you so much and we’ve missed you.
I pray ShaVonnda and her family get to say that to Emily in person soon.
Please consider donating to help Emily's family cover the legal fees needed to plead their case in court. You can donate through go fund me OR through cash app.
And because I am lucky enough to have friendships with so many talented and incredible businesswomen, of course there's a chance to win a prize if you donate.
If you'd like to be entered to win, send me a screenshot via email or direct message of your donation. ANY amount qualifies you to be entered! Two of the prizes from the raffle (with more choices on the way!):
A pair of beautiful handcrafted earrings of your choice from the Common Good Clay fall collection:
A shirt or sweatshirt of your choice from the @hashtagfostercare advocacy collection (a $50 value!)
I'm so excited to see how much support we can rally for this family.
Let's bring Emily home.