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My Birth Mother's Death Made Me Realize My Love For Her

Motherhood

I can remember, as early as four years old, sitting in between my mom's legs on the living room floor while she plaited my hair adding barrettes, having conversations about how I came to be hers. "You're my baby, but I didn't have you," she'd say. "D gave you to me. That's why you're so special."

I'd simply reply, "Okay mom." And special is how I always felt.


I never felt "adopted."

I never felt an emptiness or the desire to search for answers like many adoptees experienced. It was never a secret. It couldn't be, because my birth mom was always around.

July 4, 1991 - the day I became my mom's

I was born the fourth of seven children. My birth mom, D, and my mom are first cousins, raised like sisters. From what I know, D was a partier (that's who I get my dancing skills from). She was slim-thick, beautiful and chocolate, and a sweetheart. But at the time, she was more attracted to going out than being at home.

D would often leave me in the care of my grandfather, who was blind in one eye with glaucoma. My mom checked in on him often and helped him care for me while she was there. From the moment she saw me, she says it was love at first sight.

My grandfather did his best to care for me, insisting D would return, but time passed and after a conversation with my aunt (D's sister), my mom suggested she take me off of his hands for a few days. He obliged and on July 4, 1991, at five months old, I left my grandfather's house with a onesie on my back, on the hip of my mom, and was hers from that day forward.

My dad, who was my mom's boyfriend of six years at the time, accepted and loved me immediately. They broke up when I was around 8 months old. But, he had me every weekend and they coparented. My childhood was glorious. My dad spoiled me, literally. I had all the material things one could imagine: diamonds, custom trench coats, a princess themed room at both houses, toys galore.

More importantly, I had an abundance of love.

They both took me to school every morning, together after a hearty breakfast at a local diner. We took photos together, celebrated holidays as a family – the whole nine. It was like they never broke up.

As the story goes, D called one day before I turned two and told my mom that she was on her way to get me, permanently, but my mom refused. After that, my mom officially filed paperwork to legally adopt me. My dad brought receipts to court to show that they were caring for me. The judge signed off. But, the angel that my mom is, never blocked D from having contact. She gave her open access to me. As a I grew older, I'd ask why. "I love her because without her, I wouldn't have you. One day, you'll understand."

Me and Dad when I was about 2 years old.

As time passed, D picked me up from school often and I was able to spend time with my siblings. I even stayed with her at times. Things were fine. It wasn't until around middle school that I started to feel resentful. I began to notice that when D picked me up from school, she'd tell the other parents that she was my mom. That irked me. I didn't know how to verbalize how I felt when I was younger, but now, I can say that I don't feel she had the right to claim that title.

She gave birth to me, but she wasn't my mom.

I've always been the "let go and let God" type, even as a child, so that's what I did. After one of many breakdowns, my mom finally left it up to me to determine whether or not I communicated with my birth mother and her family. I decided to step aside and if any relationships would form, it would have to be on my terms.

I stayed in my own world for a long time. That changed my junior year of college when my mom called to tell me that D was having a serious and potentially fatal surgery. My mom insisted I call, always reminding me, "I wouldn't have you if it weren't for her." I then called her to tell her that I loved her and prayed her surgery went well. Thankfully, it did.

After that, I tried to establish some form of a relationship, without everyone else's interference or input. Something about that phone call created a form of an epiphany for me. After all, she did give birth to me.

So in 2017, we started talking a lot more often.

In August of that year, my mom and I went to a birthday celebration at my aunt's house. Just as we pulled up, D was leaving. I asked her to stay for a bit and we ended up spending a few hours together, drinking, talking, and taking pictures. There was a feeling of nostalgia – of peace – I thought to myself, This is how it should be. Little did I know, that would be the last time I'd have that opportunity.

The next month, I got a call from my aunt one Saturday evening. D had a stroke and she told me that it wasn't looking good. I went to the hospital and we were told she wouldn't make it through the night. She did.

The next three weeks were filled with hospital visits and meetings between my siblings and I with various doctors. I wasn't expecting that my siblings would involve me in decision-making regarding her health since we weren't raised together, but D always told us, "You're brothers and sisters." It must have stuck with us, because for the first time, I felt included.

I took on a role of silent support. I only gave my opinion in terms of what should be done medically when asked by my siblings or when I felt a certain treatment would not work. Otherwise, I tried to tend to my younger siblings, as they were the ones she raised and needed the most support.

She passed away on October 25, 2017.

Once things were all said and done, I had time to process things. It was the most confusing time I've ever experienced. On one hand, I was regretful and felt guilty about all of the years I closed D out. On the other hand, I was grateful for the last time we spent together and how my siblings rallied around me in a time where I expected the complete opposite.

It was hard to openly vent to people about how I truly felt about her passing. I had my parents of course, and my boyfriend and my sister were amazing. But at night with my own thoughts, I felt alone. I realized that in this instance, I'd have to do some deep soul searching, rely heavily on God, and truly heal myself.

I spent a lot of time thinking about D not as my birth mother, but as a woman.

How hard it must have been for her to pass me along to another caretaker and watch me flourish while trying to figure out where or if she belonged in my life. How perplexing it must have been at times for her to try and enforce relationships between her children when she didn't necessarily have that authority to do so, but knew that it needed to be done. She, like me, was just as confused trying to navigate this modern family that was created.

It was agonizing some nights. But I eventually found peace knowing that her love for me was magnified by 1,000 by her choice to give me not one, but two chances at life when she gave me to my amazing mom.

My mom used to always tell me, "One day you'll love her as much as I do because she loved you enough to give me you."

That day came.

Featured image by Giphy

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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