Shelia M. Poole, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, August 24, 2004
Dave Alexander and his wife, Juanita — exhausted but too excited to sleep — had just flown from Canada the night before to meet the newest member of their growing brood.
“There he is! There he is!” said Alexander, clasping a hand over his heart as he sees his youngest son for the first time. “It doesn’t get any better than this.”
After trying unsuccessfully for years to have children of their own, the Alexanders, who live in British Columbia, are adopting their second son, Keiran, who is just a few weeks old.
Keiran and his older adopted brother, Elias, are black. The Alexanders are white. And while international and transracial adoptions are not new, this one has a twist on the trend of U.S. families adopting children from overseas.
The Alexanders are among a growing number of Canadian families — no one knows exactly how many — that have adopted African-American children from the United States.
Last year, more than 21,600 immigrant visas were issued to orphans coming to the United States, up from 20,099 in 2002, according to the U.S. Department of State.
Instances of international adoptions of American children are relatively rare, and numbers are hard to find. But several U.S. agencies have programs that place black children with families in Canada and elsewhere.
Keiran and Elias were placed through the Christian-based Open Door Adoption Agency in Thomasville, in South Georgia. The agency was founded in 1987 to provide an alternative to unplanned pregnancies.
Birth parents content
Open Door, which has staff in several Georgia cities, has placed more than 150 African-American children with Canadian families. The agency also has a program that places children from Eastern Europe, Latin America and Asia with families in the United States.
Most of the adopting families are white, but staffers have noticed an increasing number by black families. Betty Elkins, coordinator of the minority and Canadian programs, said the birth mothers always know the children are being adopted by Canadian families.
While in Georgia, the Alexanders met with the birth parents of their youngest son. They live in Macon.
Mark Dedrick, Keiran’s biological father, said the Canadians were “great.” He said they talked for more than an hour about their children — the Dedricks have two other children — and other matters.
Dedrick and his wife, Shante, Keiran’s birth mother, decided not to see the child. “As long as he gets the best care,” he said. “That’s more important than anything else — color or where they live.”
The Canadians “live in a multicultural society for the most part, and these children blend right in and are wonderfully well accepted,” said Walter Gilbert, executive director of Open Door.
The first placement of an African-American child in Canada by Open Door occurred in the 1990s. Soon word spread, and the agency found itself with a steady stream of applications.
Some of the earlier families formed a support association in Canada. Issues ranged from the mundane — what are the best products for skin and hair? — to the more serious: How do I prepare my child to deal with racism? How do I make sure she is aware of her culture and heritage? How do I prevent feelings of being “different”?
Other agencies have also had Canadian placements. Since 1993, Adoption-Link Inc., a Chicago-area agency that specializes in African-American adoptions, has placed 70 black children with white Canadians. A few have been placed with families in Western Europe. In Europe and in Canada, the wait for infants can be quite long, Executive Director Margaret Fleming said.
Her agency’s top priority, she said, is to find a loving, secure home, and sometimes that means going outside the United States. Increasingly, birth mothers ask for and are granted the right to choose the adoptive family.
There are some birth mothers “who have more of a world view,” said Fleming. “They may have traveled to Canada or . . . [may be] someone who understands that the culture, in many ways, is very similar. The one difference is that there is not the degree of racism against black people as in the United States. Darker-skinned people are often viewed as unusual or exotic, but they don’t have the same history of slavery and racism we have.”
Transracial adoptions have been a hot-button issue in the African-American community. Some black churches and social workers have strongly advocated that black families adopt African-American children.
And while more black adoptive parents are coming forward, there is a disproportionately large number of black children waiting to find permanent homes.
Few disagree that it’s best to find black homes for black children. But ultimately the welfare of the child and finding a stable home are the chief goals.
Toni Oliver, executive director of Roots . . . Planting Seeds to Secure Our Future, a metro Atlanta adoption agency that specializes in finding homes for African-American children, said she was aware of similar placements as far back as the 1980s. Oliver, then a recruiter and trainer for a national adoption center, was told that African-American children were placed in Italy and some Spanish-speaking countries.
The practice has pretty much been kept quiet by some who fear the idea of black children being adopted by families outside the United States will raise the same response as transracial adoption did in the 1970s.
Oliver believes international adoptions can work if families are able to recognize the work it takes for the children to develop a healthy sense of racial identity.
“Families who are in denial and say all it takes is love are setting themselves and their children up for a very difficult time in terms of emotional development,” she said. “Erasing race is a disservice to that child.”
Links to roots
The Alexanders are well aware of the challenges they face.
“I always had a heart for black children,” said Juanita Alexander, a 35-year-old teacher of French who lived with her husband in Senegal for more than a year. “Adoptive parents have to accept that child as your own and be open to whatever that child is going to experience. I can’t pretend to understand everything he’s going through, but you have to work at integrating him into your life and not deny his culture and background.”
The Alexanders adopted their first child, Elias, in 2003, several months after his birth in Columbus. Although they have never met Elias’ birth mother, the Alexanders have made an effort to maintain ties to her. They write her about his sleeping habits, the foods and activities he likes. They mention that he loves anything on wheels, like his toy truck or his dad’s motorcycle.
Sometimes they’ll send pictures of birthday parties or family vacations. They plan to make part of their yearly routine a visit to Georgia and the city where each child was born.
To maintain Elias’ cultural links, the Alexanders observe Kwanzaa. They go to play groups with other children of African, Haitian or African-American heritage. Books include racially and ethnically diverse characters. His father, a music teacher, recently bought Elias a book about Charlie “Bird” Parker, the renowned jazz saxophonist.
Race, so far, has not posed any problems.
But they know that will probably not last — especially when their son starts school.
“It hurts me that he will go through life and have people judge him by and treat him poorly merely because of the color of his skin,” said Juanita Alexander. “I can’t shelter him from that, I can only give him the tools needed to deal with it.”
Her husband says that’s part of the reason they decided to adopt a second African-American child.
“It’s important to have somebody from the same ethnic background,” he said. “We just think it’s important for him to have a connection.”