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My Chance to Give Back

from Spring 2004 Adoptalk

by Christopher H. Brown

Adopted at 13, Chris Brown has thrived in his new family, and committed himself to helping other children find forever families. This summer, NACAC will honor Chris as one of our 2004 Youth Advocates of the Year.

I am a 22-year-old psychology major at Northern Kentucky University—a fate I couldn't have imagined when I was in foster care. Fortunately, being adopted changed my life from one of despair and hopelessness, to one where I am fulfilling the dreams I was once afraid to dream. Since being adopted, I have also been able use my experiences to make a difference in other kids' lives.

I entered foster care in April 1993 after my stepfather brutally murdered my mother. I was 11 years old. After cycling through emergency shelters and foster homes, I landed at Holly Hill Children's Home where I remained for just over a year and a half. Lonely and depressed, I spent two birthdays, two Christmases, and two anniversaries of my mother's death without family or friends. Most of the other kids were able to be with their families during holidays, so times that are supposed to be the happiest were the saddest for me.

Staff were good to me, but I soon began to lose hope that things would ever get better. I lost trust in others, lived each day as it came, and did not set or work toward any personal goals. School was an escape from the children's home, but there, in the rural all-white school, I encountered racial prejudice for the first time.

After a year a Holly Hill, I was assigned a volunteer "big brother" named Dave. He came into my life out of the clear blue one day, and I had no idea why. We started spending one day a week together, first at the children's home, and then on outings. I was skeptical and very quiet and shy at first, but he knew I loved basketball, so he would play with me on the outdoor court. At this point, playing basketball was the only thing I dared to dream about, even though I couldn't play at school.

Our first outing was to a high school basketball game. The next visit was to his home, where I discovered he had a lighted basketball court in his back yard. I was hooked! No matter what options Dave gave me for visit activities, my choice was always to go to his house and play basketball until he was exhausted. I also loved to just stare at all the food in his refrigerator, and watch TV without having to vote on the channel.

Dave and I grew closer over time, and eventually I started staying over on weekends. He became more involved in my life and really expressed concern if I wasn't doing well at school or at the home, or was just feeling sad or down on life. This made me realize that he cared for me, and that I needed to get on track.

As he earned my trust, I began telling him about my past and the things that happened in my life. Usually I opened up on the drive back to the children's home while listening to Tupac's "Dear Momma" on the stereo. I felt as if I had a reason to live again, and reasons to be happy. Having someone care about me made me start to care, and I began to dream about things being better. I began doing better in school, achieving my plan goals at Holly Hill, and even setting goals for myself.

Then, another loss seemed to be headed my way. Because I was doing so well, staff decided I was ready to move on. Unfortunately, they couldn't find any local foster or adoptive placements for a biracial teenage boy with "a lot of issues." In addition, Holly Hill was transitioning to an all-girls facility, so I had to move—most likely to another children's home elsewhere in the state.

I was afraid of being alone again, so I asked Dave if we would still be friends after I moved. He promised we would, and told me not to worry. One by one, the other boys transferred out of Holly Hill, but I still had no idea where I'd be going. During this time, I even had a dream that I would get to live with Dave, but I didn't tell anyone because I was afraid it could never come true. We continued to have our visits, and Dave kept reassuring me that everything would be just fine.

Sharing this part of my story seems a bit strange since, for nearly nine years now, I have known Dave as Dad. What I didn't know then was that Dave met with my social worker when he heard I would be moved, and asked if he could adopt me. He then spent the summer learning about parenting, and figuring out how he could make the adoption work. The hardest part for him was that he wasn't allowed to tell me until he completed the training.

About a week before the boys' unit was scheduled to close, Dave came out to the home, sat me on a picnic table in back of the cottage, and started his speech. What I most clearly remember is the part where he said, "Chris, I want to adopt you; I want to be your dad." That was the happiest moment of my life. All I could do was smile.

My thoughts were a blur when Dave said he wanted to adopt me, but the one thing that stood out was that I had someone who loved me, and that I had a family again. When he asked how I felt about it, I simply said, "Cool!" Then I told him I wanted to change my last name to Brown, because it would look best on my school basketball jersey. Adoption was the biggest and best decision of my life.

So far, I owe my success in life to my father, Dave Brown. He turned my life completely around by showing me that he cared. He took me into his home with open arms, and opened up a whole new world for me to explore. He challenged and pushed me to do well in school (I finished my senior year with straight As), and would not give up on me even in the toughest of times. I have a great life, and cannot fully describe how much I appreciate all I have been blessed with.

As I had dreamed, I also got to play basketball. What's more, as starting point guard, I helped lead my team to a record number of wins my senior year. I was even recruited to play college basketball.

What my father did for me is the greatest thing anyone can do for someone, and I want to pass that on. My goal is to help children like my dad helped me. Since eighth grade, I have shared my experiences to help other kids have the opportunity I did. I also want to adopt someday.

What I didn't anticipate was having a chance to directly change a child's life so soon. In November 2002, Dad and I learned about Rashad, another teen who needed a family. The adoption worker thought we might be a good fit for him. Dad and I talked, and he emphasized that he would need my help to make another adoption work. I immediately accepted the idea; it fit with my goals, and I knew we would be a good family for Rashad.

What a great decision! I love having Rashad as part of our family. It is a privilege to have him as a younger brother, and to serve as a mentor and role model for him. When our dad leaves town for work, I provide for his needs and get to hang out with him as his big brother. It is so neat to see him starting to live his dreams.

When Rashad first moved in, it was tough for him. Like me, he had to adjust to a whole new lifestyle. His new family included a single white father and an older biracial brother. At his foster home, he was one of the older kids in an African American family. I knew what Rashad had to deal with, so I was able to be there for him and talk him through things. I also knew how to "manage" Dad after eight years of experience, and could really help Rashad in that area too.

Trust was one of the big issues our family had to deal with when Rashad first came. He needed to learn to trust Dad and me, and to be honest and open so we could help him work through his concerns. Knowing that I had faced similar issues, Rashad seemed to trust and bond with me fairly quickly. As good as I had it, I think he transitioned into the family much faster because he saw how happy and successful I had become with Dad.

Soon Rashad looked to me for support, advice, and guidance. I was suddenly living the role I had looked forward to and had wanted to take on.

More than a year later, Rashad is doing wonderfully. School is going well and he has made a lot of close friends. He had dreamed about playing football, and this year he got to start for his freshman team where he led in rushing yards and touchdowns scored. He even had the courage to try a new sport, and ended up finishing 26-16 on the varsity wrestling team.

The struggles we worked through seem forever ago. I love having Rashad as part of our family, and there is no one else I would rather have as my little brother. I now know the joy my dad feels seeing a young person find the love and happiness that comes with joining a family who will always be there, and always care. I thank God I was blessed with the opportunity to use my experiences to make a difference in his life, and I look forward to being a part of his life always. Rashad now believes, as do I, that dreams can come true.


North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC)
970 Raymond Avenue, Suite 106
St. Paul, MN 55114
phone: 651-644-3036
fax: 651-644-9848
e-mail: info@nacac.org
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