By Johnson, Gordon
Ebony , Vol. 63, No. 11
Over the past 48 years, in numerous states and from my first job as a Cottage Parent at a juvenile justice facility to my current work as president and CEO of Neighbor To Family, Inc., I have worked with tens of thousands of abused, neglected and abandoned African-American children. And I have seen many of them made whole again through the care provided by Black, White and mixed-race adoptive parents.
Above all else, I believe that a child needs a loving, permanent home where he or she can be nurtured and guided to a responsible adult life. I have never seen any evidence--through my own experience or in the research--that suggests that any particular racial or ethnic group has a corner on those qualities that make for a good, loving parent.
That said, when conditions warranted foster care or adoption, I have always endeavored to keep children within their own family and/or neighborhood culture. Foster care and adoption, even in the best of circumstances, is a traumatic, disruptive event; the more we can do to minimize the trauma, the better the child's chances for a bright future.
But we also know the hard reality that African-American children are disproportionately represented in the foster care system, and that they languish longer in a pre-adoption limbo. When I became deputy director of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) in 1979, the state was confronted with a crisis of unprecedented scale. More than 700 Chicago-area Black children waited while the agency was unable to find adoptive parents.
As we struggled for solutions, my boss and I approached Father George Clements, a Black Chicago priest. Clements' adoption in 1981 of a 13-year-old boy who had been a longtime resident of an orphanage drew worldwide attention to the fact that Black children were trapped in the foster care system for inordinately long periods. From those meetings came the One Church One Child program, a plan to use the pastors of African-American churches as spokespersons to reach the community. The goal was for every Black church to identify and recruit potential adoptive parents.
Along the way we had to change negative attitudes, both in the Black community, which had grown to distrust the state agency, and among my staff. I found that my veteran staff members could be especially reticent to change long-held practices. They often appeared to prefer keeping waiting children in long-term foster care rather than looking more broadly for loving adoptive families. …