Saturday, September 1, 2012

Femi and Ola's Story

Adoption: Our Story 

When Ola and I got married (even before) I very clearly articulated my desire that we have just two kids, she wanted more, but she agreed with me. We went over the different scenarios, two boys, two girls, it did not matter to me but it was obvious that she’ll prefer at least a girl, because she (Ola) liked braiding hair and all the other stuff you do with girls.

At the end of the day, we had two boys (we lost a pregnancy we believe was a girl) and the boys pregnancies, especially that of our second son, was very trying and it was a good case for us to biologically close shop. The pressure to adopt from my beautiful wife, started almost immediately and I was not even a bit interested even avoiding such conversations. In 2002, I listened to my own teachings and we had a conversation, we talked about adopting a family member from back home (Africa), that did not go down too well for very many reasons. So I said to Ola, lets drop this idea, well I did or so I thought.

In 2006, I got very active in the community and became one of the leaders of a group called Empower Omaha, this group is a network of African-American leaders who want to bring positive change to our community, stop the violence, transform families etc. At one of the seminars organized by this group, someone from an adoption agency came to speak to us about black families stepping up to foster and adopt children in the system, and the person mention that more than 5,000 children are in the system (majority are African-American in a state that AA make up just 4% of the population) and what got me was the person’s woes of older teenagers who age out of the system.

I mentioned my experience that day with Ola, and we talked at length, I shared my fear starting with our family lifestyle, to financial constraints, to my cultural biases (adoption is not something Africans readily embrace, all we hear are the horrible stories), at the end of the day, the commission of Jesus Christ in Matthew 25, trumped any fear I had (culture, finance etc), and we agreed to explore what it takes to adopt with some boundaries – no babies, a girl and someone that can at least make her own “peanut butter jelly sandwich”. That same day my wife went on a website called “heart-gallery” put up by the state with pictures of children in the foster system. A particular four year old jumped at her, she immediately showed the boys and myself this picture and we all fell for this little four year old girl. 

Ola called the agency that was in charge of this little girl, and she was told that a family member was in the process of adopting her, the person further told Ola that we were not ready to adopt by state law. We needed to attend a class and be certified as foster parents. Honestly, I hated the whole process, especially being labeled a “foster” parent, my image of foster parents were people who pimped kids, please allow me to say I was wrong, there are many foster parents doing it for the children, and there are elements who are doing it for the check. I have since embraced the label “foster” parent but would quickly add that we are in it for adoption. The Empowerment Network and the Omaha World-Herald (the largest newspaper in Nebraska) approached us about doing a story and using our family as the face of middle-class African-American family adopting, the story ran on April 29th 2007 (www.omaha .com). 

In 2008, the newspaper person that did a story on our family adopting, did another story on the plight of children in the foster system, and right on the front page of the newspaper, is the same young girl that we were told was “good as adopted” by a family member two years ago. Ola could not believe her eyes, she brought home the newspaper and we called up the agency again and reiterated our intention to adopt this young lady, now six years old. We were invited to a group meeting, but just before the meeting the foster parent to this girl requested a meeting with Ola and I. The meeting turned out to be an ugly one, the foster mother, a single Caucasian did everything in her power to dissuade us from going forward with adopting this young lady, we later learnt that she was applying to be a “legal guardian”. The group meeting turned out to be a sham as well in our opinion, as everyone in the room had determined that the young lady is best kept with her foster mother as legal guardian rather than being adopted by a middle-class African American couple because she has a medical condition that would not make the transition smooth.

The court appearance was no different, the judge ruled for legal guardianship based on the evidence before him, only the guardian ad litem objected, in my opinion the state representatives where ill-prepared to give the judge details that day. In-fact, I almost faced contempt of court that day, as I objected to an insult on my wife by someone in the room “you just saw a cute picture and you want her” the judge said he did not see the statement as an insult. 
Personally, what happened in that court sealed the adoption saga (not for Ola). We shared the story with many of our friends and many of them wanted us to make a big deal out of it, the newspaper also called for a follow-up story, we decided not to go public with what happened because we did not want the issue to become a black vs. white situation, we believe sincerely that it was the system that failed rather than a single white female vs. black couple which would be the interesting story. I told Ola, that even with the judgment, if God said this young lady will be in our home, then she will be. Ola reminded me of this statement later. Also, in the letter I drafted but was never sent to our governor, I had used a similar statement that it will take a miracle for her to end up in our home. 

As our foster license expired in October 2009, Ola asked that we renew and I sincerely was not interested, so she dropped the idea. Again in December 2009, she asked if I was still interested in adoption, in my passive-aggressive mannerism, I gave her a diplomatic but unreal answer, Yes, as long as it is the same young girl we’ve wanted and now officially a legal child of someone else. My answer closed the whole process until…

In January 2010, Ola got a call from a post-adoptive person, asking if we are still interested in adoption, her answer were affirmative, yes if it is the same young girl. The person could not confirm, but promised to call back. The call back came when I was on my way out to Burkina Faso in West Africa, this young lady spent that weekend with my family while I was in Africa, and she came to live with us as “respite” parents two days after I returned in January 2010.

The story from this point is not so much about us, this young lady, the system or even her legal guardian but about a God who sits in heaven and direct the affairs of men. Her legal guardian could no longer cope with her for many reasons and we took her in, which in itself is a miracle. I define a miracle as a supernatural event when humans have been obedient based on their faith in God, for example when Daniel was obedient and did not stop praying even after a death threat, God shut the mouth of the lions. 

Unfortunately, too many Christians chase after miracles when all they need to do is be obedient [signs follow those who believe]. The association of the legal guardian was terminated in early March 2010, and we waited for the next process which we were told would occur the very next week. On March 11th 2010, I was in a meeting in Lincoln (our state capital) when I got a call from Ola that the state was challenging the dissolution of the legal guardianship by the Judge, interestingly that same morning (Thursday, March 11th) this young lady woke up and said to me, “Daddy, I had a dream, some people were poking my eyes and you came and fought all of them away” this coming from a eight year old who had told me earlier that she did not need a dad. Her dream and the call that morning from Ola got me to be the angriest I’ve been in 2010. At the meeting I was in Lincoln, was a former state senator and former commissioner for HHS, I shared with him, and also called a friend who holds a political office in our county, they both directed me to the current state HHS CEO, Mr. Winterer.

I immediately contacted Mr. Winterer’s office by phone and by e-mail. I want to publicly thank him and his staff for stepping up and getting to the root of the situation. Things started rolling from here, it turns out that the state challenging the dissolution was a hoax from whatever source it came from. We went before the Judge (now I like him – he was more pleasant) and presented our request for adoption, the state and the main agency are now working with us to get all necessary documentations and the count-down to July 2010 has begun, when she will become Ebunoluwa Awodele (a name we picked for her in 2006, and means “a gift from God” in Yoruba).

Adoption is not an easy process, nor is it convenient, in our case the child in question is said to have a medical situation (which is being managed – I believe she just needs a loving/tough home and a personal relationship with Christ – which she is now getting). We have discussed the whole thing with our boys, our teenager readily accepted and our tween is warming up to her, her relationship with me is also interesting as she’s never had a dad stay in a home she’s lived. Her coming into our home has changed things as well, now we are thinking of moving so we can have an extra room for guests, our monthly budget for food has changed (I think that is more the boys growing), Ola and I have had to cancel one of our quarterly get away because we could not leave her with a family member that is not licensed as a foster parent. Dealing with one extra person with homework is not easy either, especially since she didn’t want to initially (now she does).

However, all of the above pale in comparison to knowing that we are in the will of God. In one of my prayer time God made it clear to me that, we (Ola, the boys and myself) are privilege to be part of His plan for this young lady, and He chose us because of a prayer we (Ola and I) often pray, “Lord, if you want to use anyone in our city, consider us” please don’t say this prayer, if you don’t mean it, because He’ll call you to do unpleasant things or things against popular norms.

I’m appealing to middle-class African-Americans and African Immigrant couples to step out of their comfort zones, first by getting involved in the whole process, from volunteering on foster review boards (especially retired teachers/nurses etc) to bringing a little girl or a little boy into your home, and giving a child a promising future that he/she might not otherwise have. I believe without a doubt that when we get to heaven, we’ll hear God say, “I was homeless, you took me in and I was naked, you clothed me”. The God that has called you will give you all the resources needed to accomplish the task.

I solicit your prayers as we go through the process of adoption and as my family adjusts both short-term and long-term. Please pray for everyone involved in the process as well, the Judge, her school teacher and administrator, medical experts and the various agencies including the state. Also, keep her past legal guardian in your prayers as well, there must be the feeling of lost after 4-5 years of taking care of somebody.

Remain Blessed

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