‘I have a dream’ … starts in the nursery down the hall

Pastel baby room decorated by loving parents

My family had a stereo that was bigger than most coffee tables. It was prominently under our picture window and the focus of a television-less living room. When I was only 7 years old, my sister, brother and I kneeled in front of that centerpiece and listened to the crackling speech of Dr. Martin Luther King..talk about his having a dream….

This was especially significant in my household. I grew up in the countryside of a small upstate New York town of approximately 20,000. As far as I knew, we were the only household that held anyone of color – other than the ‘farm hands’ down the road – who only lived there during planting or harvest season. I never thought of them ‘having a dream’ … until my parents used that teachable moment to implant into me what those dreams were..and not through the black men that worked the fields past our yard, but  the babies that graced the tiny nursery – down the hall from where I quietly listened to Dr. King speak.

My parents were in their late 20s when they were told they could have no more children. Heartbroken over a stillbirth, my mother implored my father to have them become foster parents. To infants and only infants – and there were plenty, as this was pre Roe vs Wade and there were many newborns in need of temporary care – and a real need for babies of color.  (What’s important to understand here is that my parents were the only foster parents in our county that would ‘accept’ babies of color).

Once my parents were vetted as fitting foster parents, my sister and I in were moved in together, to empty a bedroom that would become the nursery. They decorated and furnished the room,  fully aware what infants would need.  Also fully expecting sleepless nights and multiple feedings, colic and diaper rash.

What they did not expect was the bigotry and hatred that would become a part of our daily lives.  My mother’s only thought was to fill their hearts with the newborns they could no longer have themselves.

At age seven I first heard my mother called a ‘n’ lover by a stranger as she pushed a baby carriage through a department store. By eight I had heard her called ‘foster Mammy’ so many times I thought it was a term of endearment by the neighbors .. and by nine a school bus driver forced my brother and I to sit at the back of the bus.  “(If we wanted so bad to be ‘one of them’, we could sit where they should sit).”

All I knew is that these were my temporary baby brothers and sisters – that I helped feed and bathe, hold and play with. I felt the excitement every time the social worker laid a fresh new baby in my mother’s arms and shared the tears when months later they took them away to meet their newly adopted parents. I saw my parent’s hearts filled and broken dozens of times over the next few years, simultaneously creating a purpose and peace.

For my siblings and myself however, it created chaos. There were countless days of running off the school bus and into my parents arms..searching for the ‘why’ of the relentless harassment.

In their quiet way my parents taught us is that we were privileged to have each innocent angel share our home and that in our house we held our heads high and our hearts open.  My parents taught us via the responsibility and the honor of becoming foster parents -and the lessons that came as side effects.

Looking back now as an adult I can see how this all began to chart a road into my adulthood. To becoming an Interpreter and then owning Empire Interpreting Service. My love of people, always seeing it from the perspective that everyone was, in the beginning, an innocence – placed in a mother’s arms. And the lesson taught of respecting  other cultures/values and the ability to truly see that everyone deserves to ‘have a dream’… starting in the nursery.

 

 

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