“People speak of hope like it is this delicate, ephemeral thing made of whispers and spider webs. It’s not. Hope has dirt on her face, blood on her knuckles, the grit of cobblestones in her hair, and she just spat out a tooth as she rises for another go.” (Author Unknown)
If you ever want to meet Hope in person, attend an adoption fair. Not one saturated with wagging tales, barks, purrs, and toe beans (although I have no doubt that Hope also pays frequent visits to such events); but one where the eyes of God will follow your steps around a room filled with loud music, crafts, games, one-topping pizza, and a handful of the approximately 114,000 children in America waiting to be chosen by new parents (Duffin). As is the case in the majority of state and national systems, the representation of BIPOC youth is disproportionate. The majority of the children roaming between tables of activities, the dance floor, and conversations with awkward adults are mostly beautiful shades of black and brown.
Caring adults– caseworkers, church groups, sponsoring non-profit members, will have done their best to ensure that the kids have the best time they can on a Saturday filled with the barely disguised gawking of newly certified adoptive parent potentials. Everyone will have done their best, but an adoption fair is an adoption fair– and everyone knows it. Every kid in that room has experienced trauma. Some have survived it better than others. Caseworkers are on hand to answer questions… but how do you sell a kid without making it feel like you are selling a kid? The raw ache of 400+ years of history is palpable.
If you are watching carefully, you will see both Hope and Despair visit the countenance of every child in attendance. They are no respecter of age. You will hear it in the short, protective answers, feel it in the disorganized attention, catch it in the well-rehearsed sales pitch or in the moment deep chocolate brown eyes meet yours and silently ask if you will love them. It is at this moment when you are face to face with accountability that you might ask where God was all the dark days leading up to this one.
Our society has hyperextended the metaphor of dark and light to the extent that in the 1940s when scientists asked both Black and white children which doll they preferred: the Black doll or the white doll, most children, including the Black children, preferred the white. When scientists listed positive and negative words and asked the children to assign the words to each doll, the white doll was “beautiful” and “good,” while the black doll was “ugly” and “bad.” Over the years, updated studies have shown similar results– but with one key difference: Black children’s opinions of themselves are improving. White children’s opinions of their black peers are not (Root Staff, The); furthermore, implicit bias test results indicate that white adults don’t necessarily outgrow their bias (Project Implicit).
So, one wonders… What goes through the mind of a white adult walking into a room of vulnerable Black and Brown trauma survivors?
In “God’s Holy Darkness,” the authors flip the narrative on the “light versus dark” motif that pervades our understanding of “good and bad,” a motif that has had profound influence on how we understand the construct of race in this country. In their book, the authors remind their audience that God is and has always been with us in the darkness– creating, defending, liberating.
When prospective parents with white skin walk into a room filled with dark-skinned children, do they see them as children in need of saving from their dark existence? Of being rescued into whiteness? Or, do they see children who have endured a 1,000 dark nights of pain, not because God was absent, but because God was present, holding each child close, counting out the stars like mustard seeds until Hope takes hold.
If you are at an adoption event and want to truly experience Hope that will break your heart, you will let your eyes rest on the table where most of the older boys have gathered. Boys that are 15, 16, 17 years old… their backs are mostly turned against the happenings of the day– they know that they are literally the last option on almost every potential parent’s list. Some of them have spent almost their whole lives in care of the state– moving from home to home– 5, 10, 15, for some, even 20 sets of rules, boundaries, expectations, and consequences, family menus, entertainment choices, schools… etcetera.
But here is what is unique. This is the table where Hope resides. These boys are gathered around her like she is a bonfire on a windy beach.
In the foster care system, kids are given the option to opt out of waiting for parents to choose them at the age of fourteen. At fourteen, they can choose to independently age out of the system. At fourteen, they can choose to opt out of the hassle of an adoption event curated for younger children and the wounds of rejection that will almost certainly accompany it.
But the boys are at the table. Clean shaven and audaciously daring to hope that they are worthy of being chosen; that someone in the world still wants to call them “son.” The sadness that washes across this small space in the large room is palpable and dark– like loam waiting for Spring in the garden. But this is also the table where Hope resides– eyes flashing beams of confidence into the dark– Spring is awakening even as she cracks a joke and the boys lean in around the table and laugh.
By Naphtali Renshaw
Duffin, Erin. “Foster care in the U.S. – number of children waiting for adoption 2021.” Statista, 7 December 2022, https://www.statista.com/statistics/255375/number-of-children-waiting-to-be-adopted-in-the-united-states/. Accessed 13 February 2023.
Project Implicit. Take a Test, https://implicit.harvard.edu/. Accessed 21 February 2023.
Root Staff, The. “The Doll Test for Racial Self-Hate: Did It Ever Make Sense?” The Root, 17 May 2014, https://www.theroot.com/the-doll-test-for-racial-self-hate-did-it-ever-make-se-1790875716. Accessed 21 February 2023.