AFAAD Minnesota Chapter Update
While attending AFAAD´s 2008 inaugural Gathering in Oakland, California, Minnesotans Shannon Gibney and Michelle K. Johnson committed to bring together adult adoptees back home in Minnesota with the possibility of becoming AFAAD’s first state chapter. True to their word, AFAAD Minnesota’s formal establishment is in the works!
The Minnesota AFAAD´s group averages five to seven people in person, with a listserv of approximately 25. In the summer of 2009 Michelle hosted a dinner at Midtown Global Market with Lisa Marie Rollins, AFAAD founder, and former AFAAD founding board member John Raible – both of whom were in town presenting at the Theater of the Oppressed Conference. This led to AFAAD Minnesota’s first official chapter meeting on July 14th, 2009, followed by Shannon hosting the chapter´s second meeting in her home August 18th, 2009. In early 2010 Michelle started off the year by welcoming folks to her community room January 30th for the third meeting, with Robert O’Connor organizing a February 27th Meeting at Metro State University’s Dayton’s Bluff Library.
On January 17th Lisa Marie Rollins—on behalf of AFAAD´s national board— asked Minnesota to consider hosting November 2010´s Gathering. The Minnesotans voted to move ahead with considering the opportunity in earnest by developing a core working group of three (Michelle, Robert & Sam Cooke), and requesting the information they would need from AFAAD national in order to fully commit to such an exciting role so early in their development (articles of incorporation, membership fee structure, budgets and other materials from 2008 & 2009 and three board members to serve on committees). AFAAD Minnesota’s next meeting is tentatively scheduled for April 17th.
Minnesota group members are engaged on many personal and professional projects relating to adoption, foster care, and community building. Haiti remains central in their thoughts at this time; below follows a sampling of a just a few of the efforts Minnesotan AFAAD members are leading. We look forward to highlighting more of AFAAD Minnesota’s collective efforts in the months and years to come!
Robert and Michelle serve on the Advisory Committee for Adoptees Have Answers (AHA!) managed by MN Adoption Resource Network in Minneapolis (MARN). The Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) attained stimulus money for this first national project with a program run solely by adult adoptees for adoptees. The program officially launches in April. Michelle and Robert will be presenting webinars over the next year, and Michelle will be featured on film via website representing the Africana community. Robert will present a webinar for MARN March 26th called “Great Ideas for Increasing Biculturalism in Transracial Families,” and continues as a training and technical assistant for the National Resource Center for Adoption. Sam is a very active and engaged board member of Sabathani Community Center in South Minneapolis. Housed in a former junior high school, over 40 agencies serve more than 23,000 Minneapolis residents annually.
Michelle initially traveled to Haiti in 2003 to pick up her first of 5 nieces and nephews and continues to stay connected to “Haiti in Our Hearts,” a summer camp she first spoke at in 1991. Since the 2010 earthquake, Michelle also welcomed twin nieces to her New York family. They arrived on the fourth plane post-earthquake, after first being selected for adoption in 2007.
In addition to her deep personal connections to Haiti, Michelle has supports Haiti through Feed My Starving Children food packing and fundraising events, sponsoring individual children as well as a family each year. She also participates on the Black Family Summit (BFS) Special Task Force on the Preservation of Haitian Families. Since the early 2010 earthquakes, black administrators in child welfare, black agency directors, Association of Black Social Workers and Psychiatrists members and other concerned citizens have been holding Sunday conference calls discussing best ways to support Haiti’s community rebuilding efforts. BFS held a press conference February 3rd at the National Press Club in DC outlining their Declaration of Intent that included:
- Prioritizing supporting family preservation (assisting displaced families to stay together as housing and infrastructure is rebuilt)
- Family reunification (assisting families separated from their children in being reunited, as well as locating relatives first in Haiti, then those living outside the country adequate time to claim their children before other avenues are sought), and
- Ultimately investigating international agencies to place children if the first two avenues do not result in finding placements for all children in need.
Michelle has continued to represent AFAAD’s position in opposition to this third option. She is now co-leading a BFS work group to compile research and successful culturally competent models of social work practice in the US, Afrocentric models from the Diaspora, and best practices by Haitians for Haitians in orphanages and existing adoption agencies to influence an appropriate Haitian action plan for BFS. The other two work groups are 1) The Oasis Institute—a proposal by a Haitian man who grew up outside the orphanage system who wants to start a school for displaced children—led by Toni Oliver, Executive Director of Roots Adoption Agency in Atlanta, and organizer of the National Association of Black Social Worker’s Adoption Exchange at each annual conference, and 2) Black Adoption Agencies, led by Ruth Amerson of Another Choice for Black Children Adoption Agency in Charlotte. Conference calls continue every other Sunday night with alternating weeks for work groups to meet. Any AFAAD member who has articles, ideas or Haitian/American people you think should be involved in this group, please contact Michelle ASAP via email: meeshahjaye(at)gmail(dot)com.