February 14, 2020
In honor of Black History Month, let’s take a moment to celebrate some remarkable people of color who have become an inspiration to all races. In addition to leaving a legacy, they have something else in common: they were all raised by foster or adoptive parents.
Born into slavery, George Washington Carver was orphaned as an infant, rescued, and, after the abolition of slavery, was raised by foster parents who encouraged him to read, write and become a scientist. Carver is most known for his work on alternative crops for poor farmers, such as sweet potatoes and peanuts. He famously developed more than 300 uses for peanuts, from ink to hand lotion to cooking oil. In 1943, his birthplace was declared a national monument, the first United States memorial dedicated to an African American.
Dorothy Lavinia Brown was placed in an orphanage by her mother when she was 5 months old. She remained there until she was 12, when her mother returned and tried to persuade the young girl to live with her again. However, she ran away multiple times, and returned to the orphanage each time. At the age of 15, she ran away to enroll at Troy High School. When the principal of the school learned she didn’t have anywhere to stay, he arranged a foster home for her. Her foster parents became her source of security, support, and values. In 1948, she became the first African American woman appointed to a general surgery residency in the racially segregated South. In 1956, she became the first unmarried woman in Tennessee authorized to be an adoptive parent. In 1966, she became the first black female representative to the state legislature in Tennessee.
Robert Hayden was an acclaimed American poet. At the age of 2, he was left with a foster family next door. As a noticeably small child with poor vision, he was often socially isolated. He found comfort in literature and developed interests in fiction and poetry. In 1976, he became the first black US Poet Laureate. One of Hayden’s most well-known poems is “Those Winter Sundays,” a reflection of his love for his foster father and the sacrifices parents make for their children.
Long before he became one of America’s most influential blues musicians, Bo Diddley was adopted at a young age by his mother’s cousin. Even as a child, he excelled at trombone and violin, but what really intrigued him was the pulsating rhythms he heard in his Pentecostal church. In 1940, he picked up his first guitar and forever changed the world of music. Nicknamed “The Originator,” he would go on to release nearly 40 records and be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.
Academy Award, Grammy, and Golden Globe winner Jamie Foxx was born in Texas and raised by adoptive parents. From a young age, Jamie Foxx never went without the love and support of a mother or father, but it wasn’t the typical mother/father dynamic. He was put into the care of his grandparents as an infant, and he attributes much of his success to the love, care and encouragement of his grandmother.
Alonzo Mourning is a seven-time NBA All-Star who played professional basketball for 15 years. When Alonzo was 10 years old, his home life became unstable. His parents’ relationship was tumultuous, and they eventually divorced. After the divorce, it was arranged for him to live in the foster home of a family friend. With his foster mother’s guidance and encouragement, Alonzo led his high school basketball team to the state championship, played college ball for Georgetown, was drafted into the NBA, and played alongside the Dream Team in the 2000 Olympics. Alonzo says of his foster mother, “Her message was always, ‘You can do it.’ She is very loving, just amazing!” In 1997, he started his own charity, Alonzo Mourning Charities, Inc., as a way to help at-risk children and families.
Sherrie Martinez, Contributor
Sherrie is an Administrative Assistant at Koinonia’s Corporate Office in Loomis, California. Her favorite pastimes are hanging out with her family and friends, movies, butterfly watching, and getaways to the ocean. She has worked for Koinonia for 22 years, and what she loves most is their mission & values and the family-like atmosphere at the Corporate Office.