Race, Adoption, Addiction. The Three Things That Helped This Woman Find Her Identity

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Adoption is a major life-changing issue. When you meet families in the US who have adopted children from other countries (think Angelina Jolie or Madonna) or who adopt interracially, it seems like a perfectly normal and noble thing to do. But it wasn’t that long ago here in the States that adopted across racial lines was not only illegal, it was seen as a barrier to a child truly finding their identity and being loved in a way only their own race could offer.

The University of Oregan published a study in 2012 where they examined interracial adoption laws in various countries, and also outlined how a Supreme Court Case in Virginia in 1967 ruled that the ban on interracial adoption was unconstitutional. It was a landmark decision, especially given the Civil Rights Movement happening at the time.

However there were still many states who did not allow this type of adoption. Fast forward twenty years where a case in California in 1983 would change the state adoption rules from a landmark case that came before the Senate. Tameka Jacobs is the woman at the center of this remarkable story who is now using her voice to share her experience in the hope that it will bring to light an issue about adoption that is important. It might be important for some who have been adopted to start a family tree to figure out their heritage. I heard from a friend that it was useful for her to retrace her DNA.

Tameka was born an an addict baby to a biological mother who was high at the time of giving birth to her. When she was discovered by neighbors who heard the screaming baby, she was taken into foster care by a white woman, Mary Brown. By the time Tameka was 3 years old, she was embroiled in a heavily publicized custody case. Mary wanted to adopt Tameka, but the law did not allow an interracial adoption in California.

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Mary spent years in court and before the US Senate arguing why interracial adoption would not harm a child, but in the end did not win her battle. Tameka eventually ended up being adopted by an African-American family. The story made headline news where a young Tameka could be seen being escorted away by social services and police from the home of Mary Brown.

Years later she went on a journey to discover her family background and found incredible information which culminated in a surprise reunion on a popular talk show. After her adopted father died recently from cancer, Tameka decided to do some more digging through his papers and found out even more information about her interracial adoption case that she never knew about. Today she is telling that story in a book called ‘Bring Jenny Home’ in the hope that many other adoption cases fueled by race and color lines will be discussed out in the open.

‘Bring Jenny Home’ is a story told through a timeline of newspapers, therapists and psychologists’ notes, medical records, interviews, and most importantly life experience and memory.

“There is a very serious and real side of the book. Many adopted kids put themselves in less than desirable situations in life because that’s where we feel we belong. Same goes for people with low self esteem, or for people who are abused. You start to believe that you’re not going to amount to much. I thought about the ‘vibe’ of this book and wanted to give you a clearer idea. ‘Bring Jenny Home’ is a good mixture of the movies ‘Losing Isaiah’, ‘Precious’, and ‘The Blind Side’. You have the struggle of a racially charged adoption, followed by recovery phase that takes you to a place of support and positive growth,” says Tameka on her crowd-funding page for her book.

Her story in 30 years in the making, and we had a chance to ask her some questions in the lead up to her release.

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Before we get into your incredible story, tell us what you do and a bit about your career background as a model, actress, host etc?

I’m originally from the Bay Area where I got my start in entertainment on Clear Channels KYLD morning radio show. I’ve been living in the LA area for around 12 years now and still very active in the entertainment world. Most people know me from NBC’s ‘Deal or No Deal’ as one of the suitcase models. Other than that I’ve been in tons of runway shows, print ads, and television commercials. I had a good run in the music video world as well.

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Your story of adoption, race and finding out about your birth mother has been featured in People magazine, on some major news stations and even told on the Montel Williams show. Now you are writing a book. Tell us about your Kickstarter and the book?

I’m trying to raise funds so finish what I’ve started. I am by no means a writer so I’ve been working with an amazing creative team to help me organize what I have written and add in all the real life issues. Since this is a book about a true story dealing with law, I’ve had lawyers come in to help make sense of all the paper work I uncovered. Also, they’ll help prevent me from getting sued! When you visit the site you can see all sorts of videos about this journey and really get an idea of just how long I’ve been working on this.

The book will discuss the high profile adoption case I was involved in but what is more important to me is the message that we need to take a second look at the adoption system. There’s so much fear of adoption, I feel as if my experience can help others understand the adoptee better.

You say in your campaign that this isn’t just any ordinary adoption story, what do you mean by that?

I don’t want people to think this book is only about adoption. The scenarios I put myself in happen to kids of all types who are struggling to find themselves. It’s not just a book about adoption; it’s about finding out that you have control of your life. It’s about realizing the person you’re trying to be is most of the time exactly who you were as a child and finding your way back.

While there are many cases of adoption happening each year, yours was a ground-breaking case. Can you tell us why it was one of those that changed the face of adoption in America?

Many cases helped change the face of adoption in America. I think mine was different because it happened so late in the game. People were already adopting across color lines. For a foster mother to lose a child she had cared for for so long didn’t make any sense to anyone. My case changed rules for foster care. Protecting foster moms, giving them a right to a trial if they believe a child is being removed from their care for unlawful reasons.

However there is a twist in my case that was never made public. And that is why I’m writing this book, you’ll have to wait and see.

After your father died recently, you went through his belongings and found even more information about your adoption by the couple you ended up with. What were some of the most surprising things you discovered about yourself?

I found it crazy that while I’ve been struggling with discovering what has been making me break out with eczema the answer has been in those files all these years. Blows my mind. Did no one read this stuff? Also just the fact that someone else you’ve never really known knows something so personal about you.

I was shocked to read all the paperwork describing me as strong willed, I was a brave strong little girl. They said I didn’t like to play with kids that cried or showed weakness. I wanted to play with the tougher kids.

A lot of your story sounds like a journey to discovering your identity. How do you think it has shaped your life today?

I’ve lived more life than anyone I’ve ever met. I feel as if I’ve been given this amazing insight. I have an amazing idea of family, loyalty, and the power of choosing.

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(To read the full People Magazine article click here.)

One thing you mentioned was that the personality traits you have today were exhibited when you were younger which you found in your dads paperwork. What do you think this means for others who are struggling to find their identity?

I think it means we are who we want to be already from a young age, it’s just about finding it underneath all of the ash and rubble. People are more resilient than they think or could even imagine.

You went on the Montel Williams show and met some of your biological sisters and your birth mother for the first time. Was that painful or positive for you?

It was a positive experience for sure! That’s when I truly realized I had to start making better decisions in my life. Two Weeks after the show I moved to LA. I wanted to be in entertainment and it wasn’t going to happen in the Bay Area. Anything I knew I wanted I made better moves and decisions that could lead me to that place. Also, that day Montel introduced me to his agent. She reinforced the dream for me. Go to LA.

Tell us about your birth mother and how she brought you into the world?

I really don’t know much about her other than the fact she was an addict and a user.

What do you hope people reading your story will learn from reading it?

I hope people realize that the hard times they’re in will pass. That they deserve better. And not better than what others are providing for them but better than what they’re providing for themselves. I hope people understand children are smart and how you speak to them is how they learn to speak to themselves.

Do you think the tumultuous experiences in your childhood have dictated how you live your life today or has it been motivation to conquer anything?

There is no ‘or’ in this question to me because it has done both. I live stronger and bolder and I walk with a purpose. You can let bad things dictate who you are, as long as your processing of that bad experience points you down the right lane.

What advice do you give to young women who are struggling with their identity today?

Be true to yourself, have a plan of who you want to be then take the steps to get there. Know your worth, and remember we can all be traced back to a King/God. Just remember you are a daughter of a King and should be treated and live as one.

Finally, what makes you a powerful woman?

My patience, the strength in my voice, love, and my un-doubting belief in myself are what make me strong.

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You can find out more about Tameka’s book ‘Bring Jenny Home’ by going to her Kickstarter page, and by watching the video below:


 

2 Comments

  1. Why don’t you know much about your mother? You have meet your biological family. How are your bonds with them- your mother & sisters?

  2. B. Francisco says:

    My grandson was taken from his family when he was 4 mos old & forceably adopted out to two gay men. They had already adopted a sibling group- a little girl & her 3 younger brothers- ages 5,4,3 & 18mos. They are now 14,13,12 & 10. They are of Black nationality. The men are of Hispanic nationality. My grandson is white. My grandson is now 4yrs old. I have not been able to see or visit with my grandson since he was 16mos.
    When my grandson was about 6mos- the men asked me what nationality my grandson was. I don’t know why or why it would matter. He was & is a beautiful baby boy! The men proceeded to state that if he had one drop of black blood in him then he would be considered black. I would like to know why they would be so interested in knowing my grandsons nationality. Like I said before- he is a beautiful child! I do know the older children are of black heritage & the men are of Hispanic heritage. What are your thoughts on this? Why would they even ask a question like that!?

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