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Extra Special Juneteenth (Thank you Ms. Opal!)

The Juneteenth Festival this weekend will be a special celebration, both here in Fort Worth and nationally. A signing ceremony in the East Wing of the White House made Juneteenth, the 19th of June, a National Holiday. Words cannot express the joy and pride I felt as I watched President Biden sign the bill and hand a pen to our beloved Ms. Opal. Many prayers have been answered. Let the celebration begin!

Tuesday, the Senate unanimously passed the bill and sent it over to the House where it passed with bipartisan support on Wednesday. I’m at Opal’s Farm all day so I didn’t here of the passage until last night’s 10 o’clock news. I never call anyone after 10:00 PM (I was taught a call after 10:00 better involve blood or it was completely socially unacceptable), but I had to call Ms. Opal right away. “You did it”, I cried.

“No, WE did it”, she said. “There have been so many people along the way who made this happen”.

I wouldn’t have expected any other answer. That’s the kind of person she is. I’ve learned much about true humility from Ms. Opal, but she earned the title “Mother of Juneteenth” from her many years of persistence and dedication to a vision. Many others worked to make this day a reality, but it was a “little old lady in white tennis shoes that gets in everybody’s business” (her description, not mine) that blazed the path forward.

She personifies Juneteenth. That’s why the holiday has come to mean so much to me. Her constant reminder that “no one’s free until we all are free” echoes through all we do at Unity Unlimited, Inc. and Opal’s Farm. I’m amazed and proud I get to be a part of it all.

I’ve had the honor and privilege of serving as the Farm Manager for Opal’s Farm for the last three years. I’ve listened to the stories and the history that I never knew. One story has always stood out. On Juneteenth, 1929, when she was only twelve years old, her family home was burned down by a white mob upset by a Black family moving into their neighborhood. I’d heard the story through media reports, but it was Ms. Opal who told me the one detail that had the greatest impact on me. She told me she decided that day so long ago “that I was going to hate what they did, but I wasn’t going to hate them” (the white mob).

That a twelve-year-old girl could have that spirit of love and forgiveness was astonishing to me. It makes perfect sense when you see her today. I’ve learned more about loving and forgiving others in the last three years than I did in the previous fifty!

Ms. Opal, I’m so proud to be a small, small part of your journey. Thank you for all you have done – not just for me, but for all of us. I’ve prayed diligently for this day. To see you honored in the East Wing of the White House by President Biden, Vice-President Harris, and so many members of Congress was the

was an honor to know, love, and be loved by you. It still doesn’t make my heart swell as much as when you said you were my grandmother too!

That being said…

Opal’s Farm will not be a Cowtown Farmers Market this weekend. We’ll be with Unity Unlimited, Inc., Ms. Opal, and hundreds of others for an extra special and one-of-a-kind celebration. Please join us at 10:00 AM for our walk with Ms. Opal from Evans Plaza to the Tarrant County Courthouse. The celebration continues with the I Am Juneteenth Festival at Panther Island Pavilion beginning at 3:00 PM and followed by fireworks at 9 PM. What a better way to begin celebrating freedom for us all.

Image: President Joe Biden hands a pen to Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., after signing the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, in the East Room of the White House on June 17, 2021.
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Are You My Mother?

I was perusing my email Saturday and a headline caught my attention – “Woman discovers star of favorite childhood TV show is her long-lost birth mother”. It was a beautiful story about a 54-year-old woman who found her birth mother through one of the DNA testing services – Woman discovers star of favorite childhood TV show is her long lost birth mother – Upworthy. Another feel-good story that went viral….

I’m adopted. I often think about my birth mother. It doesn’t diminish the love I have for my adopted parents. I couldn’t have asked for a better mom and dad (and they were my Mom and Dad). I’d just like to know where I come from. Do I have siblings? What is (or at my age, was) my mother like? Does she ever think of me? Is the profile the adoption agency gave my parents even true?  A recent NPR/Think interview with Gabrielle Glaser, the author of American Baby: A Mother, A child, and the History of Adoption, casts doubt on the adoption process during the post-war Baby Boom years.

I get all stoked up to find my own birth mother every time I hear of miraculous reunions of birth families. It quickly ends up on the back burner and is soon forgotten. The desire to know about my birth mother is real but, if I’m to be honest, is also terrifying. What if she was glad to send me away? Would she even want to meet me? Would it be too traumatic for her? Am I uncovering things best left buried? The list of questions goes on and on.

I’m told by those closest to me and, most importantly, by someone who has given up a child for adoption, that not a day goes by that the child is not thought of. I’d like to think that is the case with my birth mother. Like the story that caught my eye, I’d like to think that my birth aunts, uncles, cousins, and siblings have been looking for me; that I’d be welcomed with open arms. It’s a great fantasy, but reality can have a far different result. They are more likely to be somewhat apprehensive of someone claiming to be a long-lost family member. It would be for me.

The search for “bio-mom” didn’t feel right when my mom and dad were alive. They had provided me with the personality profile of my birth parents that was given to them at the time of my adoption. That should be enough. I didn’t want to cause them harm or unnecessary anxiety. That was more in my head than theirs. Several years before Mom died, she asked me why I hadn’t tried to find my birth mother. She let me know that it was perfectly fine with her. She wasn’t offended or stressed out. It would be perfectly natural to be curious. I’m good at offering excuses – adoption searches are costly financially, mentally, and time wise. Besides, I’m too busy right?

The quest became more important after my son Jeremy died last May. Jeremy was always frustrated that I wasn’t diligently searching for my birth mother. He wanted to know more of my past than I did. He loved his grandparents but never hesitated to remind me that we weren’t blood related. He wasn’t content knowing we were supposedly of Irish and Scottish descent. He wanted to know who we really were. Maybe it would answer other questions too like the addictions and depression that lived in our little family.

I’ve thought about this a lot over the last year. I joined Ancestry.com a few months back. Jeremy always reminded me how meaningless it was to look at the Joel family tree – it simply wasn’t us. So last year’s birthday present to myself was a DNA test.

It wasn’t unexpected when DNA matches began to arrive. We’re far more connected and similar to other folks than we’d like to think. We share 99.9% of our DNA with other human beings. The .1% sure seems to cause big problems for such a small percentage, but that’s another story…

I have a plethora of 3rd, 4th, 5th, and so forth cousins. You get the picture. There have only been three close family matches so far. I ventured messages to each, but I’ve never received a response. I’m not sure how to process that. It’s early in the journey so I’ll let it slide for now.

I’m finally stepping out Jeremy. Your brother and the three grandkids will keep me on task. So, this is how it begins…

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Courage

“Better is possible… if we care enough to walk away from what was and brave enough to build something new.” – Seth Godin

Yesterday’s guilty verdict was a step in the right direction – moving away from what has always been. It took courage to take the first step. It took courageous prosecutors, jurors, the Floyd family, and countless protesters to shine a light in the darkness of America’s racism. Yet the question remains – where do we go from here?

We are always asking that question at Unity Unlimited, Inc. and Opal’s Farm. One step we can take together is to go to http://www.opalswalk2dc.com and sign the petition for a Juneteenth Federal holiday.

Ms. Opal – the Grandmother of Juneteenth – constantly reminds us that “no one is free until all of us are free”. Juneteenth is not only the celebration of freedom for black Americans. It offers us all freedom from racism, injustice, and bondage to old ideas – no matter the color of one’s skin.

Celebrate freedom and unity. Sign the petition today.

Remember – It takes even more courage to move farther down the path toward racial justice.

Be courageous and be the change.

Send another 1.5 million petition signatures to Congress

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Murals and Toads…

It’s been busy the last few days. Spring planting is in full swing at the farm. New areas are being plowed and tilled making for a full acre expansion to Opal’s Farm. Meetings, continuing education classes, and discussion groups have filled my evening schedule. It’s all good stuff, mind you, but then the rain came…

Work is great therapy, but eventually the rain comes. It slows me down long enough for my mind to wander into places I’d rather not visit. Unfortunately, I must. It’s part of the grieving process. I only mention it because I got a text today that Jeremy’s mural at Manana Land will be taken down at the first of April. It’s to be replaced by one of Deborah Peoples, a local candidate for Mayor, to encourage folks to vote. A worthy replacement most times – getting out the vote, even in local elections, is a great endeavor – but not so much right now. I simply don’t want to let go.

Jay Wilkinson’s mural of Jeremy at Hop Fusion Brewery is the one I spend the most time visiting. Jay was Jeremy’s long-time friend and art partner. It means more to me a Jay wasted no time in getting the mural done. It was an incredible effort by someone who knew Jeremy well and painted as such. Still, I drive by the one at Manana Land on the way home some days and wave hello to my son. I won’t be able to do that much longer.

I didn’t want to hear that right now. I’ve been a ball of feelings the last couple of weeks. I’m not even sure how to label them as they change so rapidly. Grief is like that. I’d love to define them and to put them into words, but everything seems to fall short – shallow and meaningless.

The other day I was out at the farm. Roman, our Volunteer Coordinator was out there with me. He tilled one last row before he headed on to other obligations. I stayed behind to seed the newly turned soil. About halfway down the row I saw a toad that had been hit on the shoulder (do frogs have shoulders?) and was bleeding. I took him to the side of the bed and put him in a cool shady spot to rest. When it occurred to me that it might be a fatal wound I began to sob uncontrollably – over a dying toad.

It seemed like it the weeping would never end. What was wrong with me? “It’s a damn frog Greg! Get over it. It’s part of farming, right? He didn’t mean to hurt it. It was an accident.”

I don’t when it happened but suddenly, I realized that the tears weren’t only for some old frog. They were for my son. They were for the folks in line at the food bank up the street. They were for all the broken people in a broken world that no one sees nor tries to help.

They were for George Floyd, for Breonna Taylor, for Armaud Aubery, for Tamir Rice, and the list goes on and on and on.

They were for the 500,000 plus people that have died from COVID and the over 81,000 people that died from overdoses in the wear prior to May 2020. The tears were over the families of those lost – the fathers and mothers that lie awake at night, tears rolling down their cheeks, asking God why – why their child, their parent, their brother, or sister.

They were for Sandy Hook, for Columbine, for Parkland and all the schools, places of worship, or public spaces where mass shootings have taken so many.

All of that because of a bleeding Texas Toad…

Sometimes I simply need to let go, to cry it out, and even question the God, the Abba, who loves me more than I can possibly imagine. Why’d you let it get this way? Why, why, why? “My God, why have you forsaken us?

My sobbing eased and the tears began to slow. I slowly gathered myself together and resumed planting. The smell of freshly turned soil filled the air around me. The sun felt a little brighter and warmer. I remembered the days Jeremy came out and worked with me. God, I miss that, but at least I have that memory. My grandkids will soon be out here more when school is out and I get to see Jeremy in them.

My sadness and anger had passed. God didn’t make or let any of this happen. We did. Perhaps that’s where the anger comes from. I’m not doubting God as much as I’m doubting myself and doubting people. People let us all down at some point. That’s what all humans do. No one’s perfect, right?

Then I remember all the people I’ve met along the way that work diligently, often with little or no reward, to make our community a better place. I have faith God will set all things right one day. I dream of the promised “new heaven and new Earth”, but what’s my part today? God can create universes. I’m sure He could straighten this earthly mess out right away, but He invites me to be a part of the solution. He reminds me that we can do this so just do it…

We must use our lives to make the world a better place to live, not just to acquire things. That is what we are put on the earth for. Solitude with God repairs the damage done by the fret and noise and clamour of the world.”

– Dolores Huerta

I looked back on saw that everything had been planted before the forecasted rain for the next day. I felt strong, no longer defeated, and hopeful. My tears washed away the frustration and grief that had been building up inside. Now I had a little more clarity. Vision returned. All of this because of an old toad…

I walked back to where I had laid the toad. He wasn’t there but I could see a place where he’d burrowed into the planting bed. Maybe it wasn’t a fatal wound after all. He may end up scarred like me, but we’d both be out there doing out part at the farm. That’s all we can do…

Photo by Lucas van Oort on Unsplash

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“There are sufficient resources in the world for the needs of everybody, but not enough for the greed of even a significant minority.”- Millard Fuller, The Theology of the Hammer (1994)

God has taught me the true definition of enough. Let us labor together to provide enough for everyone…

Photo by Alexander Schimmeck on Unsplash