There’s a meme going around the Internet that shows people of different races holding hands, helping each other, hugging each other or rescuing each other in times of trouble. The caption is always “This is America.” For me, that depiction of America has been true for decades. I always start my story with… “I was born on the floor of a mud hut in Sierra Leone, West Africa.” From there, I usually start slowing devolving into a blubbering mass of tears as I think about how I arrived to where I am today.
My mother who had elephantiasis in one of her feet, lost 4 children to the high infant mortality rate, and who was abandoned by her husband was practically disowned by her family because they worried she was cursed and that could rub off on them. So it was her and me, alone against the world. Despite her elephantiasis swollen foot, she walked with me everywhere including the neighboring village where the missionaries lived and went to church. I ran toward the white missionaries while all the other African children ran away in fear. My mother and I fell in love with the missionaries and they fell in love with us. When my mother died they adopted me, loved me and treated me as their own, brought me to the United States and helped me have adventures I could never have dreamed of as a little girl in a mud hut in Sierra Leone, West Africa.
And boy, have I had some great adventures. Award-winning filmmaker Laurel Adler has created a documentary about my life story called Iron Chain Last Hope, giving me the opportunity to talk a bit more in-depth about those adventures. It premiered at the Action on Film International Film Festival in Las Vegas this past week and has garnered 4 award nominations. We’ll find out Saturday if the film has won in any of the nominated categories. We are now making plans to bring it to Los Angeles. As soon as that information is available I will share it.
Adler highlighted the challenges I faced with race growing up in America. I was called “ni**er” plenty of times by some horrible people, and by kids who didn’t know any better. I’ve been stared at for as long as I can remember when out with my white family. I’ve had to make the decision of which group of friends I would eat with in the cafeteria during college… the whites or the blacks? I’ve been followed in stores. But throughout all of these situations I’ve never forgotten that God has blessed me tremendously. I started out my early life in one of the most remote, primitive corners of the world, and yet here I am in the greatest country on God’s green earth. There I would be dead and buried in the bush along with my mother’s legacy. Here I carry on her legacy, living, loving, working, caring for two beautiful boys alongside my husband.
Sometimes I stop and think back with wonder… “How did I get here?” “How is it possible that I am here in this amazing country doing what I’m doing right now?” The thought often overwhelms me. If it wasn’t for the wonderful Kimball missionary family, I would never have made it out of the bush. Because they heard God calling them to translate the New Testament into my tribal group, because they selflessly gave up everything and moved to a country where they were the minority, because they braved being called names while on the mission field, my life was changed forever.
So when I look at race in America from that perspective, getting followed in stores, being called a “ni**er,” not being black enough for some people, and not being white enough for others… none of that phases me anymore. In fact, I’d like to become a bridge between the races. Even though for many of my formative years I felt like a fish out of water, I’d like others to see me now as someone who has experienced the best of both worlds and someone who can help others enjoy the best of both worlds. Because of the love shown me by people who look different than me, I have the ability to love people of all races.
I’ll never be able to hold a whole race of people responsible for the sins of an individual member of that race. Because that has not been my experience. My black African mother, whom I remember quite well, loved me and took care of me even as other members of my own family and tribe abandoned or abused me (I have a giant scar on my arm from a woman who burned me with a hot object straight out of a fire when my mother wasn’t around). My white American family loved me and took care of me even when people of both races let me down in America, and my best friends of both races in school loved me and comforted me when cruel kids, black and white mocked me. I believe those kinds of experiences are the same for so many of us.
In the documentary Iron Chain Last Hope (the meanings of my African middle names) I make the case for people to bridge the gap of racial divide in America based on individuals’ actions, not by what they see on the surface. It’s a familiar message, I know. It’s a message that we as a country need to get back to, because Dr. King and so many others gave up their lives to help us understand how important it is for us to judge people “not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” One beautiful, generous missionary family practiced those values and cared enough about people totally different than them to go and share the Gospel message with them. And they cared enough about a little discarded black-skinned African girl enough to make me a part of their family. When I look at pictures of us and marvel about their loving kindness toward me, I can’t help but think “This is America.”
For speaking engagements or a screening of Iron Chain Last Hope contact Tami DeVine: info @ crowncitynews dot com or call 626.344.8314. Tami has also written the first in her book series also called Iron Chain Last Hope. To help her get it published, please donate to her GoFundMe page.