A sister + a brother, raising their grandnephew: Meet an unconventional family that's thriving.

Sherri James was leading a busy and fulfilling life as the minister of a church when she found herself in a position to answer a second calling.

The 45-year-old self-proclaimed workaholic made the ultimate offer: to become a primary caregiver for her grandnephew, Jordan.

Sherri first met Jordan when he was 13 months old, after she returned to her home state to officiate her uncle's funeral. “I fell in love with [Jordan] immediately," she recalled. “I can remember holding him one night and praying over him."


Sherri and Jordan, enjoying dinner together.

Jordan's mother — Sherri's niece — had untreated mental health issues and was having a hard time caring for Jordan. One day, Sherri's mom called to vent some frustration over potentially needing to become Jordan's caregiver when Sherri said, “What if I take him?"

“The next thing I know, my niece is calling me to ask if Jordan can stay with me for one year while she gets help," Sherri recalled. Sherri agreed, and a short time later, she flew from California to Texas to pick up her 14-month-old grandnephew. Her niece came along to help get Jordan settled in, and then she returned to Texas.

But it soon became apparent that what started off as a short-term plan would need to become more permanent. “When it became obvious that my niece would not get treatment, I petitioned the courts for guardianship and received it," Sherri said. Now 20 months old, Jordan is doing well. But here's where the story gets interesting.

Relatives take in children all the time. But how many end up co-parenting with their sibling? That's right.

Making their situation more unusual, Sherri is co-parenting Jordan with her 37-year-old brother John*.

“I absolutely adore my brother," Sherri said of John. They were close as kids despite their eight-year age difference, and their bond extended into adulthood. John stayed with her during summer breaks while she was in college, and he eventually moved to L.A., where Sherri had moved eight years earlier. After living with her for five years, he moved out in 2008.

But when John decided to stay with Sherri again temporarily last fall, the timing was perfect. Temporary stretched into indefinite because Sherri found John's presence and assistance raising Jordan "essential." She said: "I can't imagine doing this without my brother's help."

Sherri, John, and Jordan are a reminder that families aren't just made up of a mom, a dad, and their biological children. That's not just OK. It's beautiful.

The reality of life is that when a parent finds himself or herself unable to raise their child, there just aren't that many options. Foster care is one, although it's less than ideal. Family care, where a relative steps in to raise the child, is another.

Family care, also called kinship care, is fairly common.

In fact, over 6 million kids are being raised by family members other than their birth parents. In communities all across the country, family members are stepping in and stepping up where they are needed to help care for the children who need it most. These relatives don't always get recognized and rewarded, but they put in the love and work — and millions of children are better for it.

While Sherri functions as the “primary" parent, John's help raising Jordan is invaluable.

When Sherri is unable to take care of Jordan, John steps in. “What's wonderful is how much Jordan loves him," Sherri said. “When he leaves the house, Jordan cries crocodile tears. My brother is truly his BFF. ... I've learned to respect their bond."

The Jameses may have an unconventional family situation, but it works — very well.

While her “new" life is filled with toys, play dates, and diapers, Sherri prefers it. “I feel like I have better balance now with Jordan," she explained. “Before he came, I was a workaholic. But his presence forces me to play outdoors at least once a day. Now, I try to squeeze all my work into the time that he's in day care. And, at 5:30 p.m. when I pick him up, it's party on!"

At the same time, Sherri is very mindful of her niece, the woman whose baby she is raising. “She's not a bad person. She has a mental illness and it negatively impacted how she cared for Jordan," Sherri explained.

“It was not an easy decision to step in and take this baby. The fact that he is thriving now — meaning gained weight, got back on track developmentally — is our consolation that we made the right choice. But it's still hard emotionally."

The popular parenting adage “It takes a village to raise a child" came to mind when Sherri told me about her community's support.

Sherri with her mom and her "spiritual mom," Della Reese.

“I am so grateful for the way my church family has stepped up to help me," she said. One member watches Jordan during services so Sherri can serve as minister. Others have generously given clothing, toys, education resources, and welcome parenting advice.

“I really, really appreciate the way my church family has embraced Jordan and is helping me look after him. They are an enormous blessing."

Sherri may not have intended to become a parent at the exact time it happened or in the way it occurred, but she has a lot in common with most parents.

Like all moms and women raising kids, she wants one thing: what's best for Jordan.

Acknowledging that she and her brother haven't had a discussion yet about their “parenting philosophy," Sherri shared: “Who I am as a parent is still emerging. My primary goal is to protect Jordan's image of himself. I want him to understand himself as a limitless spiritual being and that he can be, do, and have whatever he wants in life."

That probably sounds pretty familiar to those of us who are parents!

And like most parents, she's figuring this parenting gig out as she goes. “I don't consciously know how to teach him that," she added. “So, I pray for guidance each night for the wisdom and humility to do what is best for him."

More
True
Tylenol

Whenever someone's words or behavior are called out as racist, a few predictable responses always follow. One is to see the word "racist" as a vicious personal attack. Two is to vehemently deny that whatever was said or done was racist. And three is to pull out the dictionary definition of racism to prove that the words or behavior weren't racist.

Honestly, as soon as refers to the dictionary when discussing racism, it's clear that person has never delved deeply into trying to understand racism. It's a big old red flag, every time.

I'm not an expert on race relations, but I've spent many years learning from people who are. And I've learned that the reality of racism is nuanced and complex, and resorting to a short dictionary definition completely ignores that fact. The dictionary can't include all of the ways racism manifests in individuals and society, and the limitations of dictionary definitions make it a poor tool for discussing the topic.

Since "racism" is such a loaded term for many people, let's look at such limitations through a different complex word. Let's take "anxiety." According to Merriam-Webster, "anxiety" is defined as "apprehensive uneasiness or nervousness, usually over an impending or anticipated ill."

Now imagine thinking that you understand everything that encompasses anxiety from reading that dictionary definition. Imagine thinking you could recognize the signs of anxiety in someone based on that definition alone. Ridiculous, right? The dictionary doesn't explain that some people's anxiety manifests as anger, even though it does. It doesn't say that anxiety sometimes manifests as withdrawal or aloofness. It doesn't say that you often won't see obvious signs of fear or nervousness in someone experiencing anxiety.

The dictionary doesn't offer anything close to the reality of what anxiety is or looks like. It would be silly to say that someone isn't experiencing anxiety because they're not clearly showing signs of nervousness like the dictionary definition implies. Just as the dictionary definition of anxiety is not comprehensive, neither is the dictionary definition of racism. Yet people keep using it to "prove" that something or someone isn't racist.

Fox News analyst Brit Hume just pulled that trick on Twitter to try to back up his claim that Donald Trump's "go back to" statements to four Congresswomen of color weren't technically racist.


The first Merriam-Webster entry for "racism" reads "a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race."

Merriam-Webster

First of all, I'm not sure how this definition actually makes Trump's statements not racist. A belief is not always conscious, so even assuming that his racism is unconscious, a white man telling four women of color to "go back to" their countries of origin—despite three of them being born in the U.S. and the fourth being a naturalized citizen of the U.S.—is pretty objectively racist. No one knows exactly what is going on in the President's head, but such statements only being made to women of color would certainly be consistent with the behavior of someone with a belief in white people's inherent superiority.

But that simple definition isn't truly definitive, either. Shortly after Hume's tweet, Merriam-Webster pointed out a usage note for the word "racism," which clarifies that dictionaries do not provide the be-all-end-all definition of words.

Anti-racism advocates have tried time and time again to explain that racism is not as straightforward as someone saying, "I think I'm superior to people who don't share my skin color." Racism is almost never that blatant, and yet oodles of Americans refuse to call anything less than that kind of bold statement "racism." We have a long history showing exactly how white supremacy—the origin of racism in the U.S.—exerts itself in both strong and subtle ways, and thousands of hours and pages of education from experts describing how racism works on an individual and societal level. But people still insist on the simplistic narrative of "Racism=hating people of a different race."

I've seen many people, including Brit Hume, argue that the word racism has lost all meaning. Frankly, that's a copout. Racism—as both a conscious or unconscious belief of racial superiority and as a system of racial prejudice blended with power dynamics—has a broader meaning than one person hating another person for the color of their skin. But that doesn't make it meaningless.

I've also seen people complain that "everything is racist these days," but no, it's really not. We simply understand more about racism now, thanks to the field of race studies and to people of color offering their time and energy to explain it, so it's easier to identify in its various forms. In my experience, when someone's understanding of racism reaches a certain stage, they start recognizing it in places where ignorance or unconscious bias may have caused them to miss it in the past. That's not imagining racism where it doesn't exist or "calling everything racist these days"; that's simply seeing reality more clearly.

When you really dive deep into the historical, psychological, and sociological reality of racism in America, it becomes painfully obvious that racism is far more prevalent and enmeshed in our society than most people think. Until defensive, mostly-white folks stop automatically denying racism every time the word is used and stop throwing around dictionaries to avoid having to do that deep dive work, we're not going to make real headway on this issue.

Let's stop pretending that the definition and supposed overuse of the word "racism" is the problem, when the problem is racism, period.

Democracy
Photo by Hunters Race on Unsplash

If you're a woman and you want to be a CEO, you should probably think about changing your name to "Jeffrey" or "Michael." Or possibly even "Michael Jeffreys" or "Jeffrey Michaels."

According to Fortune, last year, more men named Jeffrey and Michael became CEOs of America's top companies than women. A whopping total of one woman became a CEO, while two men named Jeffrey took the title, and two men named Michael moved into the C-suite as well.

The "New CEO Report" for 2018, which looks at new CEOS for the 250 largest S&P 500 companies, found that 23 people were appointed to the position of CEO. Only one of those 23 people was a woman. Michelle Gass, the new CEO of Kohl's, was the lone female on the list.

Keep Reading Show less
popular

California has a housing crisis. Rent is so astronomical, one San Francisco company is offering bunk bedsfor $1,200 a month; Google even pledged$1 billion to help tackle the issue in the Bay Area. But the person who might fix it for good? Kanye West.

The music mogul first announced his plan to build low-income housing on Twitter late last year.

"We're starting a Yeezy architecture arm called Yeezy home. We're looking for architects and industrial designers who want to make the world better," West tweeted.

Keep Reading Show less
Cities

At Trump's 'Social Media Summit' on Thursday, he bizarrely claimed Arnold Schwarzenegger had 'died' and he had witnessed said death. Wait, what?!


He didn't mean it literally - thank God. You can't be too sure! After all, he seemed to think that Frederick Douglass was still alive in February. More recently, he described a world in which the 1770s included airports. His laissez-faire approach to chronology is confusing, to say the least.

Keep Reading Show less
Democracy