My white parents adopted African-American twins when I was young. This is our story.

I'm white. My adopted brothers are black. This is how their world differs from mine.

In 1969, my white parents adopted twin, 4-month-old African-American and Mexican-American baby boys.

I was born a year later, making us three children under 3 years old. And, boy, were we a handful.

This was just two years after the landmark United States Supreme Court decision invalidating laws prohibiting interracial marriage, and just five short years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed discrimination based on race, forbid racial discrimination in schools, and allowed people of color to drink from the same water fountains as white people.


Many people over the years have asked me what it was like growing up with my African-American brothers as my “real” brothers.

The boring truth is that this was my “normal.” My brothers and I bickered and fought like the close-in-age siblings we were.

Image courtesy of Elena Kennedy.

Our circle of friends included other families who were also interracial. I didn’t even notice at the time that I was the only white kid in my first grade class until years later when I saw my class picture, and there I was  — the only white kid, with a white teacher.

We lived in a pretty progressive town, Montclair, New Jersey. That year, the school system was creating “magnet schools” to help integrate the schools. So while I walked to our neighborhood school, my brothers were bused to the area of town that was primarily white to desegregate and improve integration.

I didn’t really like that my big brothers and I wouldn’t be at the same school. I think, to this day, there are acquaintances of ours that know us separately and don’t put it together that we’re brothers and sister even though we have the same last name.

Although we were being raised in the same family, their experiences were separate and different from mine.

Out in the world, they were being treated differently than I was.

When we went to the same middle school, I remember us walking home together and noticing that one of my brothers said someone was looking at us funny. Billy and Toby would always notice who was looking at us funny, and I never ever noticed.

One time, my brother Billy was chased in a store for taking a shirt off the rack and running back to us to say this was the shirt he wanted our mother to buy. The store clerk followed in hot pursuit, thinking a theft was in progress.

Later, when Billy could drive, I remember him getting stopped by police on the parkway driving home, and the police looked over to the passenger side where my white dad sat and asked if everything was all right. My dad replied: “Yes, my son is just driving us home. Was he speeding?” We knew this was an odd traffic stop because, no, he wasn’t speeding.

Last year, I asked my brother to do me a huge favor and drive my son from New Jersey where we were visiting family to our home in Dayton, Ohio, (where I live now) — a 10-hour drive.

In order to drive my son home, we agreed it would be best to write and sign a letter saying my brother had permission to drive my car and was taking my son home to Ohio and include a picture of my driver’s license in case there was any trouble.

It made all of us feel better to know he had that note. It also made us miserable to write it. And we held our breath the whole way they drove to Ohio and until Billy returned safely back to NYC.

Image courtesy of Elena Kennedy.

My brothers go into the world as African-American men, and the world treats them as African-American men  —  with implicit bias, prejudice, and fear. I go into the world a white woman and I am afforded the benefit of the doubt and second chances.

When I went away to college in Ohio, people were surprised to learn that I grew up with African-American brothers.

“What was it like?” The question stumped me. It was just my normal. I didn’t know anything different to compare it to. Yet, I do know that it’s not everyone’s normal, and in some circumstances, people don’t interact with people of color in their daily lives.

Under different circumstances, I might have been a white person who didn’t regularly interact with people of color. I could have had an understanding of race taken from books, biased news reports, from TV or movies. Instead, I have agonized over my brothers “driving while black,” and I worry for their lives when they come to visit me.

I want to make the world safer and more fair for my family and yours.

Maybe now you’ll speak up when you witness something that seems unjust.

Maybe now you will see an uncomfortable interaction involving a person of color and you’ll think, "What if that were my brother or sister?"

What can you do? You can talk to your friends and neighbors about how you feel about injustices in the world. You can join a racial justice group in your town, your school, or your place of worship.

I am sharing this because I hope my story starts just one constructive conversation today that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

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On an old episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in July 1992, Oprah put her audience through a social experiment that puts racism in a new light. Despite being nearly two decades old, it's as relevant today as ever.

She split the audience members into two groups based on their eye color. Those with brown eyes were given preferential treatment by getting to cut the line and given refreshments while they waited to be seated. Those with blue eyes were made to put on a green collar and wait in a crowd for two hours.

Staff were instructed to be extra polite to brown-eyed people and to discriminate against blue-eyed people. Her guest for that day's show was diversity expert Jane Elliott, who helped set up the experiment and played along, explaining that brown-eyed people were smarter than blue-eyed people.

Watch the video to see how this experiment plays out.

Oprah's Social Experiment on Her Audience www.youtube.com

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Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience, says it can be difficult to create engaging course work that's applicable to the challenges students face. "I think that sometimes, teachers don't know where to begin. Teachers are always looking for ways to make learning in their classrooms more relevant."

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A new program for teachers that offers this network along with other resources is the WE Teachers Program, an initiative developed by Walgreens in partnership with ME to WE and Mental Health America. WE Teachers provides tools and resources, at no cost to teachers, looking for guidance around the social issues related to poverty, youth violence, mental health, bullying, and diversity and inclusion. Through online modules and trainings as well as a digital community, these resources help them address the critical issues their students face.

Jessica Mauritzen, a high school Spanish teacher, credits a network of support for providing her with new opportunities to enrich the learning experience for her students. "This past year was a year of awakening for me and through support… I realized that I was able to teach in a way that built up our community, our school, and our students, and supported them to become young leaders," she says.

With the new WE Teachers program, teachers can learn to identify the tough issues affecting their students, secure the tools needed to address them in a supportive manner, and help students become more socially-conscious, compassionate, and engaged citizens.

It's a potentially life-saving experience for students, and in turn, "a great gift for teachers," says Dr. Sanderlin.

"I wish I had the WE Teachers program when I was a teacher because it provides the online training and resources teachers need to begin to grapple with these critical social issues that plague our students every day," she adds.

In addition to the WE Teachers curriculum, the program features a WE Teachers Award to honor educators who go above and beyond in their classrooms. At least 500 teachers will be recognized and each will receive a $500 Walgreens gift card, which is the average amount teachers spend out-of-pocket on supplies annually. Teachers can be nominated or apply themselves. To learn more about the awards and how to nominate an amazing teacher, or sign up for access to the teacher resources available through WE Teachers, visit walgreens.com/metowe.

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