We asked a gay dad what 'family' meant to him. This is the story he told.

Fred Swanson always knew he wanted children, but how that was going to happen was a giant question mark.

"One of the biggest struggles for me in coming out was not having clarity on how I would have kids," Swanson says.

Swanson is gay and came out in the 1990s. At the time, he says, there weren't many models of gay men having kids of their own. Furthermore, there were several legal roadblocks for same-sex couples. Many states banned gay parents from adopting or fostering children. Even as recent as 2016, the state of Mississippi had a ban on same-sex couple adoption.


Then in 2003, a chance meeting online brought Adam Diamond into Swanson's life.

Swanson (left) and Diamond. Photo courtesy of Fred Swanson.

The two began dating, and as their relationship grew more serious, they started planning a future together. Both men were invested in having kids. Swanson had the idea to foster kids then eventually adopt.

Foster care and adoption made sense to the couple; they saw it as a way to show up for another human being.

When people talk about foster care, it often falls into a kind of savior narrative, Swanson says, but that's not the story of their family. People all over the world help each other out — Swanson and Diamond were just fortunate enough that the way they could help was to open their home to their kids.

"When someone needs a hand, you step up and you try to help out," Swanson says.

There are about 420,000 kids in foster care in the United States at any given time and those kids are disproportionately LGBTQ or black. Those are the numbers that motivated the couple to start working in 2008 with Amara, a Seattle foster care support organization, to prepare to welcome a child into their life. They left their too-cramped-for-kids home in Seattle and bought a house in Burien, a suburb about 20 minutes south.

In 2009, they welcomed 3-year-old Jaylen into their home.

But just as Jaylen was about to move in, Swanson and Diamond got a surprise. Jaylen's mom had just given birth to a newborn baby, Jaylen's little sister Jade, and wasn't going to be able to care for her. The question came up: Would Swanson and Diamond be interested in fostering a newborn as well?

It was a bit of a shock. "Neither Adam nor I had imagined that a newborn baby was going to be part of our plan," Swanson says.

Yet, two days later, they were driving down to Tacoma to pick up Jade.

"That was both exhilarating and also terrifying," Swanson says. Adding two kids, including a newborn, to their family was tremendous and sometimes overwhelming but joyful for the new parents. And, as Swanson points out, it's hard to not fall in love with a newborn baby. The couple officially adopted Jaylen in 2010 and Jade in 2014.

Over the years, their family has grown in love and size. A third child, Noah, arrived in 2012 and was adopted in 2015. There have been a few small challenges, of course, some around being LGBTQ parents — a little teasing at school (which has since stopped) and some ire at the Boy Scouts.

For the most part they're a happy, healthy family unit. Their house is full of toys. Swanson is "Daddy," and Diamond is "Aba," the Hebrew word for father. It's a life of fidget spinners and roller-rink birthday parties.

Having a family has redefined Swanson's relationship with the world.

Clockwise from top left: Fred ("Daddy"), Adam ("Aba"), Jaylen, Noah, and Jade. Photo courtesy of Fred Swanson.

It's changed his relationship with the future. "Creating a just and equitable world for my kids is different than creating that for myself," he says.

He's proud of the family he's built along with Diamond — a happy, healthy, and, yes, LGBTQ one.

Most of all, it's reaffirmed his feeling that the most important thing we can do is simply to reach out and support each other. "It really starts with 'how do I show up for you as a human and what do you need?'" Swanson says. "Parenting is a big piece of that."

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Harriet Tubman was the best known "conductor" on the Underground Railroad, a network of safe houses that helped thousands of enslaved black Americans make their way to freedom in the north in the early-to-mid 1800s. Tubman herself escaped slavery in 1849, then kept returning to the Underground Railroad, risking her life to help lead others to freedom. She worked as a spy for the Union Army during the Civil War, and after the war dedicated her life to helping formerly enslaved people try to escape poverty.

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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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Young people today are facing what seems to be greater exposure to complex issues like mental health, bullying, and youth violence. As a result, teachers are required to be well-versed in far more than school curriculum to ensure students are prepared to face the world inside and outside of the classroom. Acting as more than teachers, but also mentors, counselors, and cheerleaders, they must be equipped with practical and relevant resources to help their students navigate some of the more complicated social issues – though access to such tools isn't always guaranteed.

Take Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, for example, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years, and as a teacher for seven. Entering the profession, she didn't anticipate how much influence a student's home life could affect her classroom, including "students who lived in foster homes" and "lacked parental support."

Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years.

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."

So what resources do teachers turn to in an increasingly fractured world? "Joining a professional learning network that supports and challenges thinking is one of the most impactful things that a teacher can do to support their own learning," Anglemyer says.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience.

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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