“Run!” a familiar voice shouted from the halls of my apartment building.
I turned around; a jolt of adrenaline shot through my eight-year-old body. My mother, clutching my younger sister, ran down the hallway. Several police officers pursued her.
“Run!” she shouted again.
I bolted down the streets with the cops in fast pursuit. The cops tackled my mother to the ground and shoved my sister to the side like a rag doll—she stood screaming, sobbing, and shaking. I kept running, in hopes of losing the police officers. But the cops cornered me in a dead-end ally, took me away from my mother and siblings, and placed me into the foster care system of New York City (NYC).
That was a watershed moment in my life. In one year alone, I attended five different elementary schools and lived in five different foster homes. One night I ran away from a foster home in Brooklyn, rode the NYC Subway for nearly two hours, and showed up at my aunt’s apartment in the Bronx. I longed to be with my siblings, I longed to be with my family.
I ran away so often that the foster care system placed me in a home far away from public transportation. It was only a temporary home, but it was the first time I encountered a male adult in a home. Like most inner-city children, I was raised by a single mom. My father was just a guy who hooked up with my mother one evening. Till this day, our paths have never crossed. And yet, the father of this foster home cared for me and gave me hope. It took hours, but he taught me my multiplication tables using uncooked beans. I remember the joy on my face when I came home with my first passing grade for the first time that year. He just smiled, and I knew what that meant. He was proud.
My time with that family was short-lived. I was placed in another home with my older sister. Immediately, I felt the difference in this home. It wasn’t like past homes, where my only comfort came from the tears that drenched my pillow. The first time I hugged Aida, I felt love. Aida, a single mother, was patient with a troubled young boy who threw tantrums and insisted on his own way. She tucked me into bed when fear overtook me in the late hours of the night. She was faithful and committed to my development. Moreover, she modeled Jesus Christ through her humility and the way she served others. I think it only took me a day to call her mom. When I was 15, Aida legally adopted me.
“Run, Dada, run!”
Nearly twenty years later, I am walking the streets of Bushwick, Brooklyn, holding my two-year-old son’s hand. He stops in his tracks, looks up at me mischievously, and challenges me to a race. He takes off down the street, doing his best to avoid a face plant. I run after him, catch him, and turn around to see my beautiful wife smiling at us. She is holding our 8-month daughter in the sling as we make our way down the street. I pause—not only to reflect on my childhood memories, but also on God’s goodness. I am a proud husband and father because of the many people God brought into my life to help shepherd and give hope to a child who desperately needed it.
And I owe a lot to my biological mother. Thanks to an important decision she made, I’m able to write this story. While I was in foster care, my mother did everything in her power to turn her life around, including attending AA meetings to deal with her alcohol addiction. She completed the program and remained sober for several years.
As a result, the judge granted her permission to take her children back–but she chose not to. Instead, she did the most sacrificial thing a mother could do: she gave me away to Aida. She did this because she knew my life would be better off; she knew that she couldn’t offer the life that would be best for her children. Her decision, although extremely difficult, was the best decision she ever made. Because of it, I not only found a home during my childhood and teenage years, but I also started a family of my own.
There’s a lot in my childhood that I could be angry about. But I don’t want anger to define me. Because the truth is, in my dad’s absence and through my mom’s alcoholism and all my running away, I ran smack into love and sacrifice—and it changed me. And that legacy of love and sacrifice is what I want to pass down to my children, so that they can run all the faster toward the good things of life.