Good Intentions: A Story Of Cross-Racial Adoption

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Intro from Jay Allison: This piece was produced as part of the Transom Story Workshop Fall 2015 session. Listen to more pieces from this Story Workshop class here.

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About Good Intentions: A Story Of Cross-Racial Adoption

Someone once told me that if you are comfortable during discussions about race, then nothing important is actually being said. I held that close to heart as I worked on this piece, because I constantly felt uncomfortable, vulnerable and terrified of making mistakes. In fact, the only reason that I dared to do this story at all was because I knew that my classmates had my back. I trusted them to call me out when I made mistakes. And they did. None of those lessons were easy, but they were important.

Even just getting the story off of the ground was a challenge. I spent more than seven hours interviewing Pam and David. Our first conversation went all over the place because I wasn’t really prepared. But, in the end, I think that conversation helped me to gain their trust. Pam and David saw that I was truly interested in all different aspects of their lives and that I would really listen to them.

I knew I had a story, but had trouble voicing it in class. There is basically no action. The story is complicated and nuanced and spans over forty years. It wasn’t until I played the tape of David admitting he used his sons that I felt like my classmates really understood the Purdys. From then on, they encouraged me to do the story, but I still kept hitting roadblocks.

The biggest challenge was that I wasn’t going to be able to interview Pam and David’s adoptive children. Hoãng Steven never responded to my messages and Ron was evasive. Our instructor, Rob, suggested I start looking for a new story. He thought that without the kids’ voices, the story would be too one-sided. In a way, he was right.

However, I decided to use the boys’ refusal to participate as a way to move the story forward. In class, we had listened to brilliant stories that took on their specific form because of limitations that the journalists had faced. But that meant that Pam and David had to carry the story and I had to ask them really tough questions. I kept thinking… what right do I have to challenge how they raised their children? One of my classmates put it this way: you are actually doing them a service by giving them the chance to respond to your criticisms.

The experience was intense. We cried. But Pam and David have an incredible ability to self-reflect and they were willing to do it, with me, in front of the microphone. Afterwards, they told me it was like therapy.

Someone wise told me that Transom gives you a lesson you didn’t know you needed. I didn’t set out to do this kind of piece and it was one of the hardest stories I’ve ever done — not just because of all the challenges, but because I truly had to confront my own white privilege. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without my classmates’ support.

Brenna’s Sonic ID

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The little business card haphazardly pinned up on a bulletin board in my house in Woods Hole read “Preferred Cleaning. Precious Noble Smith.” I started wondering about what Precious sees when she goes into homes to clean — especially all the big, empty homes on Cape Cod. I also liked her name.

Listen to more pieces from this Story Workshop class here.

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