PHOTOS BY SANDY ARENA
It was Christmas 2007. I had met up with our twins at a Christmas party my 501C3, faith-based dance studio had hosted for mothers in need and their children. They had walked into the party with their younger cousin Shakur and their older sister Jhyni, and I noticed them right away through the crowds, noise and the festivities. My heart beat a little faster and I couldn’t take my eyes off them.
They were walking around together – timid and curious – taking it all in, wide-eyed and innocent. I had known they were coming because I knew of their story and I was told they were going to be there. And, because I knew of their story, I was poised and ready to love on them perhaps in an even greater measure than the 100 or so other children in need that were also there that day. Likewise and for some reason I can’t explain except that it was divine knowledge, I was also well aware that they were going to be in our lives well beyond this charity event we were hosting.
Their 15-year-old cousin Bam Bam had been shot in the dark of night in an inner city park in Rochester a few years prior to the time of our party. The twins – only 6 years old at the time – had prayed God would reveal who murdered him. Their prayer was answered when the family miraculously discovered years later through a confession made by the killer to his cellmate that he had indeed shot Bam Bam. This person – who was actually a family friend – was in jail at the time of the confession for a different crime than the one he had just admitted. A degree of justice had been served.
Bam Bam was a football player and the family had suffered terribly in the aftermath – addiction, hopelessness, rage, poverty. It was an unthinkable and horrendous circumstance. I asked myself how this could have happened just 15 minutes from my comfortable, predictable, safe and violent-free world. This world, to which I had been introduced by the twins, was a world I had previously known nothing about. I felt ashamed, shallow, and ignorant. They made me see that which was uncomfortable to see, and once I saw, I wanted to shelter, love, help and comfort them. I wanted to keep them away from violence and the realities of gunshot murder from family friends. As they were leaving the party, I hugged them all good-bye and scooped Shakur into my arms and prayed for him. I told him he was a king. I knew I would see them all again.
Christmas was a few days after the party and some folks associated with our dance studio had some gifts to give to Shakur (Bam Bam’s younger brother). My family – husband Sam, and children Alexis, Caleb and Annaliese – drove around Monroe County picking up the gifts on Christmas Eve. We called Shakur and learned that he was at his aunt’s house – the home of the twins. We drove over there in the late afternoon, grey clouds looming over the thick, cold air, sun slipping quickly away into the darkness of the Rochester night. We found their home in the middle of inner city – amidst broken down buildings and businesses, and empty, trash-filled lots. Like the sinking sun, there was a feeling of barrenness and sadness.
We knocked on the door and no one came. We let ourselves in feeling overdressed in our holiday wear. We were planning to drop the gifts and head off to a neighbor’s party in our town of Pittsford. The house was empty and dim. No people. No furniture. No food. I remember there were a few eggs boiling in a pot on the stove, but there were no adults tending to the pot. The air was also thick inside. Smoke filled to the point of breathlessness, mixed witha scent of grease. I felt a stinging in my eyes. We called out to the emptiness and then noticed the children alone in the furniture-less, living room. There they were – the twins, Jhyni, and Shakur. There were no adults. No Christmas trees. No festivities. No presents. No food. We put Shakur’s gifts down and quickly looked at each other knowingly and said we had some gifts for Shakur but that we would be back with more gifts for the other children and also food, which we quickly tended to and made our way back. When we arrived an hour or so later, there was an ambulance out front and we were appalled. What in the world? We ran to the door fearful of what had transpired. It turns out their biological mother had been there in the home after all, and she was in labor. As if the whole evening wasn’t surreal enough, their younger brother Daunte was born that Christmas Eve just like the call on our family’s life was also born. In the dark, stillness of the night, I knew our family would never be the same.
Fast forward to today where the twins now live with our family full time. This story is not just to tell of their sad stories, but also to perhaps inspire you into action. Our twins are just a few kids who at one time lived like many kids still live in our city, our country and in our world today. Currently, there are 117,000 foster children in our country awaiting adoption to permanent, loving homes. While we can’t help all of them, we can do something to help some of them. Claudia – one of the twins – and I started an organization a year ago called Worth More Nation which empowers kids in foster care to know they are Worth More. We have had several initiatives over the past year including our Miss Worth More Nation Pageant for Girls in Foster Care and our Claudia’s Closet offering special occasion wear for girls in foster care.
This Christmas we are doing something special for some children in our community in honor of our organization, our twins and their story that will forever be etched in the deep places of my heart, and to help brighten the day of children in foster care. Please read more of the details about our Foster Care Gift Drive and consider helping! I always say that the twins have blessed me more than the other way around, and I am sure if you open your heart and mind to the idea of helping a child in need, you too will be deeply blessed. See the information below, and always remember that you are WORTH MORE!
We are collecting Christmas gifts for children in foster care for an agency in upstate New York. Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to bring some extra love to a child this Christmas or visit our Sign Up Genius at: https://www.signupgenius.com/go/70a084aa8ab28a7fb6-foster. We have children on our list ages 3 weeks to 13, both male and female, as well as a list of suggested gifts and clothing sizes for each child. We will be collecting gifts at our Worth More Nation studios in Fairport Village and also at Mossa Dance’s original ballet – Snow White – at Cobblestone Arts Center on November 30 through December 2. Please drop off new, unwrapped gifts.